TODAY -

Why Angom Dilip Kumar Singh became Dilip Angom

Dilip Angom *



In the August of 1992 I joined Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore as a Junior Research Fellow. Bangalore of that era is much different from what it is today. The institute is in Koramangala. What is today a happening place of Bangalore and bang in the middle of many IT company offices. Back in the 90s the roads were deserted, and on weekends it was even more so. We could walk in the middle of the roads. Not today.

IIA is the oldest scientific research institute in the country. It traces its origin to the Madras Observatory, which was started in 1786 by William Petrie. He was a member of the Madras Government of British East India Company. When I joined, the research activities of the institute were focused on the observation and studies pertaining to the physics of the planets, stars, and galaxies.

After joining as Junior Research Fellows we had to undergo one year of pre-PhD course work. It was jointly conducted by the faculty members from three institutes: IIA, Raman Research Institute and Indian Institute of Science. All these institutes are in Bangalore. Raman Research Institute and Indian Institute of Science are close by, but IIA is located at the opposite end of the city. Every morning we used to commute from IIA to IISc and RRI to attend lectures. It used to take at most 30 minutes.

Those days there were very few manipuris doing research at the national institutes. When I joined IIA, the faculty, staff and students had never seen a Manipuri in real life, in flesh and blood. I was their first experience of a close encounter with a Manipuri. And, for me, the academic environment of a research institute was a very different experience from what I had encountered till that point of my life.

The pre-PhD course work was hectic and rigorous. There were two semesters, and each semester had four courses. Each course faculty was free to choose their method of evaluations. As a result, each week there were quizzes, presentations, assignments, or take-home tests. On many days we stayed awake whole nights to complete assignments or prepare presentations. It was stressful, but surprisingly, I enjoyed the course work. And I managed to do quite well.

After the completion of the course work, many of the IIA faculty members were willing to take me as their PhD research Scholar. To the disappointment of many senior faculty members, I joined a faculty member who had recently joined the institute. I had my reasons. The omens of the need to change from Angom Dilip Kumar Singh to Dilip Angom began to rear their heads soon after the completion of pre-PhD course work.

At the end of the course work we had to do a project. So, a list of JRFs for project work was circulated among the faculty members and my name was listed as A.D. Singh. When I went to meet a faculty member of the institute as a potential project supervisor, he was extremely surprised that my name had Singh, but I was a mongoloid. I too was surprised at his surprise.

I had been in the institute for close to a year and he could not associate my name with my countenance. Perhaps, he was expecting that the face accompanying a name adorned with "Singh" would be with a sharp nose, big eyes and more. But, in my case that was not to be. From that moment I realized that this "Singh" in my name could be a cause of concern. I was not wrong.

After the completion of the project at IIA, the then director of IIA Prof. Ramnath Cowsic insisted that I and one of my batch mates visit TIFR, Bombay for a second project. Not surprisingly, again there too the "Singh" effect happened. When they were informed that one A.D. Singh shall be coming to visit their laboratory to do a project, they expected either a turbaned sardarji or a north Indian person.

A mongoloid bearing such a quintessential sardarji or north Indian name was a strange phenomenon. It seemed to be a unique case of name-appearance mismatch. To quote the bard What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet. I meekly disagree.

I do not want to disappoint others by crushing their expectations of seeing a sardarji or north Indian with my mongoloid features. There ought to be a proper association of my name with the face they expect to behold in person. Something needed to be done.

One possible remedy to the name-appearance mismatch, I could think of, was to use Angom D. Singh. I innocently thought "Angom", which is unique to Manipuri names, would be a savior. And, hence forth, people would recognize me as someone from the north-east part of India. That was not to be. The "Singh" in the name carried more weight than "Angom".

So, some people thought what a strange name "Angom" is for a man with "Singh". This also happened around the time when I had my first publication in a scientific journal. That was sometime in 1995. So, I had my first publication in a scientific journal with my name as Angom D. Singh. The "Singh" thing continued to hound me in various conferences I attended, and my interactions with visiting scientists and others.

The only clean solution I could think of was to severe "Singh" from the name I use in academic activities. And retain the all-important "Angom" by whatever means possible. So, one day I told my PhD supervisor that I have had enough of the "Singh" effect henceforth I shall be "Dilip Angom" in all my academic activities. He tried to convince me to retain the one I had started using in publications.

Because, in academic circles the publication history means a lot and a change in name could mislead others. But I insisted. He took some time getting used to my new academic name. Because, in our next academic publication, he forgot to inform our collaborators and used my old academic name "Angom D. Singh".

For most of my academic career, except for the first few years as a PhD research scholar, I have been using Dilip Angom as my name in academic activities. But officially, I continue to be Angom Dilip Kumar Singh.

Some people knowingly call me Angom, they like it more than Dilip. Some others call me Dilip. But academically I remain Dilip Angom. That is how I am listed in conference schedules, committees, etc. For the past two decades I have not encountered the "Singh" effect.

These days the name-appearance mismatch may not occur anymore. Today there are many manipuris in academic pursuits. And people in other parts of India are better aware of North-East India. So, many know that some people from Manipur use "Singh" in their names. However, nearly three decades ago, I wanted to be known for who I was and not mistaken for a different identity.

Being identified as a Manipuri and to be in sync with the name was important to me. At times it was lonely though. At conferences, in institutes and names appearing in journals, among the sea of Indian names mine was the only Manipuri name.

I envied my Tamil colleagues, Bengali friends, and others, who had friends from the same neighbourhood, school, and city whenever they went to participate in academic activities. Being the only Manipuri, I also thought, I had to be mindful of what I said and did. That was, however, little to pay for getting the opportunity to indulge in my passion, doing research in physics.


* Dilip Angom wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author worked at the Physical Research Laboratory, Department of Space for nearly two decades.
He is now working as a professor in the Department of Physics, Manipur University.
This article was webcasted on February 17 2022.



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