Shared Memories

Sunil’s Death came as a shock to me and stunned me into silence for a while. I couldn’t think clearly and refused to believe that he was no more amongst us. He was a brilliant student in his childhood and mostly stood first in his class. I remember the first trophy which he got for standing first in the class. Then many more trophies, awards, books kept on adding to his collection. Besides studies, he was also good at sports. Being athletically built, he could run fast and would always defeat me in the races we held amongst friends. His favorite sport when young was to play marbles. He would go out with a few marbles in his pocket and return with both pockets full (having won them).

He would come home from school, lay down the satchel and start completing the homework of the day, while Mom would call out for lunch. He would finish his H.W. and then take lunch, while I did the opposite. His academic and athletic prowess made me envious of him. Because of that Mom would also love him more (so I thought for a long time). He topped the Board examination among the School students, made friends easily and was a jovial person.

His dreams made him join IIT (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi) and then IIM (Indian Institute of Management Calcutta). He had decided, when joining IIT that he would like to go to America to seek his destiny. He became a Chemical Engineer, then a Computer Manager and went on to join TCS (Tata Consultancy Services, Mumbai). Initially, it was tough for him, but he had been training for all this by living in the Hostel in Delhi and later in Kolkata. He was very happy when he was chosen to go to America to fulfill his dream. A hard worker by habit, he soon shone and then took up a job in an American company. This allowed him to get his Green card and later citizenship in America.

While working on a project, he met his partner, Rita. Soon chemistry developed between them, resulting in their being married. Two daughters, Sunita (a combination taken from Sunil and Rita) and Vineeta were born to them. They brought up their children in the American society, facing some resistance. Their mutual strength and ability to fight it out gave both daughters fertile grounds in which they have now bloomed as responsible individuals.

Sunil joined Coca-Cola, the beverage giant, but unfortunately developed medical problems. His kidneys failed and he had to undergo a transplant. Many more complications arose, despite the best medical facilities available. He lost his throat (Larynx), to cancer and was initially upset at having to use a machine for making himself heard. Slowly, he got used to it and so did the people around him.
In America, like in India, he made a large number of friends and even played Bridge on the Net with people around the world, making some friends in the process. His friends in America, became a source of strength to the family and would always be available to help out, like he did for others. Our mother, stayed with him for some time and provided love to the family. He served her well during her stay there.

Last year, when he had come to India, our mother passed away on 21st May, a short while after his visit. This year, again, he came to a Reunion in Goa, met his in-laws in Kolkata, met us all in Delhi and on 11th May came the sad news of his demise.

Even as I write these words, my eyes become moist and my hands shake. It is difficult, even now to accept the fact that he is no longer amongst us. It is painful to write about him in the past tense.
Sunil, was a person, who has taught me how to enjoy life, despite its turbulences. His tenacity and brilliance along with the warmth with which he met people, is something, which I do not find in my life. I did not know for sure, the depth of his love and respect for me for a long period of time. Only when he went to America, did I start missing him more and we were in regular communication. Visits to India, his stay and the growing up of his daughters , the gifts of love and his mere presence are now cherished memories. May God rest his soul in peace and give us all, his family members the strength to bear the loss.
His memories are etched in my mind and many a times in my work, when I find some project being done the way he used to do it, his memories rush in and moisten my eyes.
To be able to give words to a colorful lifetime is beyond my capacity-and I remember him in Silence.

- Sudhir Das Kapahi (Sunil’s older brother)

I recall what His Holiness Dalai Lama recently said at Emory University, "Suffering and pain are understood to be a function of an untamed and undisciplined mind, while happiness and joy are understood to be a function of a tamed and disciplined mind". Sunil, who had endured ill-health for quite awhile, yet, appeared to be happy and glowed with inner peace. He got his happiness by being compassionate and doing the right things as he remained engaged with life and its ’hedonic’ well-being parameters. He would frequently come to the unglamorous "Gandhi and King" Birth Anniversary celebrations all the way to the Ebenzer Church in Downtown Atlanta despite of all his handicaps. Sunil knew where and how to look for greater satisfaction and happiness in his everyday activities. To me personally, he taught a great lesson that, happiness (or unhappiness) is not how life treats you but the positive attitude to respond to the challenges handed to you by life. Sunil will be missed by all who had come in contact with him.

