“I was shaken to the core when I put myself in the shoes of this young family – what if this happened to us,” Dr Sridhar Nannapaneni told Indian Link, describing a tragedy that has consumed Adelaide’s Indian community in recent weeks. Adelaide children Bhavagna and Palvith, aged 9 and 6, who lost their parents in a road accident in India recently, have returned home to the care of family friends.
Adelaide’s Telugu community, of which their parents Hemambaradhar “Hems” Peddagamalla and Rama Batthula were well-loved members, came out in their dozens to welcome the children at the airport.
The children were escorted by Samuel and Miriam Kaladari, close family friends who travelled to India to bring them home to Adelaide.
There’s been a groundswell of support for the kids since the tragedy took place.
“It became clear that just like me, others had had the same thought about their own families,” Dr Nannapaneni (Neni) revealed. “Perhaps this was one of the motivating factors in banding us together for the sake of Bhavagna and Palvith.”
In a matter of three weeks, a sum of $250,000 was raised by the Telegu Association of South Australia (TASA) for the kids’ welfare, in an ongoing GoFundMe campaign set up by another family friend Shivaji Pathuri.
The tragic accident
In late April, the family had travelled to India after the recent loss of their grandfather. On the way from the airport, their taxi crashed into a wall near Suryapet, Telangana, killing both parents.
The children spent the next few weeks receiving medical treatment and had no idea what happened.
“At the advice of authorities, a member of the community Dr Sudheer Talari broke the news to them only a few days ago, before they were going to leave Telangana. Until then, they thought their parents were in a hospital in Australia,” Dr Neni said. “He revealed to me how emotionally draining it was. As doctors we are used to imparting bad news but this one was on a different scale altogether, it was extremely difficult, Sudheer said.”
The funds collected have gone towards medical expenses, funeral expenses, travel and paying off the family’s mortgage. (Hems did not leave a will and had but a small Super and default insurance).
But most importantly, with the children being English speakers with only brief visits to India over the years, and aging grandparents in Telangana who would struggle to care for them, the community rallied together to find a way to bring Bhavagna and Palvith back home to Flagstaff Hill, Adelaide.
“It was important for them to return to their regular lives, to their school, to their friends, to the people here they grew up with,” Dr Neni elaborated.
Despite fears of a long legal battle ahead, their return was fast tracked by the Australian High Commission, along with help from Indian authorities and appeals from South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas.
The High Commission was proactive in their support, Dr Neni described, sending a representative to hospital at Vijaywada and monitoring the situation closely. Dr Talari liaised between them and the grandparents constantly.
He added, “We’re really thankful to everyone for helping out with this. The community came together so strongly to help, from financial support and logistics to offering their homes to the children.”
In the short term, the children will be under the care of the Kaladaris, who have three kids themselves. “The children’s grandparents in India have agreed to the current arrangement,” Dr Neni confirmed.
The next steps
Care of the children is paramount at the moment, given they are still wheelchair bound with fractures of leg and pelvis, and face 4-8 weeks of intense physiotherapy.
Social psychological support is also a concern. “Palvith is better, but Bhavagna is emotional – somewhat closed off at the moment and not expressing herself. She’s grieving in her own way and no doubt processing it all,” Dr Neni reported.
“We are aiming for the kids’ lives to be as normal as it was – which of course it will never be, but at least we can give them a routine resembling their previous routine as swiftly as possible. The important word here really, is ‘routine’.”
In the meantime, there are plenty of chores on the list – liaising with the Premier’s office, Immigration authorities, child protection services (where coincidentally Rama worked), the kids’ school, and their friends, while keeping the grandparents in India in the loop.
“Working out how to keep the grandparents in regular contact with the children is also important. We are trying to get them to visit, so are looking at their passports, visas etc. It could be difficult as they are in their 80s. Another possibility is to organise regular trips to India for the kids so they are in touch with their family – it will all require a fair bit of thinking and planning.”
Throughout of course it has been a collective decision by TASA, with Sam Kaladari, Shivaji Pathuri, Dr Sudheer Talari and Dr Sridhar Neni being the most proactive.
What challenges do they foresee?
“We need to sit down together and set up a trust to protect the funds the community is raising as well as what was accumulated by Hems and Rama. How do we structure the finances so as to see the kids well provided for? Do we pay off the mortgage and rent the property out?”
Perhaps there could also be challenges arising from childrearing practices that could be different from family to family.
But the emphasis at the moment is on present day concerns.
“We’re figuring out how to keep their regular activities continuing – dance lessons, Pre-Uni, Telugu language school; who pays for these activities, and who drives them around or who shares the workload with Sam and Miriam.”
The kids’ school, St Bernadette’s, has come on board with offers to help, with early suggestions that they’ll look at waiving the fees.
Another significant activity in the close-knit Telugu community has been talking to the kids.
“We’ve all been having conversations with our kids about how to deal with Bhavagna and Palvith. Be as normal as possible, we’re telling them. Don’t do anything extreme or difficult. Be sensitive, and don’t raise sensitive issues. Try and keep it like you did before.”
They’ve also been having conversations with other adults, about important family matters.
A significant offshoot has been an uptick in the number of people getting their wills sorted. “Our community typically lags behind in this activity,” Dr Neni lamented. “I myself have been taking a relook at my own affairs in recent days – my will was made before my kids were born!”
In fact, in the aftermath of this tragedy, local association Indian Professionals in Australia took this issue up and organised a seminar on the importance of estate planning. (Senthil Chidambaranathan of the association revealed that a capacity audience heard from an expert about the setting up of a will that is legally valid, about putting a Power of Attorney in place, and about specifying advance medical directives).
Quite ironically, Dr Neni recalled a similar TASA event many months ago. Hems had attended, and had been the most prolific questioner.
Show your support to TASA
They say an entire village is needed to raise a child. This may well be true in the case of Bhavagna and Palvith, indeed more so than most children, as the community comes together for them.
As for the ‘village’ itself, TASA, their commitment has been exemplary. Their selfless efforts here, proactive and practically reasoned, might well become a case study for other communities to show solidarity in the face of life-changing circumstances.
Help TASA to care for Bhavagna and Palvith by donating here: