It was with great sadness that I read about the passing away of Prof M S Swaminathan, father of the Green Revolution. Only those who have suffered the pangs of hunger, and have gone to bed hungry, or worse, experienced the torture of coaxing their little children to go to sleep on a hungry stomach, will truly understand what food security means. Not those who overload their refrigerators with food items, only to throw out some whose expiry date has been triggered.
In my 45 years as a journalist, I became extremely fond of two Indian scientists. For their brilliance, knowledge and expertise of course, but also for their humility, simplicity, kindness and courtesy they always extended to me. The first was leather scientist Y Nayudumma, who was so cruelly killed when his Air India flight was bombed by Sikh extremists in 1985. He was only 63. Born in an agricultural family near Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, he had held prestigious positions such as director general of CSIR and vice-chancellor of JNU, Delhi. Interestingly, a meeting of RC Madras in the early ’80s where he was honoured and I reported on it, brought us close! The next morning, I was thrilled to get a handwritten note from the great scientist, praising the “remarkably accurate report of my speech” in the Indian Express! After that I met him several times at his CLRI office — the first time he said with a soft smile: “Do you know the chair on which you are seated and the flooring in this office is of leather that we have made?”
We became friends, and he was my sole encyclopaedia when it came to writing anything on leather. Once, over a cup of coffee, when I remarked at the simplicity and humility of such a great scientist, he said with a twinkle in his eye: “I am still a villager at heart; you can take the boy out of the village, but not the village out of the boy.” That was the first time I had heard this quaint and famous line. His untimely and tragic death came as a huge blow.
Similarly, M S Swaminathan was an equally brilliant, affable and approachable scientist, minus any airs or a chip on his shoulder. My homage to him in this issue talks about the way he treated and interacted with journalists. I’ll just add one more point here. He was so caring that after every luncheon seminar or conference that the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai hosted, he would personally come across to each of us and ensure that we left only after having the simple but delicious lunch on offer. He knew very well my penchant for scooting as soon as the conference was over and would warn me at the very beginning: ‘Don’t leave without having your lunch; you should always eat on time!’
Such courtesy and caring, affability, gentleness, simplicity and humility are hard to come by. Admittedly, this country has seen many such brilliant scientists, who wore their greatness lightly. I knew two of them at a personal level… and will miss them both… always.