Tag Archives: Australia

Australia Fires Impact the Indian-Australian Community

The numbers are staggering, the pictures downright terrifying. More than two dozen lives have been lost, hundreds of properties destroyed, half a billion animals have perished, and more than twelve million acres have been burned in the ongoing Australian bushfire crisis, and – amazingly – it is only one month into the southern hemisphere summer. Pictures of rescued wildlife, videos of ‘firies’ (firefighters) driving through intense firestorms that generate their own weather phenomena and the ongoing discussions over the climate crisis have propelled this year’s Australian fire season onto the screens of those around the world who look on from a distance, aghast. Amidst this gloom, the Indian-Australian community has not been spared. 

Australia is home to a large number of people of Indian origin, including a large transient student population, with figures around 600,000 within a country of population of just under 25 million. Like large cities in the USA with a substantial number of Indian migrants, Sydney and Melbourne feature a huge variety of Indian food, along with hundreds of Indian cultural and religious organizations serving their local communities. One such center, which housed a temple complex and community care center or Sri Om Devi Brindhavan, was housed in Clarence, New South Wales. It could be found in the idyllic blue mountains just two hours drive west of Sydney and was operated by the Sri Om Care organization.

Sri Om Devi Brindhavan before the fire.

On the 21st December 2019, the forecast was grim. Sweltering conditions including high heat (well above 40C/104F) and extremely dry winds combined to make an already unstable fire situation that much worse. All the worst predictions of that day, unfortunately, came to pass. The Mt. Gospers fire in the Blue Mountains area razed through half a million acres of bush. Towards the afternoon, a change of wind direction caught those in Clarence by surprise, and the town came under a flying ember attack. Fire quickly swept through the tiny town in a matter of minutes, completely destroying many houses. Only a few survived, but the community center/temple was not one of them.

Remains of the building after the fire. The intense heat buckled the sheet metal, and caused gas cylinders to explode. Little was left.

The center had been used for religious gatherings, annadhanam (service of free food), yoga and meditation retreats, recreational and educational activities for the elderly population, and local wildlife care. The inferno ripped through quickly and within half an hour, the damage was done. It is estimated that the total bill for that one center alone will reach half a million Australian dollars. Thankfully, no lives were lost that day in Clarence, although others fighting the same fire were not so lucky, as we would come to learn later.  

In spite of all the difficulties, one of the amazing things about tragedies is the resounding community spirit in the wake of disaster. Abraham Lincoln said, in reference to troubled times, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.” This seems more than apt. In this respect, the community is rising. The huge outpouring of support for those in Australia from around the world, be it from cricketers, movie stars, pop singers, and the general population, is heartwarming and uplifting. The energy of the community, to rebuild in the face of such tragedy, is invigorating. The issues we face are global, not local, and there are no borders for such disasters. It never happens to you – until it does. 

If you would like to donate to see the rebuilding of the community center mentioned in this article, a gofundme campaign has been started. 

Rama Vasudevan is scientist living and working in Tennessee, born in India and raised in Australia, who was heavily involved with Indian-Australian community activities before shifting to the US. He is a volunteer and one of the founding members of Sri Om Care.

