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Mourning

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

As usual, every year around this time, I was getting ready to write my annual post about the festive season and the joys of living and celebration. A very upbeat post is what I had intended, as my Christmas posts normally tend to be!

But how things changed, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye!

Within 24 hours, my buoyant mood had disappeared and I am sitting here at the keyboard, numb and wrought with grief.  Today the Sydney siege is over but the country is still reeling from the aftermath of one man’s psychosis.

I cannot stop contemplating the fragility of our lives, nor can I come to terms with the injustice of such situations.  We would like to believe that our worlds are safe and buffered, that we can keep other external forces and terrors at bay, but the truth, at times, can be very far from it.  The reality is no one is really immune to the horrors of today’s world; our own safe perimeters can be breached anytime and our peaceful existences shattered in an instant. The Columbine massacre, the September 11 attacks, the Colorado movie theatre shootings are attestations of our everyday normal lives crumbling instantaneously.

We are not new to such catastrophes; we see such incidents unfolding everywhere but the shock of this particular tragedy is it happening in our own backyards. It is the outrageousness of the situation; where normal people like you and me can be taken hostages in a coffee-shop; where innocent lives can be cut short rather senselessly and so callously by the despicable actions of a lunatic is what makes it so unacceptable.

We all struggle to come to terms seeing such beautiful lives wasted in a second but yet that seems to be the decree of today’s life, especially in a world that’s punctuated by such irrational and abhorrent acts. The day is not yet over and even as I sit down to write these words, I am listening to yet another breaking news of 100 or so innocent lives lost in Pakistan to more evil that grips our world.

It is at moments like this our faith in humanity is shaken to the core but yet the festive season seems to be the testimony of our resilient spirit and the human race in general coping with such tragedies.

Life goes on and we will eventually move on too, but we can only hope that the lives and the heroism of innocent people killed in such senseless and random acts of terror are never forgotten.

As we move towards celebrating the festive season, let us take a few moments to remember and pray for the grieving families who are experiencing such devastating loss and crippling heartache.

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To defend one’s home and fields and ancestral graves against invasion seems a right. But to claim unique possession – to compound the fact of settlement with the aspect of a landscape into an abstract of eternal and immutable ownership – is a joke.”
― Neal AschersonBlack Sea

Despite not being an avid fan of wild-life documentaries, I am totally fascinated by the migration patterns of animals and birds.  It is rather majestic to see a herd of wild beasts or a flock of birds on its migration route.  But what’s even further amazing is that the migrating fauna have this innate ‘homing’ instinct to come back to their home grounds.untitled

One then wonders why is that human beings alone, by all accounts higher on the evolution scale, would want to spend their lifetime away from their own countries of origin?

It is indeed an individual’s choice to migrate in most cases, but then for most migrants, this choice comes with a heavy price to pay.  Who in their right minds would want to get out of their comfort zone, away from their own natural habitat, separated from their loved ones and step away from their cultural upbringing and every single aspect they have been raised with?

We all have our reasons and even if most of them are founded on economic motives and may not sound highly convincing to an onlooker, they are crucial enough to kick-start the migration process and the ensuing displacement; every single reason is heavily underlined by the desperate need to survive in a world better than what we have known.

I always claim that first generation migrants have it far difficult and their work cut out for them. Sadly, the majority of us no longer fit into the country we left behind nor do we develop the sense of belonging in the new country that we have adopted.  We live like beings in transit with this overwhelming sense of temporariness and displacement, forever being the new kids in the block. What’s worse is the stamp of migrants stamped on our foreheads for the rest of our lives!

If this is how someone who has intentionally migrated feels, I cannot say I can even begin to understand what it means to be in the shoes of a refugee or even worse an asylum seeker, who is driven to seek refuge out of conditions over which they have no control.

I recently happened to see “Mary meets Mohammad”, an insightful documentary about Tasmania’s first detention centre and the journey of one of its inmates.  I have only been hearing good things about this movie, since its initial screening within Horsham.  Finally, thanks to a friend’s insistence, I managed to see it last weekend.mary1

I have to say it is mostly unlikely for anyone to stay unmoved by the unfolding of the stories of the asylum seekers on the screen. The film is highly perceptive and skilfully crafted presenting all sides to the story, leaving the discernment to the viewers.

