Iqbal Niazi


(Iqbal Niazi is a distinguished biologist and much older than Obaid. I requested him to write something about Obaid; although he is not in good health, he struggled to write the note produced below. Daya Varma)


Obaid as a scientist since joining Tata Institute of Fundamental Research  is well known and has been written about by competent people who have worked with him.. I cannot add anything to it.


What is not written about is his  progressive political and social outlook and associations. Obaid’s   active association with students movement in his pre 1947 school years at Kanpur; his active leading  role in Student Federation and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Communist Party of India (CPI) unit; imprisonment (1949-51) following demonstration against the Principal of AMU Girls College who had punished girl students taking out a procession in support of All U.P. school  teachers(Jan/Feb.1949); the general suppression of CPI throughout the country by the Government of India  in response to CPI’s call for Railway Stike. Obaid  was in jail from Febuary 1949 to 1951 along with two other AMU students and Mr Tonki, a  senior teacher of AMU Higher Secondary School. I remember a group of us led by  Moonis Raza, the then lecturer at AMU, went to Delhi and met Pandit Nehru in his office  sometime after the first Parliamentary Elections to  request that since political climate had changed and it is cruel to keep  talented students like Obaid in jail denying them pursue  studies.


Dr. Zakir Husain, the then Vice-Chancellor of AMU, had supported the request. Nehru agree to intervene with G.B. Pant, the then Chief Minister of U.P.. Soon thereafter the Obaid and the other 2 students were released to continue their further education. I left Aligarh in 1953 when he was finishing the M.Sc. Final (Botany).


I know he had joined research with ICAR but had failures of his experimental crops due to frost. He joined Glasgow for Ph.D.  in 1958, completed it in 1961/62 and then went to USA as post-doctoral Fellow. I  remember  driving with Dayaram Varma in his  mini car  all the way from Montreal via Rhode Island  to be with Late Paul Parakkal at Christmas(1961) and then on to visit Obaid in Philadelphia reaching at the dead of night but  could not get the door into his apartment building opened for us and we spent the rest of the night until morning in a nearby beer parlour and then could get entry into his room. He had been in the lab till late and slept without hearing any ring.


Obaid  took us to a Jazz concert and to the Harbour Lab where we spent a night.


I returned from Canada in 1962 to join Rajasthan University  Zoology  Department  at Jodhpur and visited Bombay in 1963 summer by which time Obaid  was established in TIFR but was still hunting for microscopes and all kinds of things for equipping the laboratory. The same year in November 1963 he attended our marriage reception organized by my younger brother Aftab at Bombay and next day  drove to Victoria Terminus in Obaid’s  big car (Obaid  said he was fond of big cars).


Subsequently I could make a short  visit  at his residence  in 1969. I  got the Department  of Zoology of Rajasthan  University  to invite him to the All India Symposium in Experimental Zoology in 1978. This was after he got the Bhatnagar award  He had spoken before a packed gathering of the faculty and students describing very lucidly his discovery of how the Drosophila (house fly) could  distinguish between fructose and glucose.


I was elected Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences effective Jan 1989  at the end of his  term as President of the Academy. Obaid attended the Bhopal meting of the Academy (1989) at which I presented the results of my studies on the effects vitamin on limb regeneration..


Fortunately for me, he was  invited by the Rajasthan  University  as an expert in the selection Committee for Professorship late in 1985 just about 3 years before I was due for superannuation.


I have  had little contact with him during the last  25 years which consisted mostly of congratulations  for his different awards and achievements or enquiries after his and his wife’s health.


Obaid came to our flat for a lunch in 1999 during one of his visits to Delhi when he told me about settling down finally in Bangalore where the NCBSc had been set up.


The last contact I had with him was by a phone call to him on learning from his sister, Saira, about  his fall and injury to his back. He had said he had recovered and would soon be going back to his Lab. as usual. It is sad it could not be.

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