Changemakersaathi पिता: The Father’s day Special feature Authored By – Cdr Rajendra Pawar (Retd)
Sriram Narayan: Your Smile changed the world for many Special Dads!
– Cdr Rajendra Pawar (Retd)
We shook hands for the first time in 2012 with him saying “Hi, I’m Ram” with his soulful smile and twinkling eyes.
I had heard so much about Sriram through Akila Vaidyanathan; his better half and my batchmate in the Aastha Foundation for Human Learning and Growth during 2009 – 11; that I was indeed wanting to meet this ‘Ram’; to touch a human being who could be so inspiring and dedicated to all families with Special needs beyond one’s own self!
We met in 2012 during Aastha Foundations’s Summer programme where I was one of the Faculty for Ram’s group. The “Faculty and Participant” relationship soon evolved to being friends. Little did I know that what started with a handshake little over a decade ago would be such a changemaking event in my life, only to end with this farewell note for Sriram, my special friend, on the occassion of Father’s Day.
Sriram was born in a Fauji family with the typical hallmarks of multi-culturalism, flair for adventure, nature, rigorous self-discipline and an innate sense of exploration. His schooling at Lovedale only drilled in these qualities all the more. “Never Give In” seemed to have become Sriram’s life mission. He graduated in the Commerce stream from The Christian College, Madras where he imbibed the values of “True freedom is to share all the chains our brothers wear…. They are slaves who dare not be in the right with two or three” (excerpt from the great poem by James Russell Lowell STANZAS OF FREEDOM that has inspired the emblem of his college). Sriram was an embodiment of this spirit in all his efforts through the initiatives of Amaze Charitable Trust for the Special Needs Children, and their families. He went on to acquire the prestigious license as a Chartered Accountant from Bangalore.
With a bright career in Singapore, India and the USA he was all starry eyed and poised for a great career progression ahead, until his and Akila’s firstborn, Nishant, was diagnosed as being Autistic. After the initial diagnosis, Sriram continued to work for 10 years as he was now the sole breadwinner for the family.
It was when Nishant entered his teens and their daughter Nivriti was about 8 years that he decided to give up his lucrative career as an International ERP consultant so that they have more time for both children and they could focus on the ‘Future of Autism’ in the Indian context. A paradigm shift in the couple’s life, saw them reverse migrate back to Bangalore in India and later to Coimbatore. He continued to work part-time in Coimbatore doing teaching assignments and ERP consulting to support the family, and to also have time to share the role of parenting both Nishant and Nivriti.
Sriram took upon himself the role of an equal caregiver to Nishant, as also continued to do his professional assignments albeit as a freelance part-time consultant.
He always had the desire of working for providing support to Special Dads.
Association with Akila and Ram, and their pioneering Adventure Camps for Special Children and Families at NALS in Connoor soon turned me into an Autism Advocate, though I did not come from a Special needs family. These camps were brought annually to western India, near Pune by me and Akila in 2015. We are joined by Padma Ramani, an experienced Special Educator and a dear friend based in Pune, in organising these camps. Since then, we have done 6 such camps near Pune for Special Persons and Families and Friends. Sriram was always very supportive of these efforts of ours.
During the Covid 19 Pandemic with heightened stress levels in all families, Ram and I mulled over the need for offering a programme exclusively for Special Dads. A major intent for this was to provide a safe, nonjudgmental space for the Dads to share their struggles, emotions and share their experiences of being a Special Dad. Sriram always advocated the need for Fathers to be actively engaged with all the caregiving activities for the Special Child, and not just to leave that role to the Special Moms.
I remember the hours of lengthy discussions that Sriram and I had over a period of almost two months with inputs from Akila, before we curated an online programme “Unravelling Me”, exclusively for Special Dads. I had opportunity to facilitate 3 batches of this fortnightly 7- session programme along with Sriram during 2021. The compassion, empathy, and humane touch with which Sriram would interact during these programmes was remarkable. His ability to share his journey, emotional upheavals, associated struggles and experiences as a Special Dad in a heart-touching way brought instant connect to the hearts and minds of all the participants. I am sure all the Special Dads who participated in the “Unravelling Me” found it a life changing experience for themselves and helped to harmonise their inner stresses and family lives.