And discerning, we most definitely are, but sadly backed with half-truths and myths and having our judgement clouded by our prejudices, biases and sometimes even our ignorance. It is highly impossible to label everything into neat little boxes, turning a blind eye to the subtleties or complexities of a situation.  Life for sure isn’t black and white and it is sometimes inhumane to strip the emotions out of a situation and view it under the bleak lens of objectivity or sometimes even lesser emotions like paranoia or ignorance as we are forced to at times especially with asylum-seekers.

This movie couldn’t have come out at a better time when asylum seekers are constantly featured as headline news.  It is definitely hard on countries to deal with the symptoms without addressing the root of the problem which is at times beyond their control.  As much as I understand the government’s prerogative in stopping the “boat people” in light of heavy casualties at sea, I am at times exasperated and weary of seeing this issue constantly played to the hilt as a political agenda and a convenient red herring.

But perhaps it is in helpless situations like this that such documentaries can sow the seeds of awareness and influence the attitudes of individuals and even communities, bringing about the acceptance and the much needed understanding around asylum seekers and perhaps even facilitate future policy changes.

No doubt the situation is bleak and will continue to be given the growing number of refugees and displaced people around the world.  There is no definitive solution on the horizon but at least we can endeavour to understand the desperation that pushes these people to endanger their lives in their last attempts at some semblance of normalcy.

After all, the basic instinct of human nature is survival, isn’t it?

Images Source: Internet

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“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” 
― 
Groucho Marx

As soon as we saw a little black cat darting across our path, all three of us in the car screamed “black cat”!!  Probably the cat heard us too; anyway it had second thoughts and darted back to the safety of the curb.

Laughing at having narrowly averted the alleged bad luck, I couldn’t but wonder how come the three occupants of the car, from three different countries with totally different upbringing can still balk at the sign of a tiny little black cat.

Most cultures have certain beliefs, notions or in some cases fears, not always based on reason or knowledge.  It is quite fascinating to see when and how some of these beliefs came into existence but the whys are not always answered.  Black cats have always been the protagonist of most folklore beliefs in most countries, and yet not many can say from where the myth originated. Meanwhile even the most rational amongst us, given centuries of unexplained superstitions ingrained into us, shy away from the alleged harbinger of bad luck.

However, sometimes there seems to be reason in madness too; some customs that came into practice to address certain problems or at times merely the symptoms cannot be simply pushed aside as mere mumbo-jumbo. Some of them seem to have plausible scientific explanations to them.

While growing up, I was constantly admonished by my mother never to lie on my back after a meal.  Of course, try telling a body especially in sleep consciousness state not to lie supine.  I later found myself having several traumatic episodes unable to wake up and sensing an alternate presence in the room.  As these so called experiences were few and far between, I didn’t freak out much. Instead, I submitted myself to further such beliefs thrust upon me by my protective parent to thwart such experiences, including her constant insistence on changing my sleep position.

It was only in the last few years, I realised I was suffering from “sleep paralysis”, sadly the recurrent type.  Even though not the slightest dangerous as a health problem, it is extremely tiresome and insanely frightening especially given the hallucinations and inability to wake up immediately from such a state.  However, the not so funny part about this is that sleeping in the supine position is the prominent trigger for such episodes.

It is said that some cases of recurrent sleep paralysis may involve a genetic factor.  So ironically all those years of mindlessly following a custom handed down generation after generation seemed to have some kind of influence on keeping such episodes at bay.  Quite the light bulb moment for me!!!

Over the centuries, symptoms of sleep paralysis have always been attributed to paranormal or evil presence plaguing the hapless humans at night.  Having read only abridged versions, I wouldn’t be the one to know but looks like even Shakespeare had borrowed the Old Hag for his “Romeo and Juliet”; ever wondered about the expression “hag-ridden”, well it was an old term for sleep-paralysis.

Almost all cultures have had stories of shadowy nocturnal creatures associated with such episodes; but now most of these cases of magical and spiritual possession can be explained including some of the so called ‘alien abductions’ and ‘out of body experience’ stories as well.

While not all practices have a rational side to them or can be easily backed with scientific explanation, some of them do leave us surprised and in better appreciation of our ancestors, provided we cut through the miasma of fear and weirdness factors associated with these beliefs.

Pictures: Sourced from the Net

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“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.”

–Lady Bird Johnson

It is the week of “Cultural Diversity” in Victoria and the whole state is awash with celebrations of multiculturalism in every nook and corner.

