Amrapali Maitra (Ph.D. & M.D. 2018)
Tell us about yourself and your work at Stanford & beyond.
I finished my MD and my PhD in Anthropology at Stanford. My interest in the history, culture, and health of South Asia drew me into this unique dual-degree program. I studied History and Literature at Harvard College as an undergrad. I was also pre-med. I was in a newly-formed Postcolonial Studies track at the time, and I chose to focus on South Asia for my senior thesis. Digging up microfiche publications from Kolkata during the Bengal Renaissance (pre-Independence period), reading Partition novels translated from Hindu and Urdu, and engaging with South Asian American women novelists writing in English about gender and intersectional identity all ignited a passion for how we can listen, heal, and tell stories in a South Asian context.
I came to Stanford with these interests, and began working on a project in Bangladesh studying gender-based violence. I realized there was far more we needed to understand about poverty, labor, and domestic life in order to understand the forms of violence that take place within the home and develop interventions. So I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Anthropology concurrently. I was lucky to also receive funding through the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans (insert link: https://www.pdsoros.org/meet-the-fellows/amrapali-maitra). My research questions matter to me both as a scholar and as a first-generation South Asian American.
It was my good fortune that Thomas Blom Hansen and Sharika Thiranagama had recently arrived to Stanford—both of whom became close mentors and served on my dissertation committee. They each advised me on aspects of urban South Asia and the interplay of class, caste, and gender. My doctoral thesis has explored domestic violence in Kolkata, India. While domestic violence is a global problem, their guidance made my work attentive to the cultural and social specifics of this issue in South Asia, something that public health scholarship on domestic violence may miss.
I am now a resident in Internal Medicine at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, and at Harvard Medical School. After residency, I hope to pursue an academic career in academic medicine, anthropology, and global women’s health. I plan to keep working in South Asia and stay connected to the region personally and professionally.
How did you engage with Center for South Asia (CSA)?
In a word, whole-heartedly. From the beginning, CSA had a home-grown feel; a group of dedicated staff members, scholars, and students connected through a shared love (appreciation, nostalgia, frustration, etc.!) of the region and an appreciation for some of the defining questions in the field of South Asian studies (the role of caste, gender, massive class inequality, ideals of family, agrarian vs. urban divides, and so on) as well as its mythologies, histories, languages, texts, and genres. Because of my connection to CSA, I took a fabulous course on world theatre with Jisha Menon in Theatre and Performance Studies; though this was way outside my areas of knowledge, the course taught me a lot and brought an interesting lens to my work. So much important multi-disciplinary dialogue can come out of area studies centers like ours!
This was also a group with which I could watch plays, participate in plays (like a CSA-sponsored production of Yoni Ki Baat, a South Asian Vagina Monologues), enjoy potlucks, attend receptions... I found amazing mentorship and friendship in this community, and I hope others will too.
What is one word that defines CSA for you?
Masti: fun, amusement, joy. Whether in scholarship or socializing, this is a group of people who do important work on a fascinating region of rising global importance, while also supporting each other and not taking ourselves too seriously :)
If you were to give a piece of advice to CSA students, what would that be?
The CSA has the potential to be an important home base for scholars of South Asia at Stanford. You'll get back what you put in. Take a chance and organize an event, whether more academic or social. I planned one (a workshop on subjectivity with Professor Veena Das) and found it to be immensely rewarding. Sign up for a course or reading group outside of your direct field. Start a language table. Apply to do a service-based internship or a design project.
Now is the time to be working on South Asia at Stanford. There is great momentum, energy, and allocation of resources toward the cultural, political, health, and humanistic concerns of this diverse and dizzying subcontinent. You'll have a chance to learn from and work with some of the foremost experts on the region, and to chill and enjoy samosas and chai with great undergrads, grad students, and faculty.