Iqbal Niazi – New Delhi



My association with Daya Ram began nearly 65 years ago in 1949-50 when I first came to know him while he was a studying at King George’s Medical College in Lucknow for the MBBS and MD degrees. My sister, Habib Bano, was also a student at the same Medical College during the same years. Between 1949-53, I completed my M.Sc. in Zoology and had become a demonstrator-cum-research student at AMU, Aligarh. During those years I had to come to Lucknow from Aligarh frequently in connection with the activities of the CPI and the U.P. Students Federation of which I was then the President.  It is during these visits that I first came to know Daya Ram then as one of a group of active workers, members and sympathizers of the Lucknow Branch of All India Students Federation and the then undivided Communist Party of India. The group consisted of a number of university students to name some:  Ravi, Robin Mitra, Anirudh Gupta, Yudhishtra, Krishnanand Bhatnagar (Anand also known as Kailash), P.C.  Joshi, Ruby, Khadija, Atiya, and medical students including my sister Habib Bano and Sharda Paul, and also some teachers of the medical college including Dr. N.P.Gupta (Pathology), Dr. P.C. Chaudhury (Physiology) and others. Many of the comrades of those days are no more.


On my visits to Lucknow, Anand, then a student of Economics at Lucknow University, was often my host and companion and I had become very fond of him. Anand was also a very close friend of Daya Ram, which furthered the friendship between Daya Ram and me. From 1953, when I had moved to Kanpur and joined as lecturer in the DAV College, my trips to Lucknow, for both political as well as personal reasons, had become easier and more frequent, and with that grew the depth of familiarity with friends and comrades there including Anand and Daya Ram. I learnt about his rural background, that he had been married very early and was already himself a father even before he came to Lucknow to join the university. I found in him a warm, liberal, cultured and friendly person with no trace of any prejudices or orthodoxy. He talked less, listened much more and I felt comfortable in his company. I learnt from some of his friends that he had some marital problems but he never talked about his personal woes or problems with me.


The decade of 1950s was a period of much turmoil in the CPI.  P.C. Joshi, who as the General Secretary, had led the Party through 1940s, had been branded a reformist and expelled from the Party; there was much debate regarding what revolutionary line of action to adopt – a peaceful path to socialism and democracy through united action with all secular progressive parties or by revolutionary armed struggle of peasants and workers against the bourgeois state – the Chinese way. The exposure of Stalin’s atrocities by Khrushchev in the Soviet Union had led to much depression, confusion, disillusion and even anger among communists all over the world particularly the young cadres of communist parties and allied organizations. In spite of such a situation, however Daya Ram held on to his adopted Marxist ideology and was firmly convinced that socialism was the only solution to bring about a secular, rational, democratic society with justice and equality for all, free from exploitation of the many by the few.


I went to Canada to join McGill as a Ph.D. student in Zoology in September 1957, completed the doctoral work by mid June 1961, did a year of post-doc at Toronto and returned to India to an academic position at the newly established University of Rajasthan at Jaipur. I had to stay stuck to Jaipur until retirement in 1988 plus 5 years for personal circumstances although some good opportunities to move out did come my way. Daya Ram often chastised me for accepting a position in a place known for royal palaces and no science; and repeatedly urged me to come back to Canada by some way or other. However, I could do fairly good science at Jaipur, which was recognized and repeatedly confirmed internationally and which Daya Ram refers to on p. 322 of Ch. 14 of his first book, although I believe the concerned para carrying the reference needed some editing,


Daya Ram came to Montreal and joined as Ph.D. student in the Pharmacology

Department of McGill in September 1959, got the degree in 1961, made a short visit home and soon was back in his lab in the Pharmacology Department.  He had also accepted a professorship in the Medical College at Jhansi, U.P. some time in the 1960s, and worked at that college there for some months, but he was not happy, gave up the position and returned to McGill leaving the family in India. From McGill he retired as Professor of Pharmacology in 2007 but stayed on as Emeritus Professor to finally retire in 2009, after which he moved to St. John, Newfoundland with his wife Prof. Dr. Shree Mulay who is a Vice-Dean at the Memorial University there.


