Through the eyes of his friends
On Sept. 17, family and friends spoke at Karan Nevatia’s memorial service in Altadena. Here are four eulogies that were delivered by a few of Karan’s friends from the Daily Trojan.
Emma Peplow: ‘Karan’s life was a gift’
In her poem “Uses of Sorrow,” Mary Oliver writes, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness / It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
A friend, who is a lot wiser than me, sent this to me the day after Karan’s passing.
I read it and thought, “That’s a beautiful sentiment, but there’s no gift here. We were given a box full of darkness, and that’s the end of this poem. There’s no second stanza, no lesson, no sermon, no reason.”
But in the last few days, I’ve thought a lot about the idea of gifts. The gifts we give to each other and the ones we give to ourselves. Karan was by his very nature a giver. He gave to others but rarely to himself.
I remember the very first time I formally met Karan. I was interviewing him for the position of news editor of the Daily Trojan. I was very jaded about the idea of coming back for a second semester as editor-in-chief. I had been selfishly and petulantly sulking all day about losing my last semester of college to long hours and hard work. I was less than thrilled at the prospect of spending my afternoon interviewing a freshman for a page editor position, thinking about all of the energy I would have to expend over the course of the next semester to show them the ropes.
Karan knocked on my door and his face erupted into a smile. His curls were tucked away under a newsboy cap. “The newsboy cap is a little on the nose for a news editor interview,” I thought, but gestured him in anyway. I indolently recited my very boilerplate questions and then asked at the end if he had any questions for me. I was bracing myself for him to ask what the time commitment would be like, when he would hear back or any of the other selfish questions I myself asked when I was in his shoes. But instead, he asked, “What’s your favorite part about being on the Daily Trojan?” I paused for a moment, surprised. And then spent a half hour recounting everything I loved about the newspaper. It was like he knew I needed a reminder of why I loved this job. He went out of his way to make space for me in his job interview.
And he would keep doing this for the three years I knew him. Karan was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known — much smarter than me, as evidenced by him absolutely destroying me in the crossword puzzles we would do every late night we spent at the Daily Trojan newsroom. He was always two steps ahead of me. But even more than that, he could figure out what I needed before I did and would do anything to give it to me.
For example, he single-handedly commissioned the “Emma Peplow Award for News Excellence” to be given out each semester at the Daily Trojan banquet. Not because I deserved it — but because I think he knew I thought I didn’t. He was objectively a better news editor than I could have ever been, and yet he gave that gift to me and never once considered it for himself.
In the last year of his life, Karan and I talked more days than not. And yet, even when his pain reached unbearable levels, he was still decentering himself and recentering me. He was asking questions about me, like that very first day we met in my Daily Trojan office. I had always thought it was a master class in empathy — and I still truly believe that — but I also think it was deflection. He was giving gifts to others he did not or could not give to himself.
I thought about this a lot in the days after Karan’s passing—trying desperately to make sense of Mary Oliver’s words of how a box of darkness can become a gift. And then, one night, I was lying in bed, petulantly sulking like I was the afternoon I met Karan for the first time, when my friend Tomás said something to me over the phone that made it all come together. He said, “Emma, we were so lucky to have him for the time we did.”
I thought about this for hours after we hung up. The idea of luck and serendipity and magic. How rare it is to find and how much rarer it is to hold onto. The gift that Karan gave to those who knew and loved him was the gift of unconditional friendship. Of joy and laughter and validation and encouragement. He was a supernova on Earth. His life was brief, but his spirit was all-consuming. His light was too bright, too powerful, too awesome to last. But for those of us who witnessed it, we got to see a little bit of magic on Earth.
