Life Beyond Medicine

Remembering Ajit Sengupta

My high school Biology teacher remains one of the most influential people in my life. He was not only a teacher of the Life Sciences, but also, of the science of life. And today marks the completion of a year since he passed away.

As I stumble through one of the most difficult phases of my life, I miss his guiding light, his friendly smile which was almost always followed by a mischievous wink.

He was an erudite scholar, not only in the sciences, but also in many other subjects. While such a statement would conjure images like this to the minds of the ones that do not know him:

professor_frink

to us, his students, who actually knew him and had come in contact with him, he was more like this:

IndianaJones1L_468x663

He was like a Gregory House, in the regimented institution where I was a student. He always asked WHY and always poked us to do the same. Long before I entered the medical fraternity, I was being given an initiation into the science of evidence based medicine by Ajit da.

In the pre-med days, when I was preparing for the entrance exam, he was a pillar of support and strength to me. When I rushed to school to convey the information of my awesome exam scores, he did the whole smile-wink thing and said “I told you so!” before walking away in that characteristic style.

He was like our own Dumbledore. Being a Pottermaniac with an imaginative predisposition, I was always comparing my alma mater (Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission), a hostel-based school, to Hogwarts. And while the oppressive teachers/administrators were the minions of Dolores Umbridge, Ajit da was my very own Dumbledore. True, he lacked the beard, but he made up for that with his quirky sense of humor (as I grew up, he introduced me to the wholly new concept of innuendos, something he was a master at. That, and puns!).

He was like an Encyclopedia. When, even as a medical student, I went to his place to tell him of my Biochemistry medals, he started quizzing me. I was shocked to learn that this ol’ high school Biology teacher was so up to date on stuff that I was scratching the surface of.

He was a champion wordsmith. I was a constant pest before the school debates and he would always drop a few pointers, all off the top of his head, which would invariably lead me to the top few in the competition. That I acquired a formidable reputation in my school days, as a prolific debater and public speaker was more his credit than anything!

Some of the fondest memories of Ajit da are in his classes. He would NEVER do anything in a conventional way. When people say about teaching methods outside the box and wonder whether they will work or not, I am reminded of his methods. Sometimes it seemed he did not know where the box was!

Ajit da was a big fan of Harold Urey. Like Urey, he was always striving to know more about different subjects, different disciplines. He was a brilliant raconteur and would tell Urey’s eccentric stories. I always felt he identified a little with the Nobel winning Physical Chemist who started off studying Zoology (something Ajit da himself did). He would cherish telling the story of the Stanley Miller – Harold Urey experiment which led to the abiogenesis of amino acids. It was a part of our high school biology curriculum and if you have not been taught this part by Ajit Sengupta, you have not lived. I might add that his dramatic portrayal of a dull and drab Biology chapter was in no small ways responsible for first making me want to go into Medicine!

ajitda_obt_abp

I have been lucky to have been his student, and unlucky to have lost him so soon. Last year, I also wrote about the passing of Nikhil Da, another great teacher, who influenced a lot of people, like, guess what, Ajit da!

My thoughts are with Jayanti-di, his daughter and other Ajitophiliacs, like me, who are, undoubtedly, missing this genius today.

P.S. The obituary above appeared in Anandabazar Patrika, a leading vernacular news paper in my neck of the woods. I am not aware who wrote it, though the adulatory tone indicates that it must be some student of his, but I am afraid that it is filled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. However, I am not one to nit pick on this one, since the main issue is to cherish the memories of a wonderful man, a great teacher, and a legend in his own right. In the next post, I will post an audio commentary I created last year after his death to honor his memory.

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4 thoughts on “Remembering Ajit Sengupta

  1. thank you for the wonderful article and you tube video. I was his student too though I am not a student of Narendrapur RK Mission. Ajit Da was a Great person….My life is indebted to him upto a great extent. He never considered any single student special….rather he considered all of his students special. The last time I met him was back in 2009 when I called him up and set up an appointment with him at his house. He used to teach me Biology (more so life science) back in 2000-02 when I was preparing for my board exams. we talked a lot about varied things, merely listening to his words were a great source of knowledge as ever. A year later, on a certain day, while I was preparing to get enrolled in a reputed B School, i just felt like calling him. I didnot call him then as it was already late at night and the next day forgot about it. it was just on the next day while I was on my way to appear in the GD/PI session of this B School that my mother rang me up and told me to see the editorial of this bengali daily. I was carrying one and came upon that news. Ajit Da, my friend, philosopher, guide was no more. I understood that may be it was his love for me which wanted me to call him 2 previous nights before. If only I could have called him that night, If only…… I didnot attend his funeral neither his first death anniversary.
    Back to present tense, I am a manager in a well reputed IT company and am leaving Kolkata soon. Only yesterday night I was lying awake thinking about this great person who instilled in me the habit of reading, a habit which has culminated itself as my greatest source of knowledge, when i understood that I may not ever see his picture for a long time. May be it was his love for me which again reminded me that I may visit his daughter and ask for a photograph of his on his death anniversary. this time I obliged my mind. Remebering Ajit Da.
    Guroraadi Anaadischa
    Guruh Parama Daivatam
    Guroh Parataram Naasti
    Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha.

    Meaning: The Guru has neither beginning nor end; the Guru is the ultimate God (in the visible form). There is nothing beyond this Guru principle, and I salute such a Guru.

    • What wonderful words Anandaroop da. He is the matter of legends and lores. And yes, it is indeed eerie how his connection is so strong with us…

  2. Indeed, this man is a phenomenon. Had he been born in a more affluent family, he might have been a world-renowned physician. Ironically though, we benefitted from his ill-fortune, and we could have him as our teacher. In one of his tender moments (a rarity in itself), he confessed that during his student days, he dreamt of becoming a neuroscientist, because there is no greater mystery for him than the human brain. Of course immediately he followed that up with a joke which made us all laugh. His witticisms were beyond compare.
    Ajit Sir will always live in our memories!!

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