Proud Sons of India: Dr Obaid Siddiqi

Its no wonder Indians around the globe are conquering the Everests of their fields. The genes of curiosity and quest are embedded in our DNA and thousand years of subjugation and slavery hasn’t infected even a tiny bit of it.

The intelligence of the Indians was never a question and never would be but patriotism of intelligent Indians was always questionable and would always be. Without making you turn pages of the history I would like to quote a recent example to prove my point. Recently an Indian born Nobel Laureate when asked about his Indian connection and if he would like to work in Indian research institutions like center for cellular and molecular biology commented that ‘nationality is just accidental event’ and ‘I would never like to work in Indian institutes’. The example is not individual opinion of a single person but of mass intelligent migrants even westerners know the fact. In sitcom ‘Big Bang Theory’ when Indian astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali faced problem of being deported he was ready to do even menial jobs in United States instead of going back and making significant contribution to the motherland. Its not critical writing to condemn actions of migrants but action to persuade one to think for a moment. Everybody has right for better career, future and education but he or she also have duty towards the country which bears ones costly education and lifestyle until one becomes able to go to Harvard, MIT or Cambridge. I know sometimes millions words are unable to make significant effect but life of a single person could do magic and I through lives of ten proud sons of India trying to convey the same message.

Obaid Siddiqi was born in Uttar Pradesh in the year 1932. He completed his early education in Aligarh Muslim University and then joined Indian Agricultural Research Institute Newdelhi. A hailstorm destroyed his crops and instead of waiting for next year he decided to venture into new field of biology. The field was Genetics. Obaid siddiqi wrote to Guido Pontecorvo for an opportunity to work in laboratory of Glasgow. He was called for the interview. Indian Agricultural research institute lost a star and genetics gained one.

On reaching Glasgow Obaid Siddiqi was taken directly to the laboratory. Confused when he queried when interview would be conducted he was told he was selected as he had came so far to take a chance in spite of risk of being rejected.

In 1961 impressed by his wonderful work as graduate student in Glasgow Obaid was called to work for Alan Garen’s lab in long Island Newyork. The laboratory was birthplace of molecular biology and Obaid found himself surrounded by pioneers of the field. Obaid and Garen worked on the mechanism of production of proteins from the genetic code and working of the stop codons (stop switch in the genes). At the peak of his career and with company of wonderful comrades like of Alan Garen, Francis Crick, Seymour Benzer Obaid Siddiqi decided to come back to India to set up laboratory on Indian soil. Respecting his decision his colleagues and mentors wrote to Dr Homi Bhabha about this gifted young mind that was bent on serving his country. In one of the letter Pontecorvo wrote to Dr Bhabha “I think it would be very important for progress of biology India that he should go back to a job in which his abilities would be fully expressed. In fact I’m really baffled as to Why India continues to promote mediocre scientist politicians and does nothing to maintain the really good scientists”. Touched by the wonderful work experience and letter of references Dr Bhabha in spite of opposition from faculty members in opening biology wing of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research gave appointment to Dr Obaid Siddiqi to open molecular biology unit at TIFR. Dr Siddiqi in addition of working on multiple projects such as study of bacterial genetics and role of genes in working of brain cells made molecular biology wing of TIFR one of illustrious institution in the world. In fact one of his student Dr K VijayRaghavan current secretary Department of Biotechnology said “As students, we seemed to have taken it for granted and as “normal” that we would have the best courses conducted by the best. Going out of the country, we realized how privileged we had been and what a wonderful culture and environment the molecular biology unit and TIFR has given us, a culture of questioning and one that defines purpose in science by the quality of question and its answer, and not by the volume of herd opinion. That this culture lives on at TIFR today is testimony to the effectiveness of siddiqi and others like him”

Siddiqi founded another institute National centre for biological sciences with similar enthusiasm and hope. In twenty years with Siddiqi at the helm the institute made a significant difference in the molecular biology. Obaid Siddiqi never gave up to red tapism, lethargic bureaucrats and ignorant leaders. He tried to bring them in and if they were unmovable he used to wait patiently saying “they will all retire” suggesting that he would always be there to take things in control when winds would be favorable.

Sadly on July 26, 2013 while strolling near his home Obaid Siddiqi was hit by a moped. He succumbed to his injuries and one proud son of India left his motherland giving a message that before criticizing that Indian soil failed to produce world class researchers and scientist we should acknowledge the effort of one who fought against all the odds to conduct the research on Indian soil. Indian scientists are modest beings and its country’s and countrymen’s duty to give them all the respect and privilege that they deserve. Take a minute of your life and pay a respect to someone who doesn’t have bat in his hand and really making this country better place to live and work.

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