Sunder: Fondly Remembered, Deeply Missed
Raji and Sunder, Sunder and Raji — that is how I have thought of my dear friends in the last few years as I have anticipated Raji’s annual visits to teach at NYU, and Sunder’s accompanying her for the semester. It was so wonderful to see how attentive and caring Sunder was of Raji, helping her set up the computer or bank account, shopping for groceries, making all travel arrangements, accompanying her to her many conferences in and out of the country. We worried less about Raji because Sunder was there. We learned so much about loving partnerships and companionship from seeing the pride Sunder took in Raji’s accomplishments, and we saw the tremendous satisfaction and pride Sunder took in Kaushik’s life and success and we learnt about loving parenthood. Each time Raji and Sunder made the long, often stressful trip to re-set up house and re-immerse themselves in our NY/NJ/Conn world, we also realized how precious those semester visits were.
For myself, and I am sure, for our MH friends, Gaura and Rajender, Raji’s teaching semesters meant that we would have many get togethers, at NYU talks and conferences, in fancy Village restaurants selected by Sunder, in each other’s homes, especially the “traditional” lunch at Rajender and Mohinder’s, where Sunder would regale us with hilarious anecdotes of his life in the Indian government….and we would have wonderful times, laughing, reminiscing and promising to continue such conversations way, way, into the future…..On those occasions when Gaura, Rajender and I stopped by the apartmet to pick up Raji en route to a talk she was giving, or a conference we were attending at NYU, Sunder would be our cheerful send off and welcome home committee, and we would have to coax and cajole him to join us as he mock complained that Raji had forbid him from attending her talks as he distracted her….On other occasions when we visited 12H, I remember how Raji, Dean and I would be busy “talking shop”, and Sunder would be the one to engage in lively banter with the kids – playing games that my daughter brought to their house, or setting her up on the computer so she could play some games and then checking on her progress every so often…and I would remember how, many years ago he had taken out his special collection of toy aircraft planes to amuse a rambunctious 18- month- old Gaurav so I could talk uninterruptedly to Raji about literature in their home in Delhi, or another time in Bangalore how he continued to play Tambola with a 5- year- old Gayatri after the rest of us had given up, just so she could win something and have the pleasure of claiming a prize….. How excitedly we looked forward to Raji opting to teach in the Fall semester, because that meant Dean and I could host them at our house for Thanksgiving. I will never forget how appreciative Sunder was of the Thanksgiving rituals and Dean’s mainly vegetarian dishes. Friends who met Sunder in our homes, never forgot him, or the wonderful toasts he would make, or the sound advice he would give. At our table, in our hearts, Sunder was the dear Friend, the kind Uncle, the wise Elder, and in spirit I hope he will always grace our friendly gatherings.
These are my recent memories of Sunder. My earliest memories of Sunder go back to when Raji and I were colleagues at Miranda House. Sunder was very high up in the government, and I must confess to initially being somewhat in awe of this highly respected government officer, whose very word or signature had the power to cut through all manner of red tape and get things done. But Sunder’s authoritative position and dignified Tamilian Brahmin mien was delightfully balanced by the gregarious raconteur and bon vivant that we saw at social gatherings (of which, in our tightly knit sociable Miranda House English Dept. there were many!) Those were the days when we were reading Feminist theory in our department and we were all consumed with the heady intoxication of new ideas of selfhood and women’s rights, and berating patriarchal hegemony. We had a running joke amongst us that passing muster as an MH spouse required a special kind of mettle – and we all agreed that Sunder had that quality, and more than passed. As successful and securely situated as Sunder was in the most patriarchal of institutes, the Indian bureaucracy, he nevertheless encouraged and supported Raji’s feminism and intellectual independence (at a time when so many younger men, of my generation, were threatened or amused or dismissive of feminism) and I remember admiring that about him and wondering how Raji and he worked out issues of equality and liberation in their marriage, but feeling too shy to ask (maybe Rashmi did – she was bolder that way).
To know Sunder was to have had the pleasure of knowing a uniquely decent, kind, generous, warm, intelligent person – a devoted husband and father and relative, and a solicitous friend and charming host –But the most endearing quality of Sunder that I remember was his pride in Raji’s work, his loving attentiveness to her health and material comfort, their marriage – of mutual respect and companionship – it is what I always wanted to emulate in my marriage and my life.
He will always be fondly remembered, and deeply missed.
March 22, 2015
[Dean and Nira Gupta-Casale have been our closest and dearest New York friends and our annual Thanksgiving hosts whenever we visited in the fall. We have known their children Gaurav and Gayatri since they were born, and have watched them grow up with affectionate pride. Our friendship with Nira goes back nearly forty years when I first knew her as my student, then as my colleague in Miranda House, Delhi. Their loving tributes to Sunder reflect this long and enduring friendship.]