Kiran J. Desai

by Lynn McMillen
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Dr. Kiran Desai Dr. Kiran J. Desai, a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, and esteemed educator, passed away peacefully on July 3, 2024. Born on November 30, 1943, in the vibrant city of Mumbai, then colonial India, Dr. Desai was the cherished son of Jayant and Saral Desai and loving sibling to Nayana Shah, Rajen Desai, and Darshana Gupta.

From a young age, Dr. Desai was filled with curiosity and a zest for life. He was an active philatelist, collecting stamps gifted by his father which he kept to this day! As a dedicated Boy Scout, he was meticulous and thoughtful – a trait that continued and earned him the affectionate nickname “Dogra” in college. His adventurous spirit took him to London for the Boy Scout 9th World Jamboree. In college, his athletic prowess shone as he won a gold medal in breaststroke swimming and excelled in water polo.

Dr. Desai’s quest for knowledge led him to pursue higher education fervently. He earned his undergraduate degree from Baroda University, a master’s degree from Brooklyn Polytechnic (now part of NYU), and a PhD in Business Logistics from Penn State.

In 1968, Dr. Desai, armed with determination and accompanied by a close childhood friend, Dilip Patel, moved to the United States. Starting with humble meals of bread and canned chickpeas, he quickly found his footing, making his first home at 66 Pineapple Street in Brooklyn. In 1971, he married the love of his life, Darshana. The couple moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1972, where they built a warm and loving home, raising two wonderful children, Aashish (born 1974) and Shefaali (born 1978).

Dr. Desai was a passionate and dedicated educator, and tenured professor. He taught at various institutions, including MTSU, University of Memphis, McNeese State, and Louisiana Tech. His commitment to his students went beyond academics; he often took them out for pizza, ensuring they felt safe and welcomed. His dedication to education and his students was unwavering, and he left a lasting impact on countless lives.

A kind and thoughtful soul, Dr. Desai always focused on the best in people. His love for water sports remained throughout his life. He became a certified scuba diver (while the family was on a trip to India, so he didn’t have to get Darshana’s permission!), meticulously preparing for months before his first dive in the Florida Keys.

As an ISKCON devotee, he sought association and shelter of exalted sanyasis and devotees alike. He never missed Geeta classes and found great comfort in his faith as a dedicated and devout Hindu.

Dr. Desai was a lifelong learner and a tinkerer who loved to understand and solve problems. He was an ardent fan of Bond movies, Perry Mason, and Hogan’s Heroes. His passions extended to travel, model trains, and astronomy.

Dr. Desai was a kind, gentle, and loving husband to Darshana, always ensuring her happiness. He was a proud and devoted father who prioritized his children’s well-being and opportunities above all else. He adored his children’s spouses, Shraddha (Aashish’s wife) and Todd (Shefaali’s husband), as his own, and was a doting grandfather to Anusha. Despite his struggle with Parkinson’s, his face would light up with joy whenever his precious Anusha was near.

His love for ice cream (particularly Breyer’s Butter Pecan), root beer, pizza, and mangoes was well-known among his family and friends.

Dr. Kiran J. Desai leaves behind a legacy of love, kindness, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge. His joyful spirit and unwavering dedication to his family, students, and passions will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

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