The pink flowers are a beacon to passersby, calling them to stop and smell them for the next few days in small Surrey, UK.

However, many of these blooms are Indian-rooted.

They were planted by EK Jaaki Ammal, who was a scientist born in Kerala in 19th-century India.

Janaki has been studying flowering plants for almost 60 years and has reworked several plant families’ scientific classifications.

Dr Savithri PREETHA NAIR, a historian who spent years researching the life of Janaki, said that Janaki was more than a cytogeneticist.

Dr Nair said it was difficult to name one Indian male geneticist of the time who used this cross-disciplinary approach in their research.

“She was a pioneer in biodiversity conservation, having spoken about it as early as the 1930s.”

Janaki had an inspiring life. But her contributions to science and technology were barely recognized for decades.

Janaki’s anniversary is this year, and Dr Nair hopes that Dr Nair will change that by writing a comprehensive biography. The book, Chromosome Woman and Nomad Scientist: E.K. Janaki Ammal’s Life 1897-1984 was released in November. This book is the result 16 years of research across three continents.

Dr Nair said that it also marks the beginning of “a great project” in recovering stories about Indian women working in science.

She states that until now, publications on women scientists were primarily focused on North America and Europe, and she adds that Asian women “hardly figure anywhere”.

Janaki is known for her many professional accomplishments but her family believes that Janaki’s life was inspirational.

Geeta doctor, Janaki’s grand-niece, says that “She thrived off human possibility.” “She was passionate and completely free, always focused on her work.”

Janaki was born in Tellichery, now Thalassery in Kerala in 1897. EK Krishnan, her father, was a high-court sub-judge in Madras Presidency’s administrative subdivision in British India.

She grew up in privilege and a large extended family. They lived in Edam, a house that Ms Doctor claims was the “center of Janaki’s life”.

The house was two stories high and featured a grand pianist, an expansive library, large halls, and large windows with views of the garden.

Janaki belonged Kerala’s Thiyya group, which is considered socially backward by the Hindu caste.

But Janaki’s life at Edam house was free from prejudices, Ms Doctor explains.

However, that doesn’t mean she didn’t face caste discrimination in the course of her life. She adds that it did not stop her from doing so.

“If she was dissatisfied by someone, she would just move forward.”

Janaki, after finishing school, moved to Madras (now Chennai), where she received higher education.

When she received the prestigious scholarship from University of Michigan, the US in 1924, she was an instructor at a women’s college.

Eight years later she became the first Indian woman awarded a doctorate for botanical science.

Soon after, she returned to India and taught botany in her native state. She then joined the Sugarcane Breeding Station in Coimbatore.

Janaki spent his time here cross-breeding sugarcane with other plants to create a high yielding variety that could be grown in India.

Dr Nair claims that she was the first person to cross sugarcane from maize.

She also mentioned that one particular hybrid she had created went on to be used in many commercial crosses, but she was not given credit.

Janaki moved to London in 1940 just after World War Two ended. She joined the John Innes Horticultural Institution (JOHI) to continue her research.

Her next few years were some of the most important in her professional career. Five years later, she was the first woman scientist to work at the Royal Horticultural Society Garden Wisley.

It was also a time for hardships, hard work, and struggle – Britain was facing the brunt war and food supplies were severely rationed.

Ms Doctor claims that Janaki wasn’t affected by the bombing. “When the bombs fell on Janaki, she would dive under tables or under beds – it was all done in one day.

She said that her attitude extended to her personal and professional life.

“[The children from her family] were her equals. She expected us to uphold her strict ways.”

She had a sweet side.

Ms. Doctor recalls that their grand-aunt gifted them wonderful books and took them on wonderful picnics.

And she was never short of stories. She had many to tell about Kapok, a small, black-striped palm-squirrel she had brought with her in London. Her doll Timothy, who was a delight for everyone at Edam.

Ms. Doctor does not place dates on these memories. The past is just past. But she vividly recalls Janaki’s strong personality and commanding presence, her vibrant yellow saris, and her “energetic and subtle” ways.

“She was a lover of life, both in its small details and in the larger scheme of things. However, she had a keen scientific mind.”

Dr Nair said that this was also evident in the work of her, which was not about one single revelation but a series smaller-scale discoveries that contributed “to a grand history human evolution”.

“The fundamental questions she posed were about plants, and man.”

Jawaharlal Narendra Nehru, India’s prime minister, requested Janaki to visit India in 1951 and assist with restructuring the Botanical Survey of India.

Janaki, who was greatly influenced by Mahatma’s teachings went immediately.

“But her male colleagues refused o take orders from a women and her attempts at re-organize BSI were rejected,” Dr Nair says. He also adds that Janaki wasn’t fully accepted at the institute.

This caused her immense pain and she couldn’t fully recover. So, she fled to explore the country looking for new plants.

Janaki, a 1948 woman, became the first to embark on a plant hunting expedition to Nepal, which she believed was the most exotic part of Asia botanically. Dr Nair says Janaki made this claim in 1948.

She was 80 when the Indian government gave her the Padma Shri, one the country’s highest civil honors. She died seven more years later in 1984.

Ms. Doctor claims that Janaki was not recognized for her work, but that she did not lose her enthusiasm for studying the world.

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