As expected, within 24 hours of its pronouncement, I have received a Whatsapp-forward educating me about how the Nobel prize for autophagy is nothing but a ratification of the rationale ancient India used for the setting a system of Ekadashi upavasa, i.e. fasting twice a month.
I always admire the creativity that we use to link every scientific advancement of West with our ancient wisdom. In this season of sending petitions to White House, I suggest that we should send one demanding that no Nobel prize should be awarded without receiving confirmation from these ancient India experts populating Whatsapp groups!The reality is that this prize is not for discovering autophagy, which means eating one’s own self, as it is a phenomenon known for many years. Autophagy is a recycling process cells use to prevent wastage, and Mr. Ohsumi from Japan has worked on understanding its mechanism in detail to earn his Nobel.
Fasting has benefits that modern science also recognises, but just because our ancestors saw a cause-and-effect relationship, it can’t be used as an evidence to claim that they knew how autophagy worked at cellular level. It is like claiming a right over a Nobel for gravitational waves because our ancestors knew that things thrown up fall back on Earth.
While I do understand that such Whatsapp forwards are mostly innocuous, as hardly anyone bothers to read them; I am more worried about such misrepresentations for the damage they cause to the very heritage they are trying to celebrate. The net impact of such propaganda is that thinking young people have started finding our traditional wisdom to be humbug propagated by those with agenda.
Ayurveda is one of the worst sufferers of such forced relationships claimed by those who misunderstand how any ancient tradition should be looked at. The situation is made worse by hours of TV media time taken up by gurus and quacks to make a hard sell of it to those desperately wanting a miracle cure that allopathy fails to provide.
People need to understand that Ayurveda is a curative system structured around an understanding of human body of an era where it was not possible to look inside a living body, let alone understand biochemical processes at cellular level. So, it has to work at the level of symptoms expressed by body in its interactions with pathogens or toxins or any imbalance caused by internal reasons.
What is important to register is usefulness of such a system in operation for thousands of years, as it is one of the greatest repositories of empirical evidences about how various molecules, especially plant molecules, interact with human body. Ayurveda can be looked at a millennium long clinical trial that allows us to recognise pharmacologically useful plants and minerals.
If we look at medicines used by allopathy, nearly 90% of drugs we use today are coming from plants. As plants are far more ancient than us, they have developed defences against most pathogens that trouble us, so they have been the primary source for our medicines. The search of new drugs, even today, is a quest to identify such molecules from nature, so Ayurveda can play a crucial role in shortening the search-time. Ayurveda has already done a very useful shortlisting that pharma companies can capitalise on.
Unfortunately, this usefulness of Ayurveda and other ancient curative traditions is identified by the West and a lot of research work is done to convert traditional cures into modern medicines, while we are stuck with claiming glory.
Ancient Indian wisdom requires modern interpretation and not a forced validation. We need to stop false pursuits of glory and put our heritage to practical good use.