About two weeks before Krishna Seshan died of liver cancer, colleagues and friends from Silicon Valley gathered in the Twin Cities to see him for a final time. He entertained them by singing a song, “My Rifle, My Pony and Me,” a tune featured in the 1959 John Wayne Western, “Rio Bravo.”
Seshan, of Minneapolis, had an accomplished career as a researcher and academic. But after he retired and moved to the Twin Cities, the former engineer became an artist and musician. He died Oct. 25 at age 71.
Seshan grew up in Delhi, India, and studied in Great Britain before coming to the United States to get his doctorate in materials science at the University of California, Berkeley.
He worked for Intel, was a postdoctoral researcher with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and was an assistant professor of materials science at the University of Arizona. He also edited a handbook of semiconductor manufacturing techniques.
While working for IBM in upstate New York, he became friends with folk singer Pete Seeger, with whom he shared an interest in sailing, according to Seshan’s wife, Patricia Jimenez. In addition to sailing San Francisco Bay, he went to Quaker meetings and became a bird-watcher, a peace protester and a watercolor painter.
“He had all kinds of wide-ranging interests,” Jimenez said.
After retiring, he started an organization called Project Enable, which recruited mechanical engineering students from San Jose State University to make adaptive aids like smart canes for elderly and disabled people.
He also sported a free-spirited style, growing a white beard, wearing a rainbow-colored bandanna on his head and sometimes going about in knickers instead of regular trousers.
Once, when Seshan was walking across the Stone Arch Bridge, a woman asked him if he had eaten that day and gave him food, said his friend, Charles Reinhart of Minneapolis.
Seshan moved to the Twin Cities after his wife got a job as a chaplain at Hennepin County Medical Center.
He decided to take up singing about five years ago after his wife told him that his voice was fading. He signed up for a voice class and ukulele lessons at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis.
“Quite frankly, it was a real challenge for him. He was not musically gifted. But he kept working at it,” said Reinhart, who met Seshan at a singing class.
Reinhart and Seshan used to go see the Rose Ensemble and Cantus, and Seshan would be inspired to try to do what they were doing.
“Krishna asked me, ‘Is that harmony?’ I said yes. And he said, ‘We can do that!’ ” Reinhart said. “He would tackle anything.”
Seshan used to join another friend, Gary Anderson, in singalongs at local nursing homes. Shortly before Seshan died, he sang with Anderson at the One On One Bicycle Studio and Cafe in Minneapolis.
“It seemed like the closer he got to the end, the more artistic he got,” Reinhart said. “We were singing harmony and Krishna was right on.”
The day after Seshan died, his friends Reinhart, 77, and Anderson, 67, considered canceling the regular singing lesson at MacPhail that the three men took together. But they decided to go ahead because music was so important to Seshan. They sang one of his favorites, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”
Seshan is survived by a sister, Kamala Menon of New Delhi. No services have been held, but his ashes will likely be scattered in India as well as in San Francisco, Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.