- Siva Jonnada, Morristown, NJ
Like many people who knew Dr. Kidambi Raghunath, I have many memories of him. It was especially sad to hear of his passing since he and his family were close friends of my parents. To me and my generation, Dr. Kidambi was known as “Raghunath Uncle” and we were well aware of Uncle’s love of Indian culture in general and Telugu culture in particular. We also knew of Raghunath Uncle’s feelings about passing this legacy onto the next generation of Telugu Indian Americans.
My own personal awareness of this trait came in the 1980s when I used to help Uncle with audio/visual work at Indian functions. As usual, he always came on time and prepared well in advance of everyone else. With Raghunath, there was no such thing as “Indian Standard Time”! He even told me that he came on time for his own wedding reception, but no one else did! If I had one word to describe Kidambi Raghunath, it would be INTENSE. I could almost say that it was a watchword for him since Uncle was always flitting about here and there. He always needed something to do, and he often found it.
However, there is another word that I can describe Uncle with and that would be LEGACY. I believe that this was his ultimate reason for being so active in the Indian American community here. I know that Uncle often thought of passing our heritage to the next generation and beyond. Seeing the first generation of Indians in the U.S. with the third generation – their grandchildren – I can see how this legacy can be passed along. I’m sure that Uncle had hoped that he would have been able to do this with his own grandson. I’ll always remember how thrilled he was when he spoke about him.
Even though Raghunath Uncle took the passing of our heritage as his own personal responsibility, it really should be a part of our responsibility as well. Now that he is gone, we should take up this banner as a symbol of his legacy. It doesn’t matter whether we are first or second generation Indian Americans. It also doesn’t mean that we have to be as intense as Raghunath was.
There are many ways to pass on our legacy. Quite often, it’s the little ways that last the longest and are remembered the most. This could be as simple as passing along stories of the “old country”. People of my generation often heard stories from our parents about what it was like in India back in our parents’ time. Sometimes we listen and sometimes we don’t. It’s my wish that it’s more the first than the second!
Having seen India recently, I think it’s important to preserve such stories of long ago since the India of our parents’ time doesn’t exist anymore and, quite often it’s the Indian community abroad that is preserving that “Lost India”. Even if some second generation Indians might not see the importance of this, I can assure you that the third generation will! I’ve often seen my American friends drink up any information that they could find about their ancestors and what life was like in the “old country”. Some had regrets for not finding out sooner because, if this information isn’t kept, it’s gone forever.
This preserving of family and community memories is the best way to keep our legacy. It’s important to have our functions and celebrate our holidays. We can have our music concerts and dance recitals, but this would mean little if we don’t personalize or internalize it. If we don’t, then our heritage will be just something that “other people” do and doesn’t become something that belongs to us. Raghunath Uncle did just that. He made it his personal mission to preserve our heritage. It is up to us in our own little way to continue this effort.