In Memoriam - Chaitanya Maddali, JD ’05
Eulogy for Chaitanya Maddali, JD '05
Delivered by Shanti Kulkarni, JD ’05
Lakeview Funeral Home, Chicago
February 13, 2011
Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to see how many of you are here to today to honor the memory of Chaitanya Maddali.
My name is Shantikumar Kulkarni. I met Chaitanya in 2002, when we went to law school together in St. Louis. When Anita asked me to share my memories of him, she said his only condition was that he didn’t want people to only talk about the good things about him. He wanted people to know about the “bad things” too.
This is a typical Chaitanya request. He enjoyed making wisecracks under his breath at solemn events. Now he wants me to make them for him at this service. He enjoyed that kind of contrast, which was fitting for a man fluent in two cultures, baseball and cricket.
Chaitanya would withdraw into a quiet, contemplative state for days, secluding himself into his apartment. The question “has anyone seen Chaitanya lately?” was often exchanged among his friends. Then suddenly he would reappear, bursting into exuberant irreverence and song.
Chaitanya was an associate at Winston and Strawn. He was on the team that defended former Gov. Ryan (we had many arguments about that). He loved even the mundane aspects the practice of law—large cases, which stretched on for years, with boxes upon boxes of documents, motions and pleadings, and all-important schedules and deadlines. The contrast being that outside of his work, Chaitanya had no use whatsoever for schedules or deadlines. He’s been late for classes, casual get-togethers, and weddings.
Then of course last Saturday, Chaitanya arrived at his destination early, for the first time in his life, and so heartbreakingly early at that. And as his family and friends we have struggled over how his death can be reconciled with a world in which the Divine is just, and fair, and good.
That is a conversation that I wish I could have had with Chaitanya before talking to you today. I think he would have had some deeper insights. He was equally willing to address, discuss, and argue over the large, existential questions of life, and the minutiae of pop culture and fashion. It would be an intense conversation.
That brings me to the first of two characteristics that stand out for me when I think of Chaitanya: his intensity, and his spirituality. When Chaitanya had his full attention focused upon a matter he was a very intense man. I infer that to be an innate characteristic going back to his childhood in Mumbai. He had the ability to fixate on a topic to the near-exclusion of anything else in the world. This ability, combined with his intelligence, made him a powerful analytical thinker, whether applied to the most abstruse legal or philosophical writings, or to the TV show “The Flavor of Love” starring aging rapper, Flavor Flave.
He had a wide-ranging intellect, which he kept well nourished. He comes from an erudite and well-read family. The places Chaitanya lived became buffets of books on all topics political philosophical or poetic, with the occasional crime drama, from which he would select one and devour it in one or two sittings.
In law school, he would put off most of his studying and attending class to the greatest extent possible—though not his property class—until the last two or three weeks of the semester, then seclude himself to engage in marathon session of reading and analysis. He was far from the only person to apply that methodology, but unlike others, he was very successful at it. He also loved to discuss what he read. If you spent any length of time in his company, you would end up arguing politics unless you actively avoided it.
That same intensity could express itself in more mundane matters as a type of impulsiveness or odd fixation. Every time Laura and I saw Chaitanya and Anita, he was talking about moving somewhere. A partial list includes Lincoln Park, Oak Park, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Providence. I once asked Anita if she found it frustrating to constantly plan to move to all these different places and she said, “Not any more—I’ve stopped taking it seriously. Eventually, he’ll move on to the next place, and we’ll still be here.”
Chaitanya’s favorite restaurant wasn’t just a good place to eat; it was the best restaurant in the world. Why dine elsewhere? In St. Louis he fixated upon an Indian restaurant over the Howard Johnson’s and Dressel’s Bar in the West Loop. If you were going out to eat, but not there, you would likely do so without Chaitanya. He moved to Chicago and shortly thereafter identified India House on Devon Street and the Tasting Room in the West Loop as his new anointed eateries.
He would also fixate on certain songs—usually Indian ones—which would become the soundtrack to his life for a period of time. Chaitanya was very generous with giving rides to his friends in law school, but if you didn’t want to hear the “Chenya, Chenya” song you’d have to seek other transportation. It’s been mentioned to me that Chaitanya was a great John Denver fan. I was not aware of this, and after playing the image of him singing “Country Roads” in my head, I think I can understand why he would have chosen not to share that information.
The second quality, in addition to his intensity, that I most identify with Chaitanya is his spirituality. By “spiritual,” I mean that he considered more than most the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” It seems an apt definition, but I know Chaitanya would mock me for adopting it from from Wikipedia.
When we were in law school, Chaitanya would call, usually at an hour of the night that would be unreasonable had we not been students, just to talk. And we would talk about politics, and women, and people we found annoying—but Chaitanya would frequently move the conversation to Things That Are Truly Important in Life. It is in those conversations back in 2002–03 that I learned that he had nearly died a few years earlier.
