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When a Professor of Zoology visited Asiatic Society

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On an official tour, Prof Ena Ray Banerjee of CU traces knowledge in all its glory. Read to know more about centuries old archives she found at the Asiatic Society

Something about archives always inspires me. Something reassuring. That there is a continuum. That nothing one does, goes in vain. And then there are those life-changing epiphany moments.Visiting Asiatic Society library housed at the historic Metcalfe Hall was one such.Standing in the setting sunlight under those gigantic arches, looking at the magnificent Ganga across Strand Road, I couldn’t help thinking what the volumes stored within contained. They contained Knowledge in all its glory. Knowledge that empowers.

I am Professor of Zoology with University of Calcutta. Probably, the first DSc of the Zoology department, in a hundred years of the department’s history. In fact, we just celebrated the department’s centenary. My scientific research is on drug discovery of inflammatory and degenerative diseases like asthma, colitis and arthritis. I have published dozens of internationally acclaimed journals and authored books and hold patents on technology innovation. I am also relentlessly working on connecting community with science and technology and translation of academic exercises into viable products and processes for creation of knowledge and wealth.

But that old building and the century old archives of Asiatic Society had a different appeal and versatility. From Theosophy to the movement of celestial bodies, the pattern of storms to phytopathology, function of the central nervous system to the records of the East India company, findings of the HMS Challenger to maritime trade in Indian Ocean, natural resources to instruments that harness technological prowess, volumes of Philosophical Transaction from July 1666 to the 21st century.This was a portal that transported me across time.

We often say, perhaps these days more than ever, that education is to get jobs. It is sad. Education is to gain knowledge and no knowledge is irrelevant.It is the easy movement across subjects that had empowered the imperial forces to colonize across the globe, much beyond their natural boundaries. The trend continues. It is up to the people to decide what they choose - to lead or merely to follow?

I was invited by one of the committee members to act as advisor on restoring and archiving natural history related materials. So, I visited Asiatic Society in official capacity. As for now, fishing, sorting, cleaning, cataloguing, then restoring, preserving, inventorizing will follow. Then digitization. Then the real work of knowledge mining shall begin under my direct supervision.