New routines in a time of isolation include frequent calls to my two octogenarian aunts (who live in Sydney and Singapore) and talking to my father every day on the phone. Old people are cast adrift in this bizarre world of lock down and no visitors. Could they have imagined being so alone at this late stage of their lives?
I may have started making these calls out of a sense of duty but now I really look forward to all of our chats – they remind me that I come from some pretty resilient stock. They lift my spirits. They give me hope and courage.
In a conversation about home schooling, my aunt reminded me that she and her sisters missed four years of schooling during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya during World War II but they still passed the examinations necessary to be admitted to British universities. She went to Glasgow University and her sister, my mother, went to Nottingham University. My father won an Empire scholarship and travelled from Kenya to study medicine at Glasgow University.
All these young people were wrenched from the lands of their birth and flung into the gloom of post war Britain. My aunt talks about the bitter cold, the darkness at 3 pm, the food, the loneliness. “If we knew what it would be like we wouldn’t have wanted to go but we didn’t know and so we just made it work and then we were fine.”
Rummaging through old letters from my grandparents to their daughters studying in a land so far away from the sunshine of Malaya, I read the repeated phrase: “Chin up!”
My aunt and I laugh at privileged people complaining about the harrowing experience of being in quarantine for two weeks in a fancy Sydney hotel. My father reminds me that he nursed his whole family through a typhoid epidemic in Kenya when he was nine years old. I phone my aged relatives in this strange and awful time because they need the comfort of my voice but it is I who am comforted and buoyed by their stories and memories and love.
© Anita Patel, 2020
Published by anitapatel
Anita Patel is a writer (and retired teacher) who has lived in Canberra since 1982. She is as Australian as a banana paddle pop and a pair of sandy thongs and she is also a part of the Asian diaspora. Her collections of poetry are: 'Petals Fall' published by Recent Work Press in 2022 (https://recentworkpress.com/product/petals-fall) and 'A Common Garment' published by Recent Work Press in 2019 (https://recentworkpress.com/product/a-common-garment/).
In 2019, she collaborated with acclaimed artist, Annie Franklin, to produce 'Heart Stitched' (a story - in paintings and poetry - of the quirky, unexpected and dazzling layers in the natural world). They received significant support from Nancy Sever (Nancy Sever Gallery). In 2022, their second book 'Grief and Beauty' (which arose from the 2019-20 bushfires) was published - once again with support from Nancy Sever.
She has had work published in the Canberra Times, in Conversations (Pandanus Press, ANU), in Block 9, Burley Journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Demos Journal, Mascara Literary Review, Not Very Quiet Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Backstory Journal, Other Terrain Journal, Pink Cover Zine, FemAsia Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal, Eucalypt: a tanka journal and Print Issue 42 of The Blue Nib Journal. Her work is also included in the following anthologies: The Australian Poetry Anthology (Vol. 8), 'This Gift This Poem' (Puncher and Wattman) and 'What We Carry' (Recent Work Press). Her children’s poems are included in an anthology 'Pardon My Garden' (Harper Collins). Her poem “Women’s Talk” won the ACT Writers Centre Poetry Prize in 2004 and her poetry was selected for and published in Australian Book Review’s States of Poetry ACT, 2018.
She has performed her work at the Canberra Multicultural Festival, Poetry on the Move Festival, Noted Festival, Floriade Fringe Festival, In Other Words Festival (at Lost in Books, Fairfield), the Queensland Poetry Festival, the National Folk Festival, at Smith’s Alternative, at Word in Hand (Glebe) and La Mama Poetica.
Her reviews, “Found in Translation”, on the performances of four Japanese women poets and their translators at Poetry on the Move Festival, 2017 and “No More Silent Waiting”, on the anthology Autonomy edited by Kathy D’Arcy (2018) have been published by Not Very Quiet Journal. She was the guest editor for Issue 2 of Not Very Quiet Journal. View all posts by anitapatel