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Remembering Prof Dr. Adayapalam T. Natarajan.

Dr. Krishnaja A.P.


14 January 2018
Remembering Prof Dr. Adayapalam T. Natarajan.

Note: ………Prof Dr. Adayapalam T. Natarajan passed away on 28


August 2017 in Leiden, The Netherlands, where he had been living for
almost the last half century. He was 89. When I heard this news, it did
come as a shock, even though I knew he’d been unwell off and on since
early this year. I first met Prof. Natarajan in 1983, later in1987. An
association and mentoring then began, which continued for more than
three decades till his end. I wrote this letter to his daughter Suman, on
hearing of his demise, as a sort of tribute. I am reproducing it here with Ms.
Suman Natarajan’s permission.

***

I was deeply saddened by the quite unexpected news that Prof. Natarajan
passed away on August 28. As I told you, I came to know about this a bit
late.

My heartfelt condolences to you and your daughters (Noor and Devamaria).


It is never easy to accept the loss of a dearly loved dad, at any age. Though
we know that's the way life goes, death certainly takes all of us by surprise
and leaves us in grief. I do hope the passage of time lessens the intensity of
your pain and you have the fortitude and resilience to carry on... I know how
difficult it is to reorganize your life entirely on your own after such a great
loss. You have to find peace and comfort in the happy memories of the life
you all shared. I hope as time goes on, you'll find the strength and courage
to cope.

Prof. Natarajan had made enormous contributions in Radiation Biology,


Radiation Cytogenetics, Biodosimetry and Chemical Mutagenesis. A giant in
the field, he will always remain an inspiration to generations of youngsters
entering research in these areas.

Though I met Prof. Natarajan as a renowned scientist during the course of


my work, in my mind he remains first and foremost one of the very fine
human beings I have had the privilege to meet. For all his achievements, he
was most unassuming, very approachable and had great humane qualities.
He always encouraged beginners in the field, helped them in all possible
ways.

I first met Prof. Nat in 1983 when he was brought to my lab (Bhabha Atomic
Research Centre, MUMBAI; this was during one of his visits here) and I was
asked to show few chromosome preparations. In 1987, I had the
opportunity to attend IAEA's (Dr Ramen Mukherjee) First Radiation
Cytogenetics Course conducted by Dr. Lloyd, NRPB UK and Dr. Natarajan,
held at the University of Tokyo (Dr. Morimoto). The stalwarts of Radiation
Cytogenetics Dr. Sasaki, Dr. Awa, Dr. Alan Edwards also gave lectures. The
course participants were from 20 countries. Chernobyl 1986, the worst
industrial nuclear disaster, Goiania-Brazil Sept 13, 1987, radiological
accident, and the Cytokinesis Block Micronucleus assay by Fenech and
Morley 1985 often came into discussion. Thanks to the generous gift of a
vial of cytochalasin B from Prof. Natarajan, I could set up my first
cytochalasin B blocked lymphocyte cultures for micronucleus preparations
soon after I returned from Japan. The extent of his generosity,
encouragement and broad outlook was revealed on another occasion when
he was ready to arrange funds for me to work in another Prof’s lab to learn
some newer techniques in a research area I was keen to gain expertise in
then. I experienced the same generosity many years later in September
1998, during a short stint in his lab, sharpening my FISH skills. That year,
at the 13th International Chromosome conference held at Ancona, Italy, I
had my oral and poster presentations in his session.
Although he was very soft spoken, he could be a hard taskmaster too. I
knew this from the Tokyo days. I still remember, the first question he asked
me when we got into his car at Amsterdam airport was — 'Where are your
slides for FISH? Now don't tell me they are not in your hand baggage. There
is very less time, will go straight to the lab, you can just freshen up, Janna
will make you a cup of coffee, Then Janna will tell you the steps ...' Without
suppressing my smile, I took out the slide box from my bag. Nat was
happy... I felt rather privileged later, when he told me at Amsterdam airport:
'In all these years, more than 60 post docs and visiting scientists from all
over the world have been in my lab, but never have I come to see off
anyone; this is the first time I am seeing someone off at the Amsterdam
airport!'

Over the years, we corresponded regularly, until May 2017. His last letter
was to my daughter Sukanya (who was doing MS in Science Journalism at
Boston University), with a copy marked to me; I had sent him few of
Sukanya’s article links He was always so encouraging of youngsters. After
that, it was phone calls only.

I last phoned to wish him on his official birthday (June 15, as he calls it),
but didn't get him on the line. He once wrote in detail about his correct
birthday (an email dated 06/03/2013) and concluded saying ‘I celebrate the
official birthday June 15 too with my Dutch colleagues and the real
birthday, on 2 May, with my Italian friends.’ Since then I started wishing
him on 2 May & June 15 as well.

Prof. Nat was a great connoisseur of good food and Carnatic music and
whenever he visited Bombay, for EMSI, ISRB, IARP meetings, he came home
for dinner. The evenings were always memorable, with good food and
interesting conversation. His last visit to us was in 2007, along with Prof.
Palitti, University of Tuscia, Italy.

‘Reflections on a lifetime in cytogenetics’, his autobiographical review traces


his journey starting from Annamalai University, IARI Delhi, Brookhaven,
Stockholm, IAEA Vienna...finally ending at Leiden, sums up more than 50
years studies from traditional Plant Cytogenetics to Mammalian Molecular
Cytogenetics and highlights the importance and need of International
collaboration.

As I look back on our over 30 years’ association, Prof. Natarajan stands out
in my mind not only as a great scientist but also as an exceptional human

being. I was privileged to know the scientist. But I was even more honoured
to know the human being.