LOS ANGELES, CA - A luminary in SoCal’s academic world Prof. Damodar Ramaji SarDesai, 85, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Jan 16 following a fight with cancer. He is survived by his wife Bhanu and two daughters Dr. Vandana SarDesai and Dr Archana Bindra, his son-in-law Sanjay Bindra and grandson...
SarDesai was born in 1931 in Portuguese-controlled Goa. To his friends and family, he was known as Bala, short for Balaji, after the famed deity at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple. SarDesai’s family is a prominent landowning and politically active family and historically has been involved in the government in Goa. A Konkani speaker, he was also highly proficient in Sanskrit, Portuguese, French, Hindi and Marathi, as well as English. He was raised on the island of Cumbharjua and received his early education from a tutor named Ganesh Shivaram Samant .
He graduated from Wilson College in Bombay in 1952 and then enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Bombay. He received a Master of Arts in 1955 ranking first in Social Sciences for which he was awarded the Sir William Wedderburn Prize.
At the University of Bombay he met his future wife, Bhanu, herself an accomplished academic who co-authored one of SarDesai’s bibliographic studies. They met at Wilson College, became friends and members of a group that gathered at the venerable Royal Asiatic Society of Bombay to listen to lectures and to meet and talk. Overcoming some family resistance to a Konkani-speaker marrying a Gujarati-speaker, they married in Mumbai.
The SarDesais arrived in the US in 1961 as a doctoral student at UCLA. As it happened it would be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Los Angeles. They raised two daughters who are now both medical doctors in California, although they were both schooled, and educated at the undergraduate level, and at medical school, in India. A characteristic of the SarDesais’ life when their children were being schooled in India was rushing back to Mumbai to see them as soon as UCLA’s academic quarter was over and arriving back in Los Angeles at the last possible moment, usually the day before his classes began.
He received his doctorate from UCLA in just four years in 1965 for his dissertation, ‘India’s Relations with Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: 1954-1961’.Thereafter, he was offered an assistant professorship in the department .. He remained at UCLA for the remainder of his career and in retirement lived at his house in Los Angeles . He developed specially close relationships with two professors who would become his colleagues and his respected friends: John S. Galbraith and Stanley Wolpert.
He was an assistant professor for only three years before receiving tenure and promotion to associate professor in 1969.. He became a professor in 1977.
Many of his students rememberhow much time and energy he dedicated to writing letters of recommendation for them and supporting them in other ways over the decades. All of them have a heartfelt sense of gratitude for this which does not diminish with the passage of time. Tributes abound from his students to his selflessness.
One of his former student, Arnold Kaminsky, enjoyed a career in teaching and administration at California State University, Long Beach, a position for which SarDesai was largely responsible for him securing, and in his recollections he says, “One has many gurus in life who collectively shape one’s education, moral and ethical standards, and general demeanor in life. Rarely are these characteristics imbued in a single individual—but that is the case with Damodar SarDesai….[He] has blessed this community with his participation and insights on many levels, and we all applaud that. As his students we were not only fortunate to find so many of life’s gurus wrapped into one selfless, caring individual, but we feel we were blessed to have a second father who helped shape our identities not just as scholars and teachers, but as thoughtful human beings.”
Numerous others have written in a similar vein and hold SarDesai in the highest regard and with the warmest affection. SarDesai’s work has been an inspiration to generations of his students, a major contribution to the world of learning, and to his chosen area of specialization, India, especially its foreign policy with regard to Southeast Asia, imperialism and the history of the modern European empires, and Southeast Asia. The funeral will be held on January 22 from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. at Pacific Crest Cemetery, 2701 182nd Street, Redondo Beach, CA 90278. For more info: 310-370-5891)