60. Settling In Australia – Journal Entry 19th Nov 1980

My dear M,

We are delighted with your good news. I am so excited I cannot settle down to my siesta.

We would love to have you here, there are jobs, but let us be cautious and say that the two of you should not find it difficult to earn a living.

However, we should take a long view of your life here and try to work out what might be best.

My own preference would be to advise you to stay in Queensland with us for one or two years until you become reasonably “Aussiefied”. I think your mum would be happier with that arrangement, no?

With R’s Bachelor of Commerce, a three-year external course on computing should make him highly competitive; within a year he would be viable. Without knowing too much, even now he should be able to get a nine to five job in some business without any difficulty.

I envisage both of you doing some study for a few years. Courses are free at tertiary institutions, but books and transport would be at your own expense.

If you would enjoy living thirty-five miles away from your place of work, be close to the sea on the weekends and holidays, lead a very quiet life, work hard for the next three years, then we would suggest you stay with us until you find your feet.

Now about what to bring, I find it hard to recommend anything. You need very little by way of household goods and only the most precious and personal possessions. Maybe sheets and towels to last three to five years? Shirts are about $20 to $30 each; maybe R already has a few suits? He could do with a few smart trousers I suppose. Menswear, for most business purposes, is casual; it is too hot otherwise, except only a couple of months a year.

Again you would need enough office clothes to last a few years. There are plenty of second-hand clothes shops that only charge a couple of dollars for clothes.

To explain: Johnny and I believe in making do with what we can get locally without hankering for foreign or “back home” goods. However, it is so good to have silk saris and gold jewellery to wear on special occasions.

Most masalas, Indian bedspreads, clothes and chappals are available in Australia; a little expensive in some cases, but not excessively so.

You might like bringing things like stainless steel cooking gear, plates and tumblers, enough say to entertain six to eight people. Stainless steel utensils are associated with hospitals here!

I enjoy occasionally setting a table for friends using banana leaves or stainless steel plates with tumblers to match – they seem to get a thrill out of it!

Bring a dosai skillet, cooking spoon, dhal masher or anything uniquely Indian for your own use – even an idli pot if you wish.

After discussing all of this with Johnny, his view is to get on without delay to one of the big cities (where the head offices are) if you are career-minded and want to get on in the world. Please don’t get the idea that we don’t want you to stay with us, we would like you to, but as Johnny suggests, it might not be a clever thing to do now.

There are such places as migrants’ hostels where you stay until you are able to set up on your own. I shall find out details about the migrant hostels in Brisbane or Sydney for you; we stayed in one.

I find it difficult to advise you on where to live without knowing your philosophy or aim in life. The weather should be the least of your worries when choosing a capital city. Melbourne is said to have the worst weather and is extremely changeable, even in one day. Sydney is colder than Brisbane and both are delightful in summer although Brisbane can be very hot. Don’t get me wrong, our northern winters are like a hot summers day in England or New Zealand! I like our mild winter here.

While I am delighted for you, I feel sad for those you will leave behind. You could well suffer from culture shock – the smells, sounds and gestures are all different. Now we love Australia and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Brisbane and Sydney are both good places to live in. Brisbane is more “rural” or should I say like a large thriving country town. Sydney is a lot colder, but don’t bring any woollens, there are plenty around.

Gran has left it to us to advise you she is very happy for you.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page and scroll through to the bottom.

56. Letter From A Year Ago – Journal Entry 16th Jun 1979

I’m sitting outside the student cafeteria, trying to stay cool under a big umbrella. Today we have a minor test in preliminary maths, a course run by Johnny, which I started at the beginning of the year. With approximately one hour to go, I decided to reply to your letter. I’m reading an excellent book by Zimmer called Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation, however, I found it difficult to concentrate on.

The campus here is really beautiful as tertiary institution campuses go. A landscape expert was hired and within a couple of years, the garden improved out of sight. Large rocks, huge lumps of driftwood and two or three bleached tree trunks are arranged attractively with trees and flowering shrubs grouped in hillocks. Mind you, winter here is mild – about 15 degrees Celsius in the morning – and the gardens are so colourful, just about anything will grow in winter if you take the trouble to tend the plants, even daffodils.

