Profile and interview by Richard Lasrado
This is an age of putting up appearances and make-believe. These are the times where one has to jockey for fame and awards.
But here is a man who has done so much for the Mangalorean society. He kicked a lucrative career abroad with bright prospects of becoming a scientist of international calibre and came back to his roots.
When many of our people hankered after opportunities to settle abroad and thereafter disowned their own roots, with a few of them even refusing to be called Mangaloreans, he came back to his home town to take up a thankless job – entailing a heavy fortune – of studying the family roots of the community. All without any grants or sponsorship. By bleeding his own hard-earned funds in the process. More than all, without expecting any rewards or awards.
Yet, alas, there is hardly any recognition worth the mention. Nor any acknowledgement from official quarters or from ecclesiastical higher-ups. Those who curry favour with the powers-that-be and lobby at the right places often get recognition, thus leaving the deserving ones frustrated.
But this gentleman is unruffled and unaffected by the apathy and cold shoulder shown by the society. All the same, he just goes on with his research and writing work.
Dr Michael Lobo, over the past one-and-a-half decade, has undertaken a very comprehensive study of the history of the Mangalorean Catholic community and the genealogy of its families. Three of his books in this area have already been published – all offshoots of his major work entitled A Genealogical Encyclopaedia of Mangalorean Catholic Families, which is already in excess of 6000 pages.
Michael Lobo was born in Mangalore on September 12, 1953 at the ancestral home of the Bijai branch of the Lobo Prabhu family. He is the great-great grandson of Lawrence Lobo Prabhu (1805-83), a distinguished jurist of his time, and the donor of the site of St Aloysius College.
His father, Camillo Lobo (1907-71), was an engineering graduate of Imperial College, London, who later joined the British-Indian army, and served with distinction in Egypt and Italy during World War II.
Michael’s mother, Maisie nee Fernandes (1919-94), belonged to the Tonse Fernandes Prabhu family, who migrated from Divarde, Goa, to Kallianpur, in 1740. Her father, Stephen Fernandes (1885-1957), retired as City Magistrate, Poona, and her brother, Praxy Fernandes (1926-2001), attained distinction, as Finance Secretary, Government of India.
Michael Lobo matriculated from Montfort Boys High School, Yercaud, Tamil Nadu, graduated from St Aloysius College, Mangalore, and went on for post-graduate studies in mathematics. As a student, he was a keen chess player and, in 1975, qualified for the National A (India’s top 20). He also dabbled in mountaineering, and underwent a course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, passing with distinction.
However, Michael gave up both mountaineering and chess, in favour of an academic career. He joined the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for research studies in Transonic Aerodynamics, the mathematical design of bodies, notably aircraft wings, moving at velocities close to the speed of sound.
He published five papers on this subject, two of which appeared in the proceedings of the Royal Society, London. The Royal Society is the world’s oldest and most prestigious scientific body.
Michael was formally awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1982, his doctoral thesis earning him the “Young Scientist Award” of the Indian National Science Academy in 1983.
In 1984, Michael obtained a Commonwealth Scholarship to the Cranfield Institute of Technology, England, and was subsequently absorbed in the Faculty of this institute, being employed there until 1993. During this period, he was engaged in contract research for a consortium of British Industry, including Rolls Royce and British Aerospace.
Michael also supervised a number of Ph.D. students from various countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Greece, Taiwan, Venezuela, and of course Britain itself. Finally, he authored a few technical works in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), notably Time Marching – A Step-by-step Guide to a Flow Solver, published by Ashgate Press, who specialize in the publication of scientific books in the United Kingdom.
Being modest and unassuming, he needed much persuasion to give an interview. Here are excerpts:
What made you come back to Mangalore, while most of our compatriots grab the earliest available opportunity to migrate once they are on foreign soil?
In 1993, various personal crises forced me to make a permanent return to my home town. And thus began the second phase of my professional career – as a writer.
Is there anything you cherish as an achievement in England?
In my opinion, my greatest achievement, during the years I spent in England, was to trace an English family, with whom my late father had stayed, as an engineering student in the late 1920s and early 1930s: Mr and Mrs Drake had passed away, but Barbara and Pat, despite being very young at the time, still remembered him very well. They were thrilled to re-establish contact with the Lobo family after a gap of 60 years – and made a trip to India in 1990 to meet my mother Maisie.
How did you discover yourself as a writer, while essentially you have been a scientist and a researcher?
I have always possessed an inclination for writing books. While on the staff of Cranfield, I compiled, during my spare time, a 1000-page dictionary of English words deriving from Classical Greek. Samples of this work drew appreciative comments from various publishers, notably Oxford University Press, but the general impression was that the demand for the book would not suffice to meet the cost of publication. Some of my Greek students and colleagues at Cranfield assured me of help in the shape of sponsorship from a Greek shipping magnate, but, as yet, this work remains unpublished.
During my final years at Cranfield (1992-93), I also worked on a book of origins of popular songs dating from the rock’n’roll era, back to the 19th century and even earlier. Like the aforementioned dictionary, this work is also of near encyclopaedic size. It is being released on December 26, 2011.
Tell us about your post-return writing achievements:
Since 1994, with the exception of a single year (1996) in which I returned to Cranfield and also spent some months at an institute in Mexico, I have been based at Mangalore, my ancestral home, and have involved, on a full-time basis, on a research project on the history and genealogy of the Catholic community of this area. The project has taken shape as : A Genealogical Encyclopaedia of Mangalorean Catholic Families.
Can you elaborate on its nature and contents?
This Genealogical Encyclopaedia – currently in excess of 6000 pages and still growing – is probably the only work of its kind in existence! It covers over a thousand families, each of which is researched as far back as its ancestry can be traced. In general, families of Mangalore proper can be traced back 200 years, beyond which authentication from church records is unavailable. The encyclopaedia is replete with cross-references, enabling any person featuring in the work to trace ancestry and relationships in all directions.
What is so special about this encyclopaedia?
There are a large number of genealogical works published in Britain and the USA, but virtually all relate to specific families, enabling descendants to pursue ancestry in one direction only. The Mangalorean Catholic community probably has the distinction of being the only community in the world to possess its own genealogical encyclopaedia.
What about the three books already published by you?
Although the major work is still unfinished, three offshoots have thus far been launched.
Mangaloreans Worldwide – An International Directory (1999): 360 pages
Distinguished Mangalorean Catholics (2000) – 600 pages
The Mangalorean Catholic Community – A Professional History / Directory(2002): 1200 pages
Dr Michael Lobo can be contacted at
“Camelot”, Bijai Church Road,
Mangalore 575 004
Phone: +91 824 2212349
Author: Richard Lasrado