1st May 2013 New Delhi, India

A tribute to Professor Sanjay Biswas

Portrait by Mrs. Sarmista Das
Portrait by Mrs. Sarmista Das

It was with great sadness that the SIN team learnt of the passing of Professor Sanjay Biswas over the weekend. He was a great friend to the team, and a tireless advocate for Indo-UK research collaboration. He was a truly special person, and we will miss him.

As people got in touch to share their grief and fond memories, it became clear just how influential and highly regarded he was throughout the research community. Tributes to this gentle, generous man came in from his many collaborators in the UK – from long standing collaborators at Oxford University to people he’d only recently met (and charmed) in London. We’ve shared some of these below.

“Professor Sanjay Biswas was my first academic contact in Bangalore. Together we delivered a high-level lecture series, celebrating 100 years of IISc and renewing links with the UK. We welcomed many people to Bangalore with whom Sanjay and his team went on to develop a lasting commitment to research collaboration. Sanjay made the planning and delivery of the complex IISc lecture series a huge amount of fun, and many meetings over many dinners enabled us to plan a range of additional activities to strengthen UK-India relationships, from three UK Science Minister visits to Bangalore, to partnerships with the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds and Edinburgh, and of course the relationship he pushed forward with the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

But much more than this, Sanjay was a true friend. We shared many conversations about science, politics, Scotland and the world. He was there for me when I was struggling in a new city, and he brought a cheeky twinkle of mischief and new ideas (balanced with an impeccable understanding of realpolitik) to my three years in Bangalore. Being able to introduce him to my favourite places in Edinburgh, after my posting had ended, was a real pleasure. Sanjay Biswas, you are sorely missed.”

Rebecca Fairbairn, former Deputy Head of the UK Science & Innovation Network in India

“I first met Professor Sanjay Biswas during a long midsummer’s day in Malmo in 2007, during which he gave a stimulating and animated presentation to European science policy makers on the way in which to engage with the growing strength of the Indian science-base. I was therefore delighted to renew Professor Biswas’s acquaintance in 2008 when I moved to work on science issues at the British High Commission in Delhi and I enjoyed three fruitful years working with him. Sanjay has played a pivotal role in the scientific relationship between the UK and India in recent years, most memorably for me, through co-delivering a high-level lecture series in 2009/2010.”

Chris Darby, former Head of the UK Science & Innovation Network in India

“Prof. SKB, as he was known, was a true pioneer of multidisciplinary research and engineering. An absolute taskmaster with a humane approach. A philosopher, guide and friend for every student going under his tutelage.

Having been his student was an experience that i can never forget. He made me learn that nothing is impossible, Take on challenges that others say cannot be done and above all ensure that you take any responsibility to its logical conclusion.

In fact my last interaction with him was on 9th Apr 2013 when he apprised me on his latest initiatives and wanted me to play a proactive role in the same. All of us should ensure that his legacy continues in the years to come and make his dreams come true.”

Dr Krishna Venkatesh, Chief Technology Officer, Centre for Emerging Technologies, Jain University, and former student

“What impressed me the first time when I was with a delegation from Leeds University was his ability to hold everyone’s attention with great ease. All of us huddled around him and listened to him in rapt attention when he spoke about his vision to make India less dependent on imported medical devices. His smile was very infectious. Prof. Biswas had this great ability to bring people from different fields and institutes to work together on a common goal – affordable medical devices. We have lost a great person.”

Sunil Kumar, British Deputy High Commission Bangalore

“I first came in contact with Professor Sanjay Biswas when he called me over to his office to discuss on building new links and strengthen existing relations between the IISc and the UK academia. Our first meeting was not a very long discussion but it gave a good platform to work on. Professor Biswas’ vision, ideas and support to the IISc-RSC high profile Lecture Series in 2009-10 was the key factor for its immense success as he managed to get many partners, not only within the IISc but also in institutions across India. It was a pleasure working with Professor Biswas who always provided great ideas and newer insights.”

Rajesh Parishwad, Royal Society of Chemistry

For me, Sanjay was one of the first people I met in Bangalore. Ever since, he has been a constant source of advice and good humour. He was infectiously optimistic and faultlessly generous with his time. Embarking, as he was, on a new national programme to create affordable healthcare technologies, his passing is a great loss not only to all who knew and loved him, but to everyone. He will be sorely missed.

If you would like to share a brief tribute to Professor Biswas, or pay testament to his work promoting Indo-UK research collaboration, please comment below.

10 comments on “A tribute to Professor Sanjay Biswas

  1. Dear Sir
    It was a shock to learn from Prof. Vikram Jayaram’s letter on “International Nanotribology Forum” that you will not be around to read this mail. The project that we had worked on taught me to question the unquestionable. Whereever you are Sir … RIP.
    With all fond memories

  2. I believe he has left his footprint in everyone’s heart.. an unforgettable remark who’sever life he touched. A great loss to the individuals who knew him and the society at large.
    “MISS YOU”

  3. I met Sanjay biswas during the struggle against phokran test. He was very active in Indian Scientists Against Nuclear Weapons. I listen to his lecture in a conference in Chennai on history of science. He was very friendly with me though i was younger to him. Its difficult to understand that he is no more.

