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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Ganapathi Thanikaimoni





Born On: January 1, 1938
Born In: Madras, India
Died On: September 5, 1986
Occupation: Botanist, Palynologist
Nationality: Indian

Ganapathi Thanikaimoni, a successful botanist of his days, is remembered till date for his widespread contribution in the field of palynology. His researches and projects not only helped India to make its presence felt on the world stage of botany, it also furthered public relations between two countries. Ganapathi Thanikaimoni gradually established himself in the role of India's ambassador to other countries to promote the research made in botany in our country. Thani, as he fondly came to be known as, specialized in the research of pollen morphology and phylogeny of the palm tree. After completing his preliminary education in Madras, Ganapathi Thanikaimoni visited Pondicherry to earn his doctorate degree. His research work is still held in high regard. A project that he had started and which had to be put on hold because of his untimely demise is still being pursued by the French Institute in Pondicherry.

Early Life & Education
Ganapathi Thanikaimoni was born on New Year's Day in the year 1938 in Madras. He spent his entire childhood in the city of Madras and passed his school and college years from the same. Madras, at that time, was very important geographically, because of the proximity of ports. He earned a Master's of Science degree in Botany from the University of Madras in the year 1962. Ganapathi Thanikaimoni was taking lessons under Professor B G L Swamy, a famous plant morphologist during that time in the University of Madras. It was in the same year that he received the Fyson Prize for his contribution in the field of natural science. It was after his college years that Ganapathi Thanikaimoni started work on his research paper that eventually earned him a doctorate degree from the University of Montpellier. In 1970, the University authorities decided to grant him the doctorate degree because of his research in pollen morphology and the classification of the evolutionary stages of the palm tree. 

Career
Armed with a doctorate degree from the University of Montpellier and the Fyson Prize, Ganapathi Thanikaimoni went ahead to establish himself as a botanist. He joined as a scientist at the French Institute of Pondicherry, joining the palynology laboratory that was set up inside the institute in the year 1960. Thani worked in Pondicherry under the guidance of Dr Professor Guinet. His hard work and dedication were soon identified by the teachers at the institute, who did not waste time to promote Thani to the post of director of the palynology laboratory. Reports claim that Ganapathi Thanikaimoni was not only scientifically sound, but also very organized in his work. It was his administrative capabilities coupled with his huge store of learning that drew the attention of all his seniors and teachers at the French Institute of Pondicherry. 

During his initial years at the French Institute of Pondicherry, Thani worked on the Clusiaceae, Araceae, Mimosaceae, Menispermaceae and Sonnera species of plants. His researches with the enlisted species were published in journals that were brought out by the French Institute of Pondicherry from time to time. Though Ganapathi Thanikaimoni worked on a particular set of species within the plant kingdom and based his research on the pollen morphology of this species, he did not flinch from working on all other plants from the large collection in the plant kingdom as well. Thani insisted that all species must be studied if accurate results are to be achieved for a particular set of plants because behavioral patterns of different species are interrelated. 

Thani never believed in limiting his research work to only the modern flora. Although pollen morphology as done by him chiefly dealt with the pollen of modern flora, he made it a point to extend his research to fossil pollen as well. It was on the insistence of Thani that a tertiary pollen study was organized at the 7th IPC held in Brisbane, Australia. In the year 1972, he received worldwide recognition when his compilation of morphology of angiosperm pollen was published as the 'Index Bibliographique sur la Morphologic des Pollens d'Angiospermes'. This introduced his studies to a worldwide audience. In the year 1983, as a representative of the French Institute of Pondicherry, Ganapati Thanikaimoni became the head of a workshop that was held in Pondicherry to share botany concepts and pollen morphology ideas with Indian and French palynologists. Thani studied the pollen of plants derived from regions in Africa and India. He had a collection of about 20,000 slides of tropical palynomorphs, which were used for further research work.

Role In Society
Dr Ganapathi Thanikaimoni was not only involved in the study of pollen, but also tried his best to contribute to the wellbeing of the society. Thani tried his best to educate government authorities to take proper care of coastlines and to rehabilitate arid areas across India. It is well known that mangroves play a very important role in balancing the eco system; therefore Thani took steps to educate the society and the government on the necessity of a mangrove. He was also one of the masterminds in the UNESCO developed 'Asia and Pacific Mangrove Project'. There is hardly any doubt about the fact that Ganapathi Thanikaimoni's contribution to the field of pollen studies is immense and all his contribution is recorded in the book 'Palynology Manual' that was printed after his death.

Death
It is sad that Dr Ganapathi Thanikaimoni had to die a sudden and unexpected death. Reports claim that he was on his way to the United States to attend a lecture organized by UNESCO when disaster struck him in the form of a plane hijack. The Pan Am Flight that he was in was hijacked midway in Karachi on September 5, 1986. The Pakistan government had sent commandos on the site to bomb the plane and the terrorists inside and it was reportedly one of the bullets fired by these commandos on duty caused a fatal injury to Thani. The doctor was taken unawares by bullets and shrapnel from a grenade when he was busy helping a child into the covers of safety. Dr Ganapathi Thanikaimoni was supposed to attend the Second International Conference on Paleo-oceanography that took place in Massachusetts, USA from the 6th to the 12th of September, 1986. His studies and unfinished research work are still stored at the French Institute of Pondicherry and further research on his theories is to take place.

Timeline
1938: Ganapathi Thanikaimoni was born on January 1.
1962: Earned a Master of Science degree in Botany from University of Madras.
1962: Won the Fyson Prize.
1970: Earned doctorate degree from University of Montpellier.
1972: Received worldwide recognition for his compilation of morphology of angiosperm pollen.
1983: Convened workshop for Indian and French palynologists at French Institute of Pondicherry.
1986: Died on September 5 in a plane hijack

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