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A very sad day. This is a

A very sad day. This is a personal remembrance and not an obituary. Although I had never been Obaid's direct student, Obaid influenced me indirectly a great deal. In late 1976, I attended a talk by him somewhere in New Delhi on DNA sequencing (Maxam-Gilbert and Sanger sequencing papers were just published). I think I had asked a few questions, and later spoke to him informally over tea and pakoras. A few weeks later a postcard from Obaid followed to my JNU address, encouraging me to apply to TIFR for the National Science Talent summer research program. I landed in TIFR Bombay in the summer of 1977. However, I was at that time not interested in developmental biology or fly genetics, so I chose Pabitra Maitra's lab instead of his. In a few weeks I got bored of assaying glycolytic enzymes of yeast day in and day out, and was equally puzzled by Dr. Maitra's inimical way of speaking in riddles. U. N. Singh's lectures on regulation of gene expression were quite impressive for its depth and their mathematical sophistication (he used to do what we'd call these days "synthetic biology"), but I soon found myself wandering into Obaid's lab where he used to work alone at nights. Being a night owl myself, this suited me better. Obaid had a few temperature sensitive mutant flies that he suspected had defects in synaptic transmission. So he would poke an electrode into the post synaptic cell, shock a muscle, collect the bursts, raise the temperature, shock and collect the bursts again. He guessed that upon raising the temperature, the frequency distribution of bursts would resemble Poisson distribution. He let me do some of the recordings. Once he was trying to poke the microelectrodes and I could see that he was missing the cell. I wanted to help, but he sharply told me to refrain from helping him and instead focus on the recording--I merely thought I would have a steadier hand, but he clearly didn't think so. I was left with the impression of an intensely confident man. Later he invited me and my friend Syed Ehtesham Hasnain (now a member of the Planning Commission of India) to his home and Asyia cooked dinner. There was a framed photograph of Sydney Brenner on the wall. I still remember that monsoon evening, a new building was coming up next door and stevedores were going up and down with loads of cement in torrential rain, and we discussed the coming of CPI-M with Jyoti Basu having just become the chief minister a few days earlier. Obaid asked whether I thought it was going to be good with CPI-M in governance, and I remember my reply, "Let's give them a chance." These were new experiences for me, to be sought out for opinion (then a mere MSc student!) by a legendary scientist. Clearly he was an exception among any man of letters that I had known until that time. Obaid encouraged me to apply to TIFR for PhD, which I did, got an interview but did not go. Later I heard from a friend that Obaid was annoyed. My reason for not going there was that I had found the atmosphere in TIFR molecular biology too elitist, except in Obaid's lab, and I wasn't interested in fly genetics. Some six or seven years later I was a postdoc in Frank Stahl's laboratory; Imran, his son, was my--our--close friend, who was a grad student of Frank. Obaid visited Eugene and gave a fantastic talk at our institute on olfactory genetics of fly, and later came to visit us for dinner. As he entered and proceeded to sit down on the sofa, our daughter, some 3 or 4 years old at the time, looked up to the tall man--he was some 6 ft 6 in height--shook her finger and blurted out, "no no no, you'd need to take off you shoes first!". Obaid and I had had much more interactions since those days. He offered me a job in 1989 at what was to eventually become NCBS (, right after Vijay (K. Vijayraghavan), and Mathew K. Mathew just joined the still non-existent institute that didn't have its own space or even an approved budget. I did not go. That was the most unfortunate professional blunder I have ever committed. I gave the excuse that I hadn't made my mark yet. Obaid replied that I had learned enough science and now is the time to give back. I regret not having accepted the offer. I chickened out. In truth, I was afraid of what India might have had in store for me, having been out of the country during the past 10 years. I regret his untimely departure, due to a senseless accident. My thoughts are with his family and near friends. My greatest regret is that I never got to listen to Obaid playing the sarod--he was an accomplished musician.


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