85+ Medical Biologist Turned Biographer

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This is Urmila Rau Lal. I am a 85 year old Medical Biologist from Pune, Maharashtra. I believe that age is just a number and that it’s our attitude towards life which really matters. Though I suffer from various age related ailments primarily from arthritis which has impeded my mobility to a great extend. However, I am still actively involved in senior citizens meet-ups and other social welfare programs.

An Active Scientist

After doing my post graduation in Parasitology and Medical Entomology from Aligarh Muslim University, I worked as a Research Assistant of the Rockefeller Foundation at the Virus Research Centre (now National Institute of Virology) Pune. After this I was appointed as a Senior Scientific Officer at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. Later, I was posted as Senior Scientific Officer at the Defence Research Laboratory (Materials), Kanpur. Later I was posted to the Defence Research Development Establishment, Gwalior and finally to the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Delhi, from where I retired. All these institutions come under the aegis of the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Further, I got an opportunity to pursue advanced studies at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, France and in London at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK. In addition to this, I was also involved in research projects with the World Health Organisation, in the capacity of a Senior Research Fellow. My research took me to Paris and other European countries.

I have attended various conferences in my field in both India and abroad and have published extensively. I retired as a Senior Scientific Officer from the Defence Research Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Delhi.

pic 3During my time very few women were working in this field and capacity. So, at times I had to face various struggles and challenges while doing my jobs. However, my hard work and passion to excel motivated me to turn those challenges into achievements. Women today have been provided with more opportunities and challenges as science and arts continue to advance. It is my advice to women today to take up these challenges and execute them in the best possible manner.

Today as we celebrate International Women’s Day. I appeal to the younger generation to take up challenging tasks in the advancement of our country. We already have many of our women who are in various fields of research, development and advancement of our country. Examples of today’s women achievers are women in the Defence Forces Administration, Medical Science and other professions which were once upon a time the bastion of men alone in yester years.  Naming one such woman – Shrimati Nirmala Sitaraman our Defence Minister. Kudos to her. She has established herself as a women pioneer in the difficult task that goes in the decision making of a Defence Minister of the country.

There have been examples of other women who have achieved fame and fortune in the past as politicians, decision maker’s mountaineers, engineers and the like. A classic example is that of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, the iron woman of India.  There are several other women achievers in the past as also in the present, it would be time consuming and lack of space for me to mention the entire list.

A Passionate Writer

pic 1In my mid 70s I turned from a scientist to a writer by deciding to write a biography of my great great grandfather Diwan Sir Thanjavur Madhava Row, entitled “Life and Times of Statesman, Administrator Extraordinaire Diwan Sir Thanjavur Madhava Row”.  He was one of the most well-known efficient officers in the British era.

I took up this task and did extensive research on this topic for 9 years just to fulfil my father’s wish as he was deeply interested in the life of his grandfather. He was in the process of collecting information on him but couldn’t complete the work due to ill health. So, I took up this task. The book was published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 2015 and launched on my parent’s 85th wedding anniversary, 02.02.16 in Thiruvaananthapuram. The book is dedicated to my father and is a tribute to my great great grandfather.

In order to obtain research material for this book I travelled across the country, meeting the royal families of Travancore, Indore and Baroda collecting information on my great great grandfather’s life. He was a great personality known for his administrative acumen. He brought about many reforms during his tenure focusing on the education of girls.

Soon after the publication of this book I have been invited to various Universities, Associations, Historical bodies and other related organisations in Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Baroda to give presentations on my book. It may interest readers that on the 22nd January 2019, the University of Pune, (SPPU) History Department invited me to deliver Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak memorial lecture for 2019, on the same subject.

Hobbies & Interest

Apart from my professional work I was very interested in Philately and got awards for my stamp collection from eminent personalities like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In addition to this, I was interested in touring, hiking, riding etc. during my younger days. Now because of mobility issues I am not able to pursue these hobbies.

Childhood Memories

I have many fond memories of my childhood. One such memory is of the time when I was about 9 years old. On 9th August 1942 on the occasion of Quit India Movement we school children took out a protest march with flags. The police arrested us and we went to Tihar jail. Later the police called our parents to take us home. We were very happy as after everything was over we were all given chocolates by the police.

In addition to these memories I must not forget to add that I had the most memorable and thrilling experience of spending time with the Father of the Nation – Mahatma Gandhi. This meeting is stamped in my memory as an indelible mark. On the 28th January 1948 my friend Tara Bhattacharya, Gandhiji’s granddaughter and I had the privillege of being Bapu’s Dandi for his prayer meeting on that day at Birla House, New Delhi.  We both had Bapu’s hands on our shoulders and led him to the dias of the prayer meeting.

After addressing the people we went to take leave of the great Mahatma. While touching his feet, I requested him to give me a message. Gandhiji told me “Ab To Hum Chale Tumhare Kandhon Aur Haathon Mein Is Desh Ko Saunp Ke. Tum Phoolo Aur Phallo Aur Is Desh Ki Tarakki Ke Bhavishya Bano. Bhagwan Tumhe Bhala Aur Surkshit Rakhe”.


I was born to parents from two different communities. My father was a Hindu. He was an eminent journalist based in Delhi. My mother was a Christian. She was a teacher in Crosswaithe College in Allahabad.  They met during the course of India’s freedom struggle and were active participants alongside Mahatama Gandhi. Mahatama Gandhi was one of the prime witnesses at their wedding on 02.02.31 in Allahabad (Prayagrag). Both my parents were very open minded and had impressive personalities. They are my role models.

I got married in 1973 to Lt Col Shambhuji Lal (Retd), whom I met in Gwalior. We have completed 45 years of our married life. We both are fond of dogs and cats. Right now we are looking after 5 street dogs.

Active and Productive Lifestyle

I would rate myself 5 on a 5 point rating scale of Active Ageing. Every day I get up at 5 am. Have tea by 6 am which is prepared by my dear husband. Then I read the newspapers followed by breakfast. Because of diabetes I take a balanced diet.

I spend my day productively by reading and writing things that interest me and by getting involved in various social welfare activities. Whenever time permits I visit old age homes, interact with the residents there, gauging their problems and if possible sharing them with higher authorities in order to resolve them. I am also a founder member of Salisbury Park Senior Citizens Group which was started 10 years ago with the aim of keeping the group members active and involving them in some productive activities.


My message for everyone is to accept life as it is. Happiness is an attitude of the mind.

Showing 2 comments
  • kirti upadhyay

    Wao that’s amazing I’m proud that I know you it’s no doubt inspiring

  • Amrendra Narayan Pandey

    Respected Doctor Urmila Rau Lal ji,
    i am very delighted to know your vibrant carrier which you have achieved because of your hard work and disciplined life. No doubt, you are the best possible example for young women to start the life at grass route level and also to achieve the top most position in the field wherever a lady works with commitment, dedication and enthusiastic manner. i pray Almighty that you should have many returns of the years a head in your social life.

    With Kind Personal Regards
    A N pandey

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