By Meena Bhargava In The Book Review Vol. Xxxi, No. 1, January 2007
It is so hard to believe that Papiya is no more and that I am writing for an issue of The Book Review which she will not read. There was rarely an occasion when she did not send me an e-mail or call me up to give her jibes on the review that 1 wrote. Papiya was such a spirited, enthusiastic person that she will always stay with us despite her brutal killers, who snatched her away from us physically.
Papiya was a Professor of History at Patna University and held several distinguished fellowships. She was ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research) Fellow affiliated to Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti, New Delhi; Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla; Rockefeller Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Culture, University of Chicago and Fellow at the Institute of Triangle South Asian Consortium, North Carolina State University. She was also Advisor to Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute and Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Papiya did her schooling and graduation from Patna but her academic pursuits brought her to the University of Delhi for post-graduate and doctoral studies. She began her teaching career in Hindu College, University of Delhi. Although she held a permanent tenure and, she resigned from the job to join Patna Women’s College (subsequently she became Professor at the Department of History, Patna University) because her mother needed to be looked after. It is this decision of Papiya that made her a rare specie. How many of us, however duty-bound and caring, we may claim to be, would leave Delhi—the land of opportunities for a Moftussil University. But she defied the tag of Moffussil University marvellously. Papiya was a very popular teacher who brought deep nuances of History to Patna University and encouraged her students to join Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University for further studies. Several of her students, some of whom have become university teachers now, talk of their deep intellectual indebtedness to Papiya.
Papiya was not only a sincere, committed, dedicated teacher, but also an intense researcher too and her contributions to academics are many. She published widely in national and international journals. She worked on the Muhajirs, Dalit Muslims, South Asian Diaspora, particularly Bihari Muslims during Partition. Recently she had begun research on documentaries and popular folk songs of Bihar. It is unfortunate that she could not sec the fruits of her hard labour—her book entitled Partition and South Asian Diaspora: Extending the Subcontinents published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Books, which was released on December 4, 2006, a day after she was killed. She had completed her second book on ‘Popular Culture’ and was on to the third one. By her work on Pasmanda Mahaj, she had put Bihar on the national and international academic map. We must consider ourselves utterly unfortunate for being deprived of so much Papiya could have told us and contributed to the academic community.
…such was Papiya that she would have even forgiven her killers.One of her close friends, Indrani Chatterjee in her e-mail to me wrote
Papiya was a very kind-hearted, generous, compassionate, warm person. One of her close friends, Indrani Chatterjee in her e-mail to me wrote, “…such was Papiya that she would have even forgiven her killers”. The persona of Papiya attracted her to people of sorts cutting across all barriers of age and gender. She loved life and everything that was good about life. I am sure that even when those ghastly, dastardly beings attacked her, she resisted fiercely and valiantly.
Papiya was an avid reader, with varied interests in prose and poetry. No trip of her to Delhi was complete without a visit to Bahri Sons in Khan Market. She got cartons packed with books for personal use and for the Patna University library. She was a connoisseur of literature, musk, art-photography, painting, films and cuisine of different kinds. In fact, it was Papiya who introduced me to several eating joints in Delhi. October.
The brutal killing of Papiya has left an irreversible, irrecoverable vacuum in many lives. I consider myself very fortunate to have known and been associated with Papiya. Let us resolve to commit ourselves to demand justice for Papiya.