To get back to the campus and the people milling around, I just like being in a learning environment. I suppose having stopped school so early could account for it. I could be an eternal student if circumstances would allow it. We shall see.

The course I’m doing is something designed for adults, it prepares one for entry to a maths degree or just for the pleasure of doing mathematics. It’s an excellent course that was designed in England with great results. Johnny introduced it here for the first time this year and three lecturers have put many hours of work into developing it for Australians. There are great notes and tapes to accompany the texts. The drop-out rate, however, among part-timers has been high as they just found it too hard. So that will be something for the Maths Department to think about.

In the course of my letters, I’ll try to convey the flavour of life here, though we’re rather prejudiced. We think life in Queensland is really “beaut” if you’re independent, handy and make your own life instead of hankering after the pleasures of a big city. One feels isolated here, one is isolated, but as long as there is mobility, trips south to catch up on news, new things, say once a year, life in Central Queensland can be very good. Sydney we loved, an unusual city with its ferries, gardens and swimming pools; Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide I don’t know and look forward to visiting them sometime in the future.

To get off the subject of Australia, I was wondering if you could look out for old recipe books on Indian cooking from the second-hand book stalls or friends. I have Veerasami’s cookbook. I don’t particularly want the latest books, unless you think them worth having. Ask Aunty Nora too, she may be able to pick up something.

Also I wonder if R would mind giving me recipes that the hotel uses – the kormas and biriyanis seem hard to reproduce here – actually any recipes of Indian cooking as I’m deeply interested. Last year I ran a course on basic Indian cooking and could have run a couple more this year if I hadn’t started this course.

I am also very interested in kolams. Aunty Nora sent me some pamphlets years ago and Jaya drew some kolams for me. If you are able to dig up information on them and any stories on Indian food, I’d be grateful.

The Travels of Marco Polo is useful to give you an idea of what life must have been long ago and yet one asks, has anything changed? Nilakanta Sastri’s History of South India gives one a glimmer. I deeply regret not learning much about Indian life and culture, especially when I am asked about certain customs and taboos. When we first came here we were dismayed at the barrenness of culture when compared to India and Southeast Asia. The streets here are empty, no drums are heard, there is very rarely a procession and the markets are missing…

When we returned from the Philippines, I appreciated the privacy, the having to “do for oneself”, the way of life, the freedom to take whatever job one wanted without worrying about loss of status. Mind you there are some silly people around but then you get them everywhere.

Blast it, the more I think about it, the more I’m attracted to going back to India to explore a few things, just to revel in its crowds, flower bazaars, trains, silks, dances and music… above all Kathakali, whole nights of Kathakali.

Gran keeps trying the local lotteries (it’s seven years since she left India) she’d like to go back for a visit, mainly to see the family.

Got to go.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Found this draft letter from 1979 amongst notes and journals on loose-leaf papers dated 1980, so I have added this to the journal series with some of my mother’s hand-drawn kolams.
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.

53. Our Christmas Traditions – Journal Entry 5th Aug 1980

Dear Nora, You, Mary or any of the family are very welcome to come here and take potluck with us. Mum, of course, would be delighted. My only concern is that we would not be in a position to give you as good a time as we would like. Out here in the country, things are on a small scale and fairly quiet. I myself will be tied up with studies until mid-November and I agree with you, Christmas is for children and family. Your children should have their parents with them at the one and only major festival of the year. I will tell you about Christmas festivities in Australia, in a little while. I don’t know how long you intend to spend here, however, a possible program could be:

  • Stay in Singapore with the aunt for a few days
  • Call into Melbourne (before or after staying with us) and check if it will cost extra, as travel from Emu Park to Melbourne is expensive
  • Stay with us, preferably after mid-November so I can drive you around. On the other hand, I am free half the week (most weeks) so if mid-November is not convenient, come when you can.

About the export business, I can’t give you an answer straight away. I will have to make enquiries. There are already many Indian goods on sale here and it will be a matter of getting the right combinations, contacts, etc. There are also import licences to worry about here, however, I will find out what I can and let you know.

