Saturday, December 02, 2017

Histories – Chinapeta, Bhimavaram India – 1981


The Burden of Conscience


The driver got lost in a maze of streets that literally had no names. It was dark, almost 10pm, the power was out and the stars were as bright as I’d ever seen, as the rickshaw turned the last corner, the front gates of my grandparent’s house, just barely visible. I was two the last time I left those gates and seven years later, our first visit back, it seemed a world removed from all but visceral recognition. This was Chinapeta, Bhimavaram India, 1981. It might as well have been a rural hamlet a few hundred years earlier. Not much had changed. There was a canal that divided the unusually large street, which had dried up in the summer heat and was littered with paper debris. The air was heavy with the fragrance of sandalwood incense and crop excess firewood, which lingered resisting a strong evening breeze. Within days the monsoon season would begin.

There was a warm welcome of tears, laughter and voices raised in excited disbelief. My grandmother Veeramma Tanukala (Victoriamma), held my mother’s face in her hands, lovingly wiping away tears with the corner of her green paisley sari. My grandfather Pastor M. Benjamin, was busily assisting my father, hauling luggage into the house, preparing fresh linen, heating basins of water for warm baths, and lighting hurricane lamps; you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face if you tried. After freshening up, we sat outside in a circle in the front garden, on aged and severely painful dining chairs, feasting on curried smelts, pappu charu (dal rasam), and mango pickle. My grandmother’s hand directly inherited by my mother was unmistakable. The rich flavors accentuated by home brewed spices, made for a meal I will never forget—fine Andhra cuisine the way it was meant to be enjoyed—a history dating back hundreds of years, a tradition that my sister continues.


As a child, my grandparents seemed almost mythical, like hobbits in a far off land. My imagination was more accurate than I realized. Their house—the house my grandparents and my mother built with their own hands—was rustic to a fault, having much in common with a rural Welsh cottage from the late 1700s. The porch, was essentially a thin indented foyer mosaicked with framed photographs of family members, welcoming an open garden which my mother helped cultivate. The garden boasted two very tall coconut trees, various tropical plants, flowers and a variety of my grandmother’s favorite vegetables. The coconut trees were planted in honor of my mother, in gratitude for her hard work and financial assistance—my grandfather wrote about it at length in his letters, about the time and effort she put into assisting them settle into retirement. The garden extended right to the front gates, adjacent to a fresh water pump, which my grandparents designated as an open access point for usage by anyone in the neighborhood. The main entrance led into a sparsely furnished living room: so sparse in fact, it was furnished with only two wooden arm chairs, a heavy laden shelf with Seventh Day Adventist books and literature, a calendar with a fixed image of the Sacred Heart, and my grandfather’s desk: littered with stationery, pencils, pens, ink, ink pad, a personalized stamp (which my grandfather was particularly proud of), letters (both received and unfinished) and his will, securely filed.

When my grandparents and parents found themselves unencumbered for approximately one month, in the town where I was born: they finally had the opportunity to communicate some immediate and pressing concerns. In that time, a great deal of history was addressed, plans for the future were evaluated, and a sense of hope was derived after years of uncertainty. My parents had been considering a return to India (permanently) roughly estimating within the next five years. My grandparents, desired that we live side by side. My grandfather even drew up architectural drafts for my parent’s approval, which they happily accepted, and are proudly archived in the AFA. But, sadly, fate would not allow, as my grandfather, would suffer an “accidental fall” while “exiting a medical clinic” early in 1984 and succumbed within days to brain trauma. My grandmother too would shortly pass away joining her devoted husband, succumbing to blood poisoning from renal failure. In truth, she died of a broken heart, like many elderly, hurting and alone. In the years following, my mother lamented not being able to reach her in time, and ached for her. They were two peas in a pod.

However, in our moment of hope, that brief month, there was a profound feeling of satisfaction. It was the plan, to settle with my grandparents and live an idyllic and peaceful life in India. There is a great deal to be said about dreamers: dreams denote who you are, and for some, what you are willing to become.

During that month, within the tropical climate, and despite two weeks of non-stop monsoon rains, we trekked all around town, to the shops, the market, and theaters—which was a big deal for my grandparents, as they were strict Seventh Day Adventists and never ventured anywhere near the entertainment district. One evening after enjoying Hyderabadi Biryani and Chicken curry, in a popular restaurant, my grandmother, shyly but, gracefully ordered a cup of coffee, instructing a charmed waiter on how to prepare it to her liking. She sat smiling that smile, my mother said many times over was my inheritance. My grandfather, settled for tea instead, looking both dignified and nonplussed at the same time, with both hands on the handle of his umbrella. That umbrella, and his bible, accompanied him everywhere. He had a unique style, always wearing a pressed dress shirt (usually white), dark blazer and panchi. He, like my mother, was always in his element, in control, centered and highly observant. Nothing escaped his attention. He ate his meal, like he ate every meal, with a great sense of satisfaction, but never of indulgence. He was measured in his behavior, always under-reacting, but he was no push over, he spoke his mind when he felt he needed to.

