Dr Jennifer Ah-Kion (Medical Education Unit, Victoria, Australia)

Mrs Harsha Bundhoo (University of Mauritius)

Dr Caroline Ng Tseung-Wong (University of Canberra)

On the floodplain of the Ganges, precisely at the IIT Kanpur campus in India, Uma Lakhtakia not only pursued her doctoral studies in Organisational Psychology but also fell in love with Sundeep Bhowon whom she would follow to Mauritius. A place, we are grateful, she came to call home and in which she has left a quiet but tangible legacy.

She joined the University of Mauritius in 1996 as a lecturer in Psychology teaching into the Social Studies and Social Work programme. Importantly, she saw the relevance of having an undergraduate programme in Psychology and the BSc (Hons) Psychology degree is her brainchild. The programme started with only three staff members (Uma, Jennifer and Caroline) and soon Harsha joined. Under Uma’s leadership, we structured and taught the degree to international standards which to this day is a successful and high demand course. Uma has not only supervised hundreds of undergraduate dissertations but also Master by Research and PhDs. Her latest PhD supervision was on ethical decision-making among managers in Mauritius. Students fondly attest to Uma’s teaching and dedication. As Rachna Rajkomar (student 2005-2008) puts it “I am forever grateful to have been her undergraduate student; words cannot do justice to the knowledge and wisdom she shared with us, we learnt so much and with so much joy, intrigue and passion! [1] Thankful to have had her support even beyond my student years. The passion ignited in me for the field will last a lifetime.” This is echoed in past external examiners of the BSc (Hons) Psychology degree: “I am saddened by the news of the sudden death of Uma Bhowon, relayed to me by my colleague Caroline Ng. Psychology at the University of Mauritius has lost an exceptional member of the staff and a caring and committed colleague. Students who have been taught by Uma have been very fortunate in their education – whether they realise it yet or not.” (Prof Iain Walker, Director Research School of Psychology, Australian National University) and “Uma was not merely an excellent academic, she was an easy person to take to heart. Her warmth, sincerity, humility and humour were a delight.  Uma’s passing will leave a void in many lives, but her legacy as a wonderful teacher, colleague and friend will be enormous.” (Prof Emeritus Mark Bennett, University of Dundee, UK).

Looking back, with limited means, we delivered a recognised degree because we were a collegial collaborative student-centred team led by Uma. We were not just work colleagues but friends who cared about each other’s family and well-being and Uma made sure of that. This work-family interface has been one of Uma’s main research interest: how best to manage work-family conflict and what are the dimensions that attenuate this conflict? What are the consequences of work-family conflict? Through survey studies with working couples and mothers as participants, she found that family to work conflict influenced both work satisfaction and family satisfaction.

As a bicultural (Indian-Mauritian), she was also interested in how individuals integrate their dual identities. Together, with Professor Colleen Ward (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand), Uma was part of the team that devised a Multicultural Identity Style Scale published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology and which is currently actively used in different countries to understand how biculturals/migrants integrate their ethnic and national identities. In the words of Colleen, “Uma’s enduring bonds extended far beyond the small island of Mauritius and the great country of India. Far, far away in New Zealand, she will be always remembered and ever missed by a friend and colleague.”

Uma has climbed the academic ladder to its highest-level becoming the first Professor of Psychology at the University of Mauritius in 2018. She was Dean of the Faculty of Social Studies and Humanities from 2014-2017. She worked quietly and efficiently and was not a fan of the limelight. With a servant leadership style, she made sure all staff in the Faculty both academic and administrative felt valued and were heard. She was appreciated by all and in one of the largest and multi-discipline Faculty, this was no small feat!

As Jennifer remembers: Gentleness, Genuineness, Humility were traits that strongly resonated with me when I first met Uma in 1995 at UoM. The adjacency of our offices conveniently prompted engaging conversations not just about our profession, but also our personal life experiences. Bracing through the joys and storms of life over the years, we laughed, cried and prayed together, creating precious memories. Her motivation for academic achievement was contagious. She was like a candle lighting up career paths. I will forever be indebted to her for challenging me to pursue my PhD and mentoring me to its full completion.

Uma was the focal point of the Psychology unit, the one who greeted new Psychology staff and ensured they were introduced to the Faculty. Our memories of her individually and collectively are the daily talks about the course, research, and life punctuated by her easy and contagious laughter. She was always well dressed in an elegant churidar with a neat low hair bun and pearl necklace. If the chairs in her office could talk, they would not have revealed the content (after all it was in an organisational psychologist’s office) but the general feel. They have witnessed genuine human interactions between friends not just professional work relationship. Uma was a beautiful person in every sense that has played a definite role in our academic careers and life. How we (Jennifer and Caroline) wished the last time we hugged her was not years ago and for Harsha the emptiness of the corridors will reverberate with all the values and ethics she has espoused to spur the staff and students alike to lofty standards.

A beautiful soul inside out. Rest in Peace Uma.

Uma is survived by her husband Sundeep and two sons Anshuman and Adarsh. To her grieving family, we offer our sincere condolences.

[1] Numerous students have also shared with us how Uma has been an influence in whom they are today and how she was a passionate teacher.