Professor Obaid Siddiqi has a charm that is more that of an artist than a scientist. Perhaps people who probe such defining yet mysterious elements of the human body like genes are first artists. Decades ago, as a student of the legendary Annapurna Devi, he was unsuccessful when he tried to pluck the strings of the sarod, but he went on to master the intricate strands of the DNA double-helix. His early work on the nature of the gene eventually contributed to the breaking of the genetic code in the 1960s. As extraordinary as Siddiqi’s scientific brilliance is his achievement as a great institution-builder. Having made a truly world-class institution out of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, which he set up in the ’80s in Bangalore, he then quietly handed over its reins in 1997 to his younger colleagues. Highly honoured abroad and at home, Prof Siddiqi remains a publicity-shy, self-effacing man who at 75 still goes daily to work in his basement lab at NCBS, still trying to crack the puzzle of how smell gets imprinted in the fruit fly’s brain. Such work in neurogenetics, sadly, can’t help answer the question of how we fail to remember India’s truly significant personages.