After his death in 1984, we made a sombre return journey to India, my mother requested his bible, which is all she received by way of inheritance, not that more wasn’t allocated to her; it’s all she was permitted by those managing the estate. A year before his death he forwarded a copy of his will to my parents, and in this moment, they were well aware of what was happening. My grandfather was a man with a strong moral code. His bible was his coda. Within its pages, were his written instructions arranged and structured like musical notation, records, and histories, cross-referenced and catalogued, accessible if you knew the code, essentially, his elegy. My mother lived that code. His writings were filled with love, compassion as well as profound anger, regarding several matters. Which is why, the parties concerned, those who feared him, waited until his death, to leverage a paradigm shift, or at least an attempt at such a thing. It was the antithesis of who my grandfather was. The ability to identify that, to comprehend the implications and to move against the grain, were a part of my mother’s inheritance, and now are a part of mine.

During the pounding monsoon, my grandmother would often stand in the foyer, watching the rain. It fell so intensely, you couldn’t see the end of the garden wall, let alone the front of the street. Anyone coming up the path looked like a spindly dark shadow. I joined her, placed my arm around her shoulders, like I did with mom at home, and watched the rain. She enjoyed its ebb and flow, the voluminous hum, it soothed her, all except for the sudden appearance of frogs, which she detested. I peered closely at her weathered face, she was beautiful, a relic from another era, traces of a Lambadi heritage—in her youth before her marriage, she was a typical Hindu girl, decked out in traditional garb, with bindi, scarlet sari, earrings, nose rings, and bangles, on her wrists and ankles. Her face was now worn by age and grief. Losing her eldest son early in their family life, all but erased the possibility of the happiness found in a holistic completeness. I wiped some of the rain drops from her cheek and she smiled, the way mom did when I’d do the same for her. When I was a baby, my grandmother would carry me around the garden, cracking jokes and laughing. I vaguely remember glimpses of her sari, her face and that cheek, pressed up against mine.
Bhimavaram 1973

In the following days, when the rains finally subsided my grandfather took me to the market, half-way by rickshaw, half-way by foot. It was an adventure as it was nothing like being at home in a grocery store. This was an open air market, with everything you could want or imagine. We bought custard apples, jackfruit, mango jelly (not the spreadable type, but more like a thick fruit roll-up that was ridiculously delicious), tamarind candy (that tasted just like the Mexican version), fragrant coriander, curry leaves, red daal, and mutton. On the way home we took a different route, trekking right to the edge of the neighboring village. We went there to meet an old friend of the family, she was a stout, heavy set, middle aged woman, in a bright saffron sari, with a thin red border. She was with a large group of women selling their wares of cutlery, plates, cups, saucers and magnificently ornate pots. They exchanged pleasantries the way old war buddies do. She was his main supplier of Curry (chili) Powder and exceptionally talented in its creation. I observed their friendly discourse—my grandfather treated all people with considerable respect, as complete equals, men, women and children, which to this day is something that Indian patriarchy and caste racism has not been able to accomplish. He was a wholly unique man, both admired and resented and on occasion feared because he lived the truth and wasn’t afraid of saying it to your face.

When we arrived at home, there were parakeets lining the property walls. They were huddled together for protection. During the midday they’d arrive and cluster as if for a meeting, decked out in bright greens, yellows, pinks and blues. But at night, they were puffed up revealing only a greyish-green hue. By the morning they’d be long gone. I wondered where they went, maybe to dine somewhere by the train station. There was always food by the train station, except of course for the migrating homeless families, stowing away on heavy laden railcars, travelling from town to town looking for employment. My grandfather never ignored them as most people did, he went out of his way to help people, often quietly, respectfully addressing all as old friends. He was well known in the neighborhood, and was greeted with respect and trust. My grandmother too was extraordinarily welcoming to people seeking assistance. She accommodated travellers, sadhus and anyone in distress. She always prepared extra food every day, at great personal cost out of their personal budget, just to make sure that visitors were well fed, and comforted. I see the parallels between my mother and her parents. Mom was just like them to a tee. In a world with its fair share of impromptu genuflectors failing to practice what they preach, I found three examples here, who were the real thing. They didn’t need to preach, they led by example, they lived their credo, which was at the heart of it an ideology of compassion without condition—a basic humanist principle.