- Subash Razdan

Sunil was one of the nicest persons I have met in my life. Always ready with a quip or a pun, his sense of humor never faded in spite of the tremendous challenges he faced. He was a good friend and great company with his keen intellect and terrific bridge playing skills. I will fondly remember many a weekend afternoon spent wonderfully, playing bridge with him. He also had a knack with kids. We would go to parties and invariably Sunil would be sitting surrounded by kids, showing them card tricks or telling them jokes. His courage was admirable- in the face of tremendous odds he hung in there for as long as he could and was there for his girls as they grew into little ladies. It would have been far easier to give up but he didn’t thanks in no small part to his remarkable wife Rita who was a pillar of strength, with a ready smile no matter what the circumstance. It’s hard to believe he is gone, but every time I think of him a smile comes to my face, and that’s how he would have wanted it.

- Anand Seth

A smile through all the tribulations of life..

Sunil was like a younger brother to me - he and I went to the same undergrad and grad schools in India and we would often joke that we were still different - he was a Chemical Engineer and stayed in Kumaon hostel whereas I was a EE major in Karakoram hostel (at IIT Delhi) - our long bouts of arguments about the best hostel were always inconclusive.

Sunil has been an inspiration to many of us. I am sure he had his low moments once in a while, but his outlook was always positive. I remember seeing him at Emory after his larynx was removed and he had to communicate via the written word - not once did I see even a whiff of self pity or sadness in him. He was jovial and was asking me how I had been, in a most casual manner. I realized then, that not only was he always in good spirits, he was a picture of extraordinary courage.

I was wrong and you were right, Sunil. Kumaon wins against Karakoram, since it was home to the bravest, courageous and most inspiring person like you. We will miss you, you may have left us physically, but your memories will live with all of us for a long long time.

- Naveen Narula

I am reminded of this quote I read a long time ago- "We come across many people everyday in our lives but there are some who leave their foot prints on the heart." Sunil bhaiya was one such person. He has left his footprints on many hearts, on adults and kids alike. The first time I met him 15 years ago, he was surrounded by kids of all ages and everybody was having a great time with him. It has been a long time but that memory of fun, laughter and happiness on everybody’s faces is permanently etched on my heart and mind. Not only my girls but all the other children who had a chance to know him, will say that he was the coolest and most fun uncle, who always tried to make you laugh and feel comfortable.

Even though Sunil bhaiya is not with us today, he will always be with us in our hearts. In spite of all odds, he lived his life to the fullest with the help of his rock(she is only 5’2’’) of strength, Rita, and loving daughters. It had not been an easy journey for him and his family but they did it without a single complaint ever-I respect them all from the bottom of my heart. Sunil bhaiya along with Rita, Mini and Binu, have been and will be a source of inspiration to us all. I am honored to have the opportunity to know such a great person and family. May God bless his soul and help Rita, Mini, and Binu to draw upon their strength and the strength of loved ones that hold them in their thoughts. "Those who live in the hearts of others never die."

- Suman Gupta

Everyone knows how strong and wonderful Sunil and Rita have been through their struggle with his health. I can’t add to that. I knew their strength personally because I saw their very few moments when they needed a shoulder to lean on.

I have known Sunil for a long time and it is his intellect that I will miss the most. We never really hung out playing bridge and such but every now and then we would get into philosophical discussions. We didn’t always agree but definitely respected the other points of view. Both of us liked play on words, I’ll miss that too.

Sunil was not one you could patronize – he was too smart and saw through it. My saddest times with him were after his surgery when he was going through some weak moments regarding continuing his life. There wasn’t an argument I could present that he could not shoot down. I am glad he continued.

I so clearly remember the moment when the artificial larynx arrived in the hospital room. Sunil was weak after the surgery but his determination to speak using the device was clear to me. We made a pact to master that thing. It was frustrating for both of us but we were overjoyed when he starting communicating. It had finally clicked when we realized that it was our play on words and language that had to be curtailed for a bit while we figured out the basics – you see the problem was that he was still trying to crack jokes through the AL .

I am so very proud of Mini and Binoo becoming these wonderful people. How they’ve endured and still flourished. Binoo was the flower girl in our wedding and look at her now. I remember Sunil pointing Mini my way when it came to solving cryptic crosswords or logic puzzles. I knew he was doing that to involve me with them. I totally enjoyed that.

