My candid association with Dr. Biswamoy Pati began somewhere around 2012 when I eventually settled down for social history of health and medicine as my research theme for MPhil/PhD which was met by an equally enthusiastic and generous response by Dr. Pati. Although he had taught us earlier the paper on Social History of Modern India during post-graduation, the deplorable teacher-student ratio and time-bound (or rather ‘time-starved’) semester scheme at the University of Delhi provides miniscule scope for extensive interaction between students and teacher on one-to-one basis. Nevertheless, right from my MPhil days Dr. Pati remained the strongest pillar of support at the Delhi University. He was particularly unique as a research supervisor and guide, the role in which I saw and experienced him at length. In this role, he was very much like a traditional Ayurvedic practitioner or vaid – incidentally a figure which happened to be my research subject.
One very fundamental difference between biomedicine and Ayurveda is that while the former hits directly on target focusing on immediate relief, for the latter surroundings and other subsidiary matters acquire far more importance than the obvious disease. Hence, if a patient approaches a doctor imparting biomedical treatment he/she provides medicine targeting the obvious disease, whereas when the same patient visits the Ayurvedic practitioner or vaid, he/she starts enquiring about a lot of apparently subsidiary things as for instance the daily routine of the patient, his/her dietary habits, mental condition, so on and so forth. This is largely because according to the Ayurvedic philosophy, all the bio-elements responsible for proper functioning of body can be categorized into three types of humors – Vata (or the airy elements), Pitta (or the fiery element) and Kapha (or the watery element). A healthy body exhibits the proper balance of all the three types of humors inside the body. However, these humors by nature are highly unstable and changes with day and night and with food. Hence, proper daily routine and dietary habits are essential to maintain humoral equilibrium. Disease is nothing but expression of either excess or deficiency of one or more types of humors at a particular point of time thereby distorting the equilibrium. As per the Ayurvedic philosophy, health can be restored by mitigating such excesses or deficiency by advising respective diet and routine. In a similar vein, for Dr. Pati, unlike many other supervisors, research and thesis-writing was not the one and only concern while interacting with his research students. He knew that until and unless a student is provided with ample props to pursue his/her research, quality work could hardly be produced. That is why taking care of proper funding, discussing the tricky familial and career related matters which very often distract the student in the long course of PhD and trying to come up with solutions, exhibiting keen interest in arranging for field trips to collect archival sources, etc. were major concerns for Dr. Pati while supervising a research student. He very often used to say that his research students do not work ‘under’ him, but ‘with’ him. It was this sense of togetherness which prevailed among his research students that was vital to keep the stress and depression – which is of common occurrence while pursuing research – at bay. In short, Dr. Pati ensured perfect equilibrium of ‘research-humors’ which resulted into some remarkable theses as produced by his students.
In fact, Dr. Pati was one of the few teachers whose presence at the History Department of University of Delhi made its environs student friendly and a place of jovial encouragement amidst frustrating surroundings. One could hardly hold back his/her smile irrespective of his/her mood during howsoever small meeting and interaction with Dr. Pati. His diverse research interests attracted a wide range of scholars already working or planning to work on colonial and post-colonial history of South Asia. Through many of his monographs and edited volumes he introduced several potential topics of research, including the extremely over-worked theme of 1857 Rebellion, for future researchers. He was one of the most easily approachable teachers of the department who nurtured the budding research interests of many young scholars; helped in bringing forth many spectacular works into print; resolved the emotional whirlpool of many students; saved a few of them from going into utter depression and above all extended his helping hands to numerous people and brought them to shore irrespective of their worldly affiliations.
The sudden demise of Dr. Pati on 24 June 2017 was a huge loss not just for the existing academia but also for those future students entering into the discipline of history who could never get the chance to feel his ‘presence in person’. Nonetheless, he would remain alive forever through his various works. Whenever someone would decide to work on and divulge more nuanced terrains of ‘colonial and indigenous/tribal medicine’, ‘tribal and peasant movements’, ‘history of madness’, ‘history of lunatic and leper asylums’, ‘1857 Rebellion’, ‘history of caste and social exclusion’, ‘Christian missionaries and conversion’; ‘princely states’, etc. he/she will have to interact with Dr. Pati through his written words. Incidentally, I went for numerous interviews mostly pertaining to Ad hoc/Guest lectureship before settling down at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the place where Dr. Pati held the position of Senior Fellow (2015-17). There were places where Dr. Pati used to tell that ‘Saurav! Never invoke my name there; I am a kind of monster for them.’ This was largely because of his ideological leanings towards the left which had earned both friends and foes to him in the academia. Nevertheless, had he been alive I would have told him that there is nothing to conceal, rather it is a badge of honour to have a gentle ‘Ayurvedic’ supervisor like him. We will miss you Sir for numerous said and unsaid stuffs!
Author’s Bio: Saurav Kumar Rai is presently working as Senior Research Assistant at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House, New Delhi. He has done his PhD on aspects of social history of health and medicine from the Department of History, University of Delhi.