Last week on October 2, I wrote about Gandhi’s nutritionist avatar and how he was ahead of his time regarding thoughts on this subject. This week, I write to pay tribute to another great man who shaped the future of nutrition in modern India. Dr Coluthur Gopalan, who passed away in Chennai last week, just short of his 101st birthday, has been revered as the Father of Nutrition Science in India. Dr Gopalan’s pioneering vision transformed the way we think around nutrition in India. He did so in the times when nutrition was a mere mention in the medical curriculum. He, in those times, chose to undertake doctoral work in nutrition in the UK, over the usual medical subjects preferred during that period.
It is a difficult task to enlist the contributions of Dr Gopalan in just one piece. His interest and research on the nutritional status of the Indian population paved the way for programmes on anemia control, goiter prevention, Vitamin A supplementation, and the mid-day meal. The universal salt iodisation programme took off because of his foresight. The lack of iodine in the diet was creating a huge burden for the nation with its long-lasting effects. We owe it to Dr Gopalan that over 90 per cent of Indian households today consume iodised salt. Thus began the first food-fortification programme.
His contributions have been well-recognised with the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan. The title of ‘The Living Legend In Nutrition’ was awarded to him by the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and The Federation of Asian Societies. He was a fellow at the Royal Society of London, member of all the three Indian Science Academies, and held positions as head of premier institutes such as ICMR, NIN and NFI.
On a personal note, I had the good fortune to see and hear him at conferences and several meetings, where he always left a mark. I recount the first time in 1998 when I had the privilege to make a presentation at the Nutrition Foundation of India (he was the founding President of this organisation), and he was to chair my session. The mere thought of doing so gave me the jitters as I had heard he was quick-tempered. I was apprehensive that he would detect the shortcomings in my presentation. Much to my relief, he chose to highlight the good aspects of what I had to say. Many others like me have benefitted from his mentoring in the sphere of nutrition. It also gives me great pleasure to remember that he appreciated the articles published in my column in a leading daily, which he read regularly. He made it a point to convey this message through his son, Dr Sarath Gopalan, who was a colleague at PSRI.
In the times to come, we will remember Dr C Gopalan as an institution builder and remain indebted to him for putting nutrition at the centre stage of the developmental plans and policies of this country.
Neelanjana Singh, Nutrition Therapist & Wellness Consultant.