Dr. Swarup K Mukherjee (1955 - 2002)
Tribute from Mahesh Alagappa
Was able to
go through the SKMFoundation last Sunday when I went to
the station to pick up my Uncle and the train was late by about one
hour though the recorded msg on the phone stated only 15 mts !!) - it
brought tears to my eyes and I was crying unabashadely - people in the
cafe thought "saala buddha satiya gaya hai " one or two came up
enquired too about the problem. See if u can fit in this picture of
Dada which is probably the Agro Day committee or debating team of
Agril. College circa 1975.
Also one aspect of Swarup which speaks volumes for his commitment to a cause and his integrity of values was the episode of him losing his 5.00 GPA to set right the mess that was the "Mess committee" in Gandhi Bhavan or was it Subhash Bhavan? He along with the team toiled and brought the "maintenance" to ZERO when it used to be around Rs. 80/- to 100/- I vividly remember stock checking with him into the wee hours of the morning and his inimmitable one liners "Saala kaisey nahi hoga , and then a torrent of Bengali interspersed with English /Hindi to the likes of Ajit ,Aloke, Atanu.Bijon & Madho who were there too.
Another incident was involving him and his closest buddy Astad. The venue was the Gandhi Bhawan cafeteria and the occassion "Freshers welcome" Astad was to play on the guitar and at the right moment the amp concked out. Many folks tried and gave up, Astad himself was quite philosophical about it. But not Dada, with his usual "Saala
kaisey nahi kam karega" he was at it till finally " Ha ! Ye pakada! How the hell will it not work now" got the damn amp ( antique one ) to work using of all the things a paper clip, few pins, match sticks & rubber band. I should know because I was the fresher running around to get them while he was busy fixing the amp.
Even as I write this tears well up in my eyes. That was Dada !
- Sailendra Bhaskar
It was in the monsoon of the year 1975 that I first set eyes on Dada - I had never quite seen anybody like him - I have never seen anybody like him since then either. He was somebody you had to take notice of, initially it was because of the way he was built - short, stocky, with a gait that seemed to suggest he was dragging both his feet with great effort. When you shook hands with him you realised this was no ordinary person - his grasp was wooden because the bones in his body were over-ossified. He had a head that seemed positively larger than his four and half foot frame could hold but in that head he had perhaps the most brilliant mind I have ever known.
Mukherjeeda, was used to fighting odds,
as a child he would have not been able to run about and play as
vigorously as his peers because of physical limitations but he more than
made up for his many physical handicaps - I remember he had trouble
scratching his back because the over-ossified bones in his arms didn't bend enough to allow him to
maneuver them to scratch his back.
Often he would walk up to one of us and ask us to scratch his back for
him. Of course he was one who firmly believed in the adage 'you scratch my
back, I'll scratch your back'. As SKM grew up every one he met with
quickly realised that this was a special person and learnt to respect
him for his clear and incisive thinking, his amazing problem-solving
ability and leadership skills. If you handed out a problem to Dada you
could rest assured that it would be done and done well in time.
Dada grew up as the only son (he has an elder sister) of a steel worker who made Jamshedpur his home. He went to school in Loyola School, Jamshedpur from where he moved to Pantnagar for his Bachelors degree in Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. It was at Pantnagar that he befriended most of us in the Pantnagar Foundation. SKM was a born leader of men - he could marshal human resources like nobody else I have known and the Agro-Day celebrations or Cultural Programs in Pantnagar were events at which everybody could witness his organisational skills.
difficulty writing in class because of the difficulty he encountered in
holding a pen for long between his over-ossified fingers. So he wound up
condensing a whole lecture into a small 3"x3" scrap of paper
which he would promptly lose on his way back to Subhash Bhavan. The night
before an hourly or final exam he would land up at one of our rooms and
ask for us to read aloud while we studied - as we read aloud he would lie
in one of our beds and sleep soundly!! The next day he would attend the
hourly or trimester final exam and walk away with top marks while we who
had probably slept only for two hours the previous night would have
barely scraped up enough marks for an A grade! Such was the man's ability
to grasp even the more ethereal scientific concepts.
From Pantnagar SKM moved on to IARI where he did his Masters in Genetics and then went on to do his PhD in Genetics. At Pusa SKM distinguished himself both as a friend of almost every one on campus as well as in his research. He then spent a short stint at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) at Hyderabad from where he went on to the Washington State University, Pullman for his Post-doctoral research.
After a few years in the US he returned to India to take up a position as a Scientist with the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) which was embarking on a pioneering bio-technology project. He was asked to set up the company's first biotech lab in Bangalore - I had the good fortune to help with his efforts in setting up the lab and remember how he would go without sleep for several nights trying to make sure all that expensive imported equipment was installed and operating correctly.
while he was in Bangalore that SKM finally got married to yet another
wonderful human being - Asmita. Not many girls in this day and age would
have agreed to marry somebody with the physical stature of SKM! After
several years in Bangalore SKM and Asmita moved to Jalna where Mahyco
decided to centralise their biotechnology research. Jalna became home for
Asmita and SKM for the latter part of the last millenium. SKM
distinguished himself in his research work and a good part of the credit
for many of Mahyco's biotechnology based seeds must be attributed to SKM.
In late September 2002 SKM decided to have his congenitally defective heart valves attended to - with age he was finding it difficult to manage his day to day chores because of the defective heart. Typically, he told very few people about his difficulties and was advised by doctors in Hyderabad to have his heart valves replaced. He was operated upon in Hyderabad on 3rd September 2002 and the operation was reportedly a success but the next day his body rejected the implanted valves which resulted in his passing away on the 4th of October 2002. Even in death he did things few of us can think of doing - he donated his eyes to an Eye Bank and donated his body for medical research. No cremation was needed for this great human being - as always he was looking to contribute to the great body of human knowledge - even in death he continued to do just that.
As friends who knew SKM during our formative years in Pantnagar we have all been touched by the man - we are all grateful we passed through Pantnagar for we could not have been enriched by this unique human being were it not for our days together at Pantnagar. It is in tribute to this wonderful human being that we, his friends, his seniors, his juniors, have decided to institute an Annual Scholarship for the most deserving candidate at the College of Agriculture, GBPUAT. We believe that in this Scholarship Mukerjeeda will live on and continue to contribute to human knowledge and scholarship. It is perhaps apt to complete this tribute with a couplet that says it all:
Some people come into our lives and quickly go.
Some people move our souls to dance.
They awaken us to new understanding
with the passing whisper of their wisdom.
Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon.
They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts.
And we are never, ever the same.