Christmas here seems to be very much a family celebration. Friends without families  set up a round of dinners, parties and picnics. Christmas also falls in the middle of summer, usually the wet season from Christmas Day, and all the shops are decorated and Christmas music played in lifts and stores from the 1st November. There are dances held at hotels (called pubs here) and a certain amount of entertainment between families takes place.

Over the years we have formed a pattern which we follow. For weeks before Christmas Day, the family wrap mysterious parcels for different members of the family and hang them or place them under the Christmas tree. There is a pile under the tree and everyone, with the occasional prodding and feeling, tries to guess what are in the parcels. Some wrap parcels to themselves with tags saying “Secret Admirer” or “Anonymous”. The kids find these activities exciting and in fact, they generate the excitement, but Johnny and I are not encouraged to put our packages out until the last minute.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, we beat our big gong to mark the occasion, have drinks, eat cakes and sit around while each person opens a package in turn. There is much oohing, aahing, thanking and saying, “It is just what I wanted!”

Once all the presents have been opened, people slip off to bed.

Christmas1980
Karen in lounge room | Christmas Eve 1980

Breakfast is a special one with bacon and eggs. Lunch is often cold prawns, mayonnaise, salads and bread. Dinner would be the special meal with a roast bird, vegetables, potatoes or whatever. We gave up making Christmas pudding for dessert as by the end of the dinner we were so stuffed and the pudding so rich that we would end up feeling rather sick. I think we have fruit salad now. Last Christmas we had roast turkey although usually it would be duck or goose. However, turkey was so delicious that we decided to have it every Christmas. The problem here is that festive food is available throughout the year and turkey and ham do not seem special anymore. We have now restricted ourselves to only having turkey at Christmas.

That is usually how we celebrate Christmas. Recently I realised that there are not many rituals and festivals in our lives and it is good to have some. We also celebrate birthdays with an extra special dinner chosen by the birthday person.

About things from India, we don’t need anything really. We can get almost everything we wish here. Over the years we’ve managed with what is available locally. Just come, use your money for travel, however, if you are visiting the aunt in Singapore, you may need to take a few gifts.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • The Gallery of photos is now on a menu option for ease of viewing.

52. The Benedictine Nuns – Journal Entry 30th Jul 1980

I had a very nice chat with Sister Gregory. She told me a Benedictine nun from England, who belongs to an intellectual order, is in Australia to attend a conference of the Benedictine order.  The monks are smitten by her intelligence and knowledge and she will be holding a discussion on prayer. Sister Theresa is trying to find at least twenty people who might be interested in hearing the English nun speak. Sister Gregory said it was a case of Sodom and Gomorrah – at least 20 good people?

BenedictineNuns
Benedictine nuns with Gita 1980

Sister Gregory says that the more she hears about our activities and what goes on at our place the more she thinks that ours must be the only Christian household. I don’t think that’s much of a compliment though. Apparently, Barbara comes out with bits of our lore and language, which amuses the nuns. Mum is the only religious one among us and likes to attend church.

Today again I didn’t get much done. A letter came in from India, Nora wants to visit us so she can spend time with mum. She also wants to start an export business and we will have to think about that.

Telephone the solicitors – they haven’t done anything yet about the insurance claim.

Barbara had another upset today. Cliffy is said to have teased her about someone and she is supposed to have said that if he teases her again she would kill herself. She was withdrawn when she returned home. She has also been excited by the last visit to town when she met some Quay Street friends and has been marking time for our next Rocky visit.  She seems to be making a big issue about friends, old friends, and sending cards to them. It’s been nearly two months since Barbara has been on Mellaril, mum tells me.

I stopped the Rover in an awkward place and it wouldn’t start.  It doesn’t take much to start the engine but you do need that little slope and Johnny doesn’t know what the problem is.

Mum was upset now because she was to go to the pensioners social and had baked a cake. If she had known the Rover wasn’t available, she would have walked and made time for it. Now she would be late and the cake was heavy, she said. I stopped her from disturbing the neighbours and walked with her, carrying the old-fashioned coffee cake. The swamp had over 30 Whistler ducks sitting quietly among the weeds.  On the way back, I sat and watched them. How I wished, yet again, that I had a pair of binoculars.  A car passed by very close to me when I walked back, funny bugger.

