I’m told the cold winds are visiting us from the East. Un-invited, of course. Who asked them to arrive at the fag end of winter? This guest has overstayed its welcome and frankly, I think to myself, should leave.
I’m relieved to find myself, at the end of a short walk in the acid cold in the foyer of the VUmc. Prof. Hari Sharma meets me there and leads me to the staff canteen where I get treated to a tray full of steaming, hot food. For himself, he has his boterhammetjes brought from home in Rotterdam.
The canteen is very full and above the murmur of voices and the clinking sounds, listening to him, I’m transported, the coldest March ever recorded blending to a greyish, white curtain outside. It’s another time, and Hari (as referred by his colleagues and students) is going to school in India.
It was also, of course another place. He experiences that time and time again when he goes back now, not only on personal visits but also with delegations from academia in the Netherlands. India is changing at a pace no one can quite understand. Many renowned institutions are experiencing a great churning. It’s through his professional network that he is able to keep the focus on excellence and excellence alone. He is tireless in his efforts to get Dutch and Indian medical institutions to mutually collaborate in the areas of Biomedical Sciences and clinical practice. As a founder president, Hari tells me that in order to disseminate knowledge and academic excellence in translational research, Indian Academy of Biomedical Sciences (IABS) was formed with keen interest and efforts of several scientists from India and abroad. Though, he gets no remuneration, his reward is successful cooperation.
How does that translate on the ground? One of the ways it does is that more and more multidisciplinary Dutch students are going to India to gain experience and for their internships. They have more time and direct contact with patients and super speciality doctors there than they generally have here. Similarly a number of Indian students come to Holland as university exchange or for short-term courses. Erasmus MC, and three Indian Institutions are successfully collaborating on research projects with substantial funding from mutual governments. With regard to academic ties, more than a dozen bilateral MOUs are active with a vibrant, mutual exchange of students, staff and higher officials.
The essence of successful research lies, says Hari, in the sharing of knowledge between different disciplines. The scientist and the medical practitioner are not rivals, but students and teachers of each other. It is the going back and forth between them that makes breakthroughs in innovation and development. This is his message to colleagues and collaborators in India.
A long way from home, Hari’s focus is on the heart and lungs. That’s where his research is most recognized, and his award winning papers are centred.
An effusive voice reaches us and we turn. It is an ex student of Hari . She has been searching for him recently, dropping by at the lab. He asks politely about her plans, her studies, her family and she answers and shows him a picture of her baby boy.
The warmth that teacher and student generate grows within me and even the bitter Eastern visitor may stay, if it insists, because anyway it can’t get me now.