COLUMBIA — Every morning, after Ranadhir Mitra wakes up, he walks to the shrine in the corner of his bedroom. The shrine, a bookshelf with pictures of deities and Mitra’s and his wife’s parents, smells like jasmine after Mitra lights some incense. He also offers flowers and water before taking the incense to each room in his house, where he opens the curtains to welcome the morning light. Mitra, an associate professor in the department of pathology and anatomical sciences at MU’s School of Medicine, is a follower of Hinduism. Yet, when he sits at his desk at home, a row of 12 Christmas stockings, one for each child and grandchild, lines the fireplace next to him.
“We realized a few weeks ago we left our Christmas stockings up,” Mitra says with a smile. “They’ve been up for all these months, and it will be just about the same time until Christmas comes again. So I thought, why not just leave them up?”
In 1964, Mitra left his wife and two children in India and moved to Columbia to pursue his graduate studies in extension education and environmental physiology at MU. He has lived here ever since.
Over the years, Mitra has taken an active hand in helping Columbia’s Indian students succeed. He regularly attends services at the Hindu temple, Shanthi Mandir, and has served as the faculty advisor for the Cultural Association of India, a student-run group at MU, for 13 years. This fall, he looks forward to celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary on campus. Although Mitra is dedicated to Columbia’s Indian community, growing up in a country as diverse as India helped him adapt to American living.
“America is a predominantly Christian country, and a lot of people eat beef,” Mitra says. “But this didn’t bother me when I first came here. I never felt like I was from a different country.”