Some might say it takes a village to make a family. In the case of the Balasuryans and the Kannans who live as a joint family in Lexington, all it took was a commitment and adherence to what constitutes a family – a home filled with love, compassion, values, service to community along with the ups and downs of daily life.
The two families have been in Lexington for more than 16 years and own a company Vedas, a customized software development firm that grew out of a basement of a clothes retailer in West Medford to the company’s headquarters in Bedford. Sundar Balasuryan who came to the US in 1981 started the business in 1988, and soon was joined by his brother in law Kannan Chidambaram as a partner in 1990. The company has since expanded offering two major software products in Health Care for doctors offices and Club Software for fitness centers in the US as well as operations and office in Chennai, India.
So what was the major reason for the two families to decide living as one family ? Says Sudha Balasuryan, “When we first came here we were living in two condos in West Medford and the men were always meeting at one of our homes to discuss business. My sister Geeta and I were always cooking and having meals in one home and the kids played with each other all the time”. So when the families decided to move to Lexington, they decided to share a home and give it a try. Adds Geeta Kannan, ‘One thing led to another and soon we settled in as one family”. How about challenges, family roles and responsibilities ? Says Geeta, “There sure were plenty of adjustments. The men were working long hours as they were starting their business and missed a lot of weekends with the kids in the growing years but what helped was we had the support of each other. In a way it was hard but it was also when we came together as one family. “
The custom designed beautiful home they now live in Lexington had also some DIY home projects when Sundar and Kannan decided to add a room above the garage. While Sundar concentrated on the design for construction along with ideas from Geeta, and Sudha took care of the shopping and cooking, Kannan who is an outdoor enthusiast steered all the four children Sriram, Vinita, Varsha and Shruti in various sports activities from bike riding, roller blading, tennis, and Karate.
When the children entered middle school, Sudha and Geeta entered into the family business. Geeta took care of web design and sales and Sudha took over most of the accounting. “We had some time now to devote to help outside the home front so we decided to do it” said Geeta. This period was also the time to give back to the community. Extremely supportive of community activities, Sundar became an active volunteer in the Sri Lakshmi temple in Ashland volunteering his tech expertise where Vedas still hosts and maintains the temple website. When the 9/11 tragedy happened, they established a fund to help the fireman and their families in a big way. Soon the Gujarat earthquake followed and Tsunami and in each of these disasters, they donated generously for these causes.In the town itself they have donated to the Cary Memorial Library fund, and other local non profits, NEHTI, the Sankara Netralaya in Chennai as well as AID Boston where they helped ship computers to villages in India. “Here is a family that always shows willingness to help and support for any cause or need but keep a low profile” quips a close friend of the family.
The biggest philanthropic effort that the family is involved is in Udavum Karangal (literally Helping Hands) a charitable organization in India that helps children, homeless, mentally disabled, AIDS patients, and others with financial support, counseling, and educational/vocational training. Started by a visionary named Vidyakar it inspired Sundar Balasuryan who after making a visit to a center returned to the US to start a chapter in Boston in 1993 and raise funds for the cause. Now Geeta Kannan along with Sundar helps in the awareness of this group. It has grown to chapters all over the country with Houston and San Francisco as major fund raisers.
Every year, a benefit concert is held in its name and this year will see Mirabai, a musical directed by Meena Sundaram, at the Keefe Technical High school in Framingham on November 22nd. Says Geeta, “ Udavam Karangal is all about helping the kids and we hope that this musical production which is performed by kids growing up here will serve as an inspiration for them and instill in them a spirit of giving”
The sisters are also involved in many town activities from working in the school PTA’s to activities at the town library and the annual Diwali festival. The festival that is celebrated every year in the town has its roots to the first Diwali party that their four children initiated in 1997 along with Veena Gokhale and her family, another close family friend. “We started with just 10 families and every year it has grown whereas today we have more than 350 people attending the event” says Sudha. Today it has evolved and become part of an association called IAL or the Indian Americans of Lexington, a civic group that hopes to involve itself actively in town affairs.
The family also have a tradition of taking a family vacation every year as part of a “winding down from work and bonding as a family” as Geeta puts it. From 1995 to now, they have made trips to Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Greece, Bermuda to name a few and a trip to India every two years. “The children love the trips to India especially as it keeps them in constant touch with their culture and language”, says Sudha.
Sundar who is deeply religious has inculcated into the family some spiritual traditions. The children learnt from an early age to listen to the Vishnu Sahasranamam and various slokas and the practice of saying a prayer before dinner is part of the daily ritual. Sundar also recently fulfilled his lifelong dream of making a trip to Manasarover. “ It was an experience of a lifetime and although it was difficult, I am glad I did it” he says. He has also recently put together information on the latitude and longitude of temples in India, a valuable project that he hopes will be useful to pilgrims.
“It has been a journey that we never regret “sums up Kannan Chidambaram as I get ready to leave. “ At my office today, the Fedex man came in with a package and jokingly said to me, I hope it is full of checks. I told him that it was and for a good cause because it was made out to Udavam Karangal by generous donors. He was so pleased when I told him and immediately said he wanted to get involved. When we look back, these are the moments that we share as a family and feel it is worth all this.”