The corned leg of mutton didn’t turn out so well. The overnight soaking was insufficient and it tasted rather salty, the gravy was worse.

At 9:30 p.m. I talked about the draft program for Warby’s conference and Johnny suggested changes. I told Johnny about N and M’s possible visit and laughed at his consternation. Told him of my day and also Monika’s delight at fixing the duck fence.

31st Jul 1980

Rang the Activities Therapy Centre about Barbara, saying she would kill herself if Cliffy teased her again. The bus driver told me that Barbara has started her talk of boyfriends and was being teased by the schoolboys on the bus. I advised her to tell Barbara to stop talking about it. Reggie the bus driver, is very kind and believes in treating adults as equals. She was concerned enough to see Graham, the psychologist, about the problem of dealing with Barbara on the bus.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series and based on the journals of my mother.
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • Check out the photos under the Gallery menu option

Memories of Kathmandu in 1968, Special Interview With My Mother’s Best Friend – 25th Jul 2018

In a fortunate turn of events, I was able to track down my mother’s best friend Cynthia. My mother, Marcello, Gareth and I spent time with Cynthia in 1968 when we  stayed in Kathmandu, Nepal, prior to moving to Australia in 1969. Cynthia has since adopted the name Kami and resides on Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada.

When did you and mum first meet?

I was working at the British Council there at that time and was living in this old palace called Thamel Lodge,  in a little round house with a thatched roof. Your mum, you and Marcello, came to live in one of the little apartments. The house was quite primitive, for a London girl like me, with a mud floor. I had problems keeping it clean, although I had been roughing it for months on the road and had lived in a few rather bizarre places. Somehow, we swapped homes – your mum and you two kids lived in the little round house and I lived in the apartment. She knew how to look after and clean the mud floor.

CynthiaMum
Cynthia with Marcello, Gita and Karen in Kathmandu, Nepal 1968

What sort of person was she, with you?

We bonded straight away and we were great friends. She was very open and very knowledgeable and I immediately looked up to her as this rather special being. I had been working in Thailand, learning about other cultures, and started to have a fascination with India, although Nepal and India are very different. So she was like my teacher or mentor even though she was only two years older than me. Gita already had four children and I hadn’t even married or had a child. She seemed to be well-educated, she read a lot and knew a great deal about poetry and literature. I got her a bit of work at the British Council as she had worked for them as a secretary before, in India.

What was Kathmandu like at that time?

It was full of temples with very devout Hindus practicing there. People would go to the temples everyday and put flowers all over town on the deities. One was a Shiva lingam, you know what a lingam is, and they would worship it. Gita was there right at the influx of the hippy era, I was there at the beginning of that and it was extraordinary. There was nowhere at the time to buy western clothes so you had to wear traditional dress like the kurta and salwar kameez. We had all been travellers when we arrived in Kathmandu, so our clothes might have looked a bit worn. Many of the early hippies were just free-spirited people who were studying the Asian art, culture, religion and customs but later the term was associated with drugs.

What kinds of things do you remember doing together?

I was working every weekday so we would catch up on the weekends. I don’t think she had much money at the time so I would come over and have dinner with Gita and you kids quite a lot. There was a nice man from Calcutta, a Mr Bose who was working in Kathmandu and missed his family, so he ‘adopted’ us, your mum and I and you and Marcello, and then Gareth. We would all go out for picnics. One thing I remember was going to a jazz concert with American guitarist Charlie Byrd at the National Stadium in Kathmandu, and when the band (who were angry about their disastrous concert) were leaving in their hired limousine, I asked for a ride home for us as Gita was pregnant with Gareth at the time. There wasn’t a lot of mixing in those early east-meets-west days in Kathmandu and although Nepalese men showed interest in me, I actually only had one Tibetan boyfriend. It was quite difficult to have Nepalese women friends at that time unless you met them through their work. Your family and I discovered Kathmandu together.

I know you supported mum at Gareth’s birth, can you tell me about it?

