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How a road accident in India set this Sydney woman on a ‘mission’ to learn Punjabi

Sydney woman Theresa Anderson, who is Aussie Mum to Simranjeet Singh

After a chance encounter with Simranjeet Singh while on her first visit to India in 2016, Theresa Anderson soon ‘adopted’ him as a son, and his family as her own. She visited the family in Punjab in 2017 to attend Simran’s sister’s wedding, learning some basic Punjabi words before going over. She is now determined to speak the language fluently to welcome the Singh family to Sydney, when they visit her on their first-ever overseas trip in 2020.

“Sat Sri Akal ji”, said Theresa Anderson buoyantly, when SBS Punjabi reached out to her to find the reason behind her strong desire to learn the Punjabi language. 

“It is very early days for me and I’m finding it very hard. Especially at my age, because I’ve never learnt another language before, other than a bit of French at school many years ago,” she said. 

“But I’m committed to learning Punjabi this time, so that I can welcome my adopted family to Sydney next year. They treated me like a queen when I stayed with them at their village, and I want to ensure this trip will be memorable for them. They are a beautiful family of wheat farmers in Punjab, and this will be their first ever trip away from home.” 

Theresa Anderson with Simranjeet Singh and his parents in their village Dhanuri, in Punjab
Theresa Anderson with Simranjeet Singh and his parents in their village Dhanauri, in Punjab
Supplied

Ms Anderson confidently spoke a few Punjabi words and phrases she has already learnt, whilst narrating some hilarious mistakes that were made along the way. But what first motivated her to learn the Punjabi language specifically? 

She says a trip to India in 2016 started it all. She met with an accident during that trip and a young Punjabi man named Simranjeet Singh helped her out at the time. 

“I had gone to Goa where I met with an accident, and this lovely young man (Simran) helped me. He was studying for the merchant navy, and we stayed in touch.” 

The acquaintance grew into friendship, and soon she ‘adopted’ Simran’s family as her own.

“I started FaceTiming him and his family, and soon we became an integral part of each other’s lives.” 

In 2017, Simran’s parents Sikander and Sarabjeet invited Ms Anderson to attend their daughter’s wedding in India. That’s when she travelled to their village Dhanauri, in district Ropar of Punjab. 

At Simran's sister's wedding in Punjab
At Simran's sister's wedding in Punjab

“They completely spoilt me when I stayed with them. Amarinder’s wedding was beautiful – I loved the rich culture, and they bought me traditional clothes for the occasions.” 

“They are such a lovely and hard-working family, who are well respected by everyone in the village. I learnt a few words of Punjabi before heading off to the wedding, but I think there is an international language that we communicate in, when good people come together.” 

The family shares such proximity with her now that Ms Anderson is called ‘Aussie Mum’.

“Simran’s parents address me by my first name and also Aussie Mum, and I call Sarbjeet Punjabi Mum. Sikander has a lovely sense of humour and again international language came into play. Whilst I was very spoilt, I learnt a lot about the culture, history, the Sikh religion and politics.” 

Ms Anderson participating in one of many wedding ceremonies
Ms Anderson participating in one of many wedding ceremonies
Supplied

“The respect that Punjabi youth, in general, give to their parents and particularly within this family, had me in awe. I stayed for a month in India, attending the marriage functions and a week more with the family. I travelled to McCleodganj and to Goa and then came back to stay a few more days with the family.”

After that, Ms Anderson visited India again when Amrinder had a baby. 

“There was an addition in the family and I stayed with them again. After this, I thought I should get serious about learning Punjabi. It was difficult finding a tutor/teacher and so this time I’m using an App. It’s not totally accurate, but its a good start.”

 

Ms Anderson went back to Punjab when there was a new addition in the family
Ms Anderson went back to Punjab when there was a new addition in the family

“The prospect of the parents coming here is a totally new motivation and it’s an opportunity for me to repay the hospitality.”  

“So I’m now on a mission to speak Punjabi and keep our friendship growing. I loved my time in Punjab, the generosity and kind nature of the people was very heart-warming.” 

“If only my fellow Australians would stop for a moment and engage at a better level with different cultures. Even the young boy in the servo or the grandparents in the parks.”  

She added, “I really enjoy following SBS Punjabi. It helps me feel connected.” 

Theresa Anderson with her family in Sydney, are eager to welcome their Punjabi family next year
Theresa Anderson with her family in Sydney, who are eager to welcome their Punjabi family next year
Supplied

Are you learning a language? Enter the SBS National Languages competition 2019 until 27 September 2019. For more details visit  www.sbs.com.au/nlc19

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