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A Conversation with Sirisha Narayana | See previous interviews

Sirisha Narayana
Assistant Clinical Professor

Sirisha Narayana

How do you begin each day? Do you have a wake-up ritual?

I rarely have a true routine given our work schedules. In an ideal world, I would get up really early and read the New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers (real newspapers, not virtual ones), and then go for a run. It's very satisfying to read early in the morning.

Tell me about your family, where you've lived and your place in the family hierarchy.

I am an only child so I am the hierarchy! My family is from India and my parents moved after their marriage to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where my dad was getting his PhD, during the most intense period of IRA bombings. They lived there for 5 years before moving to State College, Pennsylvania, where I was born. Now we know of that time as harboring death and demolition but they have such lovely memories of their early married life there.

I have an interesting co-dependent dynamic with my parents. I always wanted siblings but I am very close and well-connected to my cousins in India and Europe as well as my friends. My personality is to reach out to everybody and bring people together and be the organizer.

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy or activity?

Apparently as a baby, I had a wind-up monkey that banged a drum (my dad calls it the “Dum Dum Monkey”). I don't remember it clearly but that toy often comes up in family conversation. As I grew older, when we lived in Ithaca, New York, we'd have giant blizzards every winter and my favorite "toy" became the snow that the plows pushed to the end of our street. I loved to slide down those drifts. Being outdoors was my favorite activity.

Can you share favorite traits that you love about each parent? Do you have those same traits of one or both?

My dad is very intellectual and analytical. He is an introvert but has become more verbal and conversant over time. He is a lot more open-minded and diplomatic than I give him credit for sometimes, and he always assumes the best in people. My mom is a very jubilant, charismatic person. She will call me laughing when she watches a weird, random commercial. She derives joy from simple things and I truly love that about her. I am highly neurotic and I am easily entertained, so I have aspects of both their personalities.

Do you remember stories told to you by your grandparents about their youth? What made an impression upon you about their era?

My grandparents were in India before Independence. Both grandmothers were married at 16 and spent their lives having and raising children, and then helping to raise grandchildren. One of my favorite stories, told to me by my grandfather about my grandmother, was how she knew multiple different Indian languages, all in different scripts, before the age of 16: Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, and she understands some English, although she cannot read it. At 87, she still reads every single line of the newspaper each morning. That intellect was not necessarily fostered in her era and I think it is a testament to her character.

Sirisha and Grandma

Describe your ideal moment of happiness or serenity. How do you achieve it?

There is a difference between being calm and being happy. Usually calm suggests that you are happy, but you don't have to be calm in order to be happy. I feel like I am calm or peaceful near a large body of water (or when taking a long shower). Sometimes I go out to Ocean Beach and stare at the water for long periods of time—it gives me peace. But I derive fundamental joy around my family and friends. It gives me a lot of satisfaction when I see them doing something they really, really love—even watching their favorite TV show! It brings me satisfaction to know that they are happy and then I am, too.

Sirisha and Waterfall

Is reading and writing an important means of personal expression to you?

Reading is a huge part of what we do in our field but it is also something I just fundamentally enjoy. I've always been a giant nerd and a huge bookworm. I try to read a little before going to bed every night and get through a book or two every month, but I have to be deliberate about it. I am a journaler and consistently write in a Moleskine, a little every night—maybe four lines, very short, and meant to be so, so that I don't prattle on, get fatigued, and then make it unsustainable. I write what I'm thinking or feeling. It's different than developing a topic. This is just to write for the sake of writing. It's short and consolidated, not at all burdensome, just like flossing.

Name three words that either irritate you or that you feel have become meaningless. Are you guilty of using them?

I hate when people use the word, "regime" when they mean "regimen." That irritates me a lot. I grew up more or less in the Bay Area, so the slang "hella" cool" or "hella" whatever is popular among my high school friends. But it is so obnoxious! "Awesome" is overused such that everything is awesome and nothing is awesome. I do not say "hella" and I do not use "regime," but I am guilty of saying that some things are awesome.

Which is more fun, dining out or in? What is the most adventurous food that you've ever eaten or prepared?

I like food but I am not a foodie. It's not the food itself that gives me joy in the dining experience, it's who I'm with. More recently, I derive more joy from dining in than out because it feels more like home or community. I am mostly vegetarian, although I will eat chicken or fish sometimes, but I'd never even get close to the crazy stuff you might see on Anthony Bourdain. The most adventurous thing I tried to prepare was falafel, which shouldn't have been that hard but I didn't get the measurements right and it became a sticky, gooey mess. When I was in Iceland in June, I tried Icelandic cod, which was the saltiest thing I've ever had and it was awful.

When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?

Probably 2 days ago when I watched Stephen Colbert's impression of Sarah Palin—it was hilarious! I wasn't sure, though, if I was shedding tears of sadness or joy, and maybe a little rage.

Thank you, Sirisha, this was fun.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Sirisha's professional bio | See previous interviews