Sunder: A Commemoration

–Dean Gupta-Casale

When thinking about Sunder, and trying to come up with words that might properly commemorate his life and the kind of man he was, I find that language falls short of capturing his joie de vivre, his goodwill, his intelligence, his generosity, his sly humor, and most of all his love for all of us. Memories come back, whole scenes fondly remembered—and I wish that we could skip the words, and re-live those moments, only now with our present understandings, and with our renewed appreciation of Sunder.
What I regret most is not having had the opportunity to properly say good-bye. I would have heartily thanked Sunder: for the special tenderness he had for my daughter Gayatri—the care and pride he would take in choosing her gifts, usually beautiful jewelry of classical, south Indian style; for the big-brotherly role he played with my wife, Nira, always solicitous and protective; for his good companionship over aged Scotch; for his surprising enthusiasm for traditional American Thanksgiving—a strange passion for a vegetarian, and a real ‘cooking’ challenge to a turkey-traditionalist like myself; for hosting my family in Bangalore—Sunder used some of his many connections and government ‘pull’ to get us a special stay in a fashionable but ‘not-quite-open-to-the-public’ wildlife refuge; for his impeccable driving directions—amazing for a confirmed walker and a non-native of New York City; for finding and sharing Otto’s; for his conversation—erudite, informed, humane—a citizen of the world with many interests, from politics to culture to economics to gossip—in Raji and Sunder’s old New Delhi apartment, here at NYU, in the Chinese Scholar Garden in Staten Island, in my own home in Berkeley Heights, whether host or guest, Sunder was a true and genuine friend—his spirit seemed always to wish you well and invest you with his quiet confidence and grace.

Just a month ago, Nira and I met with Raji for the first time since Sunder’s death. Like times before, we were here at NYU to listen to another brilliant Raji lecture, to meet up with the desi Miranda-House contingent—Gaura and Rajender—to have dinner together afterwards, to talk books and exchange ideas and share our lives—but missing was Sunder. We made miss-turns driving to the lecture hall, dinner was a bit awkward without Sunder to order and oversee, and this apartment (so long familiar and welcoming) seemed almost cavernous—too big and quiet for Raji alone. I deeply missed Sunder’s company that night. I imagined his footfalls next to mine as we walked those Village streets. . . a strange perversity became clear in my mind—one which Sunder might well understand—that humans are often more articulate and forthright with ghosts than with the living. Silently, to myself, I longed to tell Sunder what a fine man I thought he was; to let him know that I had learned much about being a father and husband from his example; and that I had been reading Carl Jung, and that in his discussion of the stages of life, Jung described how in later years some men, evolved men moving towards individuation, take on more feminine, nurturing roles. . . they put aside ‘positions and possessions’ (as Zora Neale Hurston has put it). . . they put aside the world and accomplishments; they concentrate on home and hearth, on being supportive and loving and instructive. Sunder had made that transition beautifully . . . Sunder was a rare man; he lived life richly and fully in all its aspects—and I know that he will always be a model and a confidant for me as I try to live my life with his thoughtfulness and warmth ever in mind.