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Mind games

Jaya Shroff Bhalla writes on the first Indian woman scientist to head any of the 65 institutes under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

entertainment Updated: Sep 15, 2008, 01:24 IST
Jaya Shroff Bhalla
Jaya Shroff Bhalla
Hindustan Times

When Professor Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath told her mother about the good things former president Kalam had said about her in a speech, she was not interested. Her main concern: what her daughter had cooked for breakfast.

Her mother’s supreme nonchalance notwithstanding, Professor Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath is an authority on brain mapping.

And one who loves family: “A woman is incomplete if she has to give up something at the cost of the other or let go of her family for a career,” she said.

Dr Ravindranath made history when she was asked to head and conceptualise the Haryana-based National Institute for Brain Research (NIBR).

She is also the first Indian woman scientist to head any of the 65 institutes under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Macabre threats

She started from scratch. When she went to Manesar, there was resentment from local residents. They even left dead bodies on the campus to scare her away. But succumbing was not her style.

In the last few years, she has aged but being an administrator has groomed her.

“Ask me about construction and I know it all. You want me to build one house and I can build four,” she says.

Brain is beautiful

Her passion, however, is the human brain. “It is so beautiful, I can admire it for hours” she told Hindustan Times.

For now, Dr Ravindranath is groping for answers to its mysteries: Why do neurons die, causing progressive deterioration in a person’s health? Why does the disease affect more men than women?

Once she gets there, researchers confirm that the findings will impact the development of drugs used to treat mental illnesses.

This scientist wanted to be an engineer. She started off with Mathematics, “drifted” to Chemistry and “biology just happened”.

Men in her life

Today, she has reached her peak. But it is lonely up there. Also tough: “Could not have done it without my father, husband and son” she admitted.

A great cook, this scientist is adept at the entire gamut of south Indian cuisine: “I am from Tamil Nadu, my husband from Andhra and our workplace being Bangalore, I am an expert at all three cuisines,” she said.

Her son, a neurosurgeon, Dr Savitra Shastri literally grew up in a laboratory. He attributes his fascination for the brain to his mother: “Her priority was work, but the best part of her is that she was never ‘not there’.”

He misses her mostly in the kitchen: “I miss cooking with her,” he said.

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