Varma was born in Atlanta, Georgia. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a marine biologist because he was fascinated by various marine species, especially fish. By the age of 14 he got employed by the local aquarium store where his job was to sell various fishes and study their biology. His passion for fish research grew even further when he began to attend college where he also studied elk behavior and forest ecology.
Varma worked with David Liittschwager on several National Geographic magazine stories as an assistant and videographer. In one of the interviews with National Geographic he said that he admires Charles Darwin and E. O. Wilson. During his Young Explorers Grant project in Patagonia he was a wetland photographer where his field sites included temperate rain forests, bamboo thickets, and arid grasslands.