  4. Sanjay, You defy all known explanations of the word “impossible”
    It was traumatic for me to be waiting to meet You on Monday morning and discover a mail saying…Appointment postponed…sine die.
    I will discover you in my work, in my walks, in the visit to Nandi Temple (with you in my mind)…looking at those sculptures and wondering what stories you had for me.
    The book on Draupadi and its Author, both will have to wait till you surface again.
    How can you leave with more unfinished jobs on hand than what you’ve finished so far???
    Read this in no uncertain terms “We are WAITING for You”

  5. I got to know Sanjay through my interest in the Bulletin of Sciences. I was part of the group involved in bringing out the journal while at IISc, and we had many enjoyable meetings and discussions in Sanjay’s office. He had a keen interest in the area of science in relation to social issues, and this was essentially the theme of the articles published in the Bulletin of sciences, bringing into focus important debates and questions of the day.

  6. Dear Sanjay,
    What a great time we had together in the last ten years that I know of you so intimately.It was an enlightenment and a pleasure to discuss with you on tribology or on politics or on music or on mountain climbing. I am fortunate to have associated with you in developing new Tribometer.What energy you have at this age to venture into new domains of research. You left us in a lurch suddenly when we almost decided on a new advanced Tribometer which may be unique and may redefine the way we have been measuring COF. We will not disappoint you and will carry your work to its logical conclusion. Thanks for being such a wonderful person and a friend. World has lost a great scientist in you in at such an early age.I will always remeber you and give you as an example for an indefatigable person of great scientific curiosity.
    My heart felt condolenses to members of your family and will always pray for your soul. I am sure up there too you must be living on your own terms with God.

  7. I met Sanjay in the late 1970s…I was in IIMB and he in IISc. We shared our concerns on research and its relevance, and enjoyed our meetings, which unfortunately became infrequent over the years. His concern for equity, for the consequences of what we were doing etc was tempered with scientific scepticism…something all of us must learn. Sanjay will be missed.

  8. A highly energetic “young man” was whom I met in his office when I went to discuss regarding him becoming my guide for the Masters project. He jumped out of his seat, explained to me the tribology in an IC engine, explained to me the scratch test as a fundamental test, gave me a paper on slip line field analysis, of which I had no idea of, and told me to give me a report on the paper in a months time. All of this in around 5 minutes, or so it seemed. It was around this day, 25 years back. 25 short years back.
    Life with him as a student was fun! He never “interfered” with my Ph.D. and gave me a free hand. And we did have intense discussions on the subject. In fact, when I started out the work on scratch I did not know what one could make out from an experiment where one applied a load on an hard indentor and moved it forward on a soft metallic flat. He led me realise that so much can be made out of so little; when one goes a little deeper into the subject. Guess this is what research is all about.
    It was indeed a long journey with him, a journey where both of us shared a bond that cannot be explained in words. After I joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering as a faculty he encouraged me to start a lab of my own on tribology and he moved on to nano tribology.
    It was only on the 12th of April that I signed a purchase committee meeting document for an equipment in a project he was leading. Two weeks and two days later I will not hear his voice again.
    I do believe that he went a little too early. A man with the same energy and enthusiasm whom I met 25 years back, had a lot of things to get going in the coming years. But that was not to be. God has His ways and he takes away the good people without much suffering. He was one of them. My heart-felt condolence to his family members.
    I will miss him.

  9. I met Sanjay in Birmingham in 1975 and prevailed on him to come to India and join the Indian Institute of Science. Although he was much younger than me we became good friends.Our political views and social commitments were similar and despite his achieving academic excellence he found enough time to fight against injustice where others normally gave only lip service. Whether it was an unjust dismissal of an academic or it was arranging a meeting to protest against the Pokhran II test in 1998 or receiving Havir Thanvir in the EE department of the Institute when the use of the Facutly Hall was declined, Sanjay was in the forefront, I mainly followed him. Sanjay was a dreamer and not every one could share his dreams for a world with equity and justice but he could carry many with his ideas that were infectious.

  10. For Sanjay Biswas- Scientist, Humanist and Friend to many progressive groups

    It is difficult to say goodbye to someone like Sanjay Biswas. I met him when I returned from France after a post-doc in philosophy. In a meeting organised by scientists and writers protesting against rising religious fundamentalism and urging for greater democratic secularism we belonging to the development community found a kindred spirit in Prof. Sanjay Biswas. He threw his weight behind collecting small contributions from the public and inviting the playwright Habib Tanvir to address the swelling audience. As Editor of the Bulletin of Sciences, published in IISc Prof. Biswas invited me to write on health and equity, on issues of environment and poverty and also review publications in the sociology of science. Despite a full time job I could never refuse his requests because he through his own enthusiasm and passion for social justice managed to demand the same level of work from others, without ever having to insist.

    Prof. Biswas built alliances across diverse social actors and communities without ever stooping to superficial convergences of political analysis and social action. As a member of the scientific community he did not hesitate to lend his weight to social causes which demanded allegiances from practicing academics. As a mentor he led by example. By giving voice to those who struggled for an equal society he set the standards for conscientious citizenship, no matter what one’s discipline was. That he should no longer be around leaves the world a poorer place. Prof. Biswas would now more than ever demand of all progressive citizens to exercise their rightful voice for a just and equal society.

    Shobha Raghuram

    Independent Researcher and Development Consultant, Bangalore

    1st May, 2013

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