Developing a life-saving drug, writing bestsellers and not quitting your job: IITian shares his story
NOTFew Indians do what Ajinkya Bhasme did for the first 30 years of their lives. After graduating in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay, he helped develop life-saving medicine, earned professional certificates and degrees in forensic psychology and psychotherapy, and now offers free mental health advice and awareness through her Instagram profile, in addition to writing three best-selling novels.
If that wasn’t enough, he currently works for Swiss Re, a Zurich-based global reinsurance company, as Vice President of their People and Culture Development division.
Born in Yavatmal and raised early in Poladpur along the Konkan belt of Maharashtra, he would eventually do most of his formal education in the ‘golden city’ of Jalgaon. He grew up in a conventional upper-middle-class family, where his father worked as an agricultural officer (now retired) while his mother practiced criminal law. His childhood was therefore not uneventful, he says.
“Since I was a hyperactive kid, my parents put me through several classes and activities to put all my energies into something productive. I ended up doing it all – dancing, music, sports and studying. After being when I got home I listened to these stories from my mother, moving from tales about kings, queens and fairy tales to real events and people in the courtroom.These stories fascinated me as a child “recalls Ajinkya, addressing The best India.
One such story, he recalls, dates back to 1996. It involved two female serial killers, who abducted children aged two months to 12 years and killed them. “My mother was fortunate to be present in the courtroom when this particular case came to trial. Pursued by the famous lawyer Ujjwal Nikam, she witnessed the proceedings and told me about the case,” he adds.
Stories like these left an indelible impression on a young Ajinkya, who began to question human nature and notions of “good versus evil.” He didn’t know it then, but these stories would play a central role in his later life as he embarked on his passion for writing.
IIT, Dr. Reddy’s and life-saving medicine
In 2009, he gained admission into IIT-Bombay, where he did his B Tech in Chemical Engineering. After graduating in 2013, he was recruited by the pharmaceutical giant Dr Reddy’s Laboratories.
Ajinkya wanted this job because it was an Indian pharmaceutical company making affordable drugs for the general population. He joined the company in 2013 and worked at the Hyderabad head office for 4.5 years as a scientist, mainly focusing on the research and development of APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients and formulations).
“Once the chemist has decided on the chemical of a given drug and how to achieve it, it is up to the chemical engineer to turn it into a scalable molecule developed in a small laboratory. What I brought to the table was expertise in modeling and simulation. If you have certain parameters in your factory or small lab, you increase them and manufacture your molecule in tandem with FDA specifications or Indian food and pharmaceutical standards,” says Ajinkya.
One of the drugs he was involved in developing was the liposomal injection of amphotericin B used to treat cryptococcal meningitis – a fungal infection of the lining of the spinal cord and brian – and visceral leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease which affects the liver, spleen and bone marrow. His specialty was working on the freeze-drying process, also known as freeze-drying.
“To help you achieve a liposomal form of injection that will have a good shelf life, good rate of dispersion, and good rate of reconstitution, a key step (and last step) before packaging the product is freeze-drying. It’s one of the most difficult unit operations in chemical engineering, but I had the expertise for it I was working on the end-to-end part of the amphotericin B, but mostly the freeze-drying because I was the expert in this area,” says Ajinkya.
Besides working on life-saving drugs, it was at Dr. Reddy that he was encouraged to follow his passions outside of his day job. He credits Dr. GV Prasad, the company’s CEO, for motivating him to find his passion outside of the office.
“The one thing he said that resonated with me was that if you are passionate about something outside of work, it will make you happy and make you more productive at work. He advised me to making sure to follow my passion and not be too hard on myself,” he recalls.
Forensic psychology, psychotherapy, counseling and writing
After leaving Dr. Reddy’s labs, Ajinkya continued to work for UPL Limited, an agrochemical company, and is now employed by Swiss Re. writing fiction, inspired by true stories of crimes that his mother told him as a child. His passion for writing led him to forensic psychology and psychotherapy.
“I only entered these subjects to improve my art and give a greater scientific perspective to my writing. As a horror or thriller writer, it’s important that you do your research. Given my background as a scientist and engineer, it is impossible to escape quality research. If your material doesn’t have good research, observation, or inference, then it has no substance, no matter how good your vocabulary. In order to have that in my writing, I wanted to be as scientifically accurate as possible. So, I did my degree in forensic psychology and psychotherapy to present a more accurate portrayal of mental health in my stories,” he notes.
Her latest novel, ‘7 Hours at Bhata Road’ elucidates the horrors of society dealing with people with epilepsy. The book was chosen as Amazon’s bestseller of 2020 and is being made into a feature film starring Vatsal Seth and Ishita Dutta.
“Apart from the obvious fictional elements, the short story is a social commentary on how our society treats people with neurological disorders like epilepsy, fails to understand the pleas of those who suffer from it, and so does with their lives. living hell,” he said.
From his research for earlier works like “When the Devil Whispers,” which was inspired by the 1996 serial killer case, and “As Death Stared Back,” grew his engagement with pro bono counseling for teens. and young adults who reach out to him on Instagram.
“It actually started during the first wave of COVID-19 when I lost a very close family member to the virus. I realized that there are a lot of people who are going through trauma and a similar grief. I helped my family to overcome this trauma and grief and move on. But I also realized that many other people would also like to come out of such scenarios and I wanted to help,” says Ajinkya .
Mental health treatment can be extremely expensive, and not everyone can afford professional psychotherapy sessions or consultations with a psychologist and psychiatrist.
“So I developed this website called ‘Zealopia’ which empowers people to take charge of their own mental health. It uses techniques proven and validated by medical commissions around the world. The people who contact me are not my “patients”, but clients, or sometimes friends. Every month I talk to over a hundred of them. It bothers me that most educated people I meet don’t know the basics of mental health. We fail to recognize the difference between dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia, or mistakenly classify an anxiety attack for mere acidity. I educate my clients about mental health, listen to them, advise them and ultimately guide them to the appropriate and affordable specialists and platform,” he says.
Bring it all together
How does he have the time to do all this while having a stable professional career?
“I think it’s something to do with my brain’s ability to compartmentalize. When I’m at work, I only focus on that and don’t think about a story, mental health, or Instagram designs. It’s the same when I write a story or offer advice. And of course, I manage my time well. Also, I think it’s very important to note that there is a radical difference between a corporate job and a creative life. While it’s easy for us to say that you should pursue your passion and think of nothing else, we can multitask. Our brains are made to multitask,” he says.
(Editing by Divya Sethu)