I feel humble amidst the galaxy of top scientists and medical men gathered here to pay tribute to Doctor Yellapragada SubbaRow. I am very much conscious that my only credential to be with you all here this afternoon is that I am the biographer of one who has been hailed variously as a top medical mind of our time, a miracle man of miracle drugs and wizard of wonder drugs. And I am grateful to the Association of Clinical Biochemists, particularly to Prof D N Rao, for this signal privilege.
Dr SubbaRow has returned to this holy of medical holies for the second time after the launch of Dr SubbaRow centenary celebrations ten years ago by the National Committee of which Dr Sriramachari was the chief executive. And what an occasion this has been with Doctor Mashelkar giving the first of the new oration series and being decorated with the SubbaRow Gold Medal. I am happy to know from Prof Rao that Dr SubbaRow’s visits here will hereafter be annual.
You have already heard all about Dr SubbaRow’s unparalleled contributions to the well being of humanity. And you have had glimpses of his life and work in the photo exhibition outside.
So let me confine myself to the unfinished agenda for spreading awareness of a son of India who still has not been accorded the recognition due to him.
The National Committee commissioned a photo exhibition which has toured the metropolitan cities of the country thanks to the impetus given by Dr Kannan, and it has now began the tour of the state capitals. It is my ambition to take it to schools and colleges here in Delhi and to all towns and cities which are centres of learning.
Dr Sriramachari and I have been pursuing without success the publication of Dr SubbaRow’s collected works by the Academy of Sciences in Bangalore. May be INSA will take it up now that Dr Mashelkar is taking over as its president.
With the blessings of Dr Kannan, I launched last year a website dedicated to Dr SubbaRow. It is currently being upgraded. I wish the Association of Biochemists will take over its administration.
Then is the question of Dr SubbaRow being one of the founding fathers of biotechnology. According to Nobel Laureate G H Hitchings, Dr SubbaRow isolated not only ATP but two other similar organic compounds and these are involved in the synthesis of RNA. Since SubbaRow was not allowed by his senior Harvard colleague to publish this work, these nucleotides have had to await rediscovery years later by other workers and the onset of the science of nucleic acids was delayed to that extent.
Dr Hitchings’ assertion can only be confirmed by a study of Dr SubbaRow’s laboratory notebooks on phosphorus compounds. I have these notebooks on microfilm. I am ready to make them available to any of the institutions whose heads are present here if they would set this as a task for a post-doctoral scholar.
Finally, In Quest of Panacea, my biography of Dr SubbaRow, is practically out of print. A few copies are available in USA and I have either to re-import them or to refer those interested to the American depository. I have used the proceeds from the sale of the biography 1) to sponsor translations and adaptations including the photo album brought out by Vigyan Prasar, 2) to bring out booklets such as the one in your hands today, 3) to take the photo exhibition on its continued tour of India, and 4) to design and maintain the website. A Hindi translation is now ready for the printers. The original biography itself needs to be brought out in a second edition. I do not have the courage to do this because distribution is an arduous task. I have not also been able to interest commercial publishers. I wonder if CSIR or ICMR would be interested in republication rights.
Finally, I have preserved at my home all these years the SubbaRow Papers collected from the archives of his wife’s family, Harvard University and Lederle Laboratories. I transferred some of the papers to the National Archives but because of bitter experience about what happened to them, I am still in search of a permanent repository for the rest of the papers.
I hope the top scientific establishments represented here by their chiefs will give thought and take up some of the items of this unfinished agenda.