During that trip, as I’ve mentioned, a great deal of issues were discussed, with specific regard to inter-familial politics. These were difficult matters to negotiate emotionally as they opened up old and current wounds. Things had to be put right and my grandfather was bent on seeing it through. He was a man of profound integrity and carried with him the respect of those he presided. He had his detractors, however, most notably from opportunists adamant see him on the shelf. After his unexpected death, they did just that, manufacturing the courage to say (and do) things they would never have previously attempted, let alone, say to his face.

Regardless, a healthy understanding of the situation was established. My grandfather’s notes, letters and guidance have stood the test of time. The events he anticipated, occurred as expected, especially those that followed immediately after his passing. However, all of his eggs were not placed in one basket. Reading through his archives, I feel at times overwhelmed by his attention to detail and the complexity of various issues he disseminated, and sometimes eviscerated, the same way he would take apart a hen (for a chicken curry) in the backyard with his butcher knife. There was a cold calculus to it. I stood there at his side one afternoon, watching him sharpen that blade and wield it effortlessly—the chicken had no idea, it was alive one moment and dead the next, with no time to consider its next breath. He raised hens primarily for the eggs, and on the special occasion for family dinners. The rooster, a giant leghorn, made a racket every daybreak. One morning, I awoke to a razor’s edge of sunlight in the eastern sky, I turned over and went back to sleep, but not before seeing a small lizard crawling across the ceiling. By this time I was getting used to them—if only. I was just too tired to care.

The following days were relaxed, everything that needed to be discussed was discussed, no stone unturned. My grandfather put everything into writing, as if to provide an affidavit for future reference. The inner workings of the familial network now lay bare for consideration. And like a jigsaw, the pieces fit perfectly. I observed him intently in that time attempting to gauge him, if only to understand him better. There was that underlying sadness in him that was evident in my grandmother—a tremendous sense of restrained grief. Being a pastor, the burden of bearing a moral conscience was ever apparent in that grief. The application of that conscience in every aspect of life comes at a great cost, and can be profoundly unpopular and lonely. But, he persisted, rather they persisted. And succeeded. After we left he wrote that they had both wept for a week, as if afflicted with a death in the family. Every parting was a return to that grief. It was always there and they were both slowly dying from it.



At the train station with our luggage loaded, we stood on the platform, waiting for the last call—it was then that they broke, and the tears flowed. We all wept, a pain my nine year old self had never experienced before. My grandfather held my mother’s hand through the window of the train and told her that he was afraid he’d never see her again. My mother begged him not to say those words, but he persisted and offered some sage parental advice. There are some dreams that are not meant to be—but that doesn’t diminish the value behind the aspiration. The good conscience behind every endeavor make the measure of the dreamer. My grandparents and my mother were dreamers—a family within a family—at home in each other’s company. They lived, loved and are loved, and will be forever.

Posted by: Anil Anandaraju

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Travellers

November 30, 1974

Posted by: Suhasini

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"A Lovely Work of Art"

Susee Mable, age 18 (Andhra Pradesh, 1959) 
© Anandaraju Family Archives

 You're so like the lady with the mystic smile
Is it only 'cause you're lonely they have blamed you?
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?
—Mona Lisa by Jay Livingston, Ray Evans

(as performed by Nat King Cole one of my mother's favourite singers)

Posted by: Suhasini 

Daughter




Pastor M. Benjamin, Victoriamma (Veeramma),
Susee Mable, Anil and Suha. Three generations of love.
Photos: © Anandaraju Family Archives
(Bhimavaram, 1973)

Posted by: Suhasini

Monday, August 14, 2017

Susee Mable in Jinnur

Susee Mable (right) with Mrs. Lazar
at Jinnur Maternity Centre (1971)
© Anandaraju Family Archives
Posted by: Suhasini

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Forty-Six Years Ago

August 2, 1971
Lutheran Transfiguration Church
Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh, India
Signing Marriage Register
Signing Marriage Register
Photos: © Anandaraju Family Archives



See more pics here.

Posted by: Suhasini

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Happy Birthday Mom



Photos: © Anandaraju Family Archives


Happy Birthday darling Mummy. You were an absolute delight.
You're in our hearts forever. 💗

Posted by: Suhasini

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

© Anandaraju Family Archives


"I miss you.
I miss your voice.
I miss your smile.
I miss your smell.
I miss your hug.
I miss your jokes.
I miss how you
made me feel.
I miss your
everything."—Anonymous

Posted by: Suhasini

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Susee Mable and Friend, 1960s

Susee Mable and friend, Andhra Pradesh (1960s) 
© Anandaraju Family Archives


Posted by: Suhasini

Thursday, April 13, 2017

In Remembrance

Susee Mable and Solomon Injety,
SDA General Conference, Indiana, 1990
(photograph: Ethel Injety)

She was a rugged Christian with dynamic faith. She was an eloquent and relentless crusader for righteousness in the family and the small selected contacts she owned. She kept all evil doers far away from her and that is why she had God fearing people as her few friends.