I want to be cautious because I think that to give the impression that Chaitanya was defined by his illness would not only be untrue, but would anger him. I think it is fair to say that the experience of having an extended term on the brink of death as a college sophomore gave him an understanding of the fragility of life, and an appreciation for the blessings of friends and family, far beyond his age. It is this quality which led people to refer to him as an old soul. That’s not to say that he was either stuffy or always transcendent—this old soul once dyed his hair pink and was kicked out of a carpool for excessive lateness and demands for unscheduled stops at restaurants. He could be a stubborn old soul, and he and I were once banned for life from an Indian restaurant after Chaitanya took strong exception to the service provided there. But it is to say that when Chaitanya chose to, he could look to a further horizon than the rest of us, and see past obstacles that seemed massive or overwhelming, but only because they were close at hand. He understood that our troubles like our lives are ephemeral, and that the experience of each day was one to be received with joy.
These insights made him a particularly wise friend, one with whom it was easy to share your hopes or fears over the future. Male friendships, even the closest ones, don’t typically incline toward exposing the deeper strata of the psyche absent some pressing crisis. It feels weird. Chaitanya was, for me, a friend with whom I could discuss these deeper topics, and in the course of the past few weeks, it has become clear that he filled that role for many of you as well.
Among things which were mere ephemera was his physical comfort. He was generally in some degree of discomfort, if not pain, for all the years I knew him. To refer to him as a fighter is a considerable understatement. But you would seldom get a complaint about his current physical condition stronger than “I’m feeling kind of tired.” He wanted to get a new kidney, to be physically restored, yet he was also grateful that he had his life and health as it was.
The intersection of these qualities—spirituality and intensity—made it particularly appropriate to refer to Chaitanya as having a passionate nature. When he did not care about something, it was impossible to make him care. But when he did care, he did so with all of his heart and all his might.
He was most passionate about two things: his family and his friends. He understood that he had been truly blessed with Mr. and Mrs. Maddali, and Samyukta. They lavished time and attention on him, and he felt keenly the sacrifices they had made on his behalf, particularly after his illness. His friends from undergrad, like Scott, Casey, and Greg, had been there for him in the aftermath of his illness. Then came those friends—and family—whom he met after law school.
When I say Chaitanya was passionate about his friends and family, I mean he lionized them. When Chaitanya selected someone as his friend—he would pick and choose whom he wanted to be friends with—he carried that person around mentally with him as though they were present at all times, though it might have been months since their last conversation. If you were so selected, you gained a person you could speak to frankly at anytime, and on any topic except India–Pakistan relations and medical malpractice lawsuits. Having Chaitanya as a friend meant you had someone who would take on your problems as his own. Passion and compassion.
The past few years were a whirlwind for Chaitanya. I’m certain he would rank meeting, and marrying Anita, and the birth of his daughter, as the paramount blessings of his life. I think while we were in law school, he questioned if he would ever find someone to share life with, given his health and the practical considerations that had to be addressed. He was a proud man and wouldn’t tolerate anyone’s pity. Those of you who knew Chaitanya before marriage know he preferred firm control over his space and time. So to find Anita, who appreciated his passion, his impulsiveness, and his intellect, who understood his physical limitations without pity, was a true blessing for him. And he knew it.
Chaitanya characterized the many sacrifices his parents made for him as a massive debt repayable only to his own children. No one has ever looked forward to repaying a debt with such enthusiasm. He would beam at the mention of his impeding fatherhood. He greeted Anita’s pregnancy with a sort of giddiness—including a Facebook post from Dec. 17, which included a picture of Anita’s stomach and the caption “Bowling ball, basketball, or medicine ball,” followed a few days later by a post from an impatient father with an overdue baby: “Damn Indian Standard Time.” He was so excited that he was sending pictures and emails within minutes of Amelia’s birth. Laura and I wondered if Anita knew that he was already on the Internet from his phone. His delight is evident from the sound of his voice in the videos he took. Amelia looks uncannily like her daddy.
Friends, I cannot say why God would choose to take Chaitanya just weeks after that joyous event. I don’t know, and it’s not my place. To those of you who may have talked late in the night, as Laura and I have, of how Chaitanya’s passing, not merely untimely, but with heartbreaking timing, can be squared with a world where God is just and fair, I can only suggest that Chaitanya was aware of the blessings received since his illness, blessings which he almost never knew: Meeting Anita, falling in love, holding his daughter, a deeper understanding of the boundless depths of affection and sacrifice of his parents and sister, making friends from all walks of life, and achieving academic and professional success. A new kidney had the long-awaited hope of a full recovery.
How many people die with resignation in their hearts, or worse, anger, and with despair on their lips? Certainly, Chaitanya would have wanted to be among us longer. And it’s something of a cliché to say that he would not want us to be sad. I think he would feel compassion for us in our grief and get a kick out of the number of people who came to honor him. But given his wisdom, and his awareness of the blessings he had received, Chaitanya would want us to count among his blessings that when he did leave, his world was full of love, and hope and new life.