World at her feet

She is a scientist par excellence. What is striking about her is her hunger to achieve more and more in the field of science. That she has won many awards over the years for her distinguished service, Namma Mysuru’s Dr Renu Agrawal is not the one to sit back and relax on the laurels. She knows the world is a plethora of unexplored mysteries. ‘The more you achieve, the more is left’ is her line of argument.

Dr Renu’s early days go back to Kota in Rajasthan. Born in a family that believed in ethics, as a youngster, Dr Renu could not have asked for anything better. Father Harikrishna and Sarala Agrawal always knew what their children wanted. The veteran scientist nostalgically recalls her childhood. “My father did MA in Mathematics and English from St. Stevens College, Delhi and my mother, a free-lance writer in Hindi and a novelist with many national awards to her credit. They were very futuristic for their daughter’s education. They raised us up with lot of values and service to the society. My mother was the founder President of Lioness club, Kota, Rajasthan and also voluntarily ran a Sanskar Kendra for children where she would narrate moral stories and also of our freedom fighters on all India radio. My father would keep 10% of his pay every month for charity. I think all this brought in us lot of values,” she sets the tone of conversation.

From Rajasthan to Mysuru a couple of decades ago, Dr Renu has a fairytale to tell you. As destiny would have it, Dr Renu, after getting married to Susheel Kumar, a gold medalist from UDCT, moved to the heritage city about 37 years back. No wonder, the lady is not tired of talking of her early days in Mysuru. “I came here after my marriage. After coming here, we were blessed with two lovely and talented children  –  son Nikhil and daughter Divya – both engineers from Mysuru and post-graduate from the US. I joined CFTRI, after this, there was no looking back. I fell for the city, the people, the culture and values.”

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She talks highly of her stint at CFTRI. “In fact, I have never felt that I was going for work. Whatever I have done or doing in my life is my passion. All the Directors, HoDs, colleagues have been very nice to me. I was very lucky to get fine and hardworking students who did the task in time. I have also penned a book on the “Role of probiotics in improving human health” so that the latest research is dissipated to the public.”

Dr Renu opines that Indian scientists are doing a good job and hopes it will revolutionise the world in the days to come. “Some of them especially for the specially-abled like a smart cane, cardboard boxes transformed into desks for rural, breathing into spoken communication, shoes that mobilise the visually-impaired, insights on Mars with the Mangalyaan, A mobile app for women safety, converting plastic waste into high-grade petrol, diesel or aromatics, omega 3 fatty acid rich oils and many more. Every day, improvement is going on and the nation is progressing at a rapid phase.”

It is not surprising if Dr Renu has made winning awards a habit. “Awards are recognitions by associations for your work. In fact, I am fortunate that many organisations have appreciated my work on the basis of merit which makes me more responsible,” is her candid reply.  The list of awards that Dr Renu has won is quite exhaustive: Fellow Association Microbiology India, Fellow National Academy Biological Sciences, Fellow Society Applied Botany, Fellow International Society Biotechnology, Woman achiever from International guild of women achievers, Best woman scientist by NABS, Karamveer Chakra by the United nations. Don’t be surprised if the veteran scientist goes on to add more awards to her kitty in the years to come.

If Dr Renu is a successful woman today, it is not without a reason. She is punctual, organised, committed, motivated and has lot of perseverance which help her achieve what the lesser mortals can’t.

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Q&A

Schooling and college.

I studied in Sophia convent and Higher secondary from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Kota, Rajasthan. I did my BSc from JDB (Janaki Devi Bajaj) College in Kota and later education and PhD from Jaipur, University of Rajasthan.

You are a highly acclaimed scientist? How did the journey begin?

I am just an ordinary scientist. From the beginning I wanted to serve the society through science. I did my PhD in tissue culture. After coming to Mysuru, I joined CFTRI. At that time Dr Amla was the director. He wanted to start a new field of products from tissue culture which could be utilized in food. Dr. Bhowmick was the next Director and to obtain higher yields culturing in microorganisms was important. I worked in Food Microbiology. He motivated me to write DBT project. It was very new in those days. I think, I was the first scientist to get the individual externally funded project. Then we had Dr. V  Prakash as the Director. He suggested me to initiate work on Probiotics as everybody around the world was looking for probiotic food products. He also encouraged me to write International projects. After this we have our present Director, Professor Ram Rajasekharan who understood my passion for societal upliftment. As he himself is a devoted scientist for rural folk, he opened up a new unit for rural development and I was made the Rural Coordinator. I was also sent to CSIR HQ New Delhi to discuss about CSIR-CFTRI developments and contribution to the society which helped in networking with all CSIR labs. I was made nodal coordinator by DG for food science and technology.  Under Prof. Ram Rajasekharan, we conducted many All India workshops and awareness camps. In fact, I am indebted to all the CFTRI Directors who have helped me in my journey as a scientist. Also I had wonderful HoD’s like Dr. Patwardhan, Dr. Joseph and Dr. Krishnanand who helped me to pursue the desired science.

Your take on women empowerment…

Empowerment is the ability to make the change. With will, determination, discipline, dedication, perseverance and hard work towards the goal any individual is empowered. In my opinion it is not the gender but the willingness to allow oneself to be empowered or depowered. It is important that women do not allow themselves as the weaker gender.

What does it take for one to be successful in life?

As I perceive, it is dedication, discipline, determination and above all integrity and commitment.

How long have you been living in Mysuru? Anything special about the city.

It has been 37 years for me. Everything is special about Mysuru. I keep going to rural areas of Karnataka also. I am sure anybody wants to stay in a place of love, peace, tranquility, values, culture and above all good people which I found here.

Are you happy with what you have achieved so far?

Each time recognition comes it motivates me to do more.

You are also into social service. Could you explain?

Yes I am associated with many organizations like Rotary-Inner Wheel Mysore Midtown, Helpline (counselor), Mysore Grahakara Parishat and CFTRI-Central Pensioners Workers Association. I am also on the task force committees of DST for nurturing young scientists and also Cold deserts. I have been in committees of  NCERT, UPSC,DST-International Bilateral programmes, PhD, MSC evaluation of many universities, evaluator of research papers in International and national journals.  I have been conducting national level novel competition on burning topics, educating one girl child per year, wheel chair for impaired, pre fixed auto stand at hardinge circle, Rural fund for ACSIR PhD students.

You have submitted many papers. Some important ones.

Synergistic effects of probiotic Leuconostocmesenteroides and Bacillus subtilis in ragi (Eleucinecorocana) malt for antagonistic activity against Vibrio cholera and other beneficial properties, Antioxidant activity and fatty acid profile of fermented milk prepared by Pediococcuspentosaceus, Purification of protein from probiotic Leuconostocmesenteroides active against V. cholera,An antishigella protein from Pediococcuspentosaceous MTCC 5151,Interception of quorum sensing signal molecule by furanone to enhance shelf life of fermented milk.

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Recently, you won Karamveer Chakra. Was it expected and how much does it matter to you?

I never expected that in my life! I am satisfied that people are recognizing my work. As I said each award matters and each brings in more responsibility to contribute further.

Murali R

A senior journalist in the business, R Murali started his career with The Times of India as a reporter in sports. He has covered a lot of local, national, international events in cricket, hockey, volley ball, motor sports and table tennis. Over the years he has done a lot of special stories including general stories. Before Joining City Today, he worked in Deccan Chronicle and DNA. At City Today, he is an integral part of the team handling national, sports edit and op-ed pages. He also actively contributes to City Sunday features.

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