If Dr Yellapragada SubbaRow, the unsung hero of modern medicine, described by some as the ‘miracle man of miracle drugs’, largely ignored by the West is at least known to India, a sizeable share of the credit should go to S P K Gupta, a veteran journalist and chronicler of Science history.
For over 50 years, he relentlessly strived to bring to light the extraordinary contributions of the Indian origin scientist, Dr SubbaRow who worked wonders with Pharma companies in the UK and US during the early 1900s. Gupta wrote books titled ‘In quest of panacea”, Wizard of Wonderdrugs; Dr Yellapragada SubbaRow. Gupta wrote: He lived so that we may live longer.
Ironically, while a feature film is underway capturing the life of Dr SubbaRow for the celluloid and the OTT platforms, the 92-year-old, Sikharam Prasanna Kumar Gupta, a former PTI foreign desk editor, passed away in New Delhi on Sunday night at AIIMS after a brief illness.
He is survived by his wife Devi and two sons, who are both in the US. Incidentally, his father-in-law, Panikkar, was the Manager of the PTI in Kurnool during the 1950s, when it was the capital of the Andhra State and later in Hyderabad.
Born in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, Gupta worked for the Press Trust of India (PTI) in various roles for 38 years including a long stint as the Moscow correspondent. Beginning his career in 1952, he served as the news agency’s bureau chief and as its foreign editor in New Delhi.
During a long and illustrious career, Gupta covered many historic events including the rise and fall of the Soviet Union; he was the first Indian journalist to interview Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian Premier; the historic flight of Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma from Baikanour in 1984; the Bangladesh War; the 1969 Congress split and; the Allahabad High Court judgement on Indira Gandhi that was followed by imposition of Emergency etc.
Post his retirement from PTI in 1990, Gupta took to writing books. Among the notable ones In Quest of Panacea; A Wreath for Doctor Ramayya, and The Rise and Eclipse of the Soviet Civilisation. At the time of his death, he was working on two more books, one of which was the biography of Homi Bhabha.
Though well settled in Gulmohar Park in New Delhi, he kept himself busy in writing and chronicling Indian science, biographies and promoting Dr SubbaRow. His ‘Ellas Cottage’, home was overflowing with books, papers, manuscripts and rare material.
In recent years, he has been donating them for public archives, says Dr Dinesh Sharma, well known Science Journalist and author, who has been interacting with him over the years.
Always curious, hardworking and encouraging young journalists, Gupta was active in the Indian Science Writers Association (ISWA) and science popularisation. During the mid 1990s when I was the Secretary and Dr K S Jayaraman, Science Editor, PTI was President, I recall his his unstinted support in organising events.
I recall his several visits to Hyderabad to convince the State government to accord recognition to Dr Yellapragada SubbaRow, who also hailed from Bhimavaram in coastal Andhra Pradesh. His efforts succeeded partially when the bust of the great medical researcher was installed in the Nizams Institute of Medical Sciences ( NIMS) and an exhibition was held at the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).
Dr SubbaRow discovered the antibiotic aureomycin, invented the phosphate estimation method, the anti cancer and anti rheumatoid methotrexate, drug for elephantiasis and many other drugs. The pioneering biochemist, died in 1948 at the young age of 53.
“ SPK Gupta was a no nonsense man. He helped me in my style of reporting and we were close family friends” recalled, N V R Swami, another PTI veteran, who covered the African continent extensively for over a decade as the foreign correspondent based in Harare.
“S P K Gupta’s death is a big loss to science, journalism and especially history of science, not only for India but for the whole world,” said Prof. Raghuram from the School of Biotechnology at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi.
The faculty of biotechnology at the University held a condolence meeting on Gupta today. He was a regular visitor to this university, as it celebrated Yellapgrada SubbaRow’s birthday every January for over 20 years through a memorial lecture by a leading scientist and a documentary film and a poster exhibition on his life and works prepared by Gupta.