- Alok Mathur

I had not personally met Sunil Kapahi, but had seen him at one of the parties. I have heard a lot about Sunil and Rita Kapahi. I believe he was a great person, and was wonderful with kids, and loved music and sports.
I would love to write about Rita Kapahi, the greatest source of strength for her husband. I met her not too far back, at one of my book club friend’s luncheons. I liked her instantly and found her to be very intelligent, full of life, always smiling, and possessing a carefree air about her. Seeing her handling the situation, I learnt the strength of love, giving and sharing, unconditionally, without asking for anything in return. May Sunil’s soul rest in peace, and may Rita and her family maintain strength and hope for their own lives ahead in the future.

let the sun shine upon you now
there, where the darkness of night will not reach you
where the futility of rest is unencumbered
by the inherent sense of life thereafter

where the dreams you dream are not wishes
but prayers of those who wish still
and the prayers you pray are not those of longing
but thankful songs of those still hoping

rest, dear friend, your head lies empty
and let it summon your soul to its empty bliss
transcend this world and all its cares
sleep in rapture of eternal slumber
(Poet Unknown)

- Jasjit Khan

What fond memories we have of Sunil! Our association goes back to 1985 when I first came to Atlanta. Our small network of friends grew but we managed to stay in touch with each other through many phases of everyone’s life. I remember Rita and Sunil graciously hosting my wife Ranjana’s baby shower when we were expecting our first son Rajat in 1988. Sunil’s love for people, passion for sports and good and helpful nature will always be remembered by all.

- Ranjana and Mohit Dhir

March 3rd 2007.
A very dapper and dashing Sunil singing for me on my birthday. A man with a heart of gold and a soul of kindness. It is my luck that he came into my life. I think I speak for everybody whose life he touched. A soft hearted and a very loving person.
I remember him telling me once when I was tying him his Rakhi, “Tum Rakhi to band rahi ho lekin main kaisa bhai hoon tere liye.” My reply was that I was not tying him a rakhi for raksha but in him I saw a brother I didn’t have. His stance, the way he spoke sometimes and just some of his mannerisms are just like my dad’s and I guess that’s where I found a connect.

- Nisha Mannan

I first met Sunil when I joined IIM Calcutta and we were in the same hostel and would meet every day. He used to be quiet in those days but a very warm, gentle and sporty person so we played a lot of sports and bridge.

He came to US and I had no plans to come here but then eventually I did to do my Phd at Georgia State University. Sunil became my savior because it was his friends’ circle that I became a part of. He used to organize sports tournaments. My wife became very close to Rita. His illness started in front of us and after the mid nineties we moved to New Jersey and didn’t meet as often, and for some time it was tough to talk to him after he lost his voice. But we still made it a point to talk to each other in December as our birthdays were very close. We did spent a lot of time interacting on email and we met him and his family at the 25th reunion last December. I had gone alone but seeing the four of them really impacted all of us. So much can happen to one person, and someone who was such a good human being was beyond everyone’s comprehension. I teach at a Catholic University and heard a Jesuit Priest say once that this was one of the reasons that people lost faith in God-there was just no explanation to why bad things happen to good people.
I still have one deep regret. At the reunion we were about to sit down to play a game of bridge. We even found another guy and an ex Professor. Just as we were about to sit down some other friends came and said lets go watch this cricket match and I left. Sunil of course was very gracious about it, but today I regret it-I wish I had stayed back and played that last hand with him.

- Gautam Goswami

I don’t quite recall when I first met Sunil. It seems like I have known him forever since we have been in Atlanta for a long time. Lot of people have an intellectual connection with Sunil but my relationship with him was always that one of fun and jovial stuff beginning with Asterix comics and going on to my constant question of why do I always have to be subjected to these black and white faded, Hindi movie song videos each time I was at his place!
No, I never played bridge with him. He tried his best to teach me the game but he had much more gray cells than I did, and I could never get the hang of it.
I have always remembered Sunil as the Sunil I knew the first time we met. No matter how many tough issues he went through, or tragedies, or when he lost his ability to talk, Sunil never lost his ability to communicate with people and his warmth always came through. His smile, the squinty way with which he looked at people is what I remember.
Our daughter Kalyani who is ten considered him her close buddy and it was so nice to see children at the funeral. It showed their love for him and how popular he was.
You just had to look at his eyes and tell that here was a very proud, very smart, warm and strong person who never wanted anyone’s pity. And you can only project that if you have inner strength.
Rita is one of my most favorite people. I cannot for the life of me fathom the strength that this woman has to do what she does and to even be strong enough to say on the day of the funeral that soon we will celebrate Sunil’s life and have children participate as well. It takes a very special person to be able to do that. We hope that Rita, Mini and Binoo will always reach out to us and we are here for them always.

