In conversation with veteran Forensic Scientist Dr. Padmapani
Throughout the ages, Assam has produced a number of eminent personalities in different fields. A number of people have brought laurels to the State by excelling in their chosen fields and professions. But unlike art and literature, only a handful of people from the State have been able to make a mark for themselves in the field of science. One such rare person in our midst is Dr. Padmapani, a scientist who has not only excelled in his chosen specialty but who has also proved to the people of Assam the immense potentialities and possibilities of forensic science in a backward State like ours.
In the field of forensic science in Assam and the Northeast, Dr. Padmapani is a name which hardly needs an introduction. The only scientist of the region to have a doctorate degree in forensic science, Dr. Padmani dedicated his entire life towards the development of forensic science in the State. He retired as the Director of the Forensic Science Laboratory in Guwahati.
A man of tremendous integrity, sincerity and dedication - qualities and human traits that have almost become extinct nowadays - Dr. Padmapani has had to face many challenges in life - both in his professional life as also in his working environment. A specialist in ballistics science, Dr. Padmapani was inducted into government service in the State Forensic Science Laboratory for a post that was especially created for him! So not only did he have to live up to his professional credentials, at the same time, he also had to face the challenges which came in his way of leading an honourable and dignified life. This unassuming scientist, who has been bestowed with a number of recognitions at the international level, fought his entire life against the corrupt practices prevalent in his department.
Dr. Padmapani was born as the fourth son of late Mohan Chandra Mahanta, a lawyer by profession, and late Dinaprabha Mahanta of Jorhat. He was born at Karanga, a place located about 8 kms away from Jorhat, on November 6, 1949. An exceptionally bright student, he secured the 4th position in the HSSLC Examination (Science) from Jorhat Government Boys' HS School in the year 1966. He was also a recipient of the National Science Talent Scholarship.
After graduation from Cotton College in 1969, he did his M.Sc. in Physics from Gauhati University. He received a BPR&D (Bureau of Police Research & Development, Govt. of India ) Research Fellowship in the year 1975 to undertake research work in Forensic Science. Soon after his studies, he was absorbed by the State Government in its Forensic Science department for a post created especially for him! Dr. Padmapani served the department with utmost sincerity and dedication throughout his lifetime, rising through the ranks to retire as the director of the same department.
Despite this man's tremendous dedication towards his service and his profession, it is a matter of our collective failure as a society that he did not want to continue the last six-seven months of his tenure due to widespread corruption in his department which bothered him a lot.
In an illustrious career, Dr Padmapani published many research papers in reputed scientific journals. One of his papers titled 'Wound Ballistics: Study of the Rupture of Human Skin Membrane under the Impact of a Projectile', co-authored with Dr M. Jauhari, was presented at the VIIIth International Conference of the International Association of Forensic Sciences held in Wichita, USA in May, 1978, and was subsequently published in the Defence Science Journal. Another paper which he presented in the International Symposium on Analysis and Detection of Explosives held in Paris in July, 2007 also received a lot of critical acclaim.
Even inside the country, he has been invited to deliver lectures at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Calcutta, National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, New Delhi, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad, National Security Guard, New Delhi etc.
While a lot has already been written on him in various portals and newspapers, the mélange team recently entered into a discussion with him to talk about hitherto unknown facets of his life. Following are snippets from our discussion.
Q. You are counted amongst the top most scientists of the country. Who has been your inspiration and role models?
Ans: I have drawn inspiration from several people at various stages of life. My father made me believe that scientific knowledge was great. He encouraged me to pursue a career by applying my knowledge in a positive manner. I am highly influenced by my research guide, Dr. Mohan Jahauri, who is a great scientist and a punctual man. Punctuality is a trait which I have imbibed from him.
Honesty is the credo of my life. I have had the privilege of meeting several great people who are very honest. I met Dr Pushpa Bhargav, the founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, my close friend Dr. Jitendra Nath Goswami, Dr Laljit Singh, who is a great scientist and who was also the director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology. These people are honest to the core and I have been really inspired after seeing their work culture.
Q. Tell us about the work you have been engaged in after retirement from the State Forensic Science laboratory.
Ans: I retired as the Director of the Directorate of Forensic Science, Assam. After my retirement, I have worked as a Scientific Consultant in the North Eastern Police Academy (NEPA), Director of Education, Research & Development Foundation (ERDF), Principal of ERDF Junior College, Guwahati and Principal of Royal Public School, Guwahati.
