KARACHI: Much before her name became synonymous with Einstein and his gravitational waves, the astrophysicist and associate department head of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr Nergis Mavalvala, was a little girl born to a Parsi family in Karachi and raised here in a joint-family set-up.

Nergis moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1984 for higher studies after having completed her schooling at the Convent of Jesus and Mary (CJM) in Clifton. Prior to that, she grew up in a big house near the PIDC building on Beaumont Road.

“Her grandfather, Maneck Mavalvala, a prosperous businessman, lived there with his three brothers. It was more than a house. It was a big sprawling mansion with these four brothers, their children and grandchildren. The compound also housed a dhobi, drivers, cooks and their families. Today, the site has been turned into a marriage hall,” reminisced Natasha Mavalvala, who is married to Nergis’s first cousin.

“The family moved to Canada in the mid-1980s and Nergis and her older sister, Mahrukh, went to college in the States. They only have extended family here in Pakistan now. The last time we met both the sisters was over two years ago when they came to Karachi to attend a cousin’s wedding,” the cousin-in-law shared.

“I am part of this family through marriage but we Parsis are a close-knit community so I remember the girls well. They were sweet, happy children but not very naughty. I would describe them as quiet studious girls, who were highly accomplished students. Both are brilliant scientists and professors today,” Mrs Mavalvala told Dawn.

Nergis’s uncle or chacha, who lives in Parsi Colony in Mehmoodabad, also remembered his nieces as very serious about their education. “Nergis was also into sports. She would frequent Karachi Gymkhana for sports activities, especially swimming,” he said.

“I just received an email from my older brother and sister-in-law, her parents, about Nergis’s latest achievement. We were already so proud of her earlier when she was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship in 2010, and this is even better as now she is being hailed as the pride of Pakistan,” the uncle said.

Meanwhile, Nergis herself shared a bit about her life here through email. Her love for science developed during her school days here. She wrote: “I went to CJM, graduating in 1984. My chemistry teacher there was Mr Ranjith Bulathsinhala. He was also the lab instructor for all science subjects and was a very influential person for me. He allowed me to experiment with reagents and explore circuits during recess or free periods when I was not socialising with friends. Another influential teacher in high school was my physics teacher Freddie Irani. He lives in Vancouver, Canada, now.”

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2016

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