Cmde Subramaniam Shyamsundar, submariner and one of the finest officers from Ocean’s Best / 40th Integrated Cadets Course (40 ICC), departed on his final voyage at about 2100h on Feb 25, 2021. The officer was at home in Chennai when he suffered a massive cardiac arrest. He was rushed to the nearby Military Hospital but could not be revived. Serving as Naval Officer-in-Charge (Tamil Nadu) and Chief Staff Officer to the Flag Officer Tamil Nadu Naval Area (CSO to FOTNA), Shyam was an operational man with an unending list of naval responsibilities.
There are coursemates and then there are few 2AM friends. In every course, every group, there will be a handful whom you can dial any time of the day or night. Shyam would be somewhere on top of that list for friends, shipmates and family. He would go out of his way to help complete strangers. His big, hairy frame & baritone hid beneath it a golden heart.
Shyam leaves behind a loving family that has touched the extremities of love and trauma. For Meenakshi and their three adorable daughters Deeksha, Aneeksha & Rasika, life will never be the same again. Shyam’s parents’ grief is unfathomable. The ultimate tragedy of losing the only son, a pillar of support in greying years, bears no description.
This is not the first time tragedy has visited the Shyamsundar family. In 2013, while serving as Executive Officer of Indian Navy’s prized acquisition INS Jalashwa (ex-USS Trenton) in Vizag, Shyam lost his first wife Karpagam (Kapi for us) to a botched-up surgery. Deeksha, their first-born, then in her early teens, had to grow up overnight to take the helm as lady of the house; her younger sibling Aneeksha was just a toddler then. Shyam had a solid case to take the culpable to the cleaners. Instead, he paddled grief-stricken families on both sides to safe shores with amazing grace and fortitude. In his world, there was no distinction between service and family.
God’s hand works in strange ways. Rising from the lowest of lows, Shyam met Meenakshi, a passionate teacher who was healing from her own wounds, few years later. Sometimes dark clouds of tragedy carry within it seeds of a new beginning. And so it was for Shyam and Meena. They tied the knot few years later. A jewel from Meena’s side, Rasika, was added to the beautiful family. Kapi lived on in our thoughts while Shyam and Meena picked up the broken pieces of their life, with the best interests of the children always at heart. They have been a beacon of hope; proof that marriages are indeed made in heaven.
I was uniquely fortunate to be present at both the weddings, but missed with deep regret two untimely funerals that followed. I was on a deputation to Italy when Kapi breathed her last. The tragic news broke on our course group when a small gang from Ocean’s Best were celebrating ’25 years reunion’ — a party Shyam skipped to respond to calls of duty and family. A pall of gloom fell over the proceedings at Goa.
Shyam pulled through it all; always putting service before self. ‘A selfless workaholic who doted on his family’ seems like an appropriate description. Shyam had the uncanny ability to make any seat he occupied a hot seat. Yet, amidst all the storms brewing in his personal life, the navy never bore a single unproductive moment from this consummate professional with a Dolphin badge.
Somewhere, the big equation of life must solve itself. You can only give so much blood and sweat while taking relentless stress in return. A glass of drink or a stick of nicotine may feel like an anaesthetic, but it can hardly extend the hourglass of life. I gave up smoking four years before Kapi passed away. Today, Shyam’s reply on WhatsApp after I put out a blog about my struggle with nicotine stared out of my phone grimly when I scrolled back to a 2019 conversation: “I am also sincerely trying, buddy!”.
Shyam & me (he used to call me Pisha) spent many months chasing files in the monkey-infested corridors of ‘A Block Hutments’ in IHQ MoD, New Delhi. He was to submarine arm what I was to aviation. Despite having to pull out of the cadre rather early due to medical issues, Shyam was inextricably wedded to the submarine arm. Drawing deeply on our cigarettes, we often rued the ‘Delhi way‘ of doing business. Some cases we fought saw fruition; many melted into the acrid, soulless air of Delhi like smoke rings. Service headquarters work is hard cerebral work. I would like to think Shyam died a little each time a case hit a reef in North or South Block. This often happens to people who work with maniacal dedication. But Shyam never gave up. That streak was alien to his DNA. I sensed sometime then that maybe the dice was getting loaded against his health.
My last meeting with Shyam in Command Hospital (CHAF), Bengaluru, just after the hard lockdowns of Mar-May 2020, was another sign that perhaps his health wasn’t holding up to the stresses and vagaries higher ranks impose on conscientious officers. He had pulled down considerably. But the sparkle in his eyes, the warm bear hugs and loud guffaws were still intact. Next to him sat doting Meenakshi, ever watchful and caring for the golden heart. I never realised our promise to meet again outside the sanitised corridors of Officers’ Ward CHAF will remain unfulfilled.
In his passing, his family, the navy and submarine arm has lost an understated powerhouse; an ever-willing strokesman who always pulled the hardest; balancing work and life until the twain could be balanced no more. Stuck between the call of duty and Covid restrictions, many of us will not be able to reach Chennai before the embers on his pyre subside. Those who do, carry a million good wishes and collective prayers for the Shyamsundar family. Ocean’s Best & 40 ICC will miss those big shoulders we always relied upon.
Rest in peace, Shyam. The golden heart lives on.
With Shyam’s passing, the 40 ICC band of brothers is down six members. Five were either aviators or training to be one (Partha, Gaaru, Dutta, Sahai & Essel). Shyamsundar was a submariner. We stand with the families.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2021. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.