She always spoke with courage, with deepest human understanding, and with stimulating hope. To know her was to love her. Yes a two year vision of your hope dim vision is becoming clearer: why she left us in a hurry. She was a champion of God's mold. What she did for you was in a hurry and taught you clearly how to follow. We loose best things fast.

I want to join with you today with these thoughts, celebrating my pleasant memories of my beloved child of God. To me her life is an every day celebration, an inspiration. All three of you rejoice in the Lord Always. Happy Anniversary.

Love, Bavaiah Solomon Injety

Susee Mable, Ethel Margaret and Solomon Injety
Hyderabad, India, 1974

Photographs: © Anandaraju Family Archives

In Memoriam

© Anandaraju Family Archives

Our life with our beloved Susee Mable (wife to Pamula and mother to Anil and Suha) was a blessed, happy and unforgettable journey. We wouldn't trade one minute of it for the world. Two years on, RIP darling Mummy.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”—John 14:1-4

Forever, Pamula, Anil and Suha

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Susee Mable with Family and Friends (1966)

Susee Mable (far right) and friends with
Victoriamma (far left) and Pastor M. Benjamin (back)
© Anandaraju Family Archives


Posted by: Suhasini

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Victoriamma M. Benjamin: In Memoriam

Thirty-one years ago, on Wednesday March 26, 1986, my mother Susee Mable's beloved mother, Victoriamma passed away in a Narsapur hospital in Andhra Pradesh, India.

The day my grandmother died is forever etched in my memory because the pure, consecrated, unwavering and unconditional love my mother felt for her mother was so palpable. Upon hearing of her mother's passing, Mum whispered, "No, please no" and collapsed to the ground. Her heart broken, she was inconsolable with grief.

Victoriamma M. Benjamin © Anandaraju Family Archives

My grandmother was born Veeramma Tanukula (her Christian name was "Victoriamma") on September 26, 1913 to a loving family in the village of Chilukuru (West Godavari district). Her parents were Isaiah and Mariamma Tanukula. She had an older sister named Gnanaratnamma (Gangamma) and a younger brother named Israel.

On June 26, 1926, she married Mylabathula Benjamin an elementary school teacher who became an ordained minister in the South Asian Adventist Mission for over forty years. They remained loyal and faithful partners for nearly six decades. Victoriamma was a devoted mother, a servant of God, a kind sister, loving friend and trusted neighbour. Together with her husband, she raised eight children in the pre and post WWII era on a meager mission pastor's salary. Though she had an elementary school education, she was an active member of her church and community and was known for her hospitality and kindness. She never turned anyone away whether they were friends or destitute villagers seeking a meal or a place to rest. She was a mother and sister to all.

As a young mother, Victoriamma (or "Mamma", as I called her) sadly lost three children prematurely. A baby boy and girl both passed away shortly after birth while her first born Victor died just shy of his twentieth birthday in 1952. Victor's loss was one Victoriamma could never come to terms with. She was plagued with grief for decades. When she lost my grandfather in 1984, my grandmother literally lost her will to live.

Pastor M. Benjamin and Victoriamma
on their wedding anniversary © Anandaraju Family Archives

My mother and grandmother loved each other so deeply. They were good friends and in many ways a mother and daughter to each other. I remember Mum gushing over Mamma's cooking, her folksy quips, her devout faith and her unrelenting kindness. They held onto each other's words with relish and adoration. My mother without a doubt inherited her mother's sense of compassion but also her sense of humour, curiosity and zest for life.

Losing Victoriamma was such a profound loss for our family, oh but what a legacy of love and light she left behind. RIP beloved Mamma you are forever remembered and loved.

Posted by: Suhasini

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Toronto Zoo, 1979




With Mum at the helm, ours was a happy family life.

She brought so much love and joy into our lives and taught us to explore our world with curiosity and kindness. Our first trip to the Toronto Zoo in 1979, filled with giraffes, monkeys, lions and aquatic life (among others), was an absolute delight; and not just because of our animal friends but because of Mum's cheerful spirit and wide-eyed wonder. She was a treasure, and not just as a wife and mother but as a nurse, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a human being and a child of God.

We enjoyed every minute of our time together.

Posted by: Suhasini;
Photograph by: Raju (Dad), © Anandaraju Family Archives
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