Adelaide’s Indian community unites in grief over shocking tragedy
A most poignant memorial service was held for the Datta family at their restaurant, Urban India, in Mile End on 14 January. The restaurant was filled to capacity with more than 200 mourners and people spilling out on to the streets and standing on the pavement, which was blanketed with flowers.
Rupen Datta lost his wife, Anamika and children Digvijay, Nikita and Bipasha, and his sister-in-law Sonia following a horrific road accident in India. It is believed a burst tyre caused the car the Datta family was travelling in to crash into a safety barrier before flipping on its roof and landing in the path of oncoming traffic. Anamika’s father, NK Paliwal passed away later in hospital after suffering a heart attack on learning of the extent of the tragedy. Rupen remains in hospital in India with a suspected spinal injury.
The memorial service was organised by friends who were family to Rupinder, Anamika and their children. It was conducted by Raja Choudhury, under the leadership of Bulbul Sen, who was the primary organiser.
The ceremony began with a short talk by Dr Dilip Chirmuley reminiscing about the family and giving some details of the accident. He then conducted a beautiful Hindu service, chanting the mantras that are usually uttered at these times, and asking the people to repeat them after him. As we prayed, there was something very special about repeating the Maha Mruthyunjaya and other mantras all together and praying for the departed souls in this way.
After this religious part of the ceremony, people who were close to the Datta family were asked to speak. It was an informal, quickly organised occasion, so no one had prepared speeches. All spoke from their hearts and their love and grief came through touchingly. Bulbulda who tried to speak first could only sob that Rupenda was a brother and Anu (Anamika) was his sister.
Friends of the children Digvijay, Nikita and Bipasha, came by after hearing the news of the service on social media. Digvijay’s friends from Adelaide High School burst into tears as several spoke of Digvi as a wonderful, loyal friend who always brought a smile to their faces or made them laugh. They said he that he would always live in their hearts.
The Principal of Adelaide High also spoke. Two staff from Plympton Primary School also spoke of poignantly of the two girls, Nikita and Bipasha. There were quite a few friends of Nikita and Bipasha present at the service, along with their parents.
The Mayor of West Torrens, John Trainer, remembered the Datta family with great regard, recalling how he had visited the restaurant and how he presented them with their citizenship certificates in 2011. He finished with a quote saying, “The most beautiful flowers bloom for only a short time”.
Among close family and friends also present were former Federal Member Steve Georganas, Dana Wortley the Member for Torrens, and others.
There were neighbours and customers, several from the Indian community as well as others, who did not know the Datta family closely but had been touched in one way or another by their hospitality or cheerful nature.
One regular customer at the restaurant said she came to the service on reading about it on the Internet because the tragedy had touched them all. She came to pay her respects, but was in tears during the service, and said she felt like a family member now, so moving was the ceremony. When told that there were no direct family members there, only friends, she was moved once again to tears by the affection of their friends.
The evening concluded with prayers for Rupenda’s health and strength to bear his colossal loss upon his recovery.
Staff at Urban India, especially Gajendra Singh, the chef, could not say much, but participated in the ceremony, and served the guests Rupen’s favourite sweets at the end.
“Please don’t go without eating or taking a pack home. He always made sure no one left without eating sweets.”
A day after news of the tragedy came, family friend Robbie Benipal spoke to Indian Link Radio’s Sagar Mehrotra, “I’m finding it hard to accept this news. Rupenji is a wonderful man who worked quietly behind the scenes as he helped many people in our community, especially new migrants, as they tried to settle in.”
He also spoke of Rupen’s passion for his craft, which he honed in some of India’s leading hotels. “He always stresses on the quality of his food, and is not concerned about the quantity of customers or outlets,” he added.
Ruma Chakravarti, another friend of the family, wrote on Facebook following the memorial service: “It was with utter disbelief that I read the names of the Australian family whose members died in an accident outside Delhi on Sunday evening. They were due back in Adelaide in less than a week.
Sending an email to the community to inform them of the tragedy took two days, purely because all the words I chose seemed unsuited to the enormous loss Rupendra Datta suffered when his wife, her sister and their children died.
But it sank in when I went to their restaurant this evening and saw the outpouring of grief. Rupendra and his family were celebrated, as friends of the couple, school friends of their three children, and the local mayor spoke of the happy times, the generosity, the pet names and the pride they took in being good citizens in their adopted land.
The candles that burned along with incense on a table where their photographs stood will have burned out by now. Our combined intonations of Man mana bhava mad bhakto no longer fill the senses. But Adelaide and its Indian community will stand by Rupendra in this hour of loss, just as his family shared in our moments of fleeting joy and our bigger triumphs.”