The Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies was established in memory of Sarah Kailath (February 5 1941 - October 15, 2008) with a generous pledge by Thomas Kailath, the Hitachi America Professor of Engineering at Stanford University, and Vinita and Narendra Gupta in 1991. Named in honor of Sarah Kailath, the Chair supports teaching and research in India Studies at Berkeley, with the goal of enhancing awareness and knowledge of issues relating to the Indian subcontinent. The Sarah Kailath Chair is held by the Chair of the Institute for South Asia Studies. The current Sarah Kailath Chair is Professor Lawrence Cohen, Director, Institute for South Asia Studies and Professor, Anthropology and South Asian Studies. Professors Raka Ray, Robert Goldman and Thomas Metcalf were the previous chair-holders.

The Chair supports the “Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecture,” an annual lecture series on the theme of Women and Leadership, and invites distinguished scholars and activists from all over the world to address critical social issues in this area.

Sarah Kailath

Sarah Kailath was born on February 5, 1941, in a small village in Kerala in South India. With five older brothers, she soon developed the independent spirit that was her

Sarah Kailath 

hallmark. After she had earned her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, a suitor with a doctorate from MIT came calling. She worried that he didn’t speak Malayalam but, completely taken by her beauty and poise, he was able to win her over. Sarah Jacob and Thomas Kailath were married in Kerala on June 11, 1962, and left to make their home in California. After forty years at Stanford University, Professor Kailath assumed Emeritus status in 2003. Tom and Sarah have four children, Ann, Paul, Priya and Ryan. Ann married Tom’s student, George Verghese, and they have two children, Deia and Amaya.

Soon after the birth of her third child in 1969, Sarah earned another Bachelor’s degree, this time in Education. Her teaching credentials led to jobs in local schools, but an invitation from a friend inspired her to become an entrepreneur and start a retail business—Le Fromage at the Stanford Shopping Center. Thirteen years later, in 1991, when their youngest child was nine years old, Sarah decided to retire to give herself time to develop her many interests, to travel, and to devote to volunteer activities.

In 2003, Sarah was diagnosed with a rare and challenging cancer. Under the care of a dedicated medical team and with the strong support of family and friends, she defied all the odds. She weathered a long series of treatments with characteristic courage, resilience, grace, and faith. She worked hard to settle many issues dear to her, especially the formation of a charitable trust dedicated to the education and uplift of women and children in India.

Sarah passed away on October 15, 2008, very peacefully and surrounded by her family. A few days earlier, she had marked this passage from Ecclesiastes in her prayer book:

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.’’

Though we deeply miss her, her beauty, her smiles, her empathy and generosity, her warmth and good humor, her wisdom and her love, we rejoice in the example and in the wonderful memories and legacies that she has left behind.

Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecturers

Date Speaker
Jan 31, 2019 Somini Sengupta
The 7th Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecture, Existential threats: Stories from the front lines of climate change in South Asia and beyond, will be delivered on Jan 31, 2019 by New York Times journalist, Somini Sengupta.
Sept 15, 2017 Mallika Sarabhai
The 6th Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecture, Dance to Change the World, was delivered on Sept 15, 2017 by activist and Indian classical dancer, Mallika Sarabhai.
May 7, 2017 Mira Nair
The 5th Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecture, Between Worlds, was delivered on May 7, 2017 by acclaimed film director, Mira Nair. 
October 29, 2015 Sudha Murty
The 4th Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecture, Philanthropy: An Option or a Necessity was delivered on October 29, 2014 by Indian philanthropist and Chairperson of Infosys Foundation, Sudha Murty. 
October 7, 2014 Nirupama Rao
The 3rd Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecture, Women Who Lead: Pages from an Indian Story was delivered on October 7, 2014 by Ambassador Nirupama Rao, the former ambassador of India to the United States. 
October 30, 2012 Rohini Nilekani
The 2nd Sarah Kailath Memorial lecture, Urban Water Futures: Can India's small towns show the way? was delivered on October 30, 2012 by Indian philanthropist and water activist, Rohini Nilekani.
February 21, 2010 Kamala D. Harris
The 1st Sarah Kailath Memorial lecture, Women and Leadership, was delivered on February 21, 2010 by Kamala D. Harris, the first woman District Attorney in San Francisco’s history, as well as the first African American and South Asian American woman in California to hold the office.