Born to a teacher and carnatic singer Dr A Sukumaran Nair, little Achu developed a taste in music as well as culture. The thirst to know more about culture led to his interest in history. Growing up, he embraced Science too. Music, history and science - Dr Achuthsankar S Nair has a passion for all this and more.
"I am such a guy who could get passionate about anything. But it so happens that there are only a few hours in a day and I have my hands full already," says Achuthsankar.
Indeed he has. Let's start with his job. Dr Achuthsankar is the Hon. Director at the Centre for Bioinformatics in Kerala University. What exactly is bioinformatics in layman's terms? "Using computers to unravel the secrets of life, to study DNA," the doctor puts it plainly.
This man has brought into his class and the department a whole lot of innovative ideas, which he says sadly has not always made him a favourite among many. "In many libraries, people will have to pay a fine if a book is overdue. Here you have to pay fine if you have not taken a book," he says smiling.
There is more.
Every student who takes a book should do 'Public Tagging', which means he/she should write their opinion about the book in the space provided for it. You will pay yet another fine if you don't recommend a book. But the biggest fine of all comes when you have not entered the library for a whole semester. Achuthsankar also allows open-book tests and take-home tests. "Students take it as a pride that they are taken into trust," he believes. Yet another innovative mission called 'Trees in 2100' had him and his students planting about 100 trees around the campus, aiming at year 2100 AD, when only trees will make the place livable.
Apart from his job, he has a lot of other interests that keep him busy. One is music. He has been learning carnatic music for the last five years. But his passion starts right from a very early age. Achuthsankar got really interested in knowing about Swathi Thirunal, the erstwhile ruler of Travancore who was really passionate about music. This led to the creation of http://www.swathithirunal.in. Jokes the doc: "My connection with him starts from birth. Swathi Thirunal was born on the left side of the fort school inside the Trivandrum Fort while I was born on the right side of it, in the fort hospital."
Achuthsankar has managed to bring a connection to his different fields of interest. Thus he mapped DNA to a Carnatic Raga. Called 'Gene Music', it is a special kind of music in Kalyani Raaga, the doc's favourite Raaga.
One would think that there is a lot of space between academics and art and bridging that gap is a tough job. Not to Dr Achuthsankar. The man, who can appreciate a song for the beauty of its raaga, can very well be excited about a new discovery in science. He has written around 15 books on science or science fiction, in addition to the articles that appear in several journals and newspapers. One of his most famous works of recent times, written for children is 'Idichakkaplamoodile Rajakumari Thanthram’. Padichathengane?' (How did the Princess of Idichakkaplamoodu master her technique?). A free adaptation of the English fairytale 'Rumpelstillskin', the doc ends the story by having the princess guess the dwarf's name through the use of binary number system.
One book among his collection is called 'Free Software and GNU Linux'. Yes, Achuthsankar promotes the use of free software. He gives rights to copy, or modify all his articles provided the people/institute he has written it for, allows it as well.
Out of all his passions, the one he loves most is teaching. Maybe that is the reason that prompted him to proceed with the management of 'Gurusmarana', an open access archive of teachers of higher education in Kerala. Including his father Dr A Sukumaran Nair, there is a huge list of over 400 names in the site. It is not just profiles that you see there. Achuthsankar has also managed to get online versions of papers they have presented. If it is a music teacher, you get to hear a music clipping as well! Getting all this information of teachers, some of them who have expired, is no easy job. "Even their own children will not bother to give the information," he says.
Another interesting fact about this man is that he does not carry a mobile phone with him. Hooked onto science and technology the way he has, one would expect him to carry at least a couple of such gadgets with him. But that has not stopped him from writing informatively about mobile phones, which got to be one of the most-read articles of recent times. "If you want to observe something, you should not use it. Which is why I cannot study the Internet anymore. I am using it a lot!"
Having taken a MPhil from Cambridge and having been a visiting professor at the Korean University, Seoul, Achuthsankar tells you about the difference in the education system followed in the West and in India. Says he: "In my opinion we are 400 times behind the West. And that is not because we are incompetent or because we don't have funds. The problem comes when internal poilitics play itself into the system. In the West, no one worries about your political affiliatons. But here, every person is identified as an LDF or UDF person."
But if we have more people like Dr Achuthsankar to lead us through our education system, through our busy rat race, through the political turmoils, then Trivandrum can hope for a better tomorrow. And hope, we shall. Thank you, Doc. We need more people like you.