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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A tribute to my mentor Dr. Bosco Emmanuel on his 25th Marriage Anniversary

A tribute to my mentor Dr. Bosco Emmanuel on his 25th Marriage Anniversary

Dr. Bosco Emmanuel of CECRI - has been my mentor since my undergraduate days.  He and his wife recently celebrated their 25th marriage anniversary (9th Sep 2012).  I was requested by his son Infant Gabriel to write my impressions as a student on Dr. BE, which were read at the celebrations (was a surprise for Dr BE).

It is only after I finished writing this note on him that I realized I had written this on teacher's day !

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“Murali – I am being overpaid for my work.  Why should they pay me such a high salary when there are many people in India who are unable to afford regular meals on a given day ?”

Dr. Bosco posed this question and looked straight into my eyes.  I stood befuddled, unable to answer him.  Had I agreed with him I would be underestimating the value he has brought to CECRI and had I disagreed with him, I would be questioning his judgment. That sums up the man of today’s occasion.  A scientist, guide and a mentor who is like none other I have seen in my personal and professional life.  Someone who I have had the privilege of dialing up for any “knowledge emergencies” or when I am at crossroads unable to understand the physics of the processes.  A researcher, whose insight and dedication are superseded only by the extreme discipline that he observes in all aspects of his life.

When we talk about theoretical electrochemistry and modeling in CECRI, there are only three names that we hear : Prof. S. K. Rangarajan (SKR), Dr. Ahmed Basha and Dr. Bosco Emmanuel.  While Dr. Basha has done work largely in engineering, Prof SKR and Dr. Bosco have produced papers in pure science topics.  Prof SKR, as everybody knows, was a true genius, a brilliant teacher and a kind mentor.  While it is easy for a student to inherit the mentoring qualities from their guide, what amazes me is that Dr. Bosco also had derived greatly the scientific aptitude of Prof SKR as well. However, unlike SKR, Dr. Bosco went beyond electrochemistry and applied mathematics and researched on other fields like quantum mechanics, crystal shapes, corrosion and lithium batteries also.  Unless a person is strong in fundamentals of physics, it is impossible to work in such diverse fields.

Prof SKR for a good part of his life had the luxury of interacting with many students at IISc and with other professors on a regular basis.  Dr. Bosco on the other hand chose to remain in Karaikudi working pretty much single-handedly on all the different subjects.  Thus it always amazes me how he could sit quietly and alone in his office and keep publishing in top journals like journal of chemical physics regularly.  We on the other hand, in spite of having a team and having discussions regularly are still finding it difficult to publish in such good journals.  In other words, the so called modeling and theoretical electrochemistry “team” in CECRI was just him.  Students and co-workers simply benefitted from his expansive knowledge.  He could have easily become a professor in any of the top universities abroad given his academic standing, but he chose CECRI.

At this point, I recall one of his statements : “Murali – the ONGC project in which you worked with me in nineties, went on for many years which consumed a lot of family-time as well.  At that time, it was my wife who helped to keep the family going and I really value that”.  Thus, if his scientific thinking was on a hyperdrive and stayed committed, it is Mrs Emmanuel’s dedication to the family which buttressed it suitably.  Hence she has an equal share of recognition in whatever Dr. Bosco has contributed to research.

Lastly, I would like to note that one of my greatest regrets in my life is that I did not do my PhD under him.  And to absolve me off that, after coming to Australia as a post-doc I requested him to come and be our visiting scientist for 6 months in 2009.  At the age of 55, he shared a room with me, cooked and ate vegetarian food and washed vessels with me like a college student would. Every second I spent with him will be cherished and was of highest academic quality.  Dr. Ivan Cole – our supervisor – was most pleased with his contributions and came all the way from Australia  to CECRI recently to strengthen the Indian collaborations keeping Dr. Bosco as the epicenter.

But please remember that prior to his visit to Australia, Dr. Bosco had not stepped out of India for almost 20 years.  In fact at the time I had invited him to Australia, Prof. Venkat Subramanian (U of Washington St Louis) – a former illustrious student of Dr. Bosco - also invited him to USA.  But Dr. Bosco chose Australia and the reason in his own words was :

“Murali is my only student who is struggling to find his feet in his life. It is my duty to help him”.

For that kind heart and all the knowledge you keep imparting, Sir, I am always indebted.  I may age and so may you, but when I discuss science with you, I always feel like that 19 year old who came to you for his first internship.  If I have a choice, I would become your full-time student and work with you on a daily basis.  May you see more anniversaries and live long in good health so that students like me can always come to you for learning.

Yes - it is indeed a selfish wish.