This is the week where almost every ethnic group residing in the state comes forward to display their unique traditions and culture, laying an assault on one’s senses with vibrant colours, visuals, music and gastronomical treats.

It is the week where similar organisations like Oasis Wimmera that are involved with migrant work, come to realise their project outcomes after toiling on it for months; a week where community groups everywhere actually and easily co-exist without resentment or guilt, a week where tolerance, understanding and cultural awareness is at its heights; a week where even jaded cynics like me get emotional and teary-eyed seeing the positive and generous response from the community towards a multicultural festival.

It is also the week where the following kind of jargon flows in abundance – Cultural and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups, unity in diversity, cultural pluralism, mosaic, multiculturalism, ethnic fusion, inclusion etc., making one question the excessive nature of the English language; it is also the week where perhaps political agendas that use immigration issues as a red-herring are momentarily set aside.

In short this week is the Mecca of multicultural charm – an epitome of co-existence and harmony; though some might argue that perhaps it is more contrived than natural.

However, as with any celebration, once the festivities are over, the spirit or essence of the celebration goes into hiatus till the next year comes around.  Likewise, once the “Cultural Diversity” week is over, the appreciation of multiculturalism is also packed up and the debate over melting pot or salad bowl continues.

Everyday life, fraught with hectic schedules and personal agendas pushes cultural awareness and tolerance to the backseat.  It is only a handful of government agencies and organisations along with a few religious and not-for-profit organisations that have their focus on immigration and settlement that continue to promote cultural diversity.  Multiculturalism in general is seen as a challenge and perhaps even a barrier in everyday life, sometimes irrespective of which camp one belongs to.

But there is one unassuming institution that opens its doors wide to everyone and performs a huge service to migrants throughout the whole year and of course, is not always recognised or appreciated for its service. Have you ever dropped at your local library and taken a moment to reflect on how much a library gives to its community, including the multicultural community?

In most countries, it was the libraries than educational institutions that nurtured and educated migrants to enter the mainstream community before the digital age.   This tradition seems to continue even today even though libraries are losing their prominence in the society trying to keep up with the advances in the technology which makes information readily available to people in their own homes.

Given my avid interest in reading and my children taking after me, we are regular visitors to the library.  Used to borrowing only two books on a card in huge and silent mausoleums under strict and authoritarian librarians while growing up in India, I was ecstatic to learn that I could borrow books and other materials without limits in Australian libraries.  I was equally thrilled when I learnt I could get books (and movies) in Indian languages from the local libraries for my mother, another voracious reader, while she was visiting me.

Later I discovered that libraries here were more than just a resource centre.  Especially after moving to Horsham, I understood first-hand that libraries were in addition, a community centre and also a first stop for migrants.

It really gladdens my heart when I see many new arrivals visit the library with their families.  Whether it is enhancing their own knowledge of English or promoting the reading habits of their children or making use of the internet facility or just spending time with their families, the library is versatile in meeting their needs.

In most communities, libraries turn into this secure haven where people from CALD groups seem to mingle without much inhibition or intimidation. It is this inherent trust that such groups place in their libraries that pushes the latter to the forefront of catering to the needs of the multicultural crowd and showcasing the cultural traditions or history of immigrants and also being their cultural voice wherever required.

Oasis Wimmera was first launched during the Harmony Week Celebrations in the Horsham library two years ago – what more proof one needs to corroborate the words behind this article.

Weekly Advertiser: http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2013/03/20/sharing-our-cultures/

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Some of us may have a powerful voice in Western countries, but women globally often have very little voice in comparison with men. However, saying that, at the same time, when women get together as a group, it’s immensely powerful.

–          Annie Lenox

 I came to know about “International Women’s Day” only a few years ago.  Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own life in the city or maybe I had moved amongst insular crowds; either way the day had gone unnoticed by me for decades.  However, it didn’t stop me from embracing this day with much gusto once I came to know about it.

But lately I wonder what is it I celebrate – is it a genuine appreciation of the relative freedom and empowerment enjoyed by women in the society that I currently live in or is it belated gratitude that I have somehow escaped the confines of second class treatment showered upon women in developing countries.

Not all is wrong with societies around the world but then not everything is right as well.  Even in cultures where women are on par with men, it is not a victory that is easily conceded to the deserving.

