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Loreto girl leaps to CERN board Mishti doi tickles scientists’ palate

- From family stories about father of Boson to bullring of particle physics

Sudeshna Datta Cockerill grew up listening to grandma’s tales that weren’t just about foxes and fairies, they included anecdotes about physicist Satyendra Nath Bose’s frequent visits to her ancestral house in Hatibagan.

Just as well that Sudeshna, now 59, heads the Diversity programme at CERN in Geneva, the institute that recently unravelled the Higgs-like Boson, the holy grail of physics that partly derives its name from Bose.

The former student of Loreto House is currently visiting the city of her birth as part of a CERN team led by its director-general Rolf Dieter Heuer, who on Monday doffed his hat to Bose by declaring that he always wrote “boson” as “Boson”.

“It gives me immense pride to be in the city of my roots, where Bose was born and spent his working life. I am very fortunate to be working with the CERN, which is the world’s leading research institute on particle physics, of which Bose was the pioneer along with (Albert) Einstein. I believe all this has happened to me because of my karma,” Sudeshna, an HR professional, told Metro.

Her stint as a member of CERN’s human resource management board has come after a 36-year career with the institute, including the roles of HR adviser, equal opportunities officer and head of learning & development.

Sudeshna, who had left Calcutta to study abroad after Class XI, arrived in the city two days before the start of the Frontiers of Science 2012 conference on Monday and will be staying an extra week after the event “just to be with family and friends” and share some precious memories.

“I was told Bose would often visit our ancestral home in Hatibagan, from where my parents later shifted to Theatre Road and then Bishop Lefroy Road. My paternal uncle was the poet Sudhindranath Datta and my father Ranendranath Datta was in banking,” she said.

The stories she remembers her grandparents narrating include one about Bose’s sweet tooth — he was fond of sandesh — and another about how well he played the violin. “There was a photograph of his in our home and we were all very proud of being associated with him,” recalled Sudeshna.

She too did her family proud, winning a four-year scholarship to study comparative literature at Smith College in the US and going on to do her masters in HRD at Webster University.

So how did a girl who studied comparative literature in the US end up working for Europe’s premier particle physics lab? “I had majored in English and French and thought I should spend some time in a French-speaking nation. At that time, going to France was a bit daunting and so I zeroed in on Geneva, and with one thing leading to another I found myself at CERN in 1976.”

Sudeshna visits home once a year, “sometimes twice”, and loves nothing more than catching up with family and digging into her favourite Bengali dishes. “At the breakfast table here at Hyatt, I got Rolf and Rudiger (Voss) to taste the mishti doi and both loved it,” smiled the Calcutta girl, who misses a good ol’ adda over a hearty meal the most when away from home.