If There Is Another Daya Varma...
If there is another Daya
Varma, please stand up. And nobody shall. The room and the world will remain silent and still.
As a scientist, researcher, teacher, rationalist, continuously evolving Marxist and Socialist, Daya never looked back. He looked beyond the landscape and horizon and came up often with the most perplexing questions and proposed the most complex paradigms. His last paper, which is in edits now, says that Poverty is actually a Disease. It is practically a socially engineered condition, which demonstrates symptoms and needs prophylaxis. There aren't many MD PhDs in the world who think of social change while delving into pharmacokinetics. He asked me to take a look at the paper and called me a couple of days later to ask if I had. I had already reviewed it and passed it back on to him. But he had not checked his emails. His voice was failing. He simply said that he was very happy to see me and Lisa, a few days earlier. "I don't have much time left," he said.
In the squally, windswept easternmost rock face of Canada, we looked out at the sea at Signal Hill in Newfoundland with his wife Dr Shree Mulay and it struck me there and then that an era in our lives was coming to an end.
As a biomedical engineer, I came to Montreal, some thirty eight years ago from the United States. It was the time of Mrs Gandhi's Emergency rule. Night had descended on India like a dark shadow. My father, a well-known cardiologist and civil libertarian had warned me not to come back at that time to India. The late Hari Sharma, a longtime friend of Daya and an acquaintance of my father, had asked Daya if I could be brought over to Canada. I had worked in Bio-Transport in the Chemical Engineering Department of my University and had been involved in developing polylactic acid membranes for Heparin transport. Daya got me into McGill University to work under him. He was researching the ulcerative and toxic effects of Butazolidin dosage on subjects suffering from malnutrition. While we did research, we were also dissecting the condition of the Indian state, organizing demonstrations in support of Indian people and bringing out papers, bulletins and books and sponsoring the talks of those who opposed the Emergency.
He had hundreds of fat rats on one hand and hundreds of thin rats on the other, getting the same dosage and getting tested for toxemia. A close parallel with the fat cats that run the world and the rest that suffer from them. Within an hour of his explaining the project to me, I realized that this man was not interested in furthering the cause of basic science as a personal academic career goal. Of course he had continuously published papers throughout his career, even much after his retirement, in the most highly respected medical journals. I had just arrived from the US and there all Indian PhD students and Post Docs pompously declared that they were doing "fundamental research" or "basic science." Daya was clear. Reputedly with having completed the fastest PhD in McGill history (less than two years) he struck me as someone who wanted science and scientific research to be directly beneficial to today's sufferers.
There will be many of us who will remember Daya as a Marxist thinker, as an organizer, as a prolific writer on the human condition, as a long-time supporter of fundamental social change in India. And rightly so. I will not get into that here. Daya went where others hesitated to go. In the interiors of Bhojpur, to Kashmir and Bhopal to meet with those who had a different dream for India. He was often excited about projects and put his mind to it very expeditiously. When some of these projects did not turn out as well as he had expected, he was frank about the disappointment. I knew that when Daya started a sentence by saying "Maybe..." he was going to come up with an idea that was totally antithetical to what he had proposed earlier or completely contrary to what was prevalent amongst social activists, as a popular notion. When an acute sense of disappointment and even a dystopic resentment crept in, Daya embodied the notions that George Bernard Shaw often displayed. "The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it". Daya lived that reality. He was his own detractor and thereby a tremendous source of inspiration for those who believed that for there to be advance there must be debate and struggle, continuous revisit of all paradigms, rather than compliance. So often, we heard friends saying "Oh! Daya, C'mon....." Which simply meant that he would be saying the most provocative things possible to energize the debate. Of course there were some of us who were gullible enough. He was a discussant and an agitator. He was not interested in surface modalities, in mechanical radicalism and he recognized what was going through the minds of others and he would often say "I know what you are thinking...."
Of late I found out that Daya was always a much sought after bridge player. Key players in St Johns wanted him on their team. Why? I researched a bit and found out that good bridge players remember sometimes fifty hands. They know how folks play the game. Daya knew this world in so many ways like the back of his hand. He remembered stuff from decades ago.
Vol. 47, No. 45, May 17 - 23, 2015