ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Learning from Obaid Siddiqi

Obaid Siddiqi (7 January 1932-26 July 2013), a pioneering biologist, passed away in Bangalore after battling injuries from a traffic crash in his neighbourhood.

On a late July evening I got a text message from Dunu Roy saying that Obaid Siddiqi (OS) had been hit by a moped and was in the intensive care unit (ICU) with a serious head injury. The next day I went over and spent time with Dunu and his wife Imrana (who happens to be Obaid’s sister). The mood was sombre. Obaid had barely recovered from a spinal and arm fracture for which he had spent three months in hospital. According to his sister, he had healed himself out of sheer grit and focus on getting well to get back to his work, with his youngest daughter Diba and music as constant companions. I came home agitated and unhappy. OS had not been my teacher or even a very close friend. Yet, I found myself brooding over his condition in the ICU. I had met him a few times over the previous 30 years at his sister’s place and found him inspiring and unexpectedly gracious. I knew that he had done pioneering work in bacterial genetics and on understanding how nerve signals are generated and transmitted. And I knew of the string of awards he often came to collect, but our discussions were mostly on subjects other than science. I was also aware of his continuing leadership at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore.

On 26 July I got another SMS from Dunu that OS had passed away. I was again surprised at my emotional response to the news. It could not be just that he was Imrana’s brother. I recognised the fact that the circumstances of his injury – hit by a moped as a pedestrian on a peaceful residential street – reminded me of my failure as a road safety professional. But more on that later.

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