Respecting and Encouraging Talent

I have met several people in my life who are kind of weirdos. They think differently and stand out amongst others. And their odd behavior is often hard to explain. My Professor Friend belongs to this category.

Other day, we went to meet one of our good friends who is heading a research unit at one of the prestigious national environmental research institute. We requested Dr Chatterjee if he could give us a short presentation on the kind of work he was doing.

Dr Chatterjee ushered us to a conference room that had projection facilities. His entire research team was present. We were introduced and as the tea arrived Dr Chatterjee made a presentation through slides.  The research work of the group was impressive and had led to several publications in some of the prestigious research journals. I noticed that Dr Chatterjee was the first author in all publications.

After the slide presentation, we got into discussions. For answering some of our questions, Dr Chatterjee used to ask some of his colleagues to step in and provide more details. I could see that while Dr Chatterjee was a good research administrator, but he was not a person of details.

A lunch was arranged at the Institute Guest house. We had to walk a bit. I was walking along with Dr Chatterjee. I asked him about our common friends, checking on what’s happening in their lives and remembering some good old times. When we reached the dining room, I found that Professor was “missing”. Dr Chatterjee was surprised. When we asked one of his assistants, she said that she saw Professor walking to the laboratory along with Mahesh and Seema. Mahesh and Seema were senior team members in Dr Chatterjees group. In fact, they were answering most of Professor’s questions during the presentation.

We decided to start lunch and not wait for Professor. When we were half-way through, we saw Professor appear along with Mahesh and Seema. “Oh Professor, you should have asked me, and I could have taken you and Dr Modak to the laboratories” said Prof Chatterjee. He sounded polite but I could see that he did not like that Professor was speaking directly to his team members and in his absence. But I could see that Mahesh and Seema were thrilled to have an opportunity to be with Professor and discuss their research.

When we left the institute and got into the car, I could not hold myself. I asked Professor, why did he take such a diversion and spent time with Mahesh and Seema in the laboratory not involving Dr Chatterjee. I ended saying that this was rather impolite on his part.

Professor smiled

“Dr Modak, no doubt Dr Chatterjee is a good researcher. But the real innovation in his work is due to Mahesh and Seema. We must recognize work done by these young people. I had to spend time with them, separately,  to give them encouragement. This was very important. I want to groom the second generation of researchers and not remain in the shadows of the boss or head of the research division”

More I thought about what Professor said, I started understanding his perspective. We see today that there are very few research administrators who groom colleagues to get into shoes that giants wear. There is some insecurity perhaps or jealousy may be – and unfortunately, we see that in some cases deliberate efforts are made to keep the real talents hidden.

Professor had more to say.

“Dr Modak, have you been attending Indian classical concerts?”

I said “Yes Professor, I do and have never missed concerts of stalwarts like Bhimsen Joshi, Jasraj and Kishori Amonkar”

We were by then at Professors office. Professor put his coat on the hanger and reached for his box of cigars.

“Dr Modak, in most vocal concerts of Indian classical music, you would notice one or two disciples sitting on the stage along with the Guru (lead performer) with tanpuras.

The tanpura is a long-necked plucked string instrument. It does not play melody but rather supports and sustains the melody of singer by providing a continuous harmonic bourdon or drone. A tanpura is not played in rhythm with the soloist or percussionist and it is played unchangingly during the complete performance. The repeated cycle of plucking all strings creates the sonic canvas on which the melody of the raga is drawn. Playing tanpura for an artist of stature like Bhimsen, Jasraj or Kishori is not an easy task.

Late Pt Kishori Amonkar in a Concert with her disciples on tanpura 

“Remember Dr Modak, its indeed an honor for a disciple to get an opportunity to accompany the Guru on Tanpura in public. The Guru by making them sit on the stage, gives them an identity and a visibility. The Guru also communicates to the audience that these are the disciples who are currently under training and are worthy to take Guru’s place one day”

I thought this was a great example to show how seniors encourage the talent of their juniors and publicly so.

I remember what Professor Akhilendra Gupta at MNIT in Jaipur once told me. He was reacting to the post I had written on “introducing yourself differently

Akhilendra said that he introduces himself by speaking about his students, many of them are today established personalities in the world in the field of water treatment and health. I can imagine Akhilendra talking about them with great pride.

I thought that this style of “introducing differently” was amazing. It was a polite and indirect gesture of talking about his expertise but more of giving recognition and credit to the students who researched with him.

Professor had finished smoking his cigar by then.

He reminded me that we were to go for a program of Gazals by Sithara Krishnakumar.

We reached the venue on time. Sithara’s rendering of gazals was excellent as always but the support by sarangi player Ustad Dilshad Khan was equally amazing.

Gazal Concert by Sithara with Sarangi accompaniment by Ustad Dilshad Khan

When there was intermission, I saw Professor disappear behind the stage.

I knew that he must have gone to see Dilshad Khan and pat on his back with affection to appreciate his splendid support.

In our earlier conversations, I recalled him saying

“Dr Modak, when I go for a concert or watching music on a video, I focus not only on the lead performer but also those who accompany. They often have a big role to play in bringing in the magic. One must recognize their talent as well”

Now would you call my Professor Friend a weirdo?



  1. Dear Dr. Modak, well said. Wish there were many more who think like you and are like you. I am working with one of my mentors now; he has gone a step ahead, appointed me as a business head and what a learning it has been in the past two years. In my wildest dreams, i would not have led a business vertical.
    And to all those who are tagged ‘wierdo’, good for them, normalcy is anyway over rated and boring.

  2. Hi Modak Ji… really enjoyed reading this blog. I agree with your views 100%. Let us have another productive week… visu

  3. Dear Sir,
    I am overwhelmed at my name being mentioned so affably in your post. The reality is that “the list of students, who are professors at prestigious institutes across the globe”, in fact, increases my “weight”. You know that till three years after becoming a full professor, I was 41 Kg. It is my way of putting on to whatever little I have. I cannot boast like Joseph Priestley, who was 120 Kg+ and use to say “whatever I speak, people have to listen to it, as it carries a lot of weight behind it”.
    It is your humility that you mentioned this small practice of mine in a heavy esteem.

  4. When I used to work for Excel (ages back) Kaka (K.C.Shroff) had taught an important phrase- The Art of Getting Unemployed

  5. Very well said, Dr. Modak. School of thoughts and philosophy develops well when leader grooms and encourage the youngeters. This is not commonly seen today in our system. We are missing likes of Arcilwalas, Niloy Chaudahris and GD Agrawals in environment filed. Youngters with consistent dedication and devotion to the cause are also scarce.I think.

  6. Excellent post, Prasad. One of our most importantly functions in research is training our replacements. I think it takes a certain level of security and confidence in doing that b

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