Well, I was very excited as I had never been that close to anyone who was pregnant before and when I left home most of my friends weren’t married or having children. She went into labour in the night and we had to walk to the Bir Hospital because after dark there were no rickshaws or taxis. There were no telephones either so we couldn’t call anyone and anyway we didn’t know anyone with a car. Along the way, whenever she had a contraction, Gita sat down on the footpath. I was quite worried because I didn’t know how long it was going to take or whether I would have to help with the birth on the way. We finally got to the hospital and it was a bit of a shambles there.

Was it a difficult birth?

No, not really, we were met at the Bir Hospital by a nurse and I don’t think we were even signed in. She said to me, “Are you a nurse?” because I was going to go with Gita as support.

I said, “No.” I didn’t want to lie because I had never been at a birth before, didn’t know what to expect and I thought I might faint or something! The nurse told me that I could go and lie on a bench in the corridor. There were patients lying on the ground on mattresses because there weren’t enough wards. Of course I couldn’t sleep and I could hear the sound of rats scuttling around on the ground. I was thinking, Oh my God, these people are on the ground, at least I’m up on a bench, it was like a nightmare. I don’t know if Gareth wants to hear this… The nurse eventually came and got me, nothing had been cleaned up, I saw the afterbirth in a bucket, it was a pretty bloody place. I was so happy to see Gita with a healthy baby!

How long did she stay there and how did she get home?

She stayed in the hospital, in a bed, overnight. I brought flowers but there was nowhere to put them. They eventually found a tin can. I came to pick her up soon after and we got a rickshaw home.

CynthiaGarethBaby
Cynthia holding Gareth, Kathmandu 1968

Did you help mum with the baby and with looking after us?

Not really, because I was working all day but we did hire a woman to help with the housework. In those days it was expected that foreigners would provide employment for local workers. In those days you didn’t have throwaway diapers (we used to call them nappies in England) and so they had to be boiled and washed everyday.

Marcello asked if you remembered the time when I was electrocuted? He literally saved my life.

No, I think it might have happened when I was away because I left for Japan. You stayed on some months after I left and when I came back you were gone, to Australia.

How did you meet your husband Minoru at that time?

Gita wanted to learn Aikido, the Japanese martial art, from Minoru the Japanese instructor.  Because he only taught men and boys, she wanted me to go with her.  That is when he really started getting friendly with me. Then Gita decided she wanted to learn Shiatsu massage, which he was also offering mainly to the foreign community.  So he came back to your little round house and used me to practice on. That’s when one thing lead to another and we ended up together.

Did we attend your wedding to Minoru in Kathmandu?

Yes, it was a very traditional Nepalese-Hindu wedding with a Brahmin priest and held in an old palace called Bagh Durbar. The wedding was all arranged by members of the Nepalese Royal Family as Minoru had been living with them at the time. They had tried to marry him off to a Nepalese woman but he was with me so they checked me out to see if I was suitable. They were happy that I had a good job at the British Council, so they deemed me suitable. I remember Gita saying, the Bagh Durbar palace, with its many rooms, was like something out of a Kafka story. Anyway, I had a red sari for my wedding dress. Recently I found out that there was a huge protest to save Bagh Durbar, so I wrote to say that this heritage building should be saved and also that I was married there. They found my picture on Facebook and posted it, with some of my words on top, on their Facebook page.

 

Cynthia-Wedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia, Nepalese Wedding at Bagh Durbar, an old palace in Kathmandu Nepal in 1968

 

Cynthia Wedding (1)
Cynthia and Minoru wed Nepali Style in Bagh Durbar under supervision of Brigadier General Sushil Shumsher Rana, brother of the former Queen Mother of Nepal.

 

MinoruCynthia-JapaneseWedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia also wed in traditional Japanese style at Hotel Takanawa, Tokyo, January 1969, four months after their Nepalese wedding

Where did you have your child Anna?

I was staying in Japan with my husband and he, and his family, wanted me to have the baby there, but it was very difficult for foreign women in Japan at the time. I remember reading an anthropology book which said that Japanese women are not permitted to cry out during childbirth! I thought, Oh my God that sounds primitive, so I went back to England to my family and had the baby. I realised also that I had made a terrible mistake and it was getting hard for me to cope with the expectations of me in my relationship with Minoru. I wanted to go back to my own country without all those restrictions. I did visit Kathmandu in March 1969 on the way back to England, but you had all gone.

