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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Simi Family Dies in Taipei Crash

Tragedy: Janardhan and Neelima Volam were returning from a trip to their native India to show off son Akash, 8 months. Friends and co-workers mourn their loss.

November 02, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

After a visit to their native India, the young couple and their 8-month-old son were supposed to return to Simi Valley energized, ready to pursue the adventure they had begun so far from home.

But the family didn't survive the return trip. Janardhan Volam, 30, his 27-year-old wife, Neelima, and little Akash died in the flaming wreckage of Singapore Airlines Flight 006 in Taipei, Taiwan, on Tuesday.

Volam was a computer programmer for Countrywide Home Loans in Simi Valley. He was hired about 18 months ago after holding computer jobs in Boston and Tulsa, Okla.

Neelima Volam was studying computer graphics. A millennial mother, she created a Web site devoted to her son.

The couple met at a wedding in India four years ago. Following custom, he asked his parents to ask hers to allow him to seek her hand. A month later, they married.

In Simi Valley, they did the things familiar to other young couples in their tight-knit set of Indian emigres: movies, tennis, get-togethers over spicy Indian food with colleagues from work. When their son was born, Neelima hung photos of him all over the apartment. She hoped to have a second child next year, according to friends.

Clad in a sari as she walked by the Volams' apartment complex Wednesday afternoon, a friend of Neelima's wept. She had confirmed the death of her first friend in America by scanning an Indian newspaper on the Internet.

"Yesterday we had hope," said Aruna Peravili, 27, the wife of one of Volam's co-workers. "Now there's none. Hope has receded. This is a tragedy."

At Countrywide Mortgage, several employees from India propped an incense stick and draped a white garland over an award the company had given Volam for mastering a complex software-design task.

"From that point on, we knew we had a star on our hands," said his boss, Paramjit Chumber.

In Volam's tiny south Indian village of Surayapet, he was the first student in memory to graduate from college, as well as the first to immigrate to the United States. He was a local celebrity, a hometown boy who had made good with a master's degree in technology from Pondicherry University.

"It was a major achievement on his part to advance himself," said Ram Mohan, a Countrywide computer programmer from a village near Volam's. Mohan was told to look up Volam as soon as he came to the United States.

A relentless worker, Volam also was an avid cricket fan and a decent singer. He took in-line skating classes at the beach in Santa Monica. Sometimes he amused his friends by acting out scenes from his favorite Indian action films.

"Everybody liked him in this company," a co-worker said. "He was a totally sweet guy."

His wife left for India in August, eager to show off their little boy. Volam joined them in late September.

He invited his good friend Mohan to go along. If not for a heavy workload, Mohan might have made the fateful trip.

On Wednesday, he could barely talk about it.

"Ever since this morning, I've been thinking I have a new life," he said. "I feel like there must be something I need to do."

Times correspondents Traci Isaacs and Paul M. Anderson contributed to this story.

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