Monday, June 13, 2016

The Unconformity At Rathivade

My friend Pradeep Sarkar died last Tuesday June 7th. He got up that morning and complained of shortness of breath. In a few minutes it was all over. He leaves behind a shattered family, a wife and a son, and a large number of stunned friends, colleagues and students.

I met Pradeep when he joined the faculty at Fergusson College, Pune, during my second year B.Sc. He had a way with students and his enthusiasm for geology rubbed on to others. A boring summer vacation was looming ahead.  Having already decided to major in geology, Anil Lalla, Nalin Nair and myself asked him if he was going for fieldwork to the Konkan coast. As it happened he was and to our delight he invited us to go along with him.

We traveled to the little town of Malvan in the Sindhudurg district in southern Maharashtra. His research involved mapping the Precambrian geology with emphasis on understanding sedimentary structures and environments of deposition of the mid-late Proterozoic Kaladgi Group. Peninsular Gneiss, Greenstone schist belt, deformed conglomerate, trough cross bedding, fining up sequence. We had read and heard about these magical geological features in class. Pradeep made them come alive in the field in the week of our arriving at Malvan. He taught us how to read a toposheet and how to overlay the geology on it. He taught us how to measure and describe lithological sections. He taught us how to scan the horizon and see beyond.

In the evenings after fieldwork we used to go to the rocky  Malvan beach where the Kaladgi Group sediments were exposed. He used to point out to us ripple marks and bedforms made by the action of waves on a sandy sea floor more than a billion years ago. Sometimes we walked a little out of the way, outside town, to one of his favorite spots. A bridge over a small estuary; there we stood watching the rise or ebb of tides, taking in the salty breeze, waiting for the Arabian Sea sunset. Malvan would remain very close to his heart long after he finished his PhD work. He ended up marrying a local girl, the daughter of the lodge he always stayed in.

We remained good friends throughout. After I left India to pursue graduate studies we struck up a lively correspondence. I used to mail him research papers. His interests were moving toward studying calcrete, calcium carbonate deposits found as nodules and veins in the semi arid eastern Deccan plateau. On my return to India a few years back we renewed our meetings. During short chai sessions at the local tapri he used to hold court, talking excitedly of his research and teaching commitments. He wanted to see some of my PhD samples of Ordovician carbonates and maybe hold a lab session with graduate students. I agreed to meet him in his lab. Alas, that day never came. His work load was such that he just never got around organizing it.

Last week on June 10th I attended a sad but memorable condolence meeting for Pradeep. Friends and colleagues talked touchingly on the many memories they had of time spent with him. He leaves behind a legacy of 3 decades of excellence in teaching and of inspiring countless students to take up geology as a career.

When I heard the news of his passing on June 7th, my mind skipped back to that field trip and I found myself thinking about the unconformity near the village of Rathivade some distance away from Malvan. Amidst monsoon showers and sunny interludes we walked through the Konkan countryside. In a stream bed we came across something he had badly wanted us to see- The Great Eparchaean Unconformity. There scattered along were patches of Archean gneiss. Along the stream bank overlying the gneiss were mid Proterozoic Kaladgi sediments. By the time I had walked to the stream edge, Pradeep had rushed in and was already standing knee deep in water. It is an important feature of Indian geology he explained.... this unconformity. Etched on the surface of Peninsular India, it speaks of a change from a hot tectonically active Archean earth in which was formed the gneiss, to a cooler more stable Proterozoic world, where, on large cratonic basins in shallow seas, thick sequences of sandstones and limestones accumulated. This unconformity- he told us-  marks a long period of quiescence between these two phases of formation of the earth's crust, maybe a 300 -500 million year break.

With amazement we stared at him. 

Since then, at different times and places, I met and was influenced by other good teachers and mentors who kept my interest in geology alive. But it all began during that late summer in June 1986 when the generosity of a young PhD scholar opened the eyes of three geology enthusiasts to the wonders of this earth.

 Pradeep Sarkar 1960-2016

15 comments:

  1. Very moving. It is great fortune in life to have such inspiring mentors. I am only a geology enthusiast, but found this deeply moving.
    Is the tirumala/ natural arch part of the same unconformity?

