Global Development Institute Blog

Nobody wants to write an obituary about a dear friend, especially when they die young and unexpectedly. But sadly that’s exactly what this is. Purnima Purohit, or just PP as friends of the PhD affectionately knew her, completed her PhD in GDI between 2009-2013. She was a character, and a very popular character within GDI and the ‘Arthur Lewis PhD crowd’ and beyond! Tragically, she suffered a sudden and severe headache caused by a subarachnoid haemorrhage, and fell into a coma on August 5th. She lay there, surviving only on life support until her brother arrived from India, and had to make one of the most difficult decisions a person can face – to turn off the machines. On Monday August 14th the doctors said there was “no hope” and she took her last breath. Her funeral took place in Glasgow on Monday August 21st and many of her PhD friends travelled there to say farewell.

Some of us who became friends with PP during the PhD would like to share a handful of our memories about this fantastic woman.

Hey there, Miss. You’ve crossed my mind more than usual today.

The way you sit when you drink your tea. Comfortably, with one foot tucked under the other leg. Your love of food and all things tasty. The gossips and the ‘chit-chats’. Hours and hours talking about the silly and the serious. Love, our families, the PhD, regressions in STATA, obstacles and successes, our jobs, the hard work. Your laughter when I first called you ‘Miss Dr’. The great pleasure of being co-authors. Your kind words, your jokes and your honest opinions. Do you remember that day, it was years ‘back’, when we both realised? “We are such good friends, Miss.” – you said – with your big and contagious smile. The way you generously share your time and thoughts with others. Your pride and curiosity when talking about places, cultures and religions. Celebrating Holi and Christmas together. Dreaming about the future. There was so much future. The silly spontaneous moments. When you climb on a chair before ‘clicking’ a picture together, because you ‘need to look the tallest’. Or when you pull the crayons out in the car, to sketch a ‘selfie’ of us. Taking our shoes and socks off to jump in a fountain for a better photo. Getting lost together in Glasgow with your bad sense of direction…

I will miss you a lot, Miss. But I will keep these memories, and many more, in a very dear place in my heart. Have a good journey. Don’t worry about orientation, other beautiful angels will show you the way. Marta Guerriero

 

I have a huge arsenal of complimentary adjectives that I can use to tell you about PP, but I want to tell you about her humour. PP is a very funny woman, and even while I sit writing this, the thought of some of the things she has said and done really make me smile. She has a habit of insisting she is a highly skilled psychoanalyst, and on many occasions she put her hand to analysing friends’ behaviour. Despite being on point on many occasions (though I never admitted this to her!) I loved to poke fun at her for this. The weekend before she fell into a coma she visited Manchester, and she was at it again…and it was an absolute delight to laugh together about her ‘quack’ psychology skills. That’s just one of the great things about her – she laughs at herself so much. Especially when I would tease her for taking too long to make a chai tea because “British tea is far more efficient!” — “Though inferior in taste!” she would wittily reply. And through the tears at her funeral service, I couldn’t help smile and think that she must be laughing at all of her friends, utterly oblivious and confused about what was being said in Hindi. This is the playful person that she is, and I will miss her so so much.

Thank you for the chai, the chats, the non-judgment and for the many times we laughed when I told you “I’ll never go back to awful India”, and you would tell me “Oh gawd Gemma, you’re such an idiot for going in the summer when it’s so hot!”. I’m going to hold on tight to the memory of hugging you goodbye at the train station, when we talked about my next trip to Glasgow, and where you would “inefficiently” make me the perfect chai tea… – Gemma Sou

 

Since hearing the shocking news, I have been thinking about Purnima a lot. Purnima was such a unique person that even after such sad news, you cannot stop yourself from wandering to funny memories of her. Without even noticing, I will have a smile on my face. I freeze, thinking what kind of person will smile when thinking about such horrible news. This, I think, says a lot about Purnima. I started my PhD in Manchester with PP in the same year. We became friends fast. I used to struggle to sit at my desk for hours working and Purnima was one of the few PhD friends who tolerated me sitting for an hour or so (every two hours!) by her desk chatting about trivial things without telling me off. She loved to talk about “big” things: life, existence, beliefs, and the universe. She also loved to analyses people often mixing some phycological knowledge she had with not-very-politically-correct stereotypes. I used to sit there, make fun of how “deep” she is, and talk about how good my lunch was…

Purnima loved the outdoors. With few of the PhD friends, we used to go on trips every now and then. One time, we went to a place called Bempton Cliffs. She really liked that place. On our way back, everyone else got into the car while me and PP found this amazing blackberry tree. With everyone waiting in the car wondering where we are, we stayed for almost 45 minutes eating blackberries. It was blackberry season when Purnima passed away. Every time I walked past a tree since hearing the news, I stopped, ate some blackberries, and thought about PP. I know if she reads this, she would smile, and say that I am sounding “deeper” myself after all… – Shamel Azmeh

 

I met Purnima on the first day of my PhD. We were both trying to fix administrative problems with our university registration. I don’t remember our conversation except thinking what a friendly person she was. Later we found that we had been seated in the same desks for the PhD, and over time we became good friends. There are many things I came to admire about her for – behind the unassuming character she possessed a fierce intelligence and was always trying to learn something new; she had an enthusiasm and commitment in everything she did; she had a remarkable resolve to stick with the difficult things, if she thought would help her succeed. Many people who come to study in the UK struggle with the strange characters and customs of this isle. But, Purnima very much took the UK to heart. She preserved her own identity but at the same time, she was always open to understanding others without pre-judging them. She was central to anything we organised. She joined a crowd of us in hiking through the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. She would play us in Badminton every week and occasionally beat us! She would cook for groups in her house in Hulme.

