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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Seniors: Preserving personal history

Reading Time: 3 minutesA RAIN project captures the challenges and triumphs in the life stories of its members

seniors pic

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In March every year, NSW turns its focus turns towards the seniors and the multi-cultural members in the community. There are hundreds of organised events, concerts, and picnics, activities that the seniors can attend. Harmony Day signifies the colourful multi-cultural traditions of the communities we come from and is celebrated in a colourful manner by all local councils.

As part of the celebrations this year, the Resourceful Australian Indian Network (RAIN), encouraged and funded by the Kogarah and Hurstville Councils, has released a collection of the life stories of 16 of its members in a book. The project, in which members recap their personal histories, has produced a veritable treasure trove that touches on not only family histories but also the social history of the times and much more.

The book has been very ably put together and edited with the help of a Personal Historian, Lily Zdilar, a freelance journalist.

Last year, in the Heritage Circle Project, the seniors recounted their historical experiences meeting famous people with pride.

What is fascinating is the diversity of background that the members come from. The birthplace of the seniors spans all continents, from South Africa and Zanzibar to Fiji, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and to several states in India.

Radhamani, a teacher in India before moving to Australia, is ‘the live-wire’ of RAIN and has amazing enthusiasm for people and community activities. Her story is so full of inspirational anecdotes that her grandson observes, “Everything in her life has depth and meaning”.

Selvarani from Sri Lanka, had not experienced much affluence in her childhood and within a short time of her marriage, became widowed. Now with both her sons well settled in life, she enjoys the company of her RAIN friends and says, “Life is a small circle wherein you experience both happiness and sorrow equally”. How true!

Poignantly, Mata Prasad from Fiji recounts, “When I realised my dream of completing my secondary school examination, my joy knew no bounds”. His childhood was a hard one, working on the family farm. In Australia he devotes his time to family and gardening.

Damodarbhai hails from South Africa and has been an inspiration to all with his determination, quiet assertion and compassion. His parents and grandparents lived on Phoenix farm in Durban with Mahatma Gandhi for many years. He says with much feeling, “Life’s tribulations teach resilience but it’s also in the genes”.

Kadambi Srinivasan, from south India is very much a self-made man. For him, “Family is a fundamental link in the fabric of society”. He also reflects, “I feel different about myself now from how I felt when I was younger’.

Kooverjee, our oldest member at 92, is respected and admired by all at RAIN for his sense of independence and dignified presence. He was born in Estcourt, South Africa. He notes, “I value the support from the community and it helps me age happily’.

The love story of Homi and Putli from Mumbai has been a great source of enjoyment to their friends in RAIN. Presently battling health issues, they are constantly in the minds of all RAIN members who enjoy their company and support them through these difficult times.

For those in those twilight years in India, information about family history is not easily available. Sadly, there are not many written records of even factual information.  Traditionally, our long oral tradition has meant that much of the stories have been lost.  Those who grew up in traditional households may have heard stories from their grandparents who lived with them. Many of these stories were never told and rarely asked for and recorded in a systematic manner. Unless some of those stories are now preserved in written form, they will be lost forever.

It is in this regard that this RAIN initiative has so much significance.

This style of capturing personal stories not only benefits the future generations but is also valuable for the seniors who recount them. A sense of pride, continuity and joy in talking about their ancestors and their earlier life boosts their self-worth and self-esteem. Many of these seniors have migrated here in their later years. Lifestyle changes have been enormous and challenging. Yet their smiles and calm demeanour hide the great personal efforts they have made to settle into a new country.

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Dr Saroja Srinivasan
Dr. Srinivasan is a western trained clinical psychologist by profession; has been living in Sydney for over 40 years; interested in wisdom traditions in particular Indian philosophy and how it can inform us to lead a happy life; in her columns she has tried to synthesise her personal and professional experiences in dealing with everyday situations

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