Header Ads

Obituary: Prof. Asad Ahmad (Naved Masood)

This obituary has been incorporated in this anthology in the wake of e-mail correspondence with Late Prof. Asad Ahmad in which this Editor informed him about Golden Jubilee of Mohsin-ul-Mulk Hall. He was much glad to learn about special global edition of this magazine and informed this person that he was one of the descendants of Mohsin-ul-Mulk Nawab Mehdi Ali, after whom M.M. Hall is so named. He wished to contribute some article to this magazine but his illness didn’t allow him to do so.It is obligatory on this author to inform student community that Prof. Asad was very much spirited Aligarian who always tried hard for promotion of scientific temper, acumen and expertise among AMU students. He was the architect of Summer University Program in AMU campus. This program was designed on lines of modern pedagogical advancements of the Westrn universities and fortunately this person has been attending the same program since last four years. Professor Asad Ahmad passed away peacefully in Edmonton Alberta (Canada) on Saturday, March 30, 2014. He had a short struggle with advanced pancreatic cancer.
Prof. Asad Ahmed was born in Saharanpur, India on November 8, 1939. He received his early education at Aligarh Muslim University, where he earned a Gold Medal as the top student and finished his PhD in Botany. Soon after, he was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship (1960 to 1964) in USA and pursued his graduate studies in Molecular Genetics at Yale University and earned a second PhD with the highest honours. After a short stay at Dalhousie University in Halifax he moved to University of Alberta, Edmonton in 1966, where remained a Professor of Genetics with a productive research career until he retired in 1994. During his academic career he published numerous academic papers specializing in Molecular Genetics and Recombinant DNA technology.
During the last 15 years of his life, he played a key role in organizing Summer University in research methods at his first Alma Mater in Aligarh, India, with the support of several other professors with similar passions. A large number of young students and academics benefited from short courses to pursue excellence in research in various disciplines.
Muhammad Naved Ashrafi, Editor (with inputs from Janab Khursheed Ahmed, Hamilton, Canada)

News of Prof Asad Ahmad's passing away came as a complete shock for though for the last several months we were not in touch, such 'net silence' on his part was not unprecedented. It comes out though that this time round it was his serious illness that led to his silence. His death gives me much thought to reminisce and introspect.

Despite the significant age difference we had, over the years, developed a degree of familiarity which at least in part was due to my being the son of one of his teachers whom he evidently held in high esteem - something that by no means was a matter of routine for him! I remember meeting him for the first time in or around 1965 when he had already completed his second PhD and had come to meet his parents and brothers and sisters in Aligarh. After initial diffidence he gave us (me, his youngest brother late Saeed aka Shabbu and Saeed's several friends) certain impromptu lessons in Biology outside his father's residence in Mariss Road. That was quintessential Asad Sahib - basically a teacher, always a teacher.

I particularly remember a chance encounter with him several years later (and several meetings in the interregnum on his fitful visits to Aligarh from Canada) on the path leading from the Swimming Pool (then known as Meston Swimming Bath) and the Gymnasium when he explained to me at length why the Fruit Fly (Drosophila melanogaster) was such a suitable species to study for an understanding of Genetics but why after exhausting all research possibilities with the fly, Neurospora (a fungus) yielded yet more insights in transmission of traits over generation. To the contemporary student of Genetics this may sound rather basic but back then in 1971-72 Aligarh it was cutting-edge Biology. I wonder if it is still possible for a teenager to receive such impromptu lessons in cutting edge science near the Hockey field.

In the last few years we had fairly regularly corresponded and had exchanges of views - and differences of opinions - on several topics. I realized that he had an impressive collection of poetry and music and pointed out to him that he shared many personality traits with the maverick "Yagana Changezi". While he did not appreciate the poet's claims of superiority over Ghalib (his favourite), he appreciated that he (i.e. Asad Sahib) shared the twin distinctions of being derided by his contemporaries who realized his superiority and were jealous on that score and his own lack of tact in dealing with people he considered to be not 'good enough' academically.

He was deeply mindful of the fact that some small glitch in his visa to the US in 1961 prevented him from continuing there post PhD and led to his move to Canada - I think this rankled with him throughout his life. He blamed a particular Aligarh academic for incorrect advice without full knowledge and find some solace when I pointed out that the gentleman in question himself did not deal with his professional life very smartly. The fact, however, remains that he felt that despite significant achievements in original research he could have scaled much higher had he played his professional cards well.

Something has already been written about the 'Summer University' project and I am sure much more will follow from those closely associated with it. It will suffice to mention here that if it has not made greater impact, there is a strong case for the faculty to do some introspection if their attitudes and responses to the initiative were based on objective considerations and best interests of the students. In any case, many will agree that Asad Sahib's initiative did some good in an unintended way; it led many west based alumni to resolve to do something to better the prospects of students in their alma mater particularly in the field of advanced research. Within a span of less than a year the two brightest products of Botany Department are gone rather suddenly. Apart from Asad Sahib I refer to Prof. Obed Siddiqui. The moot point is whether the distinguished faculty members appreciate the fact that the best came out in the 1950s which is now more than half a century ago. If they appreciate it, may be something good will come out in the foreseeable future.

Alumni doing their bit for their alma mater is not so uncommon. What is not so common is for some alumni to be so 'fixated' on the institution from where they sprung into the larger world. Aligarh Muslim University is exceptionally fortunate that it had committed, indeed obsessed, die-hard lovers like Asad Ahmad. The generation of such selfless altruistically inclined individuals (referred in Persian poetry as aashiqeen-i-pak teenat) is on the verge of extinction. Will the University authorities do something to make things more friendly for that declining breed for the good of the students?

*Mr. Naved Masood is an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University. He is Senior Officer in Indian Administrative Services (IAS). We are indebted to Mr. Shaheer Khan, owner and moderator of AMU Network, where this obituary was first published.
Powered by Blogger.