Interview with Katyayni

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Katyayni is a PhD Candidate at Brown University and has been researching and writing about health and healthcare since 2009. They are currently studying how families and healthcare professionals in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) take care of children who experience seizures.

What is your articleArtifacts of Care: The Collection of Medical Records by Families in North Indiaabout?

When a child in India suffers from a chronic illness, families are responsible for collecting and keeping the prescriptions and reports that doctor’s might use to understand the child’s medical and treatment history. In my article, I try to understand this form of documentation and recordkeeping.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.   

I developed an interest in studying illness after I spent a few days as a patient in a government hospital in New Delhi. In my senior year at Colby College, a course on Historical Epidemiology taught by Dr. James L.A. Webb Jr. guided me towards the study of public health. After post-graduate studies on the subject at the Harvard School of Public Health, I worked as a researcher with the World Bank Group in India, learning about the planning and implementation of public health programs in the country. I decided to pursue a PhD in Anthropology because I was drawn to ethnography as a research method and was inspired by the writings of Lawrence Cohen and Sarah Pinto on UP.

What drew you to this project?

I wanted to study the provision of medical care in western UP. I am from Meerut, a city in the region and through my research wanted to understand an aspect of life in the region. My supervisor, Dr. Bhrigupati Singh, encouraged me to focus my research on a particular disease condition or type of practitioner. I chose seizures among children because a colleague had once shared with me their experience of meeting a child in eastern UP who suffered from seizures and had been given a poor prognosis by their doctor. Hearing my colleague’s thoughts on the child’s condition and their family’s ability to care for them made me want to understand how seizures among children are understood and treated in UP.

What was one of the most interesting findings?

This research is ongoing and so my findings are currently half-baked. Nevertheless, one aspect of caring for children with seizures that I have found noteworthy is the role of repetition in both familial and medical care practices. I am pursuing this line of inquiry to consider how the repetitiveness of multiple actions (for instance giving a child their daily medications, taking them for monthly medical consultations) coalesces into what we might call caregiving.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

I recently found the book, Here, by the illustrator Richard McGuire on my sister, deepani’s, bookshelf. And a good friend, the geographer Matthew Birkinshaw, gifted me the book, Deceptive Majority: Dalits, Hindus and Underground Religion, by the anthropologist Dr. Joel Lee. Both these books illustrate how intricate and multilayered histories can be told in ways that do not overwhelm their readers. I have enjoyed them very much.

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

Through my work on medical documents I hope to have reiterated the value of studying materials that accompany the practices we want to understand.

Thank you for your time!


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