Zafar Iqbal


Rahe.n naa rahe.n ham, mahka kare.n gey…

[Whether I am around or not I shall be like a fragrance in the air]



Dr. Gopal Bhatnagar—Gopal ji for the community—left us for heavenly abode on January 2, 2012 in a Gaithersburg Nursing Home after a prolonged illness. He is no longer with us physically, but decades of selfless community service he rendered has made a permanent place for him in our hearts.


Gopal ji was a Hindu by birth, secular by convictions, Indian by nationality, American by domicile, scientist by profession, and a perfect gentleman by choice.


Dr. Bhatnagar was born on July 15, 1937. He obtained his education at Lucknow University and was one of the first doctorate degree recipients from the newly established Biochemistry Department of the University where he also served as faculty for some time. His academic career included research and teaching at the Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard University, Boston and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore where he published a large number of original research papers in scientific journals of international reputation. He moved to the National Institute on Aging, NIH to perform scientific investigations on age-related problems. His keen interest in public health safety motivated him to join the US Food and Drug Administration where he worked for 10 years before joining the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), NIH overseeing the scientific research being supported by the institute. He served as the co-chair of the Maternal and Child Health Committee. During the past 20 years, his committee funded millions of US government dollars for conducting research on mothers and children. His committee was honored by the NIHCD for their outstanding services. He retired in 2009 due to his failing health.


Dr. Bhatnagar had been active in many national and international professional scientific societies and associations. He was a member of a number of societies under the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB), including the Society for Biological Chemists. He was an architect in establishing the Association of Scientists of Indian Origin in America (ASIOA) in early 80s. He had a passion to serve the community and was involved in numerous cultural and social associations. He served as president of the India Cultural Coordination Committee (ICCC) and was a founding member and advisor to the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) of Metropolitan Washington.


Dr. Bhatnagar lived an amazing life; he was a great friend—a kind of friend that stands by you when you need somebody to be there. He was very soft-spoken, but would make everyone smile by telling dignified jokes and recitation of poetry. He always wanted to make people happy.


He loved Urdu poetry, especially ghazals and would never miss poetry recitation events (mushaira) within drivable distances from his residence. He had memorized hundreds of poems and enjoyed reciting them at parties. Listening qawwali was his passion and he had been planning to arrange a program inviting qawwali singers from India and had asked for my help. Alas, his failing health did not permit him to fulfill his desire.


A serious car accident in May 2002 immobilized him for many months affecting his social and cultural activities. Although he resumed his professional activities, his participation in community associations and societies was curtailed. He suffered a minor attack of stroke in late 2009 and a misdiagnosis affected his physical health, which ultimately caused admission into a nursing home. His health gradually deteriorated and he passed away peacefully on 2nd January night.


Dr. Bhatnagar’s circle of friends was very wide and many of them became his surrogate family members. Dr. Renuka Misra served as the sole caregiver and diligently took care of Dr. Bhatnagar’s medical needs and regularly provided meals during his stay at the Nursing Home. Dr. Bhatnagar and Dr. Misra’s father were colleagues at Lucknow University and he used to affectionately call her “Bitto” and she took upon herself the duties for the arrangement of funeral services for her father’s friend. About 150 friends and colleagues assembled at Dignity Funeral Home, Laurel, Maryland to say good bye and celebrate life of the late Dr. Bhatnagar at 2:00 PM on Thursday, 5th January, 2012. The meeting was arranged on a short notice and a large number of people could not take off from their work. Dr. Renuka Misra conducted the meeting and following individuals shared their personal feelings about late Dr. Bhatnagar: Dr. Hameed Khan, Dr. Ramesh Pandey, Dr. Sambhu Banik, Dr. Zafar Iqbal, Mr. Hari Bhatnagar, Mr. James Manger, and Mr. Rajan George. Dr. Iqbal also conveyed condolence messages from Professor S. S. Parmar, Professor & Mrs. B. N. Dhawan, Dr. P. K. Seth, Dr. & Mrs. Lalit Mohan Srivastava, and Professor Vipin Tripathi—eminent scientists from India. Messages from colleagues and friends in USA and Canada were also read. A large number of condolence messages came through e-mail from all over the world and abridged version of a few messages are given below.


Dr. Har Swarup Singh, a former Ambassador—I miss Dr. Gopal Bhatnagar — I miss very much not interacting with him, not having his reactions and specific inputs, which were based on a wealth of experience and his deep desire to contribute to the Community’s activities and its welfare in general. We worked closely on many occasions, along with other community volunteers, in the planning and conduct of various activities of community organizations, particularly, ICCC and NCAIA. Gopal Ji and I worked well together, especially as co-members when engaged in tasks associated with the celebration of India’s Independence Day and the Republic Day. On such occasions, as well as in other formal and informal meetings, we both enjoyed citing Urdu poetry apropos of the subject at hand. He was truly unselfish and soft-spoken, yet an effective and respected community leader who preferred to work quietly — a prima donna he wasn’t!


Gopal Ji has left us — understandably, we are saddened. However, his self (Atman) lives on. As Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in Shrimad Bhagwad Gita: “The self ….. is unmanifest, unthinkable and changing. Therefore knowing Him (Atman) as such, thou shouldst not grieve.” (Shloka 25, Chapter II). So I am engaged in the difficult struggle to let my emotions be trumped by intellect.


Condolence messages  were received from: Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, IAS, Chairman, National Commission for Minorities, Government of India; Professor Surendra S. Parmar, Dr. Bhatnagar’s teacher at Lucknow University; Professor B.N. Dhawan, Former Director, Central Drug Research Institute; Ambassador Islam A. Siddiqui, Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the US Trade Representative; Dr. Rajen Anand, Executive Director, Center of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, USDA; Professor. P. K. Seth, CEO, Biotech Park, Vice President, The National Academy of Sciences, India and former Director, Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow; Professor S. Jamal Mustafa, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Research, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV; Professor L.M. Srivastava, Former Head, Biochemistry Department, AIIMS and Senior Consultant, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Rajinder Nagar, New Delh; Dr. Rafat Husain, Chairman, Board of Trustees, the Aligarh Alumni Association, Metro Washington; Professor Vipin Tripathi, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; Dr. Hameed Khan, Health Scientist, Center for Scientific Review, NIH; Dr. Narendra Tandon, Scientist, poet and Community Leader, Washington; Mr. Benoy Thomas, President National Council of Associations of Indians in America—NCAIA; Professor Nibhriti Das, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; Mr. Anadi Naik, Writer and Community Leader; Dr. Krishna K Banaudha, The George Washington University, Washington DC; Mr. Ashok and Mrs. Alka Batra, Esq., Community Leaders; Dr. Syed Amir, Scientific Review Officer, NIH, Bethesda, Dr. T.P.A. Devasagayam, Head, Radiation Biology & Health Sciences Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, Professor Zafar K. Khan, Ph.D., Institute for Molecular Medicine & Infectious Disease, Drexel University College of Medicine, Doylestown, PA , Dr. Pradeep K. Srivastava, Principal Scientist, Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, Dr. A.K. Agrawal, Indian Institute of Toxicology Research


As Mirza Ghalib said:


Maqdoor ho to khak se poochoon ki ae laeem


tu ne woh ganj haey giran maya kia kiye


(If could, I would inquire from the stingy earth,

What have you done, O reprehensible, with your precious treasure-troves.)

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