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‘Good research can be done in India with good salaries’

Name: Somlata
Age: 31 years
Profession: Scientist (Molecular parasitologist)
Education: MSc (University of Delhi), PhD (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Place: New Delhi
Family: Father (retired engineer), mother (homemaker), sister (bank executive)

Do you earn more or less, compared with 2004?

More, of course. I was doing MSc in 2004, and was getting the government’s Catch-Them Young scholarship of Rs 2,500 per month. Now I’m getting the (science and technology ministry’s) Inspire fellowship that pays me around Rs 80,000 a month

Do you save more or less, compared with 2004?

The scholarship I got as a student was something like pocket money. I now spend money at home but am also able to save more

What things does your house now have that it did not have in 2004?

An inverter, a microwave, a washing machine. We then had one mobile phone at home, we now have four phones

Have you travelled abroad?

I’ve attended scientific conferences in France, Germany and Poland while doing PhD.

Do you own a car?

No, we’ve never owned a car

Where do you buy your grocery from, malls or the corner store?

Always from corner stores. My sister and I go to malls mainly for clothes

Do you shop round the year or only before festivals?

Whenever we think we need new clothes. So when festivals come, we find we’ve already got new clothes

Do you own an AC? Did you own one in 2004?

No

Is there any difference in the food you can afford now and what you could 10 years ago?

I think we’re eating a little more junk food than before. Rashmi (her sister) and I like pizza. Ten years ago, we rarely brought food from outside, maybe once or twice a year. Now, it’s about once a month. But we mostly order Indian cuisine

Have you got an Aadhaar card?

Yes. It hasn’t helped in anything yet

Do you encounter more corruption or less in your daily life?

When my sister had applied for her passport, the policeman who visited our house to verify our details didn’t go until we gave him Rs 200

What was the last movie you have seen and when?

Dhoom-3 in December 2013

Do you have a cell phone?

Yes, it’s about two years old. Before that, I had a phone with me for five years

Do you go on holidays/ pilgrimages?

Not much. We went to Puri last year. I’d like to visit Kerala and Kashmir

Do you have more or less pairs of clothes compared with 2004?

Lots more — maybe about five times more

Describe the biggest changes in your life since 2004.

From 2004 to 2011, I was a student and, like other PhD students, had few choices to opt for besides going for a post-doctoral position. My job has helped me to stay in India and work at JNU. I feel financially more secure than before

What is your biggest regret in the past 10 years?

No regrets. Things have worked out well with me. After I completed my PhD, I was offered a post-doctoral position at the Pasteur Institute in France. I wasn’t too keen to go abroad, and I got a fellowship that is intended to keep young scientists in India. There are a few hardships in doing research here, things go slower here than in foreign laboratories, but research can be done

What is your biggest achievement in the past 10 years?

My PhD — I think I’m proudest about this

What’s your next goal?

I’d like to find a permanent scientific position in an academic or a research institution. I’d also like to provide (financial) security to my parents, and acquire a home of my own

Are you happier or sadder now? Why?

Certainly happier, because I wanted to stay back in India and my job helped me to do that along with a decent salary. It also allowed me to set an example for others that good research can be done in India and, that too, with good salaries.

Nearly six of the UPA’s 10 years, Somlata has been trying to unravel the mechanism through which an amoeba nibbles at and swallows cells of the human intestine, a key step underlying the illness people call amoebiasis. On the day this research scholar from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, cast her vote last week, she also quietly celebrated the publication of her research paper in Nature, one of the world’s most respected scientific journals. The paper describes how the bug called Entamoeba histolytica adheres to and eats living gut cells, bit by bit. Somlata, who does not use a surname, and her supervisor

Alok Bhattacharya, a senior biologist studying the molecular antics of the amoeba, have gained fresh insights into how the bug drills into the intestine to enter the bloodstream to cause the disease. Somlata, who had turned down a position at the Pasteur Institute in France to pursue research at the JNU, discusses how her life has changed over the past decade

Decade Decoder is an occasional election feature that seeks to bring out through a question-and-answer session whether lives have changed for the better or the worse in the past 10 years