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Some good may come
Father's love endures after fatal fire
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Anand Tiwari kneels at the grave of his children, Vardaan, 4, and Ananya, 18 mos., as he and his family mourn during funeral services at Oakridge Glen Oaks Cemetery in Hillside on Aug. 16, 2007.

 

Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/13/2008 12:06 AM

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It was their favorite ritual.

Anand Tiwari took his two children to their neighborhood park nearly every day.

He chased his son and daughter around the swings and slide while giving his scariest rendition of a shark or a creepy monster.

Vardaan, 4, still needed his daddy's help climbing the monkey bars. And 18-month-old Ananya was a feisty one, making sure her father's full attention was on her.

Anand Tiwari often finds himself at that park, where he and his children found such joy. But he goes there alone.

It's been five months since he lost his buddy and angel, as he calls them, in a crime that reverberates still.

On Aug. 11, Nimisha Tiwari and her two children died in a fire in their Naperville home. Police called it a double murder-suicide.

But despite the unimaginable loss, Anand Tiwari found a reason to go on.

It started with small gestures: donating Disney movie tickets; bringing toys to a missing woman's kids; talking to medical experts about donating his children's stem cells to help the sick.

And, after months of preparation, his efforts culminated in the nonprofit "We Bring Smile Foundation" in his children's memory and the launching of a Web site to enlist the public's help.

"It gives me comfort," Tiwari said. "But, more importantly, it keeps my children alive. And, if it helps other children, that's the most important reason of all."

Senseless tragedy

Anand Tiwari, 36, an information technology professional, was in Chicago attending a master's degree class when the fire erupted.

Amid the rubble, firefighters found his family, Nimisha, 32, and the children, Vardaan and Ananya.

Police concluded the mother ignited the Aug. 11 blaze with gasoline she bought two hours earlier -- a purchase captured on a gas station's surveillance system.

Years earlier, the couple wed in India in an arranged marriage in April 1999. They settled in Naperville a short time later.

Recently, their marriage struggled. Nimisha suffered from multiple sclerosis, which Anand said was affecting his wife's mental health, causing her to act impulsively and with false beliefs, such as that he was trying to kill her.

Still, looking back, he never could have predicted this. Police did not find a suicide note. Anand agrees with their conclusion that Nimisha intentionally set the fire.

But precisely what pushed her over the edge likely will forever remain a mystery.

"I just don't understand," he said.

The pain at times is consuming. Though Tiwari hasn't started grief counseling, he is considering seeing a medical doctor to help with severe headaches, a side effect from crying.

Five days after his children's deaths, Tiwari struggled to let them go.

Long after their tiny white caskets were lowered into the ground, in a heartbreaking moment witnessed by 75 mourners and a throng of media, the father remained kneeling, as if comforting his son and daughter.

He said it is they who continue to comfort and inspire him to go on without them.

A living legacy

Anand Tiwari said his children were destined for great things, and he wants to ensure their lives continue to have an impact on this world.

He plans to donate the stem cells he had taken from his children at birth as a hedge against future illness. Instead, now he is offering the cells to parents and doctors who might know of kids who need help.

Before Vardaan died, he couldn't wait to see the Disney movie, "Ratatouille." So the father donated 100 movie tickets. Half went to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the remainder to Vardaan's school and the Naperville-area firefighters who risked their lives for his family.

Tiwari also dropped off toys for the children of Stacy Peterson, the 23-year-old Bolingbrook woman missing since Oct. 28. He befriended a Glendale Heights woman who has kept a constant vigil over her two hospitalized sons since they suffered severe burns Nov. 18 in a fire their father is accused of intentionally setting.

But the "We Bring Smile Foundation," to which the father said he is making an annual $2,000 contribution, is the culmination of his efforts.

The foundation is taking on specific projects at hospitals, libraries, park districts, museums and zoos to help underprivileged children. Many of the ideas focus on things Vardaan and Ananya loved, such as a summer program for the gifted, exploring space at the Adler Planetarium, or reading stories at the library.

Tiwari also is working with Edward Hospital to give a new soft toy to every sick child -- about 19,000 annually -- leaving the ER.

No dark rooms

Vardaan's birthday was Thursday. He would have been 5. His name means "a gift from God," or "God's blessing."

And he was. So was Ananya. The father was so involved in their short lives, from keeping a journal of his wife's pregnancy, being at every doctor's visit to documenting their lives in thousands of photos and more than 50 hours of video.

He is comforted that his son had visited four other countries, including India, Singapore and Malaysia, and vacationed from Disney World to Universal Studios to Niagara Falls.

The father grieved at their Hillside grave on Vardaan's birthday. Before leaving, he paused at the nearby headstone of another slain child, Steven Quinn Jr., 2, killed five years ago in Willowbrook by his mother's boyfriend.

Tiwari placed a toy dinosaur on Steven's grave. Vardaan loved dinosaurs.

Then he returned to the hotel room where he is forced to stay until his fire-ravished house is fully repaired, likely in late May. Asked why he'd go back to a place with so many memories, Tiwari said, why wouldn't he?

"If I started avoiding things that remind me of my children," he said, "I'd have to park myself in a dark room and do nothing, because everything reminds me of them."

Though he returned to work only a few weeks ago, Tiwari has kept himself busy. Besides the foundation and dealing with high medical bills and insurance, he obtained his U.S. citizenship. He also legally changed his middle name to "Vardaan Ananya," to keep them close.

And, in an especially poignant journey, late last year he went to the top of the mountains in Kashmir, India, to visit the religious Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi. The holy place is 1,000 miles from his hometown and another 10-mile journey up the mountain to the shrine. In December 2006, he brought Vardaan and Ananya there.

"I went there again to be with my children, find peace, seek blessings, to give strength and deepen my belief in God," he said.

Back home, the father often finds himself at the Ranch View Park, near his Naperville home. He is speaking with the school district about doing some type of improvement project there, too.

"This is what is driving me," he said. "When I do this, I feel so much better than doing anything else. I just feel so much pleasure and passion."

He added, with a smile: "I lived for my children. I'm so blessed to have had them, and I continue to have them."

In his children's name

Devastated after the Aug. 11 deaths of his two children, Anand Tiwari of Naperville started a nonprofit group, 'We Bring Smile Foundation,' in their memory to help other children. Here's a few projects planned so far:

• Chicago Museum campus: One underprivileged child, ages 5 to 10, will be sponsored each year to attend the one-week Summer Worlds Tour Summer Camp in which they will explore space science at the Adler Planetarium, natural history at The Field Museum and aquatic science at Shedd Aquarium.

• Center for Gifted: One underprivileged child, grades kindergarten through 10th, will be sponsored each year to attend this two-week summer program that Vardaan Tiwari loved at National-Louis University in Wheeling (www.centerforgifted.org).

• Edward Hospital: New toys will be donated to the Edward Foundation for each sick child leaving the hospital's emergency room.

• Naperville Public Library: The foundation each year will help sponsor the Summer Family Story Time, as well as contribute four giant floor puzzles.

• In the works: Sponsoring a child to attend Brookfield Zoo's ZAP (zoo adventure passport) program, which serves disadvantaged kids, ages 3 to 12; also reaching out to the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services and Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

• For more information, or to make a tax-deductible contribution, visit www.webringsmile.org or e-mail Anand Tiwari at info@webringsmile.org.

Source: Daily Herald interview