CynthiaAnna
Cynthia with Anna 2 weeks old, England 1969

Did mum stay in the one area the whole time?

As well as the little round house, Gita rented a room above a shop around the Buddhist Stupa of Boudhanath, where many of the Tibetans had settled. It’s a little out of town and I think it was mostly used at weekends. I remember staying there once or twice.  It was very quiet, apart from the Tibetans walking around the stupa, turning their prayer wheels and reciting the prayer Om Mani Padme Hum.  Now it’s overcrowded and not very nice.

Mum left India in difficult circumstances, leaving behind two children, did she ever talk about it?

Actually she didn’t talk much about it but she had told me that she had run away from your dad and that she was worried he would track her down as she had you and Marcello. She told me about Johnny and that she was going to move to Australia with him. Maybe she didn’t want to talk to me about leaving your brother and sister behind. There was so much happening at the time we were just dealing with what was happening then and there. Johnny would send letters to her through me.

Was there anything else you remember about mum?

When I was pregnant and leaving for Japan, Gita gave me a piece of fabric that came from an Art Colony in India and wanted me to make something special with it. So I had a maternity dress made – it was only just big enough. It was a bit short but it was ok to wear in England. I lent it to many people but insisted they give it back to me. Which they did. Now I use it for patches and my patched gardening shirt is on display in the Bowen Island Heritage Museum at the moment. I’ve also patched a pair of pants with it, so Gita lives on!

Can you tell me about how you came to change your name to Kami?

After I moved to Canada, I felt that Cynthia sounded too English a name – I didn’t feel like a Cynthia anymore. I had lived the better part of five years in Nepal and it had changed me. In Canada I was learning dance with an African and I mentioned I wanted to change my name. He suggested a very long name, Oledapo Kemi Funimolaya, and I adapted Kemi to Kami. I’m still Cynthia on all my official documents, so when I travel, I’m Cynthia, but everyone on Bowen Island knows me as Kami.

How did you feel when I contacted you, after all these years?

I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe it at first, that you had found me was miraculous in a way. When I looked at your photo in Facebook when you sent me the message, having only seen you as a little five year old girl with dark hair to now with grey hair, it took me a while to work out what it was about. I was in shock that day, and going to a reading a friend was doing for a book she had published. I was telling everybody, Oh my God something big happened. Then when you told me Gita had passed away I had what I could only be described as a delayed grieving – it was terribly sad. I had already grieved the fact that I was never going to reconnect with Gita after trying for years unsuccessfully to track her and your family down. I had lost her once already.

How did you and mum lose touch with each other?

If she was still alive and we had reconnected, I have a feeling we would have just carried on our friendship where we left off. She had such a different life to me. I lived alone for much of my life since Anna left home. I admired the fact that Gita had this big love. I had moved around quite a bit and tried for so many years to track her down. I searched and searched. I feel like there have been all these little messages since I lost touch with Gita. She gave me the Haiku book translated by R.H. Blyth when I got together with Minoru and then I found one at the Bowen Island annual book sale this year.

I believe you are writing memoir at the moment. Can you tell me about it?

Oh, it must be the slowest memoir in the world! I had been thinking about it for thirty years and I sometimes stall when I am working on it. It starts with me travelling overland from London to Kathmandu in August 1966, going through sixteen countries, how it was arriving in Kathmandu when there were very few foreigners living there and how extraordinary it was then. After that we were ‘thrown out’ after our four month visa expired which we had already extended for a month. Most of the travellers were asked to leave if they weren’t staying in the big hotels because we were renting in people’s homes. That was before the term “hippy” came up and they were still using the term “beatnik”. You couldn’t renew your visa unless you could produce a lot of money, were staying in one of the hotels or came with an organisation. There were a lot of NGOs there at that time.

Have you done any other writing lately?

I recently wrote a 750 word piece called The Tokyo Letters, for a flash non-fiction competition for a magazine in Mexico, about connecting with you. It came about when you sent me copies of the aerogrammes that I had sent to your mum, back when I was in Tokyo. I was reminded about what a horrible time if was for me and that Gita was the only person I could write to about it.

