I glanced at the adorable picture of Dr. Maya Banerjee and her late husband Dr. Satyen Banerjee, dancing together, holding hands. The story behind that picture was even more beautiful!
In a candid conversation with Dr. Maya Banerjee, I got only a teaser of her journey across continents, across history, and life. Here is what I got:
The Life Before
Maya Banerjee was born in Dhaka, (now Bangladesh) pre-independence. Her childhood was relatively normal. It was the usual rigmarole of a girl’s life in early 20th century. Until the partition ripped their lives into shreds. Maya was just thirteen when the riots started. Nothing after that point had a shred of normalcy, for a while. It was not longer before hushed anxieties became all too real and horrifying. Maya recalls how she had to hide from rioters in her Muslim neighbor’s kitchen.
“Without them, my entire family would be dead. They hid us in their kitchen and locked the door from outside. They convinced the rioters that there were no more Hindu families left in the neighborhood.”
Unfortunately, the world remembers the religion of the rioters, and not the saviors, on either side.
After that incident, the family fled Dhaka and managed to reach the refugee camps set up by the government, where they stayed for six months.
Dr. Banerjee’s brother was working in Kolkata and took a transfer to Assam. After the difficult period, the family finally saw some stability.
In a relationship with Science
Maya’s brother held a master’s degree in science, and it was his inspiration, that propelled Maya to continue her education. Being a woman in that era, it was very rare to pursue studies with a focus on having a career. After her post graduation, while she was working at Agartala, she met her future husband, Dr. Satyen Banerjee.
Maya did not cross the oceans as a dependent, though. The incredible woman got a scholarship to McMaster University in Canada, where Satyen was already working. They got married the day after she landed in Canada! Thereafter, she completed her second Master’s and her Ph.D.
“It was a private affair, we got married near our hostel dorm, amidst our close friends,” recalls Maya.
One of the First Bengali woman Scientist
Her dedication towards science continued in Canada. She later moved to the University of British Columbia where she worked till her retirement a few years back. She has received many accolades and grants from the Canadian Government for her research on “tick bites.”
Soon she was a known name in the science and Bengali community in Vancouver. She was, in fact, one of the first Bengali Woman Scientist in Canada.
“Canada welcomed me. I have never felt discriminated either as a woman or for my race. In fact, I always felt privileged to work here and carry on my tryst with microbiology.”
I asked her to tell me one thing she would like to be discovered in her field of work: “ More research on tick bites, and a vaccine would be ideal” responded the scientist.
Team Blank Slate Chronicles lauds Dr. Maya Banerjee for her grit, and her dedication, and congratulates her on an incredible journey!
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