Karan gave gifts his whole life, but in his death, he gave us one last gift. He brought us back to each other. The nature of college, and really of early adulthood as a whole, is that going your separate ways is part of the design. It can feel like everything has an ending, but it is cleverly disguised by everything also feeling like a beginning. People come into our lives and they neatly exit, and we move on without goodbyes or partings that feel sufficient or correlative to the love we gave and received during our time together. In the last few weeks, I have reconnected with so many friends and people I love. And it’s because of Karan. Karan loved nothing more than to make other people happy and to bring people together. And though his death is grief-drenched, saturated in pain and confusion and sadness — though it is a box of darkness — being together is the gift. Separated by time zones and seasons of life, we were brought back to each other once again to say a goodbye that none of us could fully wrap our arms around on our own. It’s the last gift he gave us after a lifetime of gifts.
So, maybe Mary Oliver, in all of her wisdom, was right, and I was wrong. Karan’s life was a gift. Our ability to love and be loved by him was a gift. But maybe turning this box of darkness into a gift isn’t about us receiving at all; it’s about carrying a piece of Karan’s legacy with us and giving to those we love. Making them feel as special as he made us feel. The gift is how we follow in his example.
I think back to how unhappy I was the day I met Karan about the idea of spending another semester as editor of the Daily Trojan when I really felt like I was ready to say goodbye to it. And yet, that box of darkness turned out to be the greatest gift — because I met Karan. He changed the course of my life and asked for nothing in return. He gave me the tools to grieve and cope with his loss, maybe without even knowing it.
I want to conclude with a gift I’ve given to myself recently. When I think about Karan, I think about how much he loved to be in the open air, his head nestled in the soft grass, watching the sunset. I hope on that final night, he watched the sunset one last time — and that, despite the smoke from the wildfires, it was beautiful. I hope he was barefoot, lying in a grassy field, and the air felt warm and buoyant like it only does at the end of the summer. I hope the sky was overwhelming and he felt at peace. I hope the L.A. skyline was saturated in oranges and pinks and purples and the world felt still for a moment. And in fact, I hope all of this so much that I choose to believe it, as a gift to myself and as a gift to Karan. He deserved one last perfect sunset, one more instant of magic before his own magic was used up. I choose to remember him there.
Each sunset will be a reminder of the gifts he gave to me, and this image of him in his last moments, barefoot and smiling, facing the L.A. skyline, is a gift I’ve given to myself. In my mind, Karan will forever be a beautiful boy soaking in the colors of a sunset.
I hope this for all of you too. I hope you can think of all of the gifts his life gave to you instead of the boxes of darkness. I hope in interviews you take the time to ask the interviewer about themselves. I hope you ask people questions more days than not, even if just to make them feel loved and valued. I hope on your worst days you award yourself the “Karan Nevatia Award for Excellence” — not necessarily even because you deserve it, but because he thought you did. But most of all, I hope you can give yourself the gift of remembering the gift of Karan’s life and seeing past the box of darkness that is grief.
Thank you for everything, Karan. You’re always with me. You always will be. You’re a gift. And I love you.
For one last time, it’s you and me and all of our friends together in print.
Emma Peplow served as Karan’s editor-in-chief on the Daily Trojan from Fall 2017 to Spring 2018.
Tomás Mier: ‘My dream partner’
When I met Karan, I was a little jealous. I’m not gonna lie. Karan had this infectious smile and lovable personality that I only wish I had.
He walked into the Daily Trojan newsroom and had this presence that just set him apart from everyone else. He made everyone feel like they belonged.
I guess I felt threatened by him … seriously. I was like, ‘Who is this new dude taking my spotlight? The eyes are supposed to be on me!! ’
Oh, and he was obsessed with a girl group?? That was supposed to be MY thing.
But I soon realized — how the heck am I not supposed to love this guy? He was the perfect addition to our newsroom. Sometimes, we were in there for hours — well into the night — and we needed someone like Karan to put a smile on our faces or hands on our shoulders … Karan gave the best massages.
He’d go around the center table and offer to give us the most relaxing shoulder rubs after a long day. That was just one of the more obvious things that he’d do to make everyone feel better, but he ALWAYS found a way to be helpful and loving.
