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Humaira Gowher: The Kashmiri Scientist

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence”, said the genius, Albert Einstein.Remember when our teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up? I bet you do! I wanted to become a horse, yeah! Obviously, I didn’t know then that humans can’t grow up to become horses. But, there was this girl who always said that she’d grow up to be a scientist. She said she wanted to know, “how we walked and yet could fall but could not fly?”

Such is childhood! As I grew, I learned that curiosity is something that would shape what we will become. Once we open ourselves to our maximum capability to question, we become our best versions. The initial spark of curiosity metamorphosed a Kashmiri girl, Humaira Gowher, into an expert scientist in molecular biology research at Indiana, USA. The curious child of Kashmir, “who never cease to question”.

Meet ‘Humaira’ the Curious

 

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Born and brought up in the city of bridges, Srinagar, Humaira is one of those lucky students to have attended Caset Experimental School, then headed by the exceptional educationist Prof C. L. Vishen. She treasured the feeling of becoming a scientist in the classes of Prof Vishen while he discussed the topics of inventions and discoveries. The idea of discovery and innovation, made a home in little Humaira’s heart.

How did a dream turn into reality?

 

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Despite various challenges related to the complexity of the field, it was her determination to achieve her goals and the continuous support of her professors that turned her dream into reality. She took several steps in the process of achieving this height, starting from her school in Kashmir to graduation & post-graduation at Aligarh Muslim University. Under the supervision of Dr. S. E. Hasnain’s (Professor of Biological Sciences at IIT -Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi), Humaira developed a confidence that made her goals clearer and she got into the esteemed IISc (Indian Institute of Sciences). After two years, she shifted to Germany with her husband and continued her Ph. D only to complete it with in two and a half years and was awarded “Summa Cum laude” (Award of Excellence) for publishing 7 first author peer-reviewed manuscripts during this time. Finally, she shifted to Indiana USA, where she is now a fine professor and researcher at the Department of Biochemistry, Purdue University researching in Cancer Research, Genetics and Molecular Biology.

Secret of Science: Message to the aspirants

 

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Humaira says, “Motivation to do science comes only from the passion to do it’. Like every other person, her life was also full of ups and downs. Science is like a roller coaster ride of various failures and success, it is the excitement of doing an experiment that kept Humaira free from the horrors of failure. While on the row for her Ph. D she had her first child Hana, whom she says was never a battle she had to fight, marriage, motherhood and science, all blended well in her everyday life. Now, she has an operational laboratory of her own with 22 reputed international journals already under her belt; Gowher’s research has already paved a way for anti-cancer medicines. Research for her is fun, she says, “why shouldn’t you be thankful for having a job—where you are being paid, for having fun.”

Shades of Humaira

There is one more shade to her personality, which came to light after a long time, only when she had time to give it a push. It was in 2017, that Humaira published her book, “How Do I Sing Nursery Rhymes in the Kashmiri Language?” As a 38 year old, she couldn’t simply forget her 19 year old self- the age she left her home, Kashmir, at!

Wherever we go, we cannot leave behind what our culture made out of us, our favourite food, language, hospitality, clothing, jokes, music, poems, etc, already shapes our personality. Humaira had her teenage self-compiled in her memories and after few years she struggled to transfer all that was Kashmir into her kids, Hana and Ahmed. The Kashmiri diaspora in the United States planned an annual meeting to celebrate Kashmiri language, art and culture where her other friends complained that due to the introduction of English language at an early age, it was difficult to raise their children bilingual in both Kashmiri and English.

Humaira took the responsibility upon her and thanks to her poetic genes that orient from her mother that she translated six common English rhymes into Koshur (Kashmiri Language) keeping in mind the similar tune of Kashmiri poems. She saw the results within hours of composition as her own children were able to recite the poems due to similar rhythm and tune that they memorized as babies.

A wonderful inspiration that is Humaira

Humaira Gowher’s dedication towards her work and revitalizing attachment to Kashmir is undoubtedly inspiring. She stands as the finest example of a self-made woman for our upcoming generation and her works are an ideal means of exploring the field of Biochemistry for our budding scientists. People around the world get to see her intellect and personality as a Kashmiri scientist, it makes for one proud moment for the state as well as the nation. I wish her lots of luck in her ongoing research and hope that she achieves success in every experiment of her life as well as career.