Q. Do you feel that scientists in Assam are accorded the respect and recognition that they deserve?
Ans: It is a fact that scientists are not given the respect and recognition that they deserve - both by the government as well as the public. You can take the example of Dr. JN Goswami, the principal scientist of Chandrayaan 1 - the Moon mission. Despite being such an eminent scientist, it took a long time for the people of the State to actually recognize his achievements.
Q. You have been endeavoring relentlessly to educate the people about the role of forensic science in detection of crime through the print and electronic media. You have published /edited a number of books. Please tell us about your writing endeavors.
Ans: I have been writing since a long time back. Several of my articles on Forensic Science have been published in numerous national and regional dailies and magazines, including a series of articles in the quarterly journal, Sansar Samanay, published by the Directorate of Coordination and Police Communication, MHA, Government of India.
I have written the following books: Fingerprintor Kahini, Forensic Medicinar Kahini, Forensic Bigyan aru Keitaman Nrisangsha Hatyakanda, Heartick (science fiction for children), Dhumpan aru Surapan, Drug, Segun Puli Ruba Kone (a collection of short stories), Abeg Bibek Anubhuti (a collection of agalpa), Aai Hatyai Houk Sesh Hotya and Oushadh Sikitsak Aru Guneapigrupi Ami.
The books that I have edited include Jugalbandi: Deepali-Neelpawan, Dristi Darshan Diganta, Prasanga: Dadhi Mahanta and Shri Shri Gopal Devar Rachit Geet-ghosha aru Nat. Based on my stories, the following TV serials/tele-films have been made by prominent directors of the State: Safura (direcred by Hemanta Dutta), Dapoon (directed by Abdul Mazid, Charukamal Hazarika and others), Tadanta (directed by Bidyut Chackravarty), Segun Puli Ruba Kone (directed by Upakul Bardoloi), Bangshi Mastor (directed by Sujit Singha), Heartick (directed by Hemanta Das) and Sapoon (produced by the Govt. of Assam).
Q. You also used to write letters to the editor of The Sentinel on a regular basis earlier. Can you please recount those days?
Ans: I have a long association with The Sentinel newspaper. Through letters to the editor, I used to present burning issues of the State on a satirical note, in a short and concise manner. For instance, I remember one of my letters which read: "Those who drive without using dippers are doubly blind - both mentally as well as physically."
It is a matter of pride for me that readers loved to read my letters. In fact, my letters were so popular that if I did not write for a couple of weeks, the readers and editor would call me to find out why I was not writing.
Q. You are also actively associated with a number of welfare organizations, like Karunadhara (for persons with disabilities), Cheneh (Home for destitute women), ARDSI (Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society of India, Guwahati Branch), Rodali (Counselling Centre for breast cancer patients). Please tell us about your involvement with ARDSI and your experiences taking part in 'Antajudha', the play that was staged recently in the city.
Ans: The Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI) is a registered, national, non-profit voluntary organization engaged in the care, support, training and research of dementia since its inception in 1992. The Guwahati chapter of the ARDSI was established and registered in the year 2012 and its president Dr. Ajaya Mahanta plays a keen role in the activities of the organization, along with its other members.
Recently, a play was staged under the aegis of ARDSI to spread more awareness about Alzheimer's disease. The play, which was directed by Rituparna Das, was very well acclaimed. The play revolves around the plight of a man, Padum Chaliha, who has been afflicted by Azheimer's Disease and how he is treated by his son and daughter-in-law in his old age. I played the role of Padum Chaliha and it marked my comeback to theatre after 52 years!
Herein, it is important that I mention that my family and daughter-in-law in real life does not have any resemblance to the one portrayed in the play. I have been fortunate to be blessed with a very understanding and caring daughter-in-law in real life!
In retrospect, it was a memorable experience performing in a play after so many years! Alzheimer's is presently a serious global health issue and our basic aim was to create and spread more awareness about Alzheimer's Disease. I hope that we have been able to fulfill our main objective.
Truly, in the midst of all this corruption, degradation and degeneration of human values, Dr. Padmapani stands out like a lighthouse in an ocean. As a writer had rightly remarked, his intellectual integrity, indomitable courage and simplicity are proverbial. Reams can be written about him and it is not possible to confine his achievements to a single article. However, we conclude with the hope that his story will continue to inspire and guide the generations to come.