Family, friends locate Alzheimer's-stricken nuke scientist, with Whatsapp, Facebook

75-year-old Dr Suresh Lawande, who previously headed the Theoretical Physics division at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, walked out of his Vimannagar residence around 2 am on Saturday. Collaborative efforts of one of his daughters settled in the US, acquaintances, and a Pune NGO, finally led them to the scientist at Mother Teresa Missionary Home in Chinchwad, where an IT consultant — unaware of his identity — had left him on February 8, after finding him shivering in shorts and a T-shirt on Old Airport Road

Social networking is not just about making friends and expanding one’s online clout. It also provides succour and strength to trace people and objects precious to a person, when all else fails. Campaigning on social networking sites and WhatsApp, and collaborative efforts by family members, volunteers of an NGO and a few Samaritans outweighed police passivity in locating a former nuclear scientist, who had gone missing two days ago. Dr Suresh Lawande, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and diabetes, was found at Mother Teresa Missionary Home in Chinchwad on Monday afternoon.

The 75-year-old had walked out of his Vimannagar residence at 2 am on Saturday, and was untraceable since then. Both of his daughters are settled in the United States, and there were no family members in the city to help his wife search him.
So, the scientist’s daughter Shilpa Lawande started a Facebook campaign, ‘Help find Dr Suresh Lawande’ the same day. She appeal received several responses and propelled many to look for him in nearby areas.

Like others, Raja Narasimhan, who runs the NGO Saare Jahan Se Accha in Vimannagar to highlight the stories of unsung heroes, also received information about the incident. Narasimhan, who approached Shastrinagar police station, was asked to search at different places including railway station, and hospitals. He finally got a lead from a volunteer at Yerawada Mental Hospital, who said that he had seen the missing man in the commerce zone at Nagpur Chawl. Narasimhan added that upon searching there, he came to know that the person had been taken to Nagpur Chawl Police Chowky by a person called Saby.

“However, when we reached there, all that the cops could do was share the phone number of Mr Saby staying at Puru Society,” he revealed. After repeated attempts to reach Saby on that number failed, volunteers of the NGO started combing the Nagpur Chawl area, where they learnt about one Saby Geroge.

“I noticed this person wearing shorts and T-shirt, shivering on Old Airport Road on Saturday. I could not get this vision out of my mind, and I returned there, but as he could not answer any of my questions, I took him to Nagpur Chawl Police Chowky. Cops were uncooperative, though I told them that his feet were bleeding due to blisters and that he needed urgent medical attention. I went to fetch my friend Alex Crassco, but by the time we returned to the chowky, cops had driven him out. We managed to trace him and dropped him off at Mother Teresa Missionary Home in Chinchwad,” IT consultant Saby George told

Anand Hariharan, director of engineering at a private company, who actively searched for Dr Lawande, said, “This highlights the crucial issue of how homeless persons are treated by police. Instead of us going everywhere searching for him, if cops had transmitted the message to all other police stations, Dr Lawande would have been found much earlier. But, policemen had noted down the contact number of Saby, although it was not a part of procedure, and we could trace him.” Pooja Rao, a psychologist by profession and an NGO member said that the group on WhatsApp played a very important role in tracing Dr Lawande.

“On Monday, the group called ‘Search Dr Lawande’ was joined by 55 members, and many participated in locating him.”
Dr Lawande has been admitted to a private hospital to control his sugar level and is doing fine, informed his daughter Suruchi Lawande, who arrived here from the US yesterday. When contacted, sub-inspector RB Lokhande from Nagpur Chawl Police Chowky said he was unable to comment on the matter since he was on leave.

Fact file

Dr Suresh Lawande has a PhD in Nuclear Physics from the University of California under the guidance of Nobel laureate Dr Edward Taylor. Despite numerous opportunities to pursue a career in the United States, Dr Lawande returned to India to continue working at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. He worked at BARC his entire career and retired as head of the Theoretical Physics department. During this time, he published over a 100 papers in the area of nuclear physics and quantum mechanics. He was also a fellow of Indian National Science Academy. Numerous people have received their doctorates in Physics and Mathematics at BARC, TIFR and University of Pune, under the guidance of Dr Lawande. He retired in 2003, but continued to work at University of Pune as an Honorary Professor until 2005. He started to suffer from symptoms of dementia in 2006, eventually determined to have been caused by a combination of micro-strokes (possibly due to high blood pressure) and Alzheimer’s disease. His contributions to the scientific community would no doubt have continued if not for this horrible disease.
— Inputs provided by Shilpa Lawande

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