- Rohit Saxena

I met Sunil in the early 1980s when we both worked for the same company and found a kindred spirit in him. He was someone I could talk to for hours on a variety of subjects and enjoy the conversation because he was so intelligent, curious and willing to see someone else’s point of view with an open mind, We used to often sneak out to a lake near the working place and shoot the breeze for hours just talking. When he came to the US, I followed and lived in Charlotte while he was in Atlanta and we used to meet often. I never played bridge with him because I drew a line at cards. He did manage to drag me to see those faded Hindi songs occasionally and smilingly put up with my snide comments about them on some late nights since I usually don’t see Hindi movies and am clueless about songs!
I don’t have children but it was amazing to see how naturally good he was with kids, always surrounded by them, and happy to be with them. It was a sterling quality and I was always fascinated by that because I don’t think I could have related to kids the way he did. At the beginning when he had his kidney failure it was tough. When he had his major surgery I dropped everything and came to Atlanta and it was amazing to see Rita casually mowing the lawn, feeding her kids, taking care of stuff at the hospital, at work, at home and not wanting any help even when I offered. It was phenomenal. I don’t know from where she gets that strength and she has handled it with the same grace for so many years. I called her when she sent me an email that Sunil had passed away and she was still the same strong person keeping it together. They remain one of the most inspiring stories I have experienced.

- Suresh Subbarao

I first met Sunil in the 80s when I had just moved to Atlanta as a single guy and was taken by a mutual friend to play Bridge at Sunil’s house. Both Sunil and Rita were very friendly, warm and welcoming. Sunil was extremely athletic and I found he played every sport that I did, be it basketball, chess, tennis, badminton and he even organized many of the tournaments. Then I got married and the circle of friends changed. For five years I didn’t hear anything about Sunil and then I suddenly heard about his kidney failure and over the years it led to some other difficulty then another and then another. It was hard to accept that something like this could happen to someone so athletic, so bright and such a wonderful human being. It has taught me the very precious lesson that this moment is the most important moment. That it changes in a split second.
And while you can’t explain why these tragedies happen to good people, you can cherish every good moment and live in the present.
Many people have said oh it was a release from his pain - but who are we to decide that? Maybe he loved being with his family, and wanted to stay longer. Rita is in my eyes a truly remarkable woman. Loyalty and commitment are always the key things one expects in situations like that, but it takes a truly compassionate person to have the morality and character to display the kind of loyalty, commitment, sense of the right thing to do, that Rita has shown through all the years of Sunil’s ill health. She has taught us all by example what it really means to be someone’s strength and support.

- Umesh Rathie

A letter from friends from IIMC

Dear Rita, Sunita and Vineeta,

Words cannot begin to describe the feelings we (the 17th batch of IIMC) have after hearing the news that Sunil has moved on to a better place. The common thread that ties us together is that we did see him in December 2007 at IIMC. Those of us who did not see him will forever regret not making the trip. Some lessons in life are learned the hard way and there is every likelihood that we do not even learn from this experience and look at our loved ones differently from ever before.

I remember when I first found out about Sunil’s disability and tried to talk to him on the phone from my home in Pfaeffikon, Switzerland. I was miserable because I could not understand what he was saying for most of the time. I was upset. I was depressed. I did not know what to do. Then I felt that at Joka at least I did manage to do better in terms of talking to him (with the help of his lovely family). Selfish perhaps, but it made me feel better.

Smita & I truly truly wish that God showers the Kapahi family with strength at this time. And especially for Vineeta, a graduation that will need that strength and more.

Here are some tributes from us for the family:

“We were all really lucky to meet Sunil at the reunion. The level of enthusiasm and the spirit with which he participated in all activities at the reunion was really inspiring.”

“This is a terrible blow. I never thought this could happen so soon. How fragile our lives are! I will always remember Kaps’ smile, his intelligence, balance and maturity. And of course Rita’s and his children’s great love and support.’

