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An Open Letter to my Father

Healing intergenerational trauma


Dear Dad, 


You told me, so recently, as though it was of no consequence at all, that when you were nine years old, you fell off a stack of hay and hurt your back. You were young, too young to tell what that fall might bring, certainly too confused to tell anyone in that moment how much it hurt. When you’re the middle child, things get left behind sometimes… forgotten in the flurry. You had just moved from Nairobi to Vyara, a town outside Surat in the state of Gujarat, India. Peculiar feelings abounded of being out of place in this new town where you were visually the same, but culturally had already made a departure as part of a diaspora that would continue to make its home around the world.

 

Both Kenya and India, seen through the eyes of a child. Both accepted trustingly as total reality. Who can say whether things might have been different if your father, Bapuji, had been there. 


Bapuji was en route to England, leaving his wife in near Surat with six of the seven children. Ba, your mother, who was fiery and strong minded, back in a country she had not traversed for over 15 years, had her mind filled with the issues of surviving a changed country. Perhaps she didn’t attend to you as you have often attended to me. She was a stranger in a land that was once the only one she knew. And now things were different, colonies progress and fall. Political landscapes are forged and erupt, leaving both tragedy and opportunity. The opportunity to live in England, the whole family was to move there, but first this short stay near Surat.


It was just after the time of the ‘Exodus’ in East Africa. South Asians in Kenya entered a volatile time of pressure to give up their British passports in favour of Kenyan ones, or leave. This was happening to thousands of your compatriots, many children just like you - seeing the world for the first time, cuts, bruises, political revolutions. Your child-like bids for independence were sometimes drowned out by the clamour of the independence movement happening around you.

 

And yet you were happy. You played with your siblings and cousins; you were content.

 


It’s strange that all big things begin with a seed, simple and inconsequential, and flourish for better or worse, into something impactful and often chaotic. I can’t put my finger on the pulse point of pain, I have no special healing powers and I cannot travel through time to reveal the particulars of how things could have been prevented or how they could have evolved more gently, but for you life became a quest exciting, heady and turbulent: you were on a mission of spiritual and cultural discovery, a quest often denounced by you family as hedonistic and frivolous.


You spent years travelling in your 20s and early 30s. You travelled back to the Subcontinent and then Africa and back and forth between England to Western Australia. You had a dream about a woman in a blue polka dot dress, and several years later, met this woman and married her. You braved the world of vast class disparity, cultural and religious differences in order to be with this woman, and from this relationship was to grow myself and my sister.


In suburbia, perched on a glittering coastline in a parochial town, you and Mum raised Asha and I and life was okay again - you found a place you could thrive in. You gained the confidence to give. And yet moments of pain splintered their way into the moments in which our family dwelt. The fall as a nine-year-old gave way to many back problems and several operations. Back pain fraught with childhood feelings of abandonment and misunderstanding crept in and became a slow throb in the heart of our little family. Pain infiltrates quietly sometimes. And then at other times it is loud and bellows the grief and doom that we are forever trying to hide in suburbia. 



Dad, I can say now that I am not hurt by the way things have turned out. I can say easily, from this eagle-like perspective that I am at one with my past, and by extension, your past.


The truth is that trauma goes in cycles until one bold transformative action takes place: that action in thought and behaviour, to take responsibility for the pain that exists in my own body, acknowledging that it exists, although not through any fault of my own. The pain which has lodged itself via the generations in my stomach and limbs and heart. And also, to take responsibility for the joy that has been brought despite the pain.


Dad, I am with you now as much as ever. I see you. Your mother is growing old and you will grieve one day, just as she innately grieved the loss of her own father at the age of two; her heart has grown, just as yours has and mine. We live now, still here in this space between Nairobi, Surat, Lancashire, and Perth, still sometimes wishing our pain was different.


I doubt that pain will ever stop us discovering who we really are, from delving into the past and seeing beauty, from acknowledging our familial love and courage. 


All my love,

Maya-Rose


Main artwork for the story has been produced by South Asian Today designer, Sathya Thavendran aka @brown.n.bold
About the author

Maya-Rose Chauhan is a country bumpkin born to cosmopolitan parents. After a failed stint of 'voluntourism' in India as a 19 year old, a good dose of post-hubris humbling helped her to find a more authentic perspective on her mixed Indian and Irish identity which is under constant exploration through her writing. Currently she is affiliated with the Centre for Stories 'Inclusion Matters' mentorship program and is writing her first full length play in a deadline club through the Blue Room theatre, in Perth, Western Australia.

Instagram: @maya_illusio

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