Guest#6: A Flamboyant Thespian | A Behavioral Biologist | A Podium of Science & Drama



Ever since The Scientist Post came into existence with a humble beginning, we came across a wide range of some amazing Indian scientists who have been instrumental in taking the status of science in the country. Earlier we proudly hosted researchers coming from multiple fields – Physics, chemistry and mathematics. And, today we have the privilege to introduce Dr. Anindita Bhadra, a behavioural biologist, working at the Department of Biological Sciences, IISER Kolkata. She works on the behaviour and ecology of free-ranging dogs (stray dogs) to understand the evolution of the dog-human relationship. She is the founding chair of the Indian National Young Academy of Science (INYAS).

To know more, let’s begin scrolling…

TSP: How were your educational experiences as a student during school days?

AB: “I loved school, and got bored towards the end of long vacations. My school firmly believed in raising girls to be people who know the world beyond academics. So we had a vibrant school life, filled with extra-curricular activities of all kinds.”

TSP: What are your most memorable events/incidents in the past which makes you laugh even today?

AB: “Mostly the pranks we played in school, and the punishment that was meted out to us when caught. Also, I grew up in a joint family, and our home was always filled with visitors all through the year. Some of the memories of family gatherings and stories handed down generations about “funny” relatives have stayed with me.”

TSP: Who is the teacher you like and mattered the most? How did they make a profound impact on you?

AB: “I was lucky to have known some great teachers. My PhD supervisor, Prof. Raghavendra Gadagkar, is my role model, I greatly admire him, both as a scientist and as a human being. He has been influential in shaping me as a scientist. However, it would be unfair not to mention here some of the other teachers who have helped me become who I am. I will begin with my grandfather, from whom I learnt perseverance, the art of storytelling, basic things about handling money, respecting the worth of everything, and the importance of not forgetting one’s past. From my grandmother I learnt how to manage a home. I learnt respect and dedication for work from my father, who was quite a workaholic. My mother has been a great influence in my love, inculcating in me the love for the arts. It’s because of her that I learnt to dance. My Guruji taught me to dance, and to express myself. In school, we had some wonderful teachers. Our class teacher in the third standard, Mrs Mandira Basu, taught us science, and I believe she was instrumental in invoking an interest in science in me. It was the first time in life that we actually did experiments, when she made us grow little seedlings of gram and then cut open the seeds for us to look inside and see how the root and shoot have emerged. Dr. Aniruddha Mukherjee, a teacher who taught me biology during my high school days, opened up the world of scientific research to us, telling us about a “different” career path, where one could do new things and then eventually teach. I have always loved teaching, and this idea somehow stuck at the back of my mind, though I was preparing for the medical entrances, as per the wishes of my family. Dr. Silanjan Bhattacharyya, our teacher in college, introduced me to the wonderful world of evolutionary biology, ecology and animal behaviour, so much so that I eventually decided to make this field my career.

TSP: How science fascinated you? Have you ever-wondered to be a researcher during your childhood days? What inspired you to enter this field and why? Was there a particular reason behind which/who motivated you?

AB: ” I guess I have answered some of this already. I will narrate a little story here. Dr. Silanjan Bhattacharyya organized our field trip in the Western Ghats, during our second year of college. This was a compulsory trip, but had never been done like this before, and we were very excited. The first stop was at the Centre for Ecological Science, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore. I still remember entering at the main gate and waiting to be ushered in, in the middle of a light drizzle. I fell in love with the place, and wanted to do my PhD there. At CES, we heard several inspiring lectures. I was most fascinated by Prof. Gadagkar’s talk on social insects. That was 1997. Prof. Gadagkar had just written a book, which I procured after returning to Kolkata, and read from cover to cover. I decided that I wanted to do my PhD with him. When I went to CES eventually for the interviews, he was not there in the board. I later learnt that he was in Germany. I spent a lot of time in his lab, talking to his students Sumana and Sujata, driving them mad with questions. I joined his lab in August 2001, and when he returned a few days later, I went to meet him. He said I looked familiar, and I told him that it is quite unlikely, but then, I had been here some four years back, with Dr. Bhattacharyya. He immediately said, “right, aren’t you the girl who kept popping up and asking questions? I am glad you decided to join my lab.” Thus began a journey of teacher and student, which did not stop with my graduation.

TSP: How has been your experience in your research/teaching field? Could you please describe in brief about your research activities?

AB: I have always loved teaching, and have enjoyed research ever since I began, in 2001. Prof. Gadagkar gave me complete liberty to plan my experiments, which was a great learning experience. This also helped me to shape my own research as an independent researcher. When I decided to work on dogs, I had the confidence that I could begin working in a completely new field, because of the learning during my PhD and the support of my mentor. I set up the Dog Lab, and in the last six years, we have learnt quite a bit about the behaviour and ecology of free-ranging dogs. For example, we now understand that they tend to roam solitarily while feeding, but in the mating season, and when pups are present, they tend to form pairs or groups. We know that there is ample parental care in dogs, but mothers begin to show conflict over food with their pups from around 8 weeks of pup age. We have also shown, for the first time, that dogs help each other in raising pups.

TSP: What are the things which motivate and inspire you?

AB: Curiosity about nature motivates me, and research is a great intellectual kick.

TSP: Recently, Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian, who was behind the public attention among many citizens, won the Nobel peace Prize 2014, has been playing instrumental role in child rights. What are your views about him?

AB: Frankly, I heard of him for the first time when he won the Nobel Prize. Just yesterday, I found a quote by Lao Tse, which sums up my feelings. To lead people, walk beside them… A leader is best when people barely know they exist…. When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves?’

TSP: In your opinion what does India need to do to ensure all children are in school and implementing successfully the Right to Education Act?

1. Increase funding in primary education.
2. Support NGOs that work in this sector.
3. Mete out severe punishment to people who employ children.
4. Make primary education free.
5. Educate the masses.
6. Fight corruption.

TSP: Who in the world today would you describe as inspirational?

AB: “Malala Yousafzai”

TSP: What is your success Mantra?

AB: Believe in yourself, and never give up.

TSP: How do you see India 2030?

AB: A young nation, and hopefully a more educated one. One thing which I wish to see, change and bring a difference in India is our attitude towards each other. We should all be mutually respectful. That would solve almost all our problems.”

TSP: And, your final comments about our endeavor The Scientist Post ?

AB: Very noble thought, and I hope this will help to create awareness of science among a large number of people.

You should have a very vibrant presence in the social media, and perhaps also get media support to publicize your work. In today’s world, you can’t go far without the media.

Guest #5: A Scientist - A Colourful Diary