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'Rajeev was such a humble human being'

June 9, 2009 15:49 IST

'Rajeev was such a humble human being'

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Rujuta Paradkar in San Mateo County

At 92 Atherlon Avenue, there was uncanny silence.

Silicon Valley's finest residents waited in a long queue at Rajeev Motwani's residence to offer condolences to the bereaved family at a private memorial service held on Monday evening.

Motwani, a celebrated professor and director of graduate studies in the computer science department at Stanford University, passed away in a freak drowning accident on Friday.

Even in its utter grief, the Motwani family was composed and received the guests who had gathered to pay homage to the departed soul with equanimity.

Rajeev's wife, Asha Jadeja, along with their two daughters, Anya (16) and Naitri (3), met the guests gathered on lawn outside their two-storeyed house. Motwani's two brothers and in-laws had flown in to California, as had many other relatives and friends.


Image: Mourners meet with Rajeev Motwani's wife, Asha Jadeja, to express their sorrow.
Photographs: Rujuta Paradkar
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On the lawn at the Motwani home, white sheets had been spread out and turned into an Indian-style baithak for guests to sit on and offer a silent prayer.

Rows of chairs were filled in spite of the fact that guests were requested to stay only for 15 minutes to avoid traffic. Amongst the scores of people who attended the service were entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, hi-tech industry colleagues and Prof Motwani's students from Stanford University.

Asheem Chandan, a close family friend, said: "Hundreds of people have come to offer condolences. It just shows how dearly he was loved and respected."

The street leading to the Motwani residence, in the quiet suburb of Atherton in San Mateo County, was jammed with traffic.

The front gate of the house, however, remained open for all visitors for three hours.


Image: Silicon Valley's finest residents waited in a long queue at Rajeev Motwani's residence to offer condolences.
Photographs: Rujuta Paradkar
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'Rajeev was such a humble human being'

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A montage of Rajeev's photos with his family streamed continuously on a big TV screen and Gujarati bhajan and spiritual melodies played in the back ground.

A mourner present at the service said, "From the memorial service one can make out the life Rajeev led: quiet, peaceful and full of friends and family."

A couple, who moved to the Silicon Valley a few years ago but knew the family back in India, attended the funeral. "We were newbies when we moved here. But we knew Asha's family back in Ahmedabad. Rajeev helped us a lot with the little things. He always had time to spare, no matter how busy he was with his work. Rajeev was such a humble human being. Even while offering his opinion or advice, he was so soft-spoken. He was a pillar of support for the community."

The 47-year-old professor is also famous for mentoring and advising Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who were his students at the Stanford University and later built Google Inc. Prof Motwani worked directly on the algorithms research that led to Google search engine.

He was one of the youngest professors teaching at the Stanford. His love for teaching and discussing the latest in technology is widely known amongst his students.


Image: Motwani's students at the Stanford University gathered to pay homage.
Photographs: Rujuta Paradkar
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A Stanford student attending the service remembered Prof. Motwani as one of his favourite teachers. He said: "He was the most unassuming person. He always had time for his students. I last met him after the semester ended and discussed my study. He was so knowledgeable and yet he was a student at heart, always wanting to learn new things. We will miss him. A lot."

Not only was Motwani an early investor in Google and PayPal Inc, he also served as special advisor to Sequoia Capital and, informally, for many other start-ups and venture firms. As an angel investor, he backed companies such as Aster Data Systems Inc, CastTV Inc, Jaxtr Inc, and StumbleUpon Inc, in addition to several others that were acquired.

A start-up entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, present at the condolence ceremony, said she was devastated to hear about the tragedy. "The news has really hit Silicon Valley hard. I last met Rajeev a couple of weeks ago at his house to discuss a project. He used to work out in the gym, and looked perfectly healthy. If only he knew how to swim. It's shocking to imagine he is no more," she said.

Motwani's neighbour said: "This is a very difficult time for his family. This was so unexpected. People have so many good memories of him. He was genuinely helpful and touched so many lives."

Several people in the industry paid tribute to Motwani. At a conference on Friday, angel investor Ron Conway took the stage and requested a one-minute silence as a tribute to Motwani.


Image: 92 Atherlon Avenue, Rajeev Motwani's residence in San Mateo County.
Photographs: 92 Atherlon Avenue, Rajeev Motwani's residence in San Mateo County.
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The blogosphere and the Internet have been swamped with a flurry of activity after Motwani's death. Google co-founder, Sergey Brin took to his personal blog this weekend after a nine month hiatus to pay homage to his mentor. "Of all the faculty at Stanford, it is with Rajeev that I have stayed the closest and I will miss him dearly."

Brin wrote that Motwani's "legacy and personality lives on in the students, projects, and companies he has touched. Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it."

David Hornik, a partner at August Capital, where Motwani attended partner meetings wrote: "Motwani worked tirelessly, meeting anyone and everyone who requested an audience with him."

In his blog, Kevin Burton, CEO of Spinn3r, a web crawler and social media aggregation company, writes "It's always sad when someone passes away but when it's someone who has contributed so much to the industry it's even more of a loss."

The funeral service arrangements have not yet been announced. However, family members and well wishers will be organising a public memorial at Stanford University in two weeks.


Image: Rajeev Motwani
Photographs: The web site of Rajeev Motwani
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