Sulochana Viswanathan, most recently of Pasadena, passed away February 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. Preternaturally self-composed, humble, and instinctively alert to the needs of others, generations of Sulochana’s extended family and numerous friends honor her reflective mind, wise counsel, and good humor.
Born November 25, 1932, to Rukmini Ammal and Dr. K. Rangaswami Iyer, Chief of the Medical Staff at the Army Hospital at Taungoo, Burma (Myanmar), Sulochana’s earliest memories were of her dearly loved family of parents and six brothers and sisters. Decades later, as her siblings gathered from disparate cities in India and around the world, they would invariably recount the family’s daring 2,700-mile journey from Burma to their ancestral home in Tiruchirappalli, South India, in the days leading to World War II.
Dr. Rangaswami Iyer spearheaded the crossing amidst armed conflict by native insurgents, invading contingents, and colonial troops as each attempted to stake claim to the then British colony. Her older siblings formed a chain and with absolute trust in their bold, shrewd, and quick-witted father trekked more than 650 miles from Taungoo to Rangoon (Yangon) to Calcutta (Kolkata) before boarding a steamer at the Bay of Bengal headed to south India. Years later, Sulochana said her parents’ steadfastness as they safely shepherded their children through war zones provided her profound lessons in managing life’s inevitable servings of pain and grief. This librarian and bibliophile would remind her four daughters —- in a manner similar to Kipling’s great poem — to be resolute, true to one’s self, to trust one’s judgment, guard one’s dignity, and have faith.
Sulochana’s deepest commitment was to her family. In 1954, she married Muthuswami Viswanathan, a civil engineer, attorney, lauded Los Angeles arbitrator, and former judge of the L.A. Superior Court and Pasadena Municipal Court to whom she remained devoted up to his death in 2016. The couple immigrated to North America in the mid-1960s with hope, a vision for a new future and knowing absolutely no one. Years later while reflecting upon American history, she recognized the sheer force of will that she and women like herself had summoned rearing their families in a new land. “I was a pioneer woman,” she often said. Indeed, she was the first in the Los Angeles Indian-American community to open her home for “Golu,” today a widely practiced annual celebration featuring the display of large numbers of clay figurines that illustrate scenes from Hindu texts. She also was the first in the area to hold an “utsavum,” or celebration, of the works of the great 18th century Carnatic music composer, Thyagaraja.
Throughout her life, Sulochana championed the power of education. Good study habits and weekly trips to the local public library were de rigueur in the Viswanathan household. With her encouragement, her daughters earned graduate degrees and multiple degrees and led professional careers in fields as disparate as engineering, public affairs, tax law, and technology management.
As her youngest child entered kindergarten, Sulochana also headed to the classroom and completed additional degrees, this time in history and library science. She was one of very few Indian-American women of her generation to pursue higher studies while rearing a family. And, she did so with dependable efficiency, setting the dining table before her morning classes with after-school snacks, always homemade. Sulochana realized another coveted dream when she applied to and was selected as Librarian at the University of Tulsa; the John Marshall College of Law; the University of Illinois (medical school), where she also completed graduate courses for a Master’s in Library Science; and, Occidental College. She was recognized for her skills in producing original cataloging of foreign language books to specialty medical texts.
Following thirty years of service, Sulochana entered retirement eager to perfect hobbies that always had provided her cheer. As a very young child, she learned to crochet, knit, and sew, decoding on her own complex instructions in needlework books. Up to her final days, Sulochana continued to create reams of decorative crocheted pieces.
Sulochana was widely admired for her outstanding culinary skills. Each daughter knew that their Mother’s encyclopedic knowledge of recipes and techniques could set straight any kitchen crisis. And while each had their Mother’s number on their phones’ “favorites” feature, Sulochana continued to dial her daughters’ home, cellular, or work phone numbers from memory. Sulochana’s musings with her brood would range from shrewd observations on recent American presidential elections to her deep understanding of the theory of classical Indian music. For years, she studied the South Indian multi-stringed instrument, the veena, under famed Carnatic musician, Geeta Bennett.
In her mid-eighties, Sulochana marched into a local computer store, purchased a laptop, and completed several chapters of an autobiography. To the end, she bubbled enthusiastically about her many plans, including international travel, which she doggedly pursued into her late eighties traversing cities in southern India on days-long car trips to greet relatives. She had other hobbies, too, including curating an extensive collection of first edition books that she scoured with the finely tuned radar of a treasure hunter.
She was naturally curious about many subjects and a lifelong learner. Her core beliefs are honored by her children and grandchildren who express deep gratitude to Sulochana for her dignity and ethical conduct. Her daughters further note that Sulochana’s devotion to her family; her joy in creating beautiful, well-functioning, well- fed homes; and the pleasure and confidence she gained from reading avidly and widely feature in their own households. Sulochana leaves behind her four daughters: Renuka (Balakrishnan) of Upland, and her three daughters of San Marino, Usha (Sekhar), Sreelata (David), and Subhadra (Gerry). Sulochana holds deeply in her heart her grandchildren: Sara Kokila, Jagannathan, and Janaki. Sulochana also leaves behind her adored younger brother R.R. Krishnan and sister Sakunthala.