Kami-Anna
Kami with her daughter Anna in Edmonton, Canada in 2018

 

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This special interview forms part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • My mother’s early journal entries contain draft letters she wrote to Cynthia (Kami) and all photos here have been included by permission.
  • I have continued to use my mother’s pen name Gita in this transcript.
  • A photo gallery, for the early part of the Journal Series, has now been added to the home page here.

38. Memories of India – Journal Entry 30th Apr 1979

It was good to receive your letter. We wondered how you had gone with the interview. Johnny certainly enjoyed reading your letter as good letter writers are so rare.

The photographs were very informative, they revived memories and feelings that have been sternly suppressed for twelve years. One is of course grateful for any scrap of news. Averil in a sari was a heartening sight. Johnny and I feel very strongly about being as Indian as possible in India, one is Indian, and any other way is slightly suicidal. Yes, it’s easy for us to speak from this comfortable distance, but we love and miss many of the good things of India. Indians abroad are usually invited to speak on India and are asked many questions about religion, poverty, food, clothing, etc.

I’ve run adult education classes on Indian cooking and given a few talks and demonstrations at the local high school. Many of our Indian friends tell us quietly, but with amusement, that they have had to visit the nearby libraries so they are able to answer the queries put to them about India.

I regret very much not having bothered to learn more of the culture I was born in. Had I a choice of an overseas holiday, I would most likely spend it in India, pursuing a few of my interests like kolams and regional cooking.

I’ve written a teach-yourself-to-cook Indian cookbook but haven’t bothered to revise the manuscript, something I’d been meaning to get to daily for the past three years!

Perhaps R can swap recipes? For instance, I’ve tried making Naan roti but have yet to achieve a reasonable one. The recipe books are not much use. What actually goes into Naan and should the oven be hotter than 550 degrees F?

Today gran and I made brinjal pickle (homegrown) and lemon pickle too. The lemon pickle recipe is one your mother taught us when we were kids.

We can grow most Indian vegetables if we have the seed. We have to depend on what’s available through the seed companies as seeds are not allowed into the country. Our most precious plants are two curry leaf seedlings. We grow, or have grown, okra, brinjal, four different types of chilli, guavas, mangoes, spinach, bitter gourd, snake gourd, pumpkin and dhal greens. Not the proper dhal greens, a weed, but good enough. The house we bought already had four large mango trees.

Gran (or Nana, as you call her) is the keen gardener and raiser of chicks and ducks. The garden suffers when she gets a temporary job – usually looking after invalid old ladies. At the moment she is sewing hats, bags and shirts, to sell in a friend’s craft shop.

19th May 1979

Have lost my perspective of what I was going to do this year. Sidetracked again but something good and right came up. Joan has formed a catering group and there is much work to be done before any return can be seen. In the meantime I have neglected P-maths and am very agitated. Need to sort myself out.

Jobs Pending
  • Meals On Wheels (M.O.W.) – ask Janet to take over
  • Pancakes for tuckshop – what should I do? Give it away?
  • Candles – lots of wax to be used up
  • Plants at Magnussons – continue?
  • Garden – needs attention
  • Chooks and pen
  • Family, of course
  • Car Maintenance

Just phoned Janet, she will take over M.O.W. Also ordered some avocados for Monday evening.

3rd Jul 1979

A few things have to be planned for next week. I’m away Tuesday and Wednesday nights. And maybe Thursday?

  • Cheque to Bankcard
  • Letter of resignation
  • Make cooking and house notes for family
  • Lots of P-maths
  • Sort out insurances
  • Visit Cyss
  • Johnny’s clothes need to be prepared.

Cleansing Diet

The general idea is that if the body is purified, it will heal itself.
So apply (1) and (2) on alternate days.

Breakfast (1)
Grated pineapple with grated seeds
(almonds but not peanuts)

Breakfast (2)
Plain biscuits with butter
1 slice wholemeal toast
2 lightly poached eggs

Mid-morning: juice 3 oranges

Lunch (1)
Salad (any)
Raisin, nuts

Lunch (2)
Fruit (apples in particular)

Mid-afternoon: 3 oranges

Dinner (1)
Steamed veg
Veg rissoles (onions, egg, no sauces)

Dinner (2)
Salad
Nutmeat

No liquids for an hour before and two hours after a meal. No meat, condiments, tea or coffee. If sweets are craved, eat brown rice with milk but no sugar, yoghurt or custard without sugar. Drink Kurk brew instead of tea or coffee.

