The Rhodes we take: His sister reveals a different side of Varun Sivaram

December 8, 2010 — by Uttara Sivaram

Uttara Sivaram

It’s funny—I’ve spent these past three years trying to ignore the legacy that my brother, Varun Sivaram, left behind. I’ve gone to great lengths to make my own path and pioneer my own route to success, carefully avoiding all the activities he partook in (which, I assure you, did not leave many options).

But in light of his incredible accomplishment of becoming a Rhodes Scholar, the spotlight is most deservedly on him. (For more standard stories about his achievement, you can navigate to the Saratoga Falcon’s coverage
of it, the Mercury News
story, and"> India West’s article). But for a slightly different angle on what has already been streamed through all kinds of media, I’ve written a small piece about the brother who, I regret to say, I have spoken very little about.

My 11-year-old sister, Saya, and I retain a picture of Varun that is different than the ones everyone else seems to paint. He is unquestionably an eloquent student leader, a passionate proponent of green technology, an enthusiastic dancer and an occasional model for male undergarments (an undertaking in the name of charity that has resulted in blackmail-worthy photos and deeply disturbed parents.)

But as a kid, he was a different character, an asthmatic, shy and painfully skinny boy with very little common sense—indeed, he believed himself to be vegetarian although his favorite food was pepperoni pizza. In addition, terrified of the smallest things. Once, at a restaurant, he had dropped his spoon on the floor. Too frightened of asking the waiter for a new one, he spent the rest of the night trying to eat soup with a fork.

And while I marvel at how much he has changed, I realize that in fact, he hasn’t changed all that much. He has always been a brilliant academic; in fact, his elementary and middle school teachers once admitted to my parents that they would often have to re-read their textbooks at night to prepare for Varun’s next barrage of questions.

He continues to pace while he thinks, chew his pencils to pieces, chase after girls incessantly and often unnecessarily, hide at the sight of a dog or cat and wear horribly mismatched clothing, often backwards or inside-out, usually because he was thinking of how to better mount two solar cells in a wafer or how to deliver a certain pick-up line.

No matter how many awards or distinctions he receives, he will always be the guy who still doesn’t know how to use dishwasher or change a tire. He will always be the guy who could get lost between his room and the kitchen. He will always be the guy who hates when I wear short skirts or go to dances, stalks my Facebook wall in search of gossip, calls me for a laugh or advice and comes home whenever I need help on a big test or midterm. He will always be my big brother.

So I can deny his presence in my life all I want, but this will always be fruitless. In one way or another, I will forever be known as Varun Sivaram’s sister. I’m hoping, that some day, he’ll be known as Uttara Sivaram’s brother. But whether or not that happens is irrelevant now—all that matters is that he’s off to Oxford, about to embark on perhaps the greatest academic experience offered to a student. So good luck, bro—I’m so proud of you.


Wow. Why did you rip your brother like that?

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