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The Maverick and the Marvelous World of Plants 
The legacy of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose 

Denise K McTighe

Arts & Science Writer

“The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.”

-Rabindranath Tagore

On the far side of the Moon there is a crater approximately 91 km wide, named in honor of one of history’s most overlooked visionaries and contributors to human development and progress. Over a century ago, a young, Indian scientist stood at the front of his new machine at the Royal Society of London. It was May 10, 1901 and he was about to demonstrate to the packed audience full of famous scientists that plants are thinking, sentient beings, fully equipped with a nervous system. After years of botanical research, Jagadish Chandra Bose birthed an invention called the cresograph that could measure the reactions that plants had to stimuli. This experiment was to be the first evidence that they respond to pain and external influences, proving they are much more complex than previously observed. As he stood behind the machine, in defense of the voiceless world of the Plant Kingdom, Bose declared to the anticipating crowd:

It was when I came upon the mute witness of these self-made records, and perceived in them one phase of a pervading unity that bears within it all things— the mote that quivers in ripples of light, the teeming life upon our earth, and the radiant suns that shine above us—it was then that I understood for the first time a little of that message proclaimed by my ancestors on the banks of the Ganges thirty centuries ago—‘They who see but one, in all the changing manifoldness of this universe, unto  them belongs Eternal Truth-–unto none else, unto none else!’

The demonstration was a success, despite some outcries and resistance, new thought was lit in the intellectual circles of those who spent their days in search of wonders and ideas about our atomic, and natural sphere. Minds and possibilities had opened up to the miraculous theory of plant awareness. Since this mind-bending event, in recent years, more and more experts are attempting to prove that plants and trees are burgeoning with intelligence and networks of communication-concepts that were believed to be entirely impossible before.  These theories are often touted by the scientific community as new, emerging ideas, however as history proves, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, was the first pioneer and adventurer of botanical consciousness, and the first to discover that there are perhaps no clear perimeters between plant and animal life. Articles on the plant neurobiology and electrical signally continue to be written in esteemed journals such as Nature

And, this fascinating area of scientific research is currently being studied by scientists, including Stefano Mancuso from the University of Florence, Italy among many others, in hopes of furthering understanding of how the mechanism of plant existence and even cognitive awareness functions.

The determined maverick born in Bangladesh India, in 1858, which was British India at the time, was one of the first prominent Indian scientists, and one of the only high achieving polymaths of the modern era, not seen since the days of the Renaissance was there an individual with so many multi-diverse abilities. Equipped with a colorful and adventurous spirit that led him onto many avenues of intellectual exploration, he was involved in the invention of wireless and semiconductor instruments, and radio technology. 
After graduating with a physics degree from Calcutta University, Bose attended the University of Cambridge studying natural sciences. He returned to India in 1884 after completing his Bachelor of Science there, and was appointed professor of physics at Presidency College, Calcutta (now Kolkata).Still under British Empire rule,  Bose faced many challenges and abuse from the academic community and his peers, including being paid much less than his colleagues of the same merits and being denied access to laboratories. He met this discrimination head on, and even continued to work for three years refusing a paycheck in an act of defiance, and to prove his determination and dedication to his research and teaching career. The establishment was no match for Bose’s purpose and intent.  He often conducted intensive and complex experiments in his small living space, refusing to be intimidated out of his life purpose. While still teaching at Presidency College, he demonstrated wireless communication using radio waves in 1885, two years before Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi proved the same theory.  However, uninterested in the commercial side and patenting his idea, Marconi was credited as the sole inventor, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909.  Despite disappointments and discrimination, Bose’s life story is one of a true genius who was a master of physics, literature, biophysics, botany, biology, and even archaeology.
This man also had an intensely creative mind, and was the world’s first Indian science fiction writer. In 1896, Bose wrote Niruddesher Kahini (The Story of the Missing One), a short story that was later expanded and added to Abyakta collection in 1921, with the new title Palatak Tuphan (Runaway Cyclone). He also wrote two remarkable scientific books; Response in the Living and Non-living (1902) and The Nervous Mechanism of Plants (1926). He was a very close friend with Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and this relationship helped him through many difficult times during his life, and exponential career. Together Bose and the poet of mysticism explored the intertwining and inseparable worlds of art and science, and the deeper cosmological meaning of life and nature:
Years ago, when Jagadish Chandra, in his militant exuberance of youthfulness, was contemptuously defying all obstacles to the progress of his endeavour, I came into intimate contact with him, and became infected with his vigorous hopefulness. There was every chance of his frightening me away into a respectful distance, making me aware of the airy nothingness of my own imaginings. But to my relief, I found in him a dreamer, and it seemed to me, what surely was a half-truth, that it was more his magical instinct than the probing of his reason which startled out secrets of nature before sudden flashes of his imagination.  “Jagadish Chandra Bose”, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore.
Induced by his own curiosity for the unknown worlds that transcend obvious human perceptions, Bose left his professorship and returned to his greatest love, where he established the Bose Institute in Calcutta in 1917, the same year he was Knighted by Britain for his extraordinary contributions to science. Originally constructed for the study of plants, nature, science and even the poetic, lead him further into his splendid research at his new facility. Despite his many scientific and literary achievements, Bose found his way back to the early days of his intellectual pursuits, returning to the still little known and eccentric area of plant intelligence where he remained the director for twenty years until his death in 1937. 
Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose accrued a life of exceptional achievements, including being deemed the father of radio wave technology, receiving Knighthood, authoring scientific books and fiction, and countless other extraordinary ventures. However, this physicist, plant physiologist and polymath’s, truest love and life dedication lay within the world of plants and the hidden secrets they still kept. Bose was a scientist who believed in the evidentiary pursuits of higher thinking, but like all great bohemians and dreamers, he operated outside the constraints of conventional thinking, moving the hand of knowledge to unchartered and wondrous places.  Speaking to the never-ending possibilities that await those brave enough to search for them, Bose urges that: “The true laboratory is the mind, where behind the illusions we uncover the laws of truth.” Which can even reveal an exotic paradigm where plants think, communicate and feel on complex levels of existence.


The Maverick and the Marvelous World of Plants

Jagadish Chandra Bose 1926
Jagadish Chandra Bose 1926

Bose lecturing on the nervous system of plants at the Sorbonne in Paris, 1926

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"The Scientist"
"The Scientist"

“They who behold the One, in all the changing manifoldness of the universe, unto them belongs the eternal truth, unto none else, unto none else.” ― Sri Jagadish Chandra Bose Painting by Denise McTighe, acrylic on canvas

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