***

The pain is constant. Time, that clichéd healer, should dull it, but at the moment I welcome the pain – in fact, I deliberately foster it.

Absolute folly, it interferes with day-to-day activities. I wish to write it off as a delightfully human and rare experience and leave it at that. What else is there to do? You must get on with your life, and soon, please. We only have one life each of us, and the years go so quickly. I agree most heartily, I wish we had never met, the agony is terrible. The conflict for me is awful.

All this must seem rather dramatic to you but what the hell, if we can’t make love let us at least attempt to make literature! Shall I put you in a book and thereby absorb you in a less destructive way?

In what way is my behaviour different from Barbie’s behaviour when she withdraws? I have the same urge to be by myself, I don’t feel hungry, well not as much as I normally do. I like wandering about in the garden and I can’t concentrate. Sleep is at a minimum.

The disco was fun. I danced from the time I got there to finishing time which was 11:30pm. My partner was ‘stretch’, a very tall guy. He was young and clean and wore glasses, which gave the impression he was learned. Took a crowd afterwards to the Singing Ship. The moon was disturbingly bright. The young ones went off to make wishes at the well. I sat in the moke and brooded. It had been a wonderful evening.

There is no future or present, only a brief past. A past that should not have been.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. It can be found in Archived on the Home page.
  • A map of where we lived and a family tree are also at the bottom of the Home page, click here.
  • In Emu Park: “The Singing Ship memorial commemorates Captain Cook`s Bicentenary in 1970 and marks his exploration of the bay in May, 1770. The memorial represents the billowing sail, mast and rigging of his ship Endeavour. Concealed organ pipes use the sea breezes to create eerie music.” Ref: Monument Australia, click here.

27. The Brahmin – Journal Entry 18th July 1978

He was so kind to me, the brahmin with a hare-lip. One could hardly make out what he said, yet he talked without apparent embarrassment. He taught me just one thing: I don’t think he needed to worry about my other faults, the one he pointed out was the worst and most important. My family background was pretty rough and occasionally for entertainment, we made fun of people with physical defects or queer mannerisms.

For some reason, I suppose because Mr Subramaniam carried his hare-lip so naturally and with such dignity, I hardly noticed it. He was so helpful to me, an awkward 15 year old, gaining experience as an unpaid typist. He found the office a busy and unfriendly place.

However, someone else amused me, another person who tried to help me, but who, to me, seemed suspect. He was a droll character, with his techno-coloured silk shirts, large moustache and rolling eyes. His eyes and hands seemed to move together in all directions, but definitely in harmony.

Mr Subramaniam must have seen the mocking amusement on my face, but he didn’t say anything until one day I commented on how funny Mr X looked. He didn’t laugh, just looked at me and asked quietly what right I had to make fun of Mr X; he then softened the rebuke by saying that many people made rude fun of others and that it would be a pity if I behaved like them. He then amused me by jotting down shorthand phrases and getting me to read them; they were practice phrases from the Pitman’s Shorthand Instructor.

Indian Dress

In any society there are three important and highly conventional forms. These three forms are very basic.

  1. The getting and eating of food
  2. The getting and exercise of sex
  3. The way people dress

Studying these three basic forms will give us some idea of a society’s structure and philosophy.

When looking at the dress of another culture, we must remember we are looking at the end result of a long process. For example, European dress allegedly began with some fig leaves then animal-skin loin cloths which rapidly progressed to bustle skirts for women and smoking jackets for men to some present day cheeky swimming gear for the beach.

Long Indian skirts for women and loose Indian lalchi or jibbah for the men are from ancient Indian sculpture and it would appear that the dress of the early Indians of both sexes was simply jewellery around the neck, waist, wrists and ankles. The next stage seems to have been sarong-like garments of fine material, presumably cotton.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Click here to go to Home
  • Click here to go to this post online
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • This appears to be a story followed by an article, however, my mother had worked in an office in India in the late 60s and knew Pitman’s shorthand.