My dearest friend, Pran Kurup (3 Oct 1966 — 3 Sep 2016), passed away yesterday from a cardiac arrest. He had been in India for several months. His funeral will take place in Trivandrum at 2 PM on Monday, 5th September.
I met Pran at IIT Kharagpur 31 years ago. After our first year, some of us freshmen became close friends and moved into a hostel wing. Pran and I took rooms next to each other. He used to wake me up each morning; I would have missed a lot of classes without his help. Not that I learned much in class; I mostly remember my college years for some of the friendships I made, and my friendship with Pran was among the most precious in my life. He was also, as another friend noted yesterday, the heart and soul of our wing, everybody’s favorite guy. Years later, he is still the glue that holds our wing-mates together, encouraging us to communicate and meet often.
In 1989, after four years at IIT, Pran and I went to the U.S. for grad school. There we shared a journey of personal growth and learning, especially during our two decades in California. We spent much time together. With another friend, we even went on a road trip in 1993 to Death Valley, Vegas, Grand Canyon, and southern Utah. At times we would retreat into the lingo and bawdy humor of our college days, and tease each other about our college crushes and unrequited loves—a ribbing that had a rare and sweet intimacy. We sized up our respective dates and eventual mates. I watched him become a deeply involved dad to a daughter and a son. After a couple of company jobs, he founded and ran his own small business focused on e-learning solutions, with a team in Trivandrum. We were immersed in each other’s emotional, intellectual, and professional lives.
We often met for lunch, and on some Fridays at Tied House, a brewery in Mountain View, where we always got the same munchies with our beers—grilled catfish strips and black bean nachos. Thanks to him, I laughed a lot when we hung out. We discussed the meaning of life, love, work, films, politics, technology, India. We talked about people we knew, and of our joys and sorrows. Together we celebrated many of our little milestones and events: birthdays, new jobs, visiting friends. He cooked mean Kerala-style curries, and made juicy mojitos for me with fresh mint leaves from a veggie garden he had maintained in recent years, and of which he was very proud.
After I moved back to India in 2013, we Skype’d often—more in late 2015, when he and his team in Trivandrum did a major upgrade to shunya.net—but I missed our 1-on-1 time a lot, as did he (on March 18 this year he messaged me: ‘Miss having you around here. Lost count of the number of times this thought has occurred to me. So let me tell u this b4 I forget again.’). In the last couple of years, he suffered from bouts of depression on account of certain changes in his health. I advised him to seek professional counsel but I was left with the nagging feeling that I’m not doing enough to help. He tried Vipassana and said it helped. He spoke about the virtues of living in the present, approaching each day as it comes. We met last when he visited Delhi for his book launch this July. He looked physically weak and vulnerable. I spoke to him just two days before his last day on earth. He had been in Trivandrum for many months, staying with his sister and mother, and working on a major upgrade of their e-learning platform with the employees of his business located next door. He planned to return to California a couple weeks later, after Onam.
Pran always had an abiding interest in people. He invested in relationships and people loved him back. On his nightly calls from California to his Trivandrum office, he made it a point to speak to each of the dozen or so employees, however briefly, and attended their marriages back home. He despised hierarchy and had little patience for pretentious or status-minded people, preferring to relate to others on a foundation of openness and transparency. He also cared deeply about working for progressive change in society—especially in India—an expression of which was his column for the Economic Times and his dedication and long hours of volunteer work for the Aam Aadmi Party. He significantly improved AAP’s web presence, fundraising, and communication with scalable new technology, such as an email database, a mass mailing system, and Google hangouts. A news junkie, he was passionate about clean politics and social justice and he fought for it in his own way, despite his ill health, and without seeking attention or applause. Through his volunteer work, he touched the lives of countless people, the extent of which I’m only now realizing from the outpouring of affection for him on social media.
Old friendships are among the most beautiful things in life. Good old friendships are based not just on intellectual compatibility but on other no less important things: shared experiences, camaraderie, forgiveness, listening with empathy, rooting for each other, a simple happiness and comfort in each other’s presence. Good old friendships are the rarest of gifts. They anchor us in the world and give it meaning. Of all the things that make life entirely happy, wrote Epicurus, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.
Pran was as close as any friend I’ve ever had, and I mourn his loss today. I’m utterly consumed with sadness. With him, a piece of me is gone too. The news is still too raw and it’ll take time for me to fathom the extent of my loss. The random misfortunes of health that struck him some years ago couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Through his ups and downs, my most abiding memory of him is his optimism, his decency, his caring for a better India, and his infectious humor and laughter. I loved him dearly. RIP, my beloved friend.