A professor might, on occasion, tell every set of students that its particular class is his or her favorite. That's a harmless white lie that makes the students feel good (even if they don't quite believe it).
But I have always been clear about my favorite class. J'97 had the most fascinating mix of talented, quirky folks. A class that bonded in ways I hadn't seen before or since. A class that worked hard and played harder. A class that produced the best class yearbook.
And, the class that has had the worst luck. Three wonderful young men - Doug Black (who died four years ago), Samy-Leigh Webster-Woog & Gautam Sundaram -- lost before the five-year reunion. In fact, until a few months ago, I was in conversation with several J'97ers about plans for the April reunion. We could not have predicted that we would be having today's impromptu reunion.
I have several fond memories of Gautam and Samy, of course. None more clear in my mind that Gautam visiting Samy in the hospital. One day, Samy, a couple of his classmates and I had been sitting around his bed, chatting in low tones, feeling sad. Just then, Gautam walked in and the whole atmosphere changed. He cheered us all up -- making us laugh and filling our heads with the whirlwind adventures and non-stop plans.
That was Gautam for you. Always dropping by and always lifting your spirits. He would stop by at my Columbia office -- no appointments for him, thank you. And I would stop whatever I was doing to chat for what I thought would be a couple of minutes. But it was always longer -- his ideas, his range of interests, his adventures, his love life -- allowed me, a boring desk-bound guy, a chance to live vicariously through him.
He once told me, I was the kind of Indian he didn't want to be. That desk-bound type. The one who worked for The Man. The one who followed instructions. The one who never did anything spontaneous.
Well, Gautam was the kind of person I wanted to be. One able to take chances, roam the world, keen to make a difference.
Despite his outward characteristics, Gautam managed to do things you might not expect. For a person who might consider working on the yearbook the ultimate nerdy thing to do, he actually wrote the story about the documentary class. He didn't think much of the South Asian journalists group I ran, but attended a couple of meetings. He came to every party and danced the night way with his classmates. Just like Samy did.
To Aprana, Gautam's sister, I would like to say how proud he was of you -- he spoke of you all the time, ever since he made a tape of you doing yoga for his first class with me. To the Sundaram family, I would like to say thank you for sharing him with us.