The four generations: Obaid Siddiqi, Veronica Rodrigues, Rohini Balakrishnan, Natasha Mhatre and Vivek Nityananda
Long live good mentors!
For good mentors do not die!
They live on in their work.
They live on in those they have taught and inspired.
They are with us every day,
Gently guiding our thoughts and actions,
Hovering in the shadows of our minds,
Pillars of strength that push us forward
To seek ever greater challenges,
To explore the unknown;
Knowing we are not alone,
Carrying with us always
The strength and courage of those who made us what we are.
In the 28 years over which I have known him, Obaid Siddiqi towered over everyone. Always with the same gentle smile and polished demeanour, Obaid taught us by example how one could do great and rigorous science and combine it with good institution-building. He was always happiest delving into the fine details of experiments and analyses and would spend hours explaining these to students who cared to take the time and effort to listen. Whereas most scientists after a certain point lose direct contact with the work bench and those who slog away there, Obaid worked at the bench to the very end. He never lost touch with the details of experiments and analyses and could therefore always provide the hands-on as well as first-hand input on experiments simple and complex. He was happy to let others deviate and follow lines of enquiry that differed from his own. He attended the graduation of my first student, whose topic was on acoustic orientation in crickets and was very pleased with the manner in which we had analysed walking paths of individuals, which he then adapted to analyzing olfactory behaviour in individual flies. He continued to mentor students into his eighties with the same enthusiasm: I examined the thesis of one his students recently and was struck by the painstaking analyses, the rigour and the clarity of thought that flowed right through the work. I was also touched with the enthusiasm with which he and his wife Asiya accompanied the students and myself to dinner after the exam through traffic-choked streets to the other end of the city for a celebratory dinner. He will be sorely missed but his spirit will continue to tower over and inspire us all.
Veronica Rodrigues was my Ph. D advisor and I was her first student: for both, a novel experience and an experiment. We spent the first couple of years sparring over how best to go about a thesis. She was young, driven and enthusiastic: I was younger, tenacious and rebellious against all authority. What should have been a recipe for disaster turned into both a fruitful thesis and a friendship based on mutual respect and affection. Veronica was patient with my outbursts of impatience and frustration and gave me the space and freedom to explore on my own rather than direct me along a trail of her making. She was very supportive also of my decision to leave genetics and follow a career in ecology after my graduation. She kept track of my students and their research work and in fact attended the thesis colloquia of my first two students. She was a tower of strength and determination, passionately devoted to science and cared deeply for those who worked with her.
Both Obaid and Veronica were mentors by example: with a passion for science, for exciting and original work and for rigour in its execution and communication. It is a privilege to have been be mentored by both of them.