Tribute to Uma Bhowon

By Vina Ballgobin

Professor Uma Bhowon, an embodiment of la force tranquille, wore her learning lightly and touched the lives of so many people with kindness, humility and grace. Sadly, she left this world too early on Saturday 10 July 2021 at the age of 57. Although she had not been feeling too well since April 2021 after receiving her vaccine, her sudden departure was unexpected. She passed away very peacefully early in the morning at her home in Camp Fouquereaux, with her husband and her two sons by her side.

Uma Bhowon was born in India toMr and MrsLakhtakia, a progressive family. Afterher schooling at Fatima Convent Kumari Udyan Vidyalaya in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh), she proceeded to doher PhD in Psychology from the Indian Institute of Technology (ITT), Kanpur. She married Sundeep Kumar Bhowon, and her two sons were born in Mauritius.

She had that beautiful accent when she would try to speak Mauritian Creole. She hardly dared to utter any word in French but she understood itperfectly. Because of her innate sense of justice and fairness, she never chose between India and Mauritius as she considered both countries as her home,and looked forward to meeting with her loved ones in either,just as she would appreciate the food and delicacies of both places. She would watch her TV serials or cinema movies as a person who embraced multiculturalism.

Uma Bhowon was an extremely organised person, andherpriority was to have a proper work-life balance, hastening to be at home as soon as she was done with herdaily commitments at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (FSSH) atthe University of Mauritius (UoM).

She served as Dean of the FSSH from 2014 to 2017. Depending on the context, she would be intuitive, but also an independent observer, a critical brainstormer, or a neutral confidante. She tried to get the best out of each one, leading by example and not by force. Perhaps owing to her field of expertise, she had an exceptional capacity to listen and understand staff and students. During the numerous faculty meetings that she chaired, she displayed genuine openness to staff views and opinions in shaping solutions to problems at hand and taking informed decisions.

During her deanship, she made it a point to promptly clear all pending administrative tasks.She dealt with empathy with all her staff,holdingseveralmeetings if need be to sort out issues so that no staff should feel aggrieved about any decision taken – she knew that it would never be possible to satisfy one and all. She inspired younger staff members through her dedication, kindness, availability and mentoring which contributed significantly to creating a supportive work environment within the faculty.

 A bright and quiet academic,she became a professor at a relatively youngage in the Mauritian context and was always ready to help others to move forward, urgingand encouraging younger FSSH staff members to engage in research work. Recalls Elvin Murday, who became Officer in Charge of the Department of History and Political Science during her deanship: “On a more personal note, as Dean, PrBhowon regularly encouraged me to explore new avenues to pursue higher studies. Even long after the end of her mandate as Dean, she would regularly ask me about my studies.”

Prof Uma Bhowon was an innovator. She was very keen on starting the first Music programme at the FSSH, considering that arts was a most important component of education. She was passionate about her individual research work; her team research projects as well as her teaching sessions.She processed applications for MPhil/PhD students as quickly as possible. Her research interests included acculturation, identity, family conflict and balance, among others.

Uma Bhowon was not only a remarkable researcher but also a passionate teacher. “She was strongly and enthusiastically committed to her teaching. She would schedule regular meetings with her students in her office,”remembers Assoc. Prof Vijaya Teelock whose office was located close to hers. She would try to trigger and stimulate the same passion for learning in her students and develop their intellectual curiosity about human psychology. A few quotes on Facebook by her students after the sad news run as follows: “RIP Madam… One of the best lecturers”, “She was one of my favorites too… always smiling, RIP”, “A very polite and cool person, An excellent Dean”,…

Life is not always fair. The departure of Prof Uma Bhowon to the Camp Fouquereaux crematorium on Sunday 11 July 2021 in the context of the Covid-19 sanitary measures made it as private as she liked. She was one of those amiable persons who brought an extra sparkle to any one in her presence. Dear Uma, you will be missed by one and all.

* Published in print edition on 4 November 2021

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