A few years ago, the Thurston neighborhood on the northeast side of Ann Arbor was abuzz about a mysterious sound heard early in the mornings. Was it a wild animal? Was it a musical instrument? After a YouTube video surfaced of a familiar backyard and an even more familiar sound, Chandan Kumar, a research assistant professor of cancer biology at U-M Medical School, realized what his neighbors were hearing: it was him. After his morning meditation, he had started blowing a conch shell three times.
Kumar quickly invited the neighborhood over for chai and samosas. He showed them his conch shell and blew it for them. Suddenly, with the strangeness gone and the mystery solved, no one minded.
When Kumar and his wife, Sunita Shankar, a research fellow at the U-M Medical School, first came to Ann Arbor, they worked at the Medical Center and their daughter went to a daycare in the Thurston area. Then they went back to India for four years. When they returned to the United States, there was only one place they wanted to live and where they wanted their children, Urja, now eighteen, and Josh, fourteen, to go to school–Thurston, Clague, and Huron.
Kunar notes the old trees in the neighborhood and how they come alive in the fall and spring, as well as the tidy lawns the neighbors keep. “It makes walking down the neighborhood an aesthetic experience,” he says.
The family finds comfort and acceptance in the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Thurston neighborhood–from watching all the children participating in Thurston’s International Night to their visiting elderly parents being able to walk around the neighborhood wearing Indian clothes and being greeted by neighbors.
“Not as an exotic species,” says Shankar, “but as regular people greeted by regular people.” (His father, Sankararaman, is at right in the photo.)
Their children enjoy walking the wooded trail to Thurston and Clague, swimming at Orchard Hills Athletic Club, participating in Science Olympiad, performing at Hill Auditorium with the Clague orchestra, and running the trails in Olsen Park. And, Kumar adds, “the [Traverwood] library is so beautiful.”
Add only a ten-minute commute to work, Kumar says, and the neighborhood “is an entire package.”