If we wanted to ask her about her PhD, we would ask “how’s the APMC going Purnima!”. Purnima did her PhD on agricultural rules in India, exploring the APMC act. As she finished she roped me into reading some of her thesis in exchange for some Indian food! Finally, we can’t talk about Purnima without mentioning “tea and chit-chat”. She made a mean ‘chai tea’, although she would laugh at me when I used that phrase due to its double-meaning in Hindi. Many of us spent good times chatting and laughing with her, but these good times were about more than just gossip. It was about bringing a group of people together to support one another. I particularly valued this during the tough writing up stage of the PhD where the regular teas and chat instigated by Purnima were an important part of daily life. – Chris Foster

 

I remember first meeting PP and mistaking her for a South Indian (she had the look!) and immediately launched into a long conversation of missing home cooked dosas! She politely listened, laughed and told me she wasn’t. Since that day, I decided she would be much better as one and made her an honorary South Indian. We pledged our allegiance by eating very frequently at Dosa express!

We were foodies in crime, spent many evenings craving ‘different types of food’ and would wander around Rusholme checking out whether restaurants met our standards. Then proceed to buy food from there and sit and gormandize it in Whitworth park! To be fair, the only restaurant we really liked closed down!

Her love for food didn’t stop there, I remember we were on a hike in the peaks, and she would stop at every tree/bush to pick ‘fruits’ and ask me to try them”. I loved her tenacity and guts, and was constantly surprised at how wonderfully inquisitive she was! I don’t think I ever let her eat one though! Her love (and sometimes hate!) for Stata knew no bounds! I remember sitting with her and Gordon trying to understand what asset frameworks were- she spent hours explaining it to me! I use it all through my PhD thesis! Thank you my dear sweet Purnima, you made this possible. Her love for chatting and chai was contagious! We spent hours at her place drinking loads of tea and talking about life, listening to funny stories about her family and plotting ways we could ‘save’ Indian politics. Purnima, if you are listening, I still make chai exactly the way you taught me! From now on I think I will call it the ‘PP special’.

Every sentence, I write about her starts with the word ‘love’ and that is how she was… full of love, with a big radiant smile and a wonderful heart. I feel privileged to have known you and spend time with you. – Aarti Krishnan

 

It was the autumn of 2008 at ISS, Hague. I got a copy of Wooldridge’s Econometrics book on which I first saw a pencil written name ‘Purnima Purohit’. It was then quite evident that at some point that book belonged to this person – Purnima. Later on, in 2008-09 I came to know about Purnima bit more from Arjun Bedi who happened to be both of our MA supervisor at ISS. Purnima was two batches senior to me at ISS. In 2010 for the first time I talked with Purnima over phone when I got the admission for my PhD in Manchester…it was also a great coincidence that even in Manchester both Purnima and me had the same supervisors…Kunal Sen and Katsushi Imai….. and since 2011 we continued to work and enjoy our stay in Manchester with all other wonderful folks Marta, Chris, Soma, Aarti, Gemma, Shamel, Hurera, Asish and many more… Development Economics was both our domain of work…

I fondly remember the days…. when she patiently helped me to run principal component analysis from my data set and I used to help her in running her econometric results…overtime Purnima became a real good friend of mine and even became good friend of Debjani who joined me in Manchester 2013…numerous times three of us spent good time either in Arthur Lewis Building or in Dhosa Express or in Ummami or in her flat in Hulme. Time flies ….. she wore her Graduation hat in December 2013, around two years before me… and she left for University of Glasgow for her Post-doctoral study…

I clearly remember the day before her interview date for this post doc position… both of us spent whole day in preparing for her presentation slides… it was a presentation on RCT…she got that job in 2014 October…. since then Debjani and I planned many times to visit her in Glasgow but time never permits us… however, we continued our attachment with equal intensity without the physical proximity… it was Purnima’s enthusiasm which made her to call me more frequently than I used to call her…there was indeed no change between us during these periods except the name by which I saved her name in my mobile …which changed from Purnima_Manchester to Purnima_Glasgow….

Purnima visited us quite a few times in Manchester where she had left many of her good old folks – fondly remembered as the ‘Arthur Lewis folks’… we talked about our work, work place, life, future, family…..what not …talk talk talk…. until it was time for her return train to Glasgow… we hugged… Purnima left … …Since morning I am looking for my Wooldridge’s Econometrics book on which I first saw a pencil written name ‘Purnima Purohit’. Love and Hugs  – Subhasish Dey

 

Thank you for the happy memories, for being a great friend, and for touching us all with your spirit!

Lots of love, the ‘PhD gang’.

 

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