Karun Deep Sagar is my soon-to-be 22-year-old nephew. Born in Dallas, Texas, he has blessed us with joy, happiness, tutelage, angst, comfort, distraction, love, and responsibility. His journey, thus far, has shown us how quickly time passes and also how slowly and tediously. He was named after his paternal grandfather Karuna Sagar and his middle name is a nod to his maternal grand-aunt Deepa and her younger brother, Deepak, my father. With that name, he was given blessings that bestowed greatness upon him and made him a torch with a deep ocean-like reservoir of cool, calm compassion that brought light and healing with him wherever he went.
His first act of turning dark into light was his birth that gave the family a distraction in coping with the passing of his dada, his paternal grandpa. In India, the birth of a child is always the card that trumps the darkness left behind by death. Karun was that trump card, and, true to his name, compassion and caring came with him into our family. Even today, as I write this column and remember Uncle Srivastav, I can go back to Karun’s early days when there was a remarkable resemblance between the grandfather who had left us and the infant who was clinging to us with palpable life and hungry hope. In this sad exchange, his birth, while not transactional, had given us the book ends, life on one end and death on the other.
Inexperienced and young, like all parents are, my sister Seema and her husband Ajit were still learning to cohabit when they had to take on the challenge of parenting. Seven seas away in India, my father was at the peak of his career in the Indian Revenue Service and posted in Mumbai as Director General of Investigation. Undoubtedly, his was the most powerful and fear-inspiring job in the bureaucracy for India’s financial capital. The only hearty smiles, heartfelt laughter, and shared bliss the family had in this period were during Karun’s long stays at the Mumbai home. Papa would find in him the joy of a much-needed change of mindscape, and those few minutes and hours would be the only time where he wasn’t worried about the pressures and prayers from powerful politicos and establishment that ate him up on the inside.
Though Karun was a role model of old-world civility and grace in his early years, by middle school he had managed to transform into a defiant and hugely independent youngster who would forgo his natural inclinations, defy logic on purpose, and chase that which didn’t come easy and would certainly irk his parents. He threatened to shatter any and all fantasies, hopes, and aspirations that they had held on to as their anchors while working hard at this job of parenting, the only job without a description or manual.
What certainly caused angst all around was seen by me — an uncle without responsibilities but equal access to this child — as a game of chess between parents and child, society and social norms vs the individual and his longing. I saw in my nephew a living and breathing avatar of Lord Krishna. Bringing comfort to our family, but also giving us hard-earned lessons on how we ought not be swayed by the easy and accessible. His choosing those paths least suitable or viable showed us how the mundane and doable, the popular and lucrative, and the noise and flash of material satisfaction can never really bring lasting comfort. They are nothing but distraction. One could live a lie and make a success doing so, making charitable contributions that mark the world for the better, but when it isn’t what your inner core wants, appreciates, or is passionate about, sooner or later, you are left wanting. An absence in the heart that finds no comfort in riches, no peace with loved ones, and no hope in success.
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Karun arrived at Sarah Lawrence College prepared to create in a collaborative and collective fashion. Four years later, as he exits, humility, humanity, and helping are his natural concerns and what he cares about. Intellectual curiosity has developed his mind with a value for learning, even if it demands rigor. He sees injustice for what it is and calls it out and debates its very existence with astounding maturity. Fearless in doing what it takes for him to prevail, it is now that Karun must pivot from the role he masterfully crafted and executed in his youth. As a graduate of the most expensive private education in America, where the largest chunk of Nobel Laureates studied before him, and where he successfully kept his academic scholarship coming due to good grades, he must now matriculate at the university of life and put to work the motto of his alma mater, “Wisdom with Understanding”.
We must all learn first and foremost to feel and express gratitude by acknowledging the sacrifices made by others, the support provided for our comfort, and the acts that made our journey possible. We mustn’t cancel others but forgive and cancel our own hate, or we will be owned by hate itself. Punishment and retribution are for juveniles. Darkness that envelops us with clouds of violence, feelings of loss and shackles of ignorance must not find oxygen in our world. It takes courage to be the change we want to see in the world, and so, I envisage Karun welcoming others, making room for them in his life, and despite differences, making those others feel that they too belong.
In the commencement of the first independent chapter of his adult life, imagine Karun making it his responsibility to put joy, happiness, comfort, and love to work in ways that keep him moving forward. I see him pivoting with a flip that has him giving those that provided for him comforting seats of spectatorship from which they see their strong and tough, smart and bold, kind and nurturing son take charge of his life. A journey of pride and circumspection that puts angst and distraction in the back seat and chooses to make love prevail.