The first time I met my grandmother, after 24 years of being apart, I couldn’t even say, “Hello my beautiful Grandma. I’ve missed you so much.” It had to be translated and just didn’t feel the same.
Every time she spoke, it was like mum whispering in my ear. Like my childhood dreams of seeing mum again were all coming true but I was too stupid to understand what she was saying. It dawned on me what I’d truly given up by disconnecting from my culture and language.
I can pinpoint the day my life changed. It happened a week from my twelfth birthday. I waited for mum to pick us up from primary school. She never came home that day. Her car was hit by a speeding van and she was killed almost on impact. I know because I was there when my uncle, who was in the car, described the accident in detail to my father.
I cannot explain the pain of losing a mother as a child at a crucial development stage of life. Not long after she passed away I would often dream of her walking through the door and I’d scream with excitement that everyone got it wrong, she was still alive! Only to find myself waking up to the reality I’d never see her again.
I felt that every possible cell in my body was consumed by an incredible sense of sadness and loneliness that never left – I just got better at pretending it wasn’t there.
In the weeks that followed, I remembered hearing lot of arguments over the phone between my father and mum’s side of the family. Then suddenly the contact stopped. As a child I thought because mum wasn’t around anymore, us kids were of no interest to them.
So becoming “Australian” and finding something to belong to became a distraction and a focus.
If I wasn’t getting into fist fights at school because I was being called the “N” word, I was constantly ridiculed for being “too Aussie”. That I preferred to be white; a complete sell out to not just my family but my entire race.
You see when we first arrived from Fiji to Australia I was just four years old and had a strong Fijian/Indian accent and minimal English. I remember in primary school how happy I was to tell mum I made new friends and they even had nicknames for me. My poor mum had the job of breaking it to me those names were racist slurs.
Mum was no pushover. She gave my school an earful about her child being subjected to racism, even though back then no one really cared.
She encouraged me to speak English all the time. Soon enough my English was great and I had the strongest Aussie accent you’ve ever heard.
Except of course I was never seen as an “Aussie”.
I have the most profound respect and admiration for Australia’s First Nations people. I feel a deep kinship with them because when I heard “n-----” from others, I only heard “brother” from them.
I discovered hip-hop. Artists like Ice Cube, Ice-T, Public Enemy, NWA and later Tupac. Their lyrics protested against the same racist names I was called and thus my identity morphed into being black. When I was older, I had dreadlocks which gave me a mixed race / islander type of appearance.
That became my identity. Still ashamed of being Indian despite my father remarrying a very religious Hindu woman and half of our house become an actual Hindu temple.
My younger brother and I love to ride motorbikes. Nowadays you’re more likely to see me on a Harley than a sports bike. But in 2014, my brother had a very bad motorbike accident. How my brother survived that accident is beyond me.
In hospital he received a card from my Aunty -- mum’s youngest sister. We thought it was very strange and after lengthy discussions, my brother and I decided to meet with her.
As she went through photos and history of the family, my Aunty asked why I kept referring to my maternal Grandma like she had passed away. “Isn’t she?” I asked. My Aunty replied with an emphatic “No!”
I caught the first plane I could to Fiji to meet with her. My Aunty came to translate because my Grandma who spoke fluent Hindi, Tamil and Fijian could not speak English.
My Grandma taught me that I didn’t have to choose a side. I was of Indian heritage, born in Fiji and uniquely Australian. Most of all that made me her Grandson, which made her incredibly proud.
When I met my Grandma, I instantly knew I turned out like her and mum. My Grandma taught me that I didn’t have to choose a side. I was of Indian heritage, born in Fiji and uniquely Australian. Most of all that made me her Grandson, which made her incredibly proud. It was the first time I felt anyone be proud of who I was.
She reconnected me back to my culture, my language and myself, which is why I wanted to do something that gave back to what she did for me.
My Grandma is the subject of a documentary I am developing as part of a social impact campaign to tackle racism in schools around the country.
I’m looking forward to pass on my Grandma’s legacy to the younger generations struggling with identity.
Ravi Chand is a freelance writer. Find out more about his documentary and its crowdfunding campaign in the video below.