It saddens me beyond words when women are still being victimised everyday around us.  All it takes is being born in the wrong country, raised in the wrong social conditions, existing in the wrong relationship, sometimes even as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time – the odds continue to be stacked against women in their struggle to stay alive let alone their endeavours towards equality and an identity.

As much as we are weighed down by the plight of women in some parts of the world, we cannot but not appreciate the growing emancipation and the enduring spirit of womanhood around us.

If International Women’s Day is about celebrating the survival spirit of womanhood and her achievements, then I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to some migrant and local women I have come across in the Wimmera.

Running a group like Oasis for migrants, I have often met exceptional migrant women whose resilient spirit never ceases to amaze me.  Most of these women have been uprooted from the only life they know but yet they remain undaunted by what their new life throws at them and engage themselves fully towards integrating into the society.  It is not easy to step out of one’s comfort zone, tackle a new language and break down any cultural or personal barriers and yet these women seem to do it unwaveringly and above all selflessly pushing them-selves for the betterment of their children and their families.

These are smart women who fully understand how they are not always viewed as equals in the society and in some cases even exploited as token crowd or mere statistics portraying migrant engagement within the community but yet quietly and diplomatically assert themselves when the situation arises.  Their magnanimity in overlooking the subtle discrimination and overbearing patronisation that are occasionally directed at them only wins them more accolades from me.

As for the second group of women, these are exemplary local women who look after their families, run farms, have an extra job or a business, donate their time and efforts generously to various committees and volunteering efforts and still find the time to live a fulfilling life and inspire others.  I am wowed by some of these amazing and inspiring women with whom I have crossed paths.

Having lived a cushy life in the city, with perhaps the most daunting challenges being the tantrums thrown by my kids or peak-hour traffic jams, I cannot but help marvel at the strength and endurance displayed by these women in the face of natural disasters and other exacting conditions of rural/farm life.  These are women who seamlessly transform from one arena of their life to another, comfortable in their skins, be it out on the farm in their gumboots or chairing a meeting. Their down-to-earth attitude, unbridled optimism, unfaltering sense of loyalty and obligation, genuine compassion and above all their sense of humour makes them standout even to people relatively new to the region.

The women that I have mentioned above might come from extreme ends of a broad spectrum, but nevertheless their defining qualities are more or less the same regardless of their origin or culture or social standing.  It is this indefatigable spirit and the life-force of womanhood that I salute and appreciate.

To the women out there battling the odds and still staying afloat…….

Weekly Advertiser: http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2013/03/06/a-salute-to-women/

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“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

–          Confucius

 A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of young dancers from Melbourne.  While talking to one of them, I found out that what had once been a mere interest in dancing has now become a vocation in itself.  Euphoric over his recent appointment as a professional dancer and teacher, he couldn’t wait to tell me how much he enjoys what he does.  And for a second I wished to be in his shoes!!!

Here was a boy hardly out of his teens, with a long way to go before he can establish himself in his profession and in life and yet for one crazy moment I envied him; I wanted to experience his exuberant joy at being able to do something he truly loves as his profession.

How many of us get to do what our heart desires?  Do we get out of bed looking forward to the day dawning before us?  Do we have a spring in our step and lightness and joy in our hearts because we are doing what we aspire to do, what we believe we were born to do?  Do we go around elated at having made a real, positive difference to other people’s lives, because of our calling in life?

OK, in my mind’s eye I can see a smattering of hands up in the air: lucky you, and I sincerely hope you are not doing this to simply spite me haha….

On a serious note, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say that not all of us are fortunate enough to do what our heart desires.  There is often what feels like an unbridgeable gap between our dreams and the reality we struggle with, especially when it comes to our professions.  What perhaps started as a stop-gap measure, a means of paying the bills while we find our feet in the world, has become the job that we wake up to every day. And we can’t help but feel that our dreams are receding from us, getting further away from us all the time.

What’s more, the individuality and creativity that is greatly appreciated and encouraged in us as kids is sometimes stifled by the realities of adulthood, leading us to choose professions that conform to the norms and expectations of the society we live in.

With the best of intentions, a few of us are trying to convince a friend of ours to give up his aspirations of writing poetry and find a humdrum job.  Sometimes I wonder if we are doing the right thing – here is a man who wants to live his dreams and yet we are trying to persuade him to get a day job so he would better fit into our blinkered idea of what it means to earn a livelihood and be a normal member of society.  It’s as if financial security has become paramount in our lives to the exclusion of everything else, even the integrity that we owe ourselves and our dreams.