    Mohan

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  2. thank you Mohan. memories are flooding back!

    yes, this break between the Archaean and the Proterozoic rocks (Eparchaean unconformity) is present all across India, although it has formed independently in different basins at slightly different times.

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  3. Thank you sir for sharing such a wonderful story you have with Sarkar Sir. He truly was a great geologist apart from being an inspiration and mentor for young geologists like me. It is a great loss for everyone. I miss him and I would always cherish all the wonderful memories that I have with him, but could never put down it on paper as beautifully as you have. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful experience..

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    1. thanks Pritha- am still thinking about him and the times of fieldwork and fun. He was a force of nature and a dear friend. will miss him terribly...

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  4. Hi Suvrat,

    A very moving post. I'm sorry to hear about Dr. Sarkar's passing.

    This post brought back a lot of memories for me as well since my undergrad fieldwork was at Malvan where we did strain analysis on the conglomerates (strangely enough my results indicated very low deformation so I questioned whether the pebble orientations were a depositional feature rather than deformation induced)

    I'd love to hear more about the work you guys did there

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    1. thanks Vivan-

      we were just beginners when we went there, didn't really do any work ourselves. Sarkar was studying the sedimentary structures in the Proterozoic Kaladgi equivalent sequences. We did get to see some of those "deformed" conglomerates. They are a wonder, with those elongate pebbles. They are older, probably equivalent to the Dharwarian Bababhudan greenstone Group. But you may be right. Those could be depositional features with a light tectonic reorientation. My friend Pradeep Jadhav who teaches at MIT Engineering College, Pune, did some structural work on them. I will ask him if he has any published work on them and will pass on to you.

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    2. Thanks! I'd really appreciate that. I always wanted to turn my old results into a paper but I could hardly find any context on those outcrops. If Mr. Jadhav has some leads I would find them very insightful.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this simple but great human being’s memories with us in your blog. Each of us who knew Sarkar Sir, definitely have many more memories to share. I wish to share a most recent one. I got an opportunity to do a field work in Deccan Traps with Sarkar Sir, Dr. Vivek Kale, Dr. Devdutt Upasani & few of our students in the April of 2016. As Dr. Kale went on showing the different volcanological features and their significance in the emerging field of ‘Physical Volcanology’, I could see Sarkar Sir getting super excited at every exposure. Later over chai he told me “Shilpa, I have been seeing these basalts for many years now, but this field work has completely changed my perspective of looking at the Deccan Traps”. In this field work I also witnessed an amazing relationship between two classmates; one was a teacher here and other his enthusiastic student. Even at this age with only few years away from his retirement, it was inspiring to see Dr. Sarkar being so enthusiastic about learning new things. Sarkar sir had studied Konkan Kaladgis in his Ph.D research & I studied those of the main basin around Bagalkot-Badami in mine. Sadly, my wish to do a field work with him in the Konkan Kaladgis will now remain unfulfilled. With a promise, that I will try to be as good teacher as he is, I pay my tribute to him. - Shilpa Patil

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    1. Hello Shilpa- thanks you for writing about your connection with Pradeep. Your experience with him is a perfect example of why he was such an inspiration to all of us...

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  6. What a moving story. Thank you for sharing this with us and I am sorry to hear of your friend and mentor's passing.

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  7. Sorry to hear about this much-too-early loss. Your tribute describes so well the role of inspiring mentors. It brought back memories of my geology mentor, and his enthusiasm for geomorphology and teaching in the field. Though I became a botanist professionally, geology remains a passion. We're lucky to have known such people!

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    1. thanks Hollis- yes, I was fortunate to have met people like Pradeep early on..

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  8. Lovely eulogy Suvrat. Found it through google search.
    Share your views on Pradeep / Sarkee.... as a very dear and near friend who is lost in the mist of time....
    Will be working with Fergusson to complete some work that he and I started with his students.... with the memory of that trip on Friday (just 3 days before the fateful Monday) that we took to Khamataki Ghat section.
    Vivek

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    1. thanks Vivek- Pradeep was such a great guy and so much fun to be with in the field especially.. its a big loss to the Pune geology community...

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