Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope during the COVID pandemic.
Our story today features Kumud Kamran, a woman of true ‘Seva’ or service to her immediate and extended circle of family, friends and community.
Her home was affectionately coined Grand Central Station by her children, as the doorbell was always ringing, someone was ‘stopping by’ to drop something off, pick something up or just to say Hello! Kumud greeted all callers with a smile, ready to serve a tea and a snack. Her home was the first stop for many families moving to the US and Minnesota, as they transitioned to their own lives or were stopping by for medical, job or other reasons. As her daughter Poornima says “we often did not sleep in our own beds, as we were ready to welcome a new family to stay with us”.
All this, while running a household of six, sometimes ten, working full time as an Engineer and raising two busy children!
Kumud was born in Hyderabad, India and raised by her maternal grandparents after her father passed away when she was 6 years old. She grew up in an extremely erudite household, her mother teaching Hindi and Sanskrit at the Nanak Ram Bhagvandas College, and her grandfather exerting broad influence as the Secretary of Finance, Planning and Education in the Government. Arts and Culture were a deep influence in her younger years as her grandfather promoted amateur artists, singing and dancing and had a street inaugurated in his name: LN Gupta Lane.
Kumud married Kunal Kamran at the age of 19, and joined him in Minnesota soon after. Though she was pursuing a Core Sciences degree in Botany, she was unable to complete her exams with the move to join her husband. Kunal had been here since 1966, to pursue graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, and was a Mechanical Engineer who founded his own company in the 1980’s.
As with most new brides coming from a large combined family, the first year was difficult and lonely, alleviated to some degree, when she started her Undergrad degree course at the University of Minnesota. She temporarily put that on hold when her in-laws came to live with them in Minnesota, and welcomed their son Sujan in 1972 and daughter Poornima in 1976.
GEETA ASHRAM MOVEMENT
One of the proudest pursuits for Kumud and her husband Kunal, with strong encouragement from their in-laws, was their service to the Geeta Ashram movement. Founded by Indian Independence activist Swami Hariharji Maharaj, the movement is rooted in ancient tradition and the Bhagvad Geeta holy text, and encourages a spiritual approach to all aspects of life. In Minnesota, the Geeta Ashram was registered in 1975, with the group meeting at the homes of different members. The membership grew from a dozen families to more than 600, and in 1987 the Kamran’s played a significant role in helping to establish a major Center, to house its offerings and services in Brooklyn Park.
The Geeta was at the core of the family’s foundation. The 12th chapter was recited every evening before dinner, and conversations and birthday blessings centered on the core values of the Geeta. After the Ashram was built, the family attended weekly ‘Satsangs’.
As Kumud’s daughter says “I realize now how much my parents sacrificed. There were no social events, football games or even school events which would stand in the way of the weekly ‘Satsangs’. We learned service: bringing homemade food in large pots to feed 50-100 people, preparing the mandir, serving prasad, and cleaning up. We would spend 3-4 hours there each Sunday.
I continue to see my mother’s commitment to the Ashram and the Ashram ‘family’- only missing events when her mother needs her or the weather does not allow her to drive there”.
Career and Volunteerism
“My mother was always moving! There are very few memories of her actually sitting down and chatting while we were at home” says her son Sujan.
Staying home, bringing up her kids, caring for her in-laws, Kumud still managed to continue her education, and obtained her Bachelors of Science in Chemistry and Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota. Over the subsequent years, she obtained many other certifications that included Green Belt, Mini MBA and Internal Auditor.
She trail-blazed a path for herself as a hands-on Chemical engineer in the early days of the computer ‘printed-circuit board’ manufacturing. She demonstrated that determination and hard work were foundational to progress, and had a stellar career as a Senior Quality Engineer in Product Development, R&D and Design Assurance for companies that ranged from: Honeywell; to Boston Scientific; to St. Jude Medica; to Urology, Inc; to American Medical Systems. Her successful career spanned nearly 30 years, all the while juggling family and a myriad of other obligations.
Kumud finally retired in 2019 at the age of 68, at the insistence of her children. They wanted her to enjoy life! But Kumud could not sit still and dived wholeheartedly into volunteerism, conducting experiments for kids at the Science Museum, tutoring English through the Literary Council to Somali, Thai and Laotian immigrants. This was a continuation of the early volunteering she did when she first arrived in the 1970’s.
Kumud held her kids to the same high standards she had set for her own career, whether it was academics, extracurricular activities or community service. This set the foundation for their role as parents today.
She was the driving force for Sujan to join the Boy Scouts. She foresaw the values alignment between her own principles and scouting, along with social and leadership benefits. She was uncompromising about his attendance to Monday evening Scout meetings.
Similarly, she enabled Poornima to excel at Bharatnatyam classical dance and music.
Sujan lives in San Francisco with his wife and children. After a long and successful career at Intel as an electrical engineer, he now works in Strategic Planning for a start-up company in the ‘Cloud’ chip business. Sujan says “The impact of mom’s compassion, determination and commitment is indelible. She instilled a foundation of self-reliance and commitment to excellence, which guide me across all facets of life”.
Poornima is a respected Pediatrician with a medical degree from Boston University and lives in the Twin Cities area with her husband and two children. “I continue to flash back to my childhood and find my ‘motherly instincts’ replicating her thoughtfulness”.
An Ongoing Chapter
Kumud has had the exemplary ability to simultaneously excel as a wife, parent, professional and community leader. Her son Sujan says “she demonstrates a level of discipline and organization with such graceful efficiency that she was un-phased to talk on the phone, cook four things on the stove and help us with our homework simultaneously. We learned that it may not be possible to do “everything”, but with the right planning and focus, it is possible to accomplish far more than we could otherwise imagine”.
Today, her children “beg” her to put herself first, take better care of herself, and allow them to help her, to little avail. She continues to follow her life long principles of “Seva”, putting other’s needs ahead of her own and is devoted to the care of her 93 year old mother who lives with her, always with a smile on her face.
And, the young Kathak dancer who twirled away as a girl, and performed her last dance as a young bride, at the Diwali celebration of the India Association of Minnesota in 1970, eyes filled with dreams, fulfilled those abundantly, with the greatest humility, in a lifetime of service and give back.
DISCUSSION : Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your comments, either by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’firstname.lastname@example.org’. We will collate all the feedback we receive and share back with you. (And let us know if you wish to remain anonymous). By entering your email at the ‘follow’ prompt at the end of the page, you will be notified when a new story is published.
A. What insights have you gleaned from Kumud’s story?
If you wish to submit your story for consideration, please send an outline with contact information to ’email@example.com’.
AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘ashausa.org’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.