Sunder was born on May 17, 1944, in a Pondicherry hospital. Pondicherry was French territory at the time (Sunder’s birth certificate is in French!). He liked to point out that, under the terms of the de jure transfer of Pondicherry to the Indian republic, he could exercise French citizenship if he chose.
He was the oldest of three sons born to CKNS Nagarajan and Savithri Nagarajan of Valavanur village. He was thus known as the ‘peria iyeru’ (the oldest Iyer) of his generation, Vatsan being ‘nadu iyer’ and Sekar, the youngest, ‘chinna iyer’. His father was also the oldest of three brothers and was also a ‘peria iyer’; and Kaushik, our son, in his turn would be a ‘peria Iyer’. The family had been agriculturists (landlords or zamindars) for several generations, in his grandfather’s time major groundnut growers and exporters. Sunder’s father was what was known as a ‘progressive’ farmer, in the 1960s spearheading the adoption of new methods of growing crops, experimenting with new strains of seeds, fertilisers etc, and contributing to the ‘green revolution’. In the 1950s he made a 3-month visit to the United States as part of a congregation of prominent farmers from India, sent to learn new methods of farming. In those days a foreign visit was marked with much fanfare, and Sunder has described to me the garlands and bands in the village that marked his father’s send off and his welcome back! He was active in national farmer politics and a Congress party member of some prominence. An energetic, affable, large-hearted man, he was also what Sunder terms him in his note, a ‘patriarch,’ given to making the decisions in the family. Sunder’s mother Savithri was the second eldest of a large family, daughter of an engineer who was himself the son of A.V. Ramalinga Iyer, the first Indian Chief Engineer of the PWD (Public Works Department), credited with the construction of the Periyar dam in Madras Presidency—so you can begin to see where the family pressure on Sunder to be an engineer came from.
The family house in Valavanur was a large, sprawling, traditional building in the ‘agraharam,’ occupied by the two oldest brothers and their families. They lived together in fabled closeness and amity. Sunder was a bright and active child from all the family accounts I have been able to gather, confident and friendly, and when very young somewhat sickly; and for all these reasons as well as being the eldest, he tended to be favoured over his siblings and cousins. He was the only one to be sent away to boarding school, the others attending either the local village school or the high school in nearby Villupuram. Sunder’s late brother Vatsan studied law but decided to take over charge of the family lands in Valavanur after he graduated; Sekar is a doctor, an oncologist, who lives and works in New Orleans in the US.
Sunder describes school in Rishi Valley in his account below as an idyllic place. Then came the disastrous experience of engineering college, followed by a BA English Honours at Loyola College, in which he got an effortless first class. Sunder retained a love for Shakespeare all his life and could quote large chunks from the plays. (I will never forget the embarrassment of his loudly reciting the lines along with the actors when we went to watch a Hamlet movie, with people in the audience turning round to glare at him in disapproval).
College was followed by a distinguished career in the civil services, the Indian Audits and Accounts Service, from which he retired as Dy. Comptroller and Auditor General following a variety of challenging and interesting postings. In the course of the 31 years of his career after we got married, we moved eight times, and Kaushik attended ten schools. Our longest uninterrupted spell was the last eleven years we spent in Delhi.
I will leave the rest of his life to be narrated in Sunder’s own words [here].