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Herbarium Somdeva
Vijaya Sharma
Dr. Gopal Singh Rawat
Dr. Anil K. Goel
Dr. Sachin Biswas
Dr. S. K. Upadhyaya
Arun Gupta
Dr. Wazahat Husain

Madhulika Choudhry
Dr. Govind. S. Rajwar
Dr. Ravindra Chibbar
Dr. Mahesh Bhandari
Surgeon Commodore (Retd.) Dr. A. K. Verma
Dr. M. A. Rau
Sandeep Puran Singh
Pradeep Sharma



The Path Shown by Him…

Dr. Gopal Singh Rawat

Memories of Balbir Avenue, Dehra Dun will always remain with me. This place has special significance in my career and I am sure it is the case with many more students of Botany. I came to Dehra Dun for the first time in December 1981 with my Ph. D. supervisor Prof. Y.P.S. Pangtey of Kumaun University, Naini Tal. As a beginner in floristic studies at that time I had limited exposure to the taxonomic literature and nature of research work being carried out by various individuals and research institutions. Having met a few senior scientists and ‘serious’ Botanists (at least in their looks !) at the Forest Research Institute and Botanical Survey of India (BSI) I was partly at loss and in a state of dwindling confidence. After finishing official consultation at BSI one afternoon Prof. Pangtey informed me that he had taken an appointment from a renowned botanist who lived in Dalanwala. BSI office used to be at Laxmi Road in Dalanwala then. Soon we reached Balbir Avenue and an affectionate, fatherly figure opened the gate to welcome us. “Meet Prof. Som Deva…” said Prof. Pangtey. Looking at the garden, personal library and herbarium seemed like a dream place. Soon I became homely and discussions began on the Himalayan Botany and past botanical explorations. Prof. Deva was keen to know about interior localities in the Himalaya and my field experiences. To my pleasant surprise, he seemed to know many places in the Himalaya intimately as if he had already been there and told us about botanical explorations done by various workers in those areas. “Gopal, you are fortunate to have visited those wonderful places from where only a few explorers such as Strachey, Winterbottom and J.F. Duthie have collected plants…” Prof. Deva had said. The affectionate couple (Mrs. and Prof. Deva) didn’t allow us to leave the house without dinner. They also insisted that next time when I visit Dehra Dun I should stay with them rather than staying in a hotel or elsewhere.

Meeting with Prof. Deva (Guruji) that evening brought a sense of confidence in me. For the first time someone had told me that wandering in the remote areas for plant exploration is a noble work and my botany would be stronger if I saw the plants in the field rather than in the herbaria. That would bring much more personal satisfaction in the long run. During 1982-83 Guruji was about to retire from his service. Yet he used to work for more than 12 -14 hours a day examining the plant specimens collected by him as well as brought by various students and making meticulous notes. He would guide each and every student visiting him with same affection and enthusiasm. When I compared his age with mine and his enthusiasm to know more about new plants with that of mine, I used to feel ashamed of myself. Receiving letters and notes from him used to be always a pleasure and inspiring. One of the letters I received from him during my Ph. D. days is below:

  Once, I had sent a carelessly preserved and crumbled plant specimen to Guruji for examination. Later, I came to know that he had spent a lot of time curing the specimen by patiently soaking in the water, neatly pressing again, pasting on a sheet and examining it – the work which I was supposed to do. I was deeply moved by his caring attitude to any piece of plant that I brought to him. During 1984 to 1986 I changed 2-3 jobs and moved from place to place. Hence I was unable to stay in touch with him. After a lapse of two and half years, when I visited him, he was extremely happy to see me. Without discussing any mundane matter he began to talk about interesting plants he had examined in between including some of my past collections. That showed his devotion and attachment to the Plant World.

Lately, I have come to know that I was one of his favourite students. Guruji neither disclosed this to me nor he preached anything other than what he practiced. I had requested him to grace the occasion of seminar or conference held at our institute a couple of times and talk to our students but he conveniently avoided such meetings. He would, however, welcome me to his house anytime and talk about future of taxonomic works in the country. Among other things Guruji taught me, two things I consider very important: (a) he gave lot of importance to taking detailed notes on the natural history including animal and bird life (besides botany) whenever someone goes to a new area, (b) plant taxonomy needs to be made interesting among the students and the teachers must make every effort to go regularly to the field. My last meeting with Guruji was in May 2004 when I was about to leave for a six month long ecological expedition across the alpine region of Western Himalaya. He was extremely happy to learn that I was undertaking this work and keenly looked forward to seeing the outcome. Though it is too late to report the highlights of expedition to Guruji, I would always cherish the inspiring moments spent with him and try to follow the path shown by him…

Dr. Gopal S. Rawat F.N.A.Sc.
Wildlife Institute of India
P.B. # 18, Dehra Dun
Email: rawatg@wii.gov.in