Renowned scientist Arvind Gupta’s name is synonymous with Pune as well as toys. Noted for fashioning educational toys out of trash, Gupta has also been involved in making literature accessible to the disadvantaged. The books, ranging from topics related to science and education, are available for free download on his website. Gupta, 65, has collected thousands of titles and is also in the process of translating books he finds motivating into Hindi.
The retired scientist, who formerly lived in the city, now resides in Chennai and is here on the invitation of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). After a felicitation ceremony on the occasion of having been awarded the Padma Shri earlier this year, Gupta will deliver a talk. “I will not be talking about toys this time,” says Gupta, who plans to discuss books that he has read and their power to ignite minds.
There is a great demand for educational books, says Gupta. “Some titles on my website have been out of print for many years,” he adds. He has taken pains to take permissions from the copyright holders to present the books in digital format. “If there is a copyright problem, I remove the title from the website,” he says. Thanks to his efforts, even school teachers in villages can access books like physicist CV Raman’s Why the Sky is Blue, Wilhelm Reich’s Listen, Little Man! and Ivan Illich’s thought-provoking work, Deschooling Society.
Toymaking, says Gupta, has taken a back seat. He began creating toys in 1978 from matchsticks and rubber tubes. Those were simple models. His endeavour came to be known as ‘Toys From Trash’. The project grew into prominence and inspired thousands of schoolchildren in the country to pursue science. Videos of how he made the toys, including the video recording of his popular talk, Turning Trash into Toys for Learning, which was featured on TED Talks, are available online. Gupta hopes his legacy will continue to live on through the videos.
In addition to the exhaustive collection of digital books in English, Gupta has ensured to include articles in Marathi by thinker and writer, Vasant Palshikar, books in Hindi and other Indian languages. The books are segmented and can be easily accessed. “I have gathered books and articles which I feel will help teachers and students in their pursuit of education,” he says. Apart from giving talks in schools and colleges, Gupta keeps busy in Chennai as a doting grandfather to his grandson, and of course, translating books is his priority right now.