We often bickered about which girl group was better: Fifth Harmony or TLC? I never admitted it out loud — but he was always right. (but that stays between us here today, OK?)
Our “girl group rivalry” even led us to writing a silly press release to the newsroom to make it clear that there was only love between us two. And there really was.
Karan was great at puns and alliteration and loved filling out crossword puzzles. (I always chose to let him fill them out on his own while I just sat next to him and watched because my limited vocabulary simply provided no support as he whizzed through them.)
Perhaps we weren’t the best puzzle partners, but Karan and I made the perfect reporting team. Two years ago, when USC’s president announced that he’d resign — Karan and I worked together to write and report a breaking news story. We were speedy yet thorough. And we even got an award for our reporting.
One time, he was assigned a story to write with someone else, and I remember him messaging me saying he’d rather work with me because we were a “dream team.”
Today, I miss my dream partner.
Before leaving, Karan said his legacy was up to us. And what a marvelous legacy he left.
At the Daily Trojan, he started not one podcast but THREE all on his own. He created a whole department from scratch with the best foundation for it to continue for years to come. During his last semester at the Daily Trojan, he founded a wellness department where — even if he was going through his own struggles — he would schedule times to check in with every single person in the newsroom. That initiative is one that other student organizations on campus now emulate. It’s Karan’s doing that led to it. And that was just the kind of person that he was.
Karan also told us that as long as we remembered him, he’d be happy. And how could we not remember him? From his powerful writing to his beautiful personality to his interesting singing …
We’ve all heard Karan belt the lyrics to “No Scrubs.” He’d put in so much heart singing along to T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye. His notes were off-tune, but his renditions were perfect.
They were perfect, because they were Karan’s.
At Daily Trojan gatherings, Karan was the star of the show. Whoever was in charge of the playlist that night would sneakily add “No Scrubs” to the queue and once the first few notes started playing, a circle of flashing phones would instantly emerge around him. Everyone would sing along and post Karan to their Snapchats.
That’s how I’m going to remember him.
About a year ago, Karan was interviewed by NPR about “No Scrubs.” During it, he said that it made him feel good when he saw his performances bring smiles to people’s faces.
In the interview he said, “Something I worry about after college is losing touch with people again. And I think that ‘No Scrubs’ will continue to be something that will keep us connected.”
And he was right. “No Scrubs” will always be a reminder of the beautiful friend, son and partner we had in Karan.
My friendship with Karan shifted into brotherhood last summer when I asked Karan to be the managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Without hesitation, he’d take on more responsibilities than his job entailed just to make my job easier.
The following semester was one of the toughest for Karan — and for me as well. His mind was weighing heavily on him, and I worried for him every single day. One night, I sprinted from the DT newsroom to Karan’s apartment after he texted me that he didn’t feel well. I needed to be there for him like he had been there for me.
We talked for hours and he explained to me how sometimes he felt that he wasn’t meant to be in this world, that he had more to offer to the universe. His thoughts consumed him and I never knew what to respond.
During his life, I tried desperately to protect him, to be his guardian, if I could. But now that he’s gone, the roles are reversed. Now, he’s my protector. He’s my guardian. And my memories of him provide me comfort. I’m going to pray to him and talk to him. I’m going to ask him to send me a hint of his wisdom, a hint of his passion, a hint of his courage.
Karan, wherever you are, I hope you’re doing OK, buddy. And I hope you’re in the arms of your favorite person to ever exist: Lisa Left Eye. I hope that you’re listening to your favorite podcasts. I hope that there are enough crossword puzzles for you to fill out. I hope that you’re looking down at us now, smiling because so many people love you. And we’ll NEVER stop loving you.
I wasn’t ready to let you go, but I just hope that you’re happy.
Thank you Smita and Ranajit for bringing such a beautiful person into my life.
Karan, thank you for being a big part of my life.
Tomás Mier served as Karan’s news editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief on the Daily Trojan from Fall 2017 to Fall 2019.
