The Most Interesting Man in the World

Dr Pathak with Radha and Nupur Dixit.

Dr Pathak with Radha and Nupur Dixit.

By Vidha Dixit

HOUSTON: As a curious Hindu youth growing up in the suburbs of Houston, I always cherished the Sunday mornings and afternoons I would spend with my grandfather. I can still clearly remember munching on my mother’s warm aloo-mattar and enjoying the lively conversations between us. We would talk about a host of topics, from what football game would be on in a few hours, to the the latest Bollywood movies, and above all, to the numerous stories of Hinduism and spiritual knowledge that he wished to share with me and my brother.

My grandfather, Dr. Sen Pathak, is a curious man himself. Born in the Surhurpur Village of Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, he prevailed against the odds set against him and brought pride to his hometown by earning not only a Bachelor of Science in Botany, Zoology and Chemistry, but a first class first Master of Science in Zoology as well as a PhD in Mammalian Cytogenetics from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India. However, he didn’t stop there.  My grandfather (fondly called Nana) continued his work on cytogenetics by moving to America and conducting cancer research with the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Along with his work in cancer research and educating younger generation scientists in the same field, Nana has always been a huge proponent of promoting awareness of Hinduism throughout the Houston area. Not only has he contributed through monetary efforts in creating the first Hindu temple in Houston (Hindu Worship Society), but he has spent countless volunteer hours in preparation for Hindu events in the Houston area for over 40 years, the most prominent being the Hindus of Greater Houston annual Janmashtami festival.

His success in the academic, career and philanthropic fields has been nothing less than inspirational and motivational for me. During our conversations over chai and samosas on Sunday afternoons, a few such stories of his hard work and dedication have stuck with me for years. Nana mentioned that growing up in a village in India and commuting to school through fields on foot was a tiresome effort. He would often recall memories of having only one pencil throughout his childhood and the use of oil lamps during the nighttime to study while his younger siblings slept near him. To know that my grandfather had to endure such efforts as a child while I have been afforded nearly all I could ever need or want, I understood that I had a lot to live up to and no excuse to not excel both academically and through volunteer work. Along with Nana’s childhood memories, his words of wisdom on Hinduism, such as respect for elders and teachers, as well as the short stories about various Gods were always a family favorite.  I can honestly say that if it were not for him, I would be much less knowledgeable about Ganesh’s elephant head.
Recently, I haven’t been able to see my Nana as much as I would have liked to, partly because I have been swamped with work and school, but also because Nana is constantly kept busy in earning and receiving almost twenty national and regional awards as well as with helping affiliate many Cancer Hospitals and Cancer Research Centers from India and Turkey with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Luckily for me, modern technology has made contact with him little more than a click away through an email or phone call.

As I set along on my next steps in college at the University of Houston, I will continue to look up to my grandfather as a source of spiritual wisdom and practical knowledge for both school and giving back to the community. In less than a week, I look forward to teaming up with him again at the 24thannual Janmashtami festival for our volunteer efforts as well as to congratulate him on his Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Hindus of Greater Houston. From such humble beginnings came such greatness, and I cannot thank him enough for his stories, advice, and above all, friendship for the past 18 years. I plan to continue my academic work through undergraduate and graduate school because of him and to contribute to the community in any way I can. Most importantly however, I look forward to more afternoons of both chai and knowledge for the next several years. Thank you, Dr. Sen Pathak, for being an inspiration to us all!

Vidha Dixit is a freshman studying Pre-Business Honors at the University of Houston. She is a recipient of the Tier One Scholarship, Top 10 Percent Scholarship, Bauer Business Scholarship and Academic Achievement Scholarship.