I remember being in Delhi on 27 July 2016 for the celebrations of the Foundation Day of the Ministry of Earth Sciences at Vigyan Bhavan. It was a daylong programme and I had gone specially from Pune to attend it. Having retired from IMD way back in 2003, it was an occasion for me to meet several friends once again and renew old acquaintances. It so happened that I was seated just next to Mr Sikka and I considered that to be a great privilege. However, Mr Sikka was reticent, not in a mood to talk, and remained quiet throughout. This, I thought was not the person I had known all along, since 1965, to be precise. For me, Mr Sikka had always seemed to be an active, vocal, vibrant person, true to his opinions, ever-willing to argue out his points of view.

I had done my M.Sc. in Physics from the University of Pune in 1964 and around the same time, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had established a new wing named the Institute of Tropical Meteorology (ITM) at Pune, solely devoted to research. I got selected to work there as a Senior Scientific Assistant and I joined ITM in September 1965. My position was that of a research assistant in the non-gazetted cadre, not exactly regarded as a scientist. However, the atmosphere in ITM was open, not very compartmentalized, and I did have opportunities to mingle with scientists, many of whom were stalwarts in their fields.

Mr Dev Raj Sikka was a young Senior Scientific Officer in ITM at that time. While other scientists seemed to be working with weather charts, climatological data or numerical models, what struck me was that Mr Sikka was analysing data from meteorological satellites that had been launched recently by the U.S. and he used electronic computers to process that data. Both satellites and computers had a fascination for me and I used to listen attentively whenever Mr Sikka spoke about his work.

What struck me about Mr Sikka was that he was a very knowledgeable person and he seemed to be aware of the latest developments is almost every field. This I came to know later was due to the fact that he was a voracious reader. At the end of my working day in ITM, I would be waiting for a bus to take me home. And very often I would see Mr Sikka walk by carrying the heavy load of a leather bag stuffed with journals for his late night study.

One of the highlights of the day-to-day work in ITM was the scientific seminars that we used to have very frequently. ITM did not have a seminar hall at that time, but talks used to be arranged in the first floor verandah of Ramdurg House. Curtains would be drawn for privacy and folding chairs laid out. There was only a blackboard and chalk for the speaker to use. But what mattered was that global experts from various branches of meteorology used to visit ITM and deliver talks. What I remember vividly is that however eminent the speaker may be, Mr Sikka would be the first to make a comment or raise an issue.

Looking at any matter critically was an integral part of Mr Sikka’s personality. In fact, in his later years, his knowledge of meteorology had acquired such a depth and breadth, that it had become difficult for people to win an argument with him. I had the occasion to work with him on many committees and I could sense the dislike he had developed for shallow projects and weak presentations. He would always expect especially the younger scientists to work much more than what they were doing or planning to do.

I worked in the Institute of Tropical Meteorology from 1965 to 1971, after which I moved over to the Agricultural Meteorology Division of IMD in Pune. In 1981, I was transferred to New Delhi where I worked until my retirement in 2003. In the intervening years, I was not able to maintain close contact with Mr Sikka, but what he was doing was clearly visible from a distance, like the new building of IITM that came up at Pashan. There were many occasions for me, however, like meetings and conferences, to meet Mr Sikka and hear his views on matters of importance. During the massive drought that India faced in 2002, I remember meeting Mr Sikka almost every week and discussing the evolving meteorological conditions. In the bleak aftermath of a forecast that had gone wrong, and amidst the criticism that I had to face from all quarters, Mr Sikka’s wise counsel used to be a source of great solace and confidence for me.

I will always remember Mr Sikka with fondness and admiration. With his passing, a whole generation of meteorologists has vanished into eternity. The world has changed, climate has changed, the work ethic has changed. That is why I miss dear Sikka Saheb.

(R. R. Kelkar)