Making choices and following one’s dreams used to be easier in countries with largely advanced economies and freedom of expression, but lately the global downturn is not doing anyone any favours.  Even here in Australia, with funding restrictions, job losses and the government’s never-ending attempts to penny-pinch, every industry is facing intense pressure. And that means all of us are feeling the tightening of belts and as a result, our dreams are often the first things to be abandoned.

It is sad to see researchers and postdoctoral fellows quitting science for example and abandoning their own aspirations, given the drying up of grants and the decrease in research jobs.  All those years and effort and sweat that they have put into completing their doctorates!!!!  Even the future generation of this country are not spared this ignominy of not being true to themselves and their real aspirations – more and more students opt to do courses that would guarantee them a job rather than what they really want to do.

I don’t know how this particular story will end and if there any happy endings round the corner.  I don’t even know if every day is taking me closer or farther away from living my dreams of doing field work for a not-for-profit organisation, but I still continue to nurture hopes in the eventuality that they might someday turn into reality.

Dreams about a dream job, eh!!!!!

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“After all, what use is growing roots in new soil and not learning how to thrive and blossom???”

–          Oasis Wimmera

 Last weekend as part of our Harmony Day Celebrations with the Wurega Aboriginal Corporation, we had made a trip to the Billimina Rock Art Centre.  It was perhaps the first trek for some of the members and as puffed we were at the end of the hike, it was an exhilarating experience. 

The enthusiasm shown by the adults and the kids when some of the indigenous artefacts were displayed was phenomenal.  It was perhaps one of our successful events as it symbolised both socialising and integration.  We not only got to spend some quality time together as a group but we also learnt about some aspects of the Australian culture.  When it was time to return home, all of us felt a glow of satisfaction and content given the spiritual significance of the site and the invigorating experience of physical exertion.

As for us organisers, we gave ourselves a pat on our back as the success of this day gave us the much needed impetus to continue with our efforts.

The idea for a group like Oasis Wimmera did not crop up overnight.   It was a seed of thought that was germinating for quite some time looking for the right time to sprout.  And when it did, it was swept up in the winds of momentum and before long we realised we had a huge responsibility in our hands.

Today the group is run by a very few dedicated but like-minded people who are very passionate about making a difference in the lives of migrants. 

We had very few contacts to turn to in our own early years in this country and have gone through quite a fairly difficult learning curve.  It is why we have chosen to give willingly and wholeheartedly our time and effort in making lives better for other people who are arriving in this region. 

All of us are full-time employees with equally busy work and personal lives to run and yet we push ourselves sometimes beyond our capacity to provide what we have promised. 

Most migrants in their initial years, especially adults, find themselves alone in their new lives even when surrounded by colleagues and acquaintances.  The foreignness of the local customs, their own distance from their comfort zone and their identity struggle takes a toll on their well-being, especially emotional. 

Isolation is indeed a tough shoe to walk in and the feelings of non-belonging it brings in its wake is something that most of us can identify with.  It is a choice that we had made by migrating to a new country; there is no denying it, but in doing so some of us have paid an exacting price…..by becoming strangers both to the country we left behind and to the one that we had adopted.

Anyway it is the social connectedness – to weave a tapestry of belonging that has become the priority of Oasis Wimmera.  We aim to build a nurturing environment where people can break their insular lives, mingle with people in similar situations and cultivate friendships.  After all, what use is growing roots in new soil and not learning how to thrive and blossom???

 By the time this article gets published, we would have celebrated our first launch anniversary and when we look back at our journey, we are amazed at what we have achieved as a group.  Along with social connectedness we also cover other elements essential to help ease people into their new lives, a more holistic approach to settlement – educational forums (fire safety/health/tax), physical well-being (swimming/badminton), English literacy and self-expression (poetry). 

It is gratifying to see when sporting organisations and other community groups open their doors to us, welcome us with open arms and help us in our journey to get acquainted with the Wimmera’s culture and customs.   We are also thrilled to have local Australians who help us with integration into the community and in return are delighted to get an insight into the different cultures and meeting new people.

We realise that we still have a long way to go to establish ourselves as a total support group but for now we are happy with the small steps that we have taken in our first year.  Our heartfelt thanks to the Oasis Wimmera families and others who have supported us in this journey to make all our lives richer and fulfilling in the most fundamental and meaningful way.  

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