Atanu Dey On India's Development

Beware the Ides of March

Julius Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to “beware the ides of March.” The ides of March is today, the 15th of March. Good ol’ Julius disregarded the warning and on this fateful day in 44 BCE he fell dead, assassinated by his friend Marcus Brutus. As Shakespeare wrote, it was the most unkindest cut of all. (“most unkindest”? Bill, Bill, when will you learn how to write English!)

Oh what a fall there was my countrymen.
Then you and I and all of us fell down,
whilst bloody treason flourished over us

as Mark Antony later orated. (I had memorized that speech for a school elocution competition and I can still recite it in its entirety.)

On March 14, 1879, a day before the ides of March, Albert Einstein was born at Ulm, Germany. The man who transformed most radically our view of the universe. A man who sets the gold standard for genius and humanity. Did you know he did miserably in school? Imagine a guy who was poor in maths and goes on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on General Relativity?

Just kidding. Einstein was one heck of a sharp cookie and was brilliant in school, and he did not win the Nobel for the theory of relativity but for his discovery of the photo-electric effect. (See: Einstein’s Failed School.)

  • DODO

    Now, it is very ruthless of you to break this sweet myth

  • http://www.aseem.net/blog/ Aseem Bajaj

    BTW, was Edison the one who fared badly at school?

    Atanu’s response: Yes, it appears that Edison when he was in school was considered a bit slow.

  • Praveen

    Ah, that reminds me I played Brutus in a play at school, must have been 9′th standard. The only time I took part in the “arts”. My teachers told me I did very well, though I think I was more suited for Julius :-)

    After Einstein developed his special relativity, he needed to learn differential geometry for developing his ideas on gravity in the general theory. He was at Gottingen at that time and he says even the school kids there knew more about differential geometry than him.

    Atanu’s response: I consider Einstein to be an intuitive genius. He figured out the reality of the world first and only then learnt later in some instances how to express his insights in mathematical language. For that he had to learn the mathematics. The important point is that mathematics comes later; the insights precede the expression in a compact form.

  • http://pilots-and-zealots.blogspot.com Amit Das

    Is this speech (Marcus Anthony) the one where Brutus is referred to as an honorable man?

    Why is it not so unbelievable that all these brilliant men might have done miserably at school? simply because they were brilliant at something! :) not at everything!

    Atanu’s response: It is unbelievable because it is not true. Brilliant people are brilliant all throughout their lives. Every now and then, however, they are not recognised by mere mortals as being brilliant. That others are slow to recognise their genius does not mean that they were not brilliant all along.

  • Soniya Gadgil-Sharma

    What Shakespeare wrote about a Roman Emperor few centuries ago is recited even today by young schoolchildren in a different continent. Will this ever happen: the works of an Indian writer/philosopher enriching minds of generations of European schoolchildren? Also, why does our education system always rely on foreign role models? Its not denying their greatness, but we never see Chanakya taught in Indian schools, do we?
    Something to ponder about…

    Atanu’s response: Yes, it is worth pondering. I take to heart Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer which includes the lines about living in a world which “has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls . . . ” Yes, they — Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, etc — lived in a different part of the world and at a different time. They and everyone else who lived before us are part of our collective heritage. My admiration for Shakespeare’s genius does not diminish my admiration for Kalidas’s work. When the need arises, I will take Kalidas’s words as readily as I will Shakespeare’s. That European children don’t have access to Kalidas is their loss and I hope that someday they will be so fortunate.

  • http://livestocknews.blogspot.com/ Rama S.

    Einstein’s example proves that hard work can change the things in life drastically. Nothing is static in life. What is required is just hard work. You can do miracles.

  • Anuj

    sonya – i believe that as india grows in power and stature, it’s art and heritage will grow in value and import as well.
    to wit – the sudden interest in all things chinese. including, mandarin speaking au pairs, who are in great demand and are rapidly replacing the chi chi french speaking kind.