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It is with a very heavy heart that I write this tribute for Mr. Sundararaman who was very close to me and all of us at Speech2Text both at a personal level and at an official level. He was a father figure to me – a well wisher I completely trusted and whose guidance and advice I depended upon. Second to my parents, I have yet to come across a more genuine, compassionate, sincerely, diligent, affectionate and caring person like Mr. Sundar. I believe I am where I am today because of him, his hard work and effective guidance of our company.
Mr. Sundar is clearly a leader – when Speech2Text was started, we were just coming out of the dot com bust. I had contracts in hand but not much resources to set up the Indian office. We took a big loan to set up shop in Bangalore. Mr. Sundar was working in Aero Needs with my dad at that time. He was very trusted by my dad as well and was eventually requested in 2002 to become the first General Manager of Speech2Text and guide its establishment of operations in India. Mr. Sundar’s helped incorporate Speech2Text, served as its first GM and Director, and effectively established a brand new office, hired 30-40 personnel and got all the infrastructure up and running in a short 2-3 months. He had sharp business and financial acumen which was the need of the hour and a blessing to me. He managed the company tightly for almost 12-13 years until 2013, made us profitable, saw us prosper and then took a back seat after transferring the reins over to Hemanth. During his tenure he saw the company through several ups and down but was always steadfast and hands on in keeping it going well. Along the way he made so many new friends and admirers – everyone who worked at Speech2Text was always taken by his simple nature but strong leadership.
We did well for the first few years and then lost some major clients which cause huge upheaval in the company. Mr. Sundar was the kind of leader who could make bold decisions without getting emotionally confused. That is a rare trait as taking strong decisions in the face of adversity is always difficult. If he believed he knew the right direction to take the company in, he did not hesitate to take strong steps in that direction. He did not think twice to layoff staff, bring the operations down to sustainable levels for the volume of work inflow and keep the company profitable or breakeven during that time. In fact, he was so caring about the company’s situation that he did not take salary for four months while also loaning his personal funds to help meet salary commitments. It was a difficult period and I can sincerely say I could not have done it without him. Speech2Text has supported a generation of employees and their families in its 22 years of existence – a significant part of that goes to Mr. Sundararaman’s guidance and efforts in the company.
Mr. Sundar was always a person ready to learn new things. When I started the record review business in 2010, no one in the whole of India knew what record reviews were as this was not at that time an outsourced service even in the US. Mr. Sundar quickly taught himself medical terminology, poured over all the medical records and taught himself how to generate thorough record reviews which even US doctors were impressed with. Dr. Srinivasan was surprised and stunned at how much Mr. Sundar had learned by just surfing the web on US workers compensation regulation and details of record reviews. Mr. Sundar was our first record reviewer – that business has since grown into a big business for us spanning 5 states in the US. Mr. Sundar hired all the current senior reviewers including Dr. Meera and Dr. Joyati, taught them how to do record reviews well and then helped them to establish a strong workforce in record reviewing.
Anyway, I could go on and on about Mr. Sundararaman – I am so grateful to have had him in my life. I pray for his well being and his family’s as well. I was fortunate that I got an opportunity to visit Mr. Sundar a few weeks before his demise. While he was certainly weaker than usual, the sharpness of mind and spark of life still shone well within him. His lessons to me will always stay with me and I believe I am a better man having been in his company. My eternal gratitude to him and his wife. Om Namah Sivaya! Jai Gurudev!
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Sundara Raman was born in an agraharam in Rajapalayam on January 6, 1942. He has three brothers. His dad pulled him out of high school to man a shop instead. Furious, he ran away from the village and took a shot at a thoroughly unconventional gig in the big city. He enlisted as Aircraftsman 237226 in the Indian Air Force. He quickly rose through the ranks and served at Jamnagar, Ambala, Adampur and Palam air stations. He fell in love with Radha, a Steno serving at Pune air station. They wed in Palghat and were subsequently posted to HQ Training Command, Hebbal, where they made a home from scratch. They had two kids, Krishnan and Rajesh. They served in the IAF for over two decades. He retired as a Junior Warrant Officer while she continued for another decade. He was an aircraft radio fitter by trade, working on radar equipment mounted on airborne weapon delivery systems. He continued working on airplanes for two more years as an aircraft tech at Singapore Aviation. Finally, he bid goodbye to airplanes and sought civilian employment at a Polytechnic as an instructor of Electronics. He joined Network Ltd, a pioneer in Indian Office Automation, as a lowly technician servicing Electronic Typewriters and Facsimile machines. He rose to be a high powered executive running their Bangalore branch. Despite having no formal schooling of his own, he was so keen on his kid’s education, he mortgaged his house so his kid could study Computer Science in the USA. His gambit paid off when his son hosted his very first visit to the USA. He chose to travel solo cross-country from Rochester, NY to Los Angeles, CA, on a Greyhound bus, videotaping the entire journey. He purchased a transcoder so he could watch his videos on Indian TV. On a lark, he leveraged his expertise in electronics to jury-rig the decoder so he could transcode PAL Indian movie cassettes into NTSC so they would play on American videodecks. He advertised these tapes on a primitive website, mailed them to American consumers using the subsidized Indian Postal service, thereby flouting all manner of Indian and International copyright, and made a killing. He closed his fledgling internet shop under duress once the laws caught up. His entrepreneurial genes kicked in yet again, this time teaming up with founders from Silicon Valley to run a medical transcription service. He rose to be the Managing Director of Speech2Txt Bangalore, capping off his most successful last inning yet. He was extremely fond of his Speech2Txt colleagues, in particular Hemanth and Vijay, whom he regarded as family members. After the birth of his grandson Arjun, he made several trips to California with his now-retired wife, to spend time with his real family. He was an integral part of his grandson’s pampered childhood, building toys, tricycles, school desks & bicycles. He was completely shattered upon the untimely death of his wife. He said goodbye to India, relocated to Indiana. He was many things – cook, gardener, bicycle repairman, all-around handyman. He bicycled the length and breadth of West Lafayette. He planted carrots, herbs & flowers in their giant backyard. He picked up his grandson from school, lost on purpose at Carrom Board, Scrabble and Chess, until he couldn’t win even if he tried. He bragged about his grandson’s prowess on the IAF Veterans Facebook group, where his former 237226 IAF batch hang out. He regaled his airmen buddies sweltering in the Indian summer with his iphone videos of the frozen Midwest landscape. He was living a dream, an uneducated Indian villager enjoying the spoils of America, all because he chose to take a shot. A routine medical visit to address his diabetes turned into a shocking cancer diagnosis. His pack-a-day soldier’s addiction had became a nightmare, cutting short his American dream. He valiantly chose to fight back, clambering up & down stairs, crawling on the grass in the backyard, trying to regain his fitness with athletic maneuvers. But in the end, he was unable to cope with the excessive pain,choosing to go peacefully into the night, aided by the kind and comforting hospice nurse Heather. Sundara Raman died on the morning of May 12, staring out into the open sky through the basement window, beside Arjun’s lego aircraft, reminding him of his carefree youth spent amidst MIGs and Canberras. Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?
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