In spite of the big distance between Canada and India my contact with him remained alive; physically, when possible, and by post and telephone and from about 2003 via internet by regular exchange of emails. He visited India frequently on personal or professional work and met me whenever possible.  Once he even came to Jaipur and stayed with us for a couple of days.


I visited Montreal 5 times between 1971 and 1984. During 1971, 1973 and 1974 I went there on a CIDA fellowship sponsored by Professor Ather Ali of the University of Montreal for 3 months each year to work in his lab in the Biology Department. Next I stopped over at Montreal twice for a few days staying with Daya Ram each time – first on my way to Urbana on an Indo-US visiting scientist fellowship in November 1983 and next during the return journey from Urbana to India in September 1984.   The first stop-over (1983) was made possible by an invitation from Prof. Ather Ali for a talk on my findings of the totally unexpected effects of excess vitamin A on regenerating limbs quite opposed to those on the normally developing limbs.


I came to know Shree Mulay on this occasion. Both she and Daya Ram, not married then, were present at the talk after which they took me to a nice meal in a restaurant, I do not remember which. I learnt then that he had relocated his wife and the three children to Montreal from India to live together some years earlier but mutual differences could not be resolved to prevent divorce and that his separated wife was then living with two children in a house left to her by him. I was introduced to his son Rahul who was living with him.


The period 1971-1984 was one of big events in India and the world–enough for Daya and me to talk about apart from personal matters on occasions at most of which I stayed with him: Bangladesh broke off from Pakistan; end of war in Viet Nam with defeat of USA; death of Mao Tse Tung; end of the cold war but the impending collapse of the Soviet Union; a year and a half of National Emergency declared by Mrs. Indira Gandhi in India; the Blue Star military operation against the Golden Temple, etc. I last met with Daya Ram in Montreal during the return journey from Urbana (September 1984). It was followed soon after by the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, the pogrom of the Sikhs in Delhi and then the Bhopal Disaster in December 1984.


During my visits to Montreal in 1971/73 I had found Daya Ram in company of a number of very hippy-looking young men and women busy in anti-Vietnam war protests, propagating obviously Maoist politics through public cultural shows and the sale and distribution of extreme left-wing literature. He had even taken me once to visit an unkept, disorderly and unhealthy looking den of these young revolutionaries drawn from various nationalities. Daya Ram himself would refer to Mao as ‘our’ Chairman Mao. I had felt very unhappy and ill-at-ease with all this. However, Daya Ram remained a Marxist true to his socialist, humanitarian, democratic and secular values and although his opinions about how to achieve socialism passed through several phases including one of sectarian Maoism, he ultimately came back to the concept of united front of all progressive forces for a peaceful transition to a humane, secular, democratic socialist system of equality, welfare and justice for all.


Daya Ram was a very generous, compassionate and helpful person. My younger daughter, Zeenat Niazi, studied for the M. Arch. degree at McGill on an Agha Khan Scholarship from 1993 to 1995. She very fondly remembers the warm hospitality and help she got from Daya uncle, Shree auntie and Rahul during her 2 years stay in Montreal.


Let me recall two interesting events that demonstrated his ever readiness to help people.  In 1984, a Venezuelan girl, Lidia Velasquez, was a Ph.D. student in Genetics in Urbana, working on the same floor as me; she knew I had lived in Montreal for several years and still had friends there. One afternoon in August I got a distress call by her from a public booth in Montreal. She said she had gone there with a group on vacation but her                                                                                                                            companions had deserted her, driving away somewhere leaving her alone with no money or place to stay; she pleaded if I could ask any of my Montreal friends to help her with a loan to enable her to return to Urbana. I contacted Daya Ram and he was ready to help. It took a number of to and fro phone calls to trace her whereabouts in Montreal. Daya Ram finally located her, invited to a good meal and loaned her $100 to travel back to Urbana; he later confirmed her sending back to him the loaned amount as repayment with thanks.