Some of the participants of these programmes wrote in to me on hearing of his passing away expressing their sentiments, and I reproduce a few of these (Names abbreviated):
Mr S S: Sriram was a morale booster for me to pass through the pandemic phase. As a Special Dad I admire him a lot. As a man I respect him a lot. His teachings and knowledge imparted remains within me to manage my challenges. He accomplished greater possibilities for Special Children, Special Parents, Special Dads.
Mr B S: Sriram was in the forefront of parents community
Mr S N: A very amenable person. Always willing to share his experiences. His classes on Will & Trust documents were great. The Special Dads community will definitely feel his absence.
Mr S N: I had the opportunity to meet Sriram f2f 2 or 3 times. A very amenable person. Always willing to share his experiences. His classes on Will & Trust documents were great. The special Dads community will definitely feel his absence.
Mr B.S: I am a Chartered Accountant and a Special Dad. Akila and Sriram moved to Coimbatore 10-12 years back and our families have been good friends ever since they came. I admire Sriram for his dedication to his Son. He gave up a lucrative career as a CA and prioritized his family above all – a dedication very difficult to achieve. His concern spread to the entire community of special children. He set up Amaze Trust for these children and worked hard alongside Akila to help such children and their families. We conducted seminars together on WILL and TRUSTS several times. Ever smiling and an amenable friend, the world has lost a wonderful human being.
Mr V.K: I am one of the parents of Amaze for more than 10 years. I have attended a few sessions of Sriram Sir on Autism and Parenting. I also attended one of your course for Fathers. Sriram was a great moral support to the parents of Amaze, He was always very clear in his thoughts and actions. He was a living example of a Father of an Autism child. He used to take care of his son in the absence of Akila Madam. We are missing him but his thoughts on the future will take us forward with hope and confidence.
Mr R.J: I remember Sriram Narayan Sir as an elder brother to all Special Dads. Always available, always generous with his advice, always uplifting and always smiling, He made it his life’s mission to struggle on behalf of all Special Dads so that their path is made easier based on his experience. He lit the path for others, He was a Buddha in life and now he is a Buddha in death. He attained Nirvana through his deeds. I will be eternally grateful to him.
All through the past few years, Sriram was constantly at the forefront of planning newer initiatives to help Special Children develop skills that could make them independent.
I especially remember him putting his expertise and experience as a CA to good use for this purpose. He took up Financial Accounting assignments as a Consulting CA and trained at least 4 to 5 special children who were students of Amaze Charitable Trust to do the basic data entry on computers from the safety of their homes. He painstakingly taught them how to do the financial analysis, and how to prepare the rough P&L statements, Balance sheets etc. He would of course burn the midnight oil in going through all their work and then doing the fair audit documents for the clients.
Since the past two years, he had conducted several workshops on “Writing of Wills” and formation of Trusts, for Special Parents. Several Special Parents benefitted from these programmes which were practical, experience based and useful for the Special needs families.
Sriram went beyond his personal comfort space in supporting his own children, as also the various initiatives of Amaze Charitable Trust of which he was a co-Founder and Director along with Akila Vaidyanathan.
Such a dear friend and gentle soul, Sriram was compassionate, ever willing to help every Special Needs parent with his experience and knowledge.
A loving son, brother, husband and above all a very loving & caring Dad! Sriram was a rock-solid support to his near and dear ones.
Dear Sriram, you have borne all the ups and downs of life with a smile on your lips and never a complaint. Your spirit of living for a purpose beyond your own self, of being the one to “Fix Things”… be they objects or broken hearts, of always looking at the brighter side of every situation, will always keep all of us inspired to never give in, and to carry forward the work you started.
Your memory will live on eternally. Stay smiling dear friend, and be the Changemaker wherever you are!
Author – Cdr Rajendra Pawar (Retd)
Author is an Ex- Naval Officer, an Autism Activist and a very close friend of Sriram Narayan.
Creative representation for the Father’s day Special ChangemakerSaathi story is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Morpheus Nag