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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Celebrating the life of Dr. Devendra Singh

Today is the day that I celebrate and remember the life of someone who was my enabler, mentor, and friend.  Over the course of my life in every activity I pursued, I strongly believed in finding a mentor.  I've been asked many times how I manage to do so well with my hobbies, and the short answer always is, "I have great mentors."  Dr. Devendra Singh was the first of my many mentors, and a phenomenal one at that.  He not only mentored me in his area of expertise, but he also encouraged me to I try my hand in other areas.  There's no shadow of a doubt that Dr. Singh shaped my personality, sense of humor, and intrinsically motivated me to find my passion for research. 

It isn't until after the memorial ceremony today that I realized how much of an influence he had and how many similarities we had together.  I learned today that he was featured in a 1986 issue of Austin Home and Gardens for his cooking with a two page color spread.  I also learned that he was in theater and public speaking in high school.  It is almost as if I was following his footsteps long before I met him.  In his line of research, he encountered many humorous situations.  One was winning the top 10 more influential women award by a British organization, except that he wasn't a woman.  But he accepted the award anyways.  I can only hope to have a life just half as rich as his.  To my first mentor, rest in peace.  My memorial speech below.

In 2008 at Dorian and Matt's Wedding.
You might think that in a sea of 50,000 other student, you're not special.  You might think that with so many students per professor, it is nearly impossible to form a meaningful relationship with busy professor.  Dr. Singh showed that this thinking is far from reality.  I was first exposed to Dr. Singh's works as a child reading magazines.  While the layman and entertainment magazines I read glossed over the technical portions of research, the concept of waist to hip ratio and other evolutionary terms stuck in my mind for years.  Upon starting my undergraduate career, I was advised to take a class with Dr. Singh - I liked that evolutionary sort of stuff anyways.  Being a college student, I picked the most appropriate one - Psychology of Sex.  Someone described it as the funniest and hardest class I'll ever take, and everyone described it as a must. 

It wasn't until a few weeks into the class when I realized that Dr. Singh was THAT Dr. Singh.  I was in awe.  The researchers that I read about years ago, were real. And teaching my class. And he talks to me!  I was taking a class with a celebrity.  Now I wouldn't describe Dr. Singh's class as funny.  They aren't just funny.  They are falling on the floor hyperventiltation inducing hilarious.  There was a woman named Bambi who would almost flip her desk as she fell to the floor from laughter.  Dr. Singh's classes were more than tough.  It wasn't just knowledge that you had to absorb; it was also a new way of approaching research and information.  We were taught to not blindly absorb information, but to challenge it.  We didn't just learn concepts, we had to apply them. 

If you've ever taken one of Dr. Singh's courses, you'll know the fig method.  For a type A, middle child, this method had me on pins and needles when it came time to awarding the coveted figs.  The stars and the galaxies must have been aligned many times as I did earn three lunches with Dr. Singh over his three classes.  Lunch wasn't the only time or place where the topic of discussion morphed into a discussion of food.  In my substance abuse class, Dr. Singh once spoke of this chocolate chip recipe that was supposed to be sinfully delicious.  The recipe called for 2 cups of butter, 2 cups of shortening, and 4 cups of sugar.  It was bound to be good.  If anyone remembers my baking skills from almost a decade ago, let's just say that they were in the development stage.  My cookies were, well, for lack of better terms inedible.  I had not yet mastered the art and science of levening agents and egg white behavior.  It was failure after failure after failure.  I asked Dr. Singh to bring the recipe to class, and that I would try to make it at home.  Miraculously, the cookies came out perfect.  They were crunchy on the outside, and gooey and chocolaty on the inside.  I guess all I needed was a solid recipe and some pressure.  This is still the same recipe sitting on my counter that I use today.  The food business didn't stop there. 

After finishing undergrad, I was lucky enough to be invited to Dr. Singh's home on many occasions, and I didn't even have to earn any figs for the pleasure.  And on those many occasions, the mouth watering aroma of garlic, onions, and spices would be intoxicating.  Dinner with Dr. Singh wasn't just an eating experience.  In addition to the regular research and teaching talk, I got a cooking lesson as well.  After a meal of spicy mutton briyani with Dr. Singh and Dorian, I immediately bought a pressure cooker, the necessary spices, and jasmine rice and started experimenting with briyani recipes. I was so excited about making briyani many times that I bought two whole goats.  Eating with Dr. Singh has inspired me to pursue my cooking hobby much more fiercely than I ever intended. Now that I've mastered baking, I've been dubbed the Cupcake Fairy.  There are also many Indian influences in my dishes now including cardamon rose cupcakes and chocolate kaju kathi.

Dr.Singh's love of cooking influenced my cooking, and his love for teaching influenced my teaching as well.  Oftentimes, we would meet in his office to find anonymous hand written notes slid under the door.  "I was having a bad day today, but after your class, I feel better."  "Thank you for making me laugh."  "Can I bring my boyfriend to class?"  It was obvious that his teaching wasn't just about content, but he sparked curiosity and cured a day of the blues.  His advice and teaching strategies are being passed on to my classes, and I'll report that my classes enjoy his jokes as much as I did.  Not only was Dr. Singh a great influence in many realms of my life, he was also a great supporter of my endeavors.  With every activity that I've tried and with every research project attempted, Dr. Singh was an never ending source of emotional and intellectual support as well as inspiration.  With every pet I brought to his office or home, he was happy to see them.  Mouse and Basil were always happy to visit Dr. Singh.  If not sneak a bite or two of delicious food, but also to roll around on the floor hoping for a belly scratch.  Thank you to Barbara, Adrian, Dorian, and Matt for sharing a wonderful teacher and incredible person with us.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so terribly sorry for your loss. Great mentors are few and far between. My thoughts are with you.