“The thing I most remember about Kaps is his gentle, soothing voice....He had the wonderful gift of making people "feel good" ....I feel absolutely miserable that I didn’t get a chance to see him in recent times....”

“Here is a profile about Sunil,"

“Thanks. The profile actually told me so much I didn’t know about Kaps. He will be missed”

“This profile was very touching. Sunil has gone through a lot in his life, but I think death has robbed him of a time with his family when the teenagers need both parents.”

“Very sad news! Sunil was such a gentle guy.

He and I had gone to Ludhiana together way back in May or June 1982. He went away alone one afternoon for a few hours. I did ask him where he was going but he said he had to meet some one. Little did I guess he was going to see his father! I assumed going to ‘see’ a girl! But this inconsequential concealment must have troubled him. The first thing he did when he saw me at Joka in December 2007 was to explain that the reason for his Ludhiana visit was to see his father and apologize for not telling me then. I was very touched that he was concerned about such a small issue 25 years later. He was that kind of a guy-simple and straightforward. And he loved to play cards at Diwali!”

“It’s amazing what he and his family have gone thru. Like … said, his profile revealed a lot of things which I (having known him from IIT days) was unaware of. It brought tears to my eyes - indeed a sad end to one who possessed a brilliant mind.”

“Rita has been amazing in how positive she’s stayed through everything. I’ve been in touch with them off and on over the years, and have followed Sunil’s difficulties. They were going to visit us recently on one of the long weekends in Connecticut, and unfortunately Sunil’s health didn’t allow that at the last minute. He was an extremely rare, solid gold person that I truly regarded. A real story of bad things happening to good people.”

“It was very touching to read the profile - thanks for posting it. It is so sad to hear the news. I vividly remember many interactions with Kaps in IIMC, the most interesting of which was probably our "industrial tour" that took us to "study the tourism industry" in Goa which took us to Colangute and Anjuna!!!! :) When I spoke to Sunil about it during our anniversary get-together last December, he was very apologetic that he could not remember that trip at all. I think it depressed him a little till his daughter came and spoke to him and got him to lighten up. It was so great to see him - and see and feel his desire to participate in everything. He was a special guy and will be missed by all of us.”

“I greatly admired how wonderfully she (Rita), Kaps and the kids were going thru’ the incredible tribulations visiting them. We’re indeed lucky to have seen them so recently: had no clue of Sunil’s condition before then. Would have felt (even more) terrible but for the recent mtg.”

“Thank you so much for sending this profile. There are so many things I did not know. I have saved the story with me. I think it is an inspiration to all of us. How mundane our trials and tribulations are in front of this.

We had spent an evening with Sunil, Rita and his daughter at Maf’s place a year before last. Despite the voice box, Sunil was full of energy and spoke almost all through the evening despite his voice box, requiring him to make a greater effort. Seeing him and Rita it was difficult to imagine what they have gone through.

Like the incident Rajiv wrote about, we all have our store of memories about Sunil. He was an incredible person in many ways.”

“This is a real shocker. Just opened my mail box after a few days. Can’t believe it, specially after seeing him at the IIM reunion just some months back... his spirit was amazing, considering what all he had gone through.”

“I just logged into my email and saw all of these emails. It is a shocker. For those of us who met him at the IIMC reunion would never have expected the end to be so near given the spirits he displayed and the overall shape he was in. To think of it, that he flew down with family all the way fm the US to attend the reunion in that condition is admirable in itself. Those of us who were there at the reunion were really fortunate to get to meet him and I guess like me are feeling the loss. The meeting with him at the reunion gave us a real feel of what he and his family were going thru and how well they were handling it. Lessons and learning for all of us. Life is not just about work and money.”

“This is seriously devastating news! I first met up with kaps post his problems at maf’s place and was amazed at his strength of character and his equanimity - certainly made me feel that all the problems I had very complete non-issues. meeting Rita was another experience - without doubt the strongest gentle woman I have known. and meeting the girls in Calcutta made me realize what an amazing family this is -one of a kind for sure.”

“I don’t know what else to add. Sunil’s presence with his family at the reunion was indeed most inspiring, as was his address to the audience on the final evening. The write-up on him that XXX directed us to was a complete revelation to me.”

“This is really terrible news. Feel really sad that we somehow never managed to get a game of bridge going during our reunion barring just one deal.”

- From the whole of the 17th Batch of IIMC(Indian Institute of Management Calcutta)
May 2008

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