Much earlier, perhaps some time in 1970s, Dr. R.P. Goyal, a young colleague in the Zoology Department, had his paper accepted and wanted to attend a conference in Montreal, but he had little monetary support. He asked me if I could tell him how to find an inexpensive place to stay there for a few days. I called Daya Ram who advised him that on arrival he should take the bus from the airport to city terminus and then call him on phone from there.  On return Goyal told me how grateful he was that instead of asking him to go some hotel Professor Daya Ram had got him to his own house to stay as a personal guest.


Daya Ram was not just a scientist confined to his research laboratory and academic duties. His life’s work was a combination of science with active political and social activities. His genuine interest in the utilization of his professional scientific expertise in service for human welfare was manifested in his untiring, selfless, admirable and valuable on-the-spot detailed investigations on all the human and medico-technical aspects of the tragic December 1984 Bhopal Disaster in India caused by leakage of the poisonous cyanide gas in the Union Carbide Plant killing or maiming thousands.


His involvement with political and social movements concerned with issues like rationalism, secularism, social and gender equality, health, human rights, friendship between India and Pakistan, struggle against racism and war, for peace among nations, etc. comes out clearly in his writings and in the contents of the monthly INSAF Bulletin started by him 13 years ago of which I have been a regular recipient.  Daya Ram spent his last seven years in writing two books one of which was published in 2011 and the other was ready for publication when he passed away.


When he was writing the first book, I exchanged several emails with him on some questions regarding the transition from spiritualism to materialism in Ayurveda. I was extremely happy when during her visit to Delhi in 2011, his wife Dr. Shree Mulay came one day to my flat in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, personally to deliver to me Daya Ram’s signed copy of his book “The Art and Science of Healing since Antiquity”. I was deeply touched by the caption in his own handwriting above his signature dated May 1, 2011, on top of the front page following the front cover: “To Iqbal who brought me to Montreal and changed my life”. I did help a little in his coming to Montreal in September 1959 but that he thought that by that little help I had changed his life was a huge compliment, which I would never forget.


Let me recall here how I was instrumental in Daya Ram coming to Montreal.


I had been at McGill for nearly 2 years when sometime in June/July 1959 I received a short letter from Daya Ram along with a brief C.V. containing a list of the few papers he had published until then. He had asked me to find out if he could get admission for Ph.D. in Pharmacology at McGill.  The Pharmacology Department was located on the 5th floor of the Biology Building and Zoology, where I worked, occupied the second floor. The door of the elevator to the second floor was exactly opposite my lab. I knew Dr. Melville was the Head of Pharmacology and had often seen him in the elevator going up or down.  I often worked till late in the night and so did Melville up on the 5th floor. Sometimes Mrs. Melville would come late in the night to take him home and occasionally would stop by my lab and advise me not to work so late. This was all I knew about Pharmacology when I received the letter from Daya Ram. Then all I did was that one day I took the elevator to the 5th floor, knocked at the office of Professor Melville and asked if I could have a few minutes with him. I introduced myself; he recognized having seen me working at the second floor, allowed me in and asked what I had come for.  I told him about my friend Dr. Daya Ram’s wish to work for Ph.D. at McGill, showed him his letter and the brief C.V. He read the letter, looked at the CV, thought for a moment, and told me he could take him as his student but at that time he could offer only 100 dollars a month. He gave me a form and said if your friend agreed let him fill up the form and send it back to him at Pharmacology Department; and he may prepare to join from the coming semester. I was amazed; it was so simple. I thanked him and rushed down to post the material to Daya Ram.


I wrote to him that if he came, a small room on a low rent in the wing of building, next to where I occupied one of the three rooms on one floor, was available and he could share the kitchenette and the bathroom on our floor.  Daya Ram Varma agreed and joined for Ph.D. in Pharmacology at McGill in September 1959. That is all that I had done to bring him to Montreal. The rest was all his doing.

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