Reminiscence of career as an aerobiologist

Dr N Irabanta Singh
Introduction: After going through the testimonials given by two renowned Aerobiologists of India, viz (i) Prof S.T Tilak, father of Indian Aerobiology on the topic “Prof N. Irabanta Singh in the Galaxy of Indian Aerobiologists (The Sangai Express, 13-15 January, 2016) and (ii) Prof B.N. Pande on the topic “Prof Irabanta Singh: A legendary Aerobiologist of North-East India” (The Sangai Express, 13 and 14 February, 2018), the present writer has been compelled to narrate reminiscence of his career as an Aerobiologist.
Career history: After serving St. Edmund’s College, Shillong (Meghalaya) for about one year, one day during November, 1973, the writer came down to Gauhati University, Guwahati (Assam) and dropped in the chamber of Professor H.K. Baruah where he was serving as Professor of Head, Botany Department (1948-1947) and requested him for permission to do research for Ph D degree under his (HKB) supervision. Prof Baruah thought for a while and told the writer to meet him at MLA hostel, Shillong (Medhalaya) next Sunday. That was perhaps the last week of November, 1973. As advised, the writer met Prof H.K. Baruah at the MLA hostel, Shillong. Then he gave a research to the writer and the topic was “Studies of Air-borne pathogens of Shillong and its Suburbs” for registration to PhD degree of the Gauhati University. Then, winter break for the College started from 22nd December, 1973 and reopen in the first week of February, 1973 . Prof. H.K. Baruah also asked the writer to buy a book entitled “The Microbiology of the Atmosphere” by Prof P.H. Gregory (Second Edn, 1973). On the request of the writer, Rev. Br. R.B Veiyra, Principal, St. Edmund’s College, Shillong agreed to buy a copy of the book which was purchased from M/S Banwari Lal Jain, Motikatra, Agra. It was really an eye opener book for the writer to learn ABC of Aerobiology. Prof H.K. Baruah permitted the writer to work for laboratory investigations at the Botany Department, St. Edmund’s College itself. The necessary facility was created by the then HOD/Botany, Dr. K. Sanajaoba Singh. For air sampling, Durham type (modified) air sampler was developed by the present writer. The sampler was made from iron pipe, one G I sheet at Don Bosco Technical School, Shillong (Meghalaya). Further, the germination potential study of air borne fungal spore was conducted by employing artificially formed spider web, made out of nylon fishing thread (0.25 mm in dia) being wounded on a triangular (3.5cm in median length) iron wire frame to form a web of 2 cm diameter.
In the meantime, one day the writer announce in his B. Sc Botany (Hons.) class that he was going to work on Aerobiology and human respiratory allergy but no literature available. One of the students told to the writer that he had gone through an article in Allergy published in November, 1968 issue of “Science Today”. The writer immediately asked his student to bring the copy of “Science Today” for his use as reference. The name of the article was “ What is Allergy?” by Dr. D.N. Shivpuri, M.D., Head, Department of Respiratory Allergy and Applied Immunology, V.P. Chest Institute, Delhi University, Delhi-110007. After going through the article, the present writer wrote a letter to Dr D.N. Shivpuri for reprint request of his research publications. Dr. Shivpuri sent a list of his and his students publications along with reprints. He also invited the present writer to join three day National Workshop on “Aerobiology, Allergens and preparation of Antigens” which was held during 27-29 October, 1975 at V.P. Chest Institute, Delhi University. In that workshop, the writer met Prof S. Chanda and Prof S.T Tilak. He also met Dr A.B. Singh who was PhD student under Dr D.N. Shivpuri. This workshop was beginning of formal training received by the writer in Aerobiology. During those three day workshop, the writer had the opportunity to see work on fungal allergy by Dr M.K. Agarwala, pollen allergy by Dr Kartar Singh, algal allergy by Ms Arun Lata Mittal, house dust allergy by Ms Natasha Dhar, etc. Dr D.N. Shivpuri also told us to become member, Indian College of Allergy and Applied Immunology. Ultimately, the writer became a Life member of the College (1975) and later on the College elected him as its Fellow (ICAAI) (1985). After return from the workshop, the writer kept on contact with Prof S. Chanda (Bose Institute, Kolkata), Pof S.T. Tilak (Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad). They helped him a lot by sending reprints in Aeropalynology (by SC) and airspora over the crop fields (by ST) respectively.
In Gregory’s book on “The Microbology of the Atmosphere” the writer came across publications of Prof T.Sreeramulu of the Andra University, Waltair. He bought a reprint of Sreeramulu’s paper entitled “A two year study of air spora of a paddy field near Vishakhapatnam” by T. Sreeramulu and A. Ramalingam. Indian J. Agri 36a; 111-32(1966) from INSDOC, New Delhi. After going through that reprint, the present writer wrote to Prof T.Sreeramulu for reprints. The reprint sent by him was “Spore content over paddy fields-II. Changes in a field near Vishakhapatnam from Nov 5, 1959 to January 31, 1960” by T. Sreeramulu and A. Ramalingam. Proc.Nat Acad. Sc. India Section B:33 Part III.423-428 (1963). Due to untimely death of Prof Sreeramulu, the writer lost opportunity to meet him personally. In those days, any reference not found in the Library, Gauhati University, he used to buy from INSDOC, New Delhi in the form of microfilm and photocopy. Xerox facility was not available in the Gauhati University library or even in the Gauhati City. Later on through subsequent conferences of the Indian Aerobiological Society, the writer came into contact with Prof A. Ramalingam (Mysore University), Prof C. Subha Reddi (Andhra University), Prof B.P.R. Vittal (Madras University), Prof S.N. Agasha (Bangalore University), Dr. P.K. Nair (NBRI, Lucknow), Dr R.N. Lakhanpal and Dr Vishnu Mittre (BSIP, Luckow). Prof P.H. Gregory (England), Dr J.M. Hirst (England), Dr R.R. Davis (England), Dr E.S. Ogden (USA) also helped the writer by sending valuable reprints of their research publications.
Unfortunately Prof H.K. Baruah, former Vice Chancellor, Gauhati University (1974-1979) expired on 16th January, 1980 when the present writer’s PhD thesis work was nearing completion. Ultimately, he approaches Prof (Mrs) Parukutty Baruah, a Veteran Botanist of Gauhati University with a changed topic for his PhD thesis. The title was “Studies in the air spora of Shillong and its Suburbs” which she allowed the writer to submit under her supervision. The thesis was submitted in February, 1981 and awarded Ph D degree of the Gauhati University in 1982. Then, the research work in the field of Aerobiology in the Indo-Myanmar hot spot region was initiated as soon as the writer joined Manipur University on 21st July, 1984. After his joining Manipur University, various constituents of airspora had been the subject of intensive investigations.
Conclusion: After twenty five years (1984-2009) of endeavour to Aerobiological and allied field research, teaching and extension at Manipur University, Canchipur, the University Grants Commission, New Delhi identified Aerobiology as one of the four trust areas of Life Sciences for upgradation from DSA-III to CAS Phase-I for a period of 5 years (1-2-2010 to 31-3-2015). (Vide Sanction file no.5-3/2010 (SAP-II) dt 30:June, 2010.)
[The writer is former professor of Aerobiology (Higher Academy Grade), Centre of Advanced Study in Life Sciences, M.U and former Dean, School of Life Sciences, M.U. He can be contacted through irabanta.singh@gmail.com]

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