Dr. Shrimoy Roy Chaudhury | Shiv Nadar University
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Dr. Shrimoy Roy Chaudhury

Shrimoy Roy Chaudhury’s life and career cannot be summed up in a list of generic adjectives. Those who have had the opportunity to know him closely would agree that he had an unquenchable appetite for the wonders of life, a unique ability to find the spectacular in the mundane, and an empathetic core, which enabled him to treat everybody around him as his equals. Following the footsteps of his favourite historians like Marc Bloch and Ranajit Guha, Shrimoy had inculcated a democratic practice of sharing of knowledge among his peers and students and that will remain his lasting contribution to the academic community at large.

Born in Kolkata, Shrimoy finished his masters in modern South Asian history from the University of Calcutta and started research as a fellow in the department of South and South-East Asian Studies in the same institution. Finally, he completed his Ph.D. from the Department of History at the Syracuse University, New York. His dissertation, titled ‘Engrafting Modernity: Daktari in Nineteenth Century Bengal, c.1830-c.1900’, was awarded the prestigious Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs Dean’s All Syracuse University Doctoral Prize for Outstanding Dissertation in 2013.

Shrimoy’s thesis, in his own language, “studies the colonial exigencies of institutionalization of medical education and treatment in the light of an absence of a legal mandate to rule India.” From the beginning of his intellectual career, he chose to focus on an understudied topic in modern South Asian history – the multi-layered connections between medicine, law and bureaucracy in colonial India. Later his interest shifted to conceptualising these connections under the rubric of ‘service’ – an all-encompassing yet elusive description of the colonial bureaucrat’s work – and the vernacularisation of certain medical practices in entanglement with capital, law and imperial power. For the last few years, he was working on his monograph titled ‘Medicine in Service: Daktari, Imperial Circulation and Colonial Dispensation in Bengal, 1783-1904’ and presented his work in numerous conferences and invited talks including at the MacManus Museum, Dundee (2019), the University of Dundee (2017) and the University of Madison, Wisconsin (2016).   

His curiosity about the underbelly of medico-legal practices and forensic knowledge in British India had also inspired him to look into a famous murder mystery from 1933 – the Pakur murder case – which in public memory is recorded as the first instance of a biological weapon being used in a homicide. Along with his earlier work on the Indian Poisons Act of 1904 [“Toxic Matters: Medico Legal Expertise and the Indian Poisons Act of 1904”, Crime History and Societies (2019)], in this new project, Shrimoy was planning to venture into a microhistory of biopolitical postcoloniality in India while tracing the legal and material worlds of pathogens and toxins. At the same time, he was thinking of narrating the story in popular forms like graphic novel and cinema, a path seldom traversed by his contemporaries. This also indicates his commitment to the dissemination of historical research among a wider public and his willingness to engage in conversations that escape the impersonal discourses of the academe.

One can sense this excitement of transcending the routine and celebrating its performance in his involvement in various other initiatives like the Kolkata International Performance Arts Festival (KIPAF). Apart from organizing and performing in the festival, Shrimoy prepared its curatorial notes in 2017 and 2018. In 2015, he participated in the collaborative art installation ‘The Rahimpore Mound’ at Crack International Art Camp in Kushtia, Bangladesh.

Shrimoy joined the Department of History, Shiv Nadar University, in January 2015. Immensely popular among his students and peers alike, he had brought the infectious energy of a tireless wanderer in the world of research and teaching. The range of courses that he offered bears testimony to the unparalleled expanse of his own knowledge and interests. If ‘Does History Matter?’ challenged the students to learn ‘other’ histories that lurked in the shadows of the acceptable narratives, ‘Establishment of British Power’ offered a detailed and contemplative account of the graduation of colonialism in India. His CCCs on the Opium Question and Film Noir turned many into history enthusiasts shedding their reservations inherited from school. Over the last six years, he had supervised many students who would never hesitate to acknowledge how his constant engagement and encouragement inspired them to produce dissertations that were inquisitive, original and properly cited. Shrimoy had been able to instill among his students a culture of curiosity and an ethical orientation that would help them thrive beyond the walls of the classroom.    

How shall we remember Shrimoy? Shall we remember him as one of the most brilliant historians of our time brimming with ideas but cautious in making half-baked arguments? Shall we remember him as a teacher who would check the final drafts of his students at three o’clock in the morning before the final submission? Shall we remember him as a colleague on whom we could always count during times of professional, mental, and physical duress? Shall we remember him as the doting father and the dependable partner that he always was? Shall we remember him as the life of every party, the most energetic in every trip, the biggest supporter of every unconventional idea?

All of those, and more. We shall remember him as somebody who cared. For us. And beyond.