This article was recently published in The Hindu. This postcard was found in my uncle’s possession. The people referred to at the end of the article, Gayathree Krishna and Srividya are my cousin and aunt, respectively. I am distantly related to the Dr. Padmavati referred to in the article. This is the first time I’m hearing of this story, although the people mentioned in the postcard sound very familiar.
But, reading this made me remember so many stories I heard while growing up.
My paternal grandfather was born in Burma in the 1930s. His mother passed away when he was a few months old, and his father was left with the responsibility of raising 7 children. War soon broke out in Burma. My great-grandfather handed my grandfather over to his brother-in-law. This man carried my grandfather, then a two year old infant, and travelled all the way from Burma to Bangalore. My grandfather used to narrate stories of how they traversed the wilderness of Assam on foot, and how they eventually reached Bangalore after a few months. Thousands of people fled Burma at the time, and very few survived. My grandfather was one of the lucky ones. They reached Bangalore and were hospitalized for a month while they recuperated from the hardships of the journey. They then made their way to Madras where my grandfather grew up, married, and lived to raise his children and grandchildren. My grandfather didn’t meet his own father until he was 14 years old, when his father finally managed to come to Madras from Burma. Till his dying breath, my grandfather had great gratitude for his uncle, for having carried him as an infant and bringing him all the way to India, and for having raised him after that.
My maternal grandmother’s father was an agricultural scientist who worked for the British Raj, doing research on potatoes and other vegetables in the hills of Ooty. He was allergic to Penicillin, the only antibiotic at the time, and died at a very young age simply because he couldn’t be administered antibiotics. My maternal grandmother was a 5 year old girl when she lost her father and spent most of her childhood shuttling between the homes of various relatives.
Hearing and reading all of this reminds me of just how blessed I am. I had what I consider a perfect childhood, a safe and happy life in Madras. I grew up spending my summers and holidays with cousins and friends, the occasional holiday, frequent weddings and other special occasions. Thanks to the grace of God, there was never a moment when my parents had to worry for my future or survival when I was a child. But, everything that I am today, is hugely due to the hardships that so many of my ancestors had to go through. I cannot even imagine how difficult it would be to fear for your child’s safety or even existence. That would be a parent’s worst nightmare.
But as blessed as we are, I can’t seem to forget that even today, there are so many people who go through this horrible nightmare every day. Take the refugees from Syria, for example. I can understand the fear in letting refugees into your country – the fear of the unknown, of providing for others when you can’t provide for your own citizens. But if everyone digs deep enough into their history, almost every single person on this earth would likely have an ancestor who had to survive through some horror. Eventually the whole world is just one big family – if we took a moment to think about that and to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, maybe we would think differently.
On the first day of the New Year, I take a deep breath and send out a prayer saying a simple thank you. And a prayer for those who are still struggling every day.