Dr Poonam Bala is a pioneer in the research field of medicine and colonialism. Here, she reflects on her experiences as a Commonwealth Scholar in Edinburgh and her international research and teaching career.
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Your time at the University
I chose Edinburgh for two reasons: its Sociology department with esteemed faculty engaged in research on health and society, and my familiarity with the Royal Infirmary where my maternal grandmother’s brother studied medicine and became a successful eye surgeon in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The University of Edinburgh, a university known for producing some of the most eminent medical figures and philosophers, is one Europe’s finest cities with a diverse and vibrant culture and natural beauty; this is where I spent the most challenging and productive years of my student life from 1983 to 1987. I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship (Governments of UK and India) for doctoral studies, successfully completed in 1987; I was also awarded the Overseas Research Students award (University of Edinburgh), which I had to decline in favour of the Commonwealth Scholarship.
I spent the first month in a small hotel on Dalkeith Road but soon Pollock Halls became my home for four years, enjoying the interim wardenship of (the then) Brewster House towards the end of my stay. I opted for self-catering accommodation where I could cook my own food, with the numerous recipes I had learnt from my mother.
I recall those frequent telephone calls to my parents, who I fondly missed, from the red telephone booth opposite the Royal Infirmary, mostly ‘complaining’ about the unbearable cold weather and the cold breeze but I soon acclimatized myself to the beautiful place and culture.
Other memories of Edinburgh also have lingered on, years after I left it. As a Commonwealth Scholar, I was invited to the Royal Garden Party at the Holyrood Palace in the summer of 1986 - a special honour I still cherish; in the same year, I was a volunteer for Edinburgh University Students’ Association, welcoming new students to Edinburgh. Besides, the long walks on the cobbled streets of the Royal Mile, the ambience at Teviot Row and luncheon meetings with fellow postgraduates at the Post Graduate Students’ Union (PGSU) on Buccleuch Street all bring back pleasant memories.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University
Currently a Visiting Scholar at Cleveland State University, my first (teaching) after my return from Edinburgh was at the University of Delhi; I have actively pursued both research and teaching in various academic institutions since, facilitated by the fellowships I was awarded at the University of London, University of Edinburgh, South Africa, and India.
The research I conducted for my doctoral studies in Edinburgh concluded in the publication of my first book, ‘Imperialism and Medicine in Bengal: A Socio-Historical Perspective’ (Sage, 1991), which became one of the most comprehensive and first region-specific studies exploring the interaction between Indian medicine and the British colonial imperatives, while also inspiring a totally new area of research study on medicine and colonialism; the field has mushroomed exponentially since then. I have authored and edited several books, with two new projects in the offing.
Besides, I have been on the Faculty at the University of Delhi, following which I held a Visiting Professorship for teaching/seminars in institutions in India, South Africa, Canada, the USA, Germany and Australia. I am also the Founding Member of the Indian Heritage Project in Ohio.
I also worked in the development sector as a Programme Officer at the Danish International Development Assistance (Royal Danish Embassy) in New Delhi, overseeing community-based water and health projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Rural Development (Delhi) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Copenhagen).
I owe an eternal indebtedness to my (late) parents for their love, encouragement and for guiding me to the path of righteousness; this long and successful journey would not have been possible without your confidence in my abilities to seek my own destiny. I dearly miss you, Mummy and Papa, but I know your blessings are my fortune!
The research I conducted for my doctoral studies in Edinburgh concluded in the publication of my first book, 'Imperialism and Medicine in Bengal: A Socio-Historical Perspective' (Sage, 1991), which became one of the most comprehensive and first region-specific studies exploring the interaction between Indian medicine and the British colonial imperatives [...]
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