03 March 2010

Sakti Padhi Sir...

The mail from Professor KJ Joseph - I still do not know how to react.
Professor Sakti Padhi was one of my M.Phil. supervisors at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, a senior colleague at the Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies (NCDS), Bhubaneswar, where he went on to be the director. He has been a friend, philosopher and guide to me and this is indeed a great personal loss.

I landed in Trivandrum for Mphil just a few days after Professor Padhi and family had left and so lost the opportunity of attending his lectures; but heard a lot about his scholarship, humility and hospitality. When I decided to take up a field-based study on tribal Orissa, my supervisor (Professor GN Rao) suggested that I meet him. A number of meetings at NCDS and at their residence near Ravenshaw College followed. In contrast to people who are keen to have more students working under them, he advised me to take someone based in CDS as my second supervisor. However, finally I was lucky that he agreed. Those were the days of the snail mail and he sent his comments by post. I had the fortune of having more interactions with him during my field survey (for my PhD) spread across eight months. His questions, remarks and comments were incisive and very helpful.

Later when I joined NCDS, as colleagues, we got the opportunity to interact closely on the Orissa part of the Macroeconomic Adjustment Policies (MAP)-Health Project. He enthusiastically joined me on all the field visits even during the super cyclone. I remember, on one such visit, a discussion on trust came up. He had said - "we should always begin with trust, as there is no obvious reason to begin otherwise." This is a big lesson in a people-centric approach, which is not at all present in many discourses today. Professor Padhi's capacity to explain tables was remarkable and the way he would weave a story linking different facts was brilliant.

On near completion of the project, both of us went to Trivandrum for a workshop/seminar organised at Kovalam to cater to the international participants. I had vested interest in staying on campus with Professor GN Rao, now my in-laws. He also chose to stay back on campus and I had the good fortune to join him to Chettikunnu to visit Professor Raj. On our return, Professor Raj wrote a personal letter in a post card where he indicated that he should be calling him Sakti (not Padhi unlike the way everyone does in CDS). This was a very touching letter reflecting the personal bond between the teacher-student duo.

For Nandini, my wife, who grew up on CDS campus, Professor Padhi and Sadhana had been more than family. When she was new to Odisha, they made her feel at home in the completely new place, new culture and new people. They were her maternal family. The last time we met him at his office, he was very thrilled to meet Nerika. Excitedly he kept saying, she brought back his memories of CDS days, because, Nerika reminded him of little Nandini. Our heartfelt condolences to Sadhana (who is nani, elder sister, to me and aunty to Nandini) and Rohit.

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