Natalie Bettendorf: ‘Someone who listens’
Karan and I are sitting on the balcony of the Daily Trojan newsroom. The windows are open, framing the two of us sitting on the ledge and facing the production bustle. It’s evening, kind of warm out. You can see the buildings of downtown to our right, sparkling from sunset. Jonathon, the video editor, tilts his head at us, ducked behind the camera. He’s shooting our podcast recruitment video.
I’m telling you a story with my voice. Karan loved stories as much as any of us. But he also held such an affinity for the importance of audio, of listening to a human voice, in journalistic endeavors. When Jonathon asked what Karan loved about podcasts in that moment, he said simply, and these are his words: “It’s kind of cliché now to say that audio is intimate. Sound is one of the few senses where it’s immersive, whereas with vision you can only see ‘this much.’ With your ears, you can hear all around you. Like I can hear some construction happening in the back, I can hear people talking in the newsroom. I can hear myself talking as well. So that’s why I think that it’s such a good way to impart news upon people.”
Karan had the most faith in me when it came to my work at Daily Trojan. He was my news editor in my freshman year. He encouraged me to be his assistant when he re-launched the podcast section. He approached me with his idea of a Wellness Initiative for the staff, and all of last summer, we worked together on developing a plan for reconstructing the ways we talk and write about mental health in the newsroom.
Karan listened. He listened to editors talk about what was overwhelming them in one-on-one meetings. He listened to soothing sounds when he himself was overwhelmed. He listened to The 1975. He listened to true crime, health and world news podcasts. He listened, a lot, to Left Eye. He sat next to me in the Ace Hotel when we both listened to Michael Barbaro — not through headphones on “The Daily,” but in person. He listened to families and friends who had lost loved ones and wrote beautiful obituaries for our paper. He listened, and he wrote. He listened, and he sang.
His most prized possession were those headphones, you know the ones I’m talking about. The comfy black ones with green rims. I wish Karan could listen to the sound of the ocean, that or the songs waiting for him on his Discover Weekly playlist. I wish he could still listen to laughter, perhaps his own. He had some of my favorite qualities that a person can have. Most notably, someone who listens is someone who cares. And I know how grateful he was to you all for listening too. Thank you.
Natalie Bettendorf helped launch the podcast department and wellness initiative at the Daily Trojan alongside Karan from Fall 2018 to Fall 2019.
Kylie Cheung: ‘Such a spark of brilliance’
Karan has always been larger than life. He had the biggest hugs, the brightest smiles, the greatest capacity for love and warmth and joy. Even in this extraordinarily difficult time, what I’ll remember most vividly is how when we were together, we could be our silliest selves, our goofiest selves, our happiest selves, even our saddest selves — more than anything, we could just be ourselves, whatever we were feeling.
In the time we spent together, I could have spent hours listening to him speak with unfiltered passion about the South Central community, education, the students and youth he volunteered with, journalism, storytelling, podcasts, wellness, music and, as I’m sure you’ll hear from other people here today, Harry Potter and TLC. It was a joy to listen to someone who cared so much and loved so much, someone with such a spark of brilliance, originality, compassion. And no one in my life has ever been a more supportive, attentive listener than Karan was, not only to me but to anyone who was lucky enough to occupy a place in his enormously loving heart. Time and again, he was someone who was willing to uproot his life to support those he loved through anything — there was nothing more important to him than making sure those around him knew how loved and special they were.
My time at USC, my life as a whole — there is so much I couldn’t have done without this special, special person. He encouraged me to follow my dreams. He reminded me to take care of myself. And looking forward, I know everything I do for the rest of my life will be to honor the time we had together, to honor the values and the love we shared. I am going to hold Karan in my heart forever, as close and as tight as one of his iconic hugs. And I am praying for everyone here today and everyone who loves him.
Kylie Cheung served as Karan’s associate managing editor on the Daily Trojan in Spring 2018.
Read Karan Nevatia’s obituary here.