Game Of The Gods: A Billion Dreams

What makes people take their life over a mere sport? Like the Kolkata man did over Dhoni’s run out, widely regarded as the pivotal moment in India’s dashed hopes of making it to the World Cup final. This sport has made grown men and women break down in ways completely unimaginable. The World Cup final proved that nice guys do not finish last. While England won, based on some archaic rule, underdogs New Zealand, won the hearts of anyone obsessed with this sport, which is often called the gentleman’s game. And in this final, it appeared the nicest boys in the game lost to the inventors and often the ones most vilified by Indians worldwide, thanks to our colonial past.
Sports, religion, culture and life. There seems to be no semblance of a difference, given the behavior of cricket teams on the pitch; like the laidback party vibes of the West Indies, a modern South Africa, emerging from the shadows of apartheid, not to speak of Pakistan and Bangladesh forever trying to assert their stamp over their proverbial father, India.
Meanwhile, India struggles with the worst hangover ever. A sport that is tailor made to the age old Indian values of guru-shishya, discipline, mindfulness, rigor, slogging without reward, and a deep defiance to the colonial sword of the British.
For every Indian kid taking up the willow, it is akin to brandishing a sword at their colonial former masters’ throats. Like a rebel call, any cricketer drawn from the subcontinent, male or female, looks at the game as a way to express themselves so they may each serve as a role model of taking down the bastion of British imperialism.
This is why the Indian diaspora, from US TO UK to India to Australia and New Zealand, descended in droves for the UK-hosted World Cup. We believed that we would be valiant. The finals, won by the hosts in a contentious contest and after dubious decision making, reminded us of our own nebulous and dysfunctional relationships with our families and loved ones. Pakistan and India – when it comes to cricket it is the closest we come to war. The many moments of cross border valor on the field have been highlighted amply on YouTube. It’s made legends of ordinary cricketers like Venkatesh Prasad and Gods of mortals like Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar.
Sachin is God. Not because of his array of shots for every ball, but his grit, disciple, single minded devotion for the sport and his record against Pakistan. Sachin against any nation could have been equally heroic, but against Pakistan, he proved his mettle time and again. And that’s what the legends will retell. A 16 year old boy, bloodied by the fearsome twosome of Pakistan; Wasim and Waqar. How this little boy defied them, and took the feared Pakistani and subsequently other opposition players to the sword, has led to generations naming their young infants, Sachin.
Why do Indians relate to cricket at such a deep level? It is pretty obvious that we are a one sport nation. It’s because through cricket we have found a way to throw off the colonial shackles. To beat the inventors of the game that rampantly abused our emotions for three centuries. Every far flung six, or blow at 90 mph at their heads, is a reaffirmation of our masculinity. That’s why this puzzling game which depends on weather, statistics, skills, fitness and an assortment of colorful men endures. We don’t need more teams, we need more competitive teams. The game that led to nations wanting to destroy the inventors of the game on the field, has taken unprecedented proportions.
For every time a Mahendra Dhoni lifts  the cup, a  young boy (and now lass) realizes that the best revenge is to keep beating the English. In this most baffling, romantic, frustrating and tearful of sports, cricket for Indians isn’t just passion, it’s an obsession. The next time, India will host the World cup. And after the hoopla over the current champions, England dies down, Indians will be collectively bleeding blue. And screaming for the Cup that brought the entire British empire down, in a glorious heated Indian summer sunset.
Currently, Virat Kohli, the much tattooed and omnipotently talented batsman is leading millenial India’s charge into the dawn. His rebellious, foul mouthed, gladitorial beard and impeccable physique have not only inspired a generation of cricket fans, but inspired a clone army. The Give Blood or Bleed Blue army. A fitness icon, he has inspired a new India to go fearlessly after what is s yours, and sometimes even after what is not.  He is the direct descendent of Sourav Ganguly, the blue blooded Royal who made Gods of gifted but unsure youngsters. Under his tutelage, India witnessed the renaissance of cricket. Coinciding with the liberalization of India, a whole generation learnt to dream big. No dream was out of reach. And you could scream open lunged at the wide heavens while you brandished your shirt, naked torsoed and aggressive to the core, like a victory flag at Lord’s, like Sourav did. This openly victorious walk of Godly stature, and defiance, and the proof that yes, we could be the Gods on Earth, in something led to an open revolution.
From the cricket obsessed Google CEO Sunder Pichai to every actor who dreams of starring in the next cricket legends’s biopic, to the school boy and girl who know that their dream is just a stroke away. For this is the a game of Gods, played by and for romantics. For every heartbreaking win and every exhilarating shot out of the ground, a new generation is captivated by the imagination of the game. To know that you don’t have to be the fittest, the strongest, the most powerful. What you need is a stroke of luck, reasonable talent and timing, a vibrant personality and a screen presence. For when the lights go down, we need Gods to merge into our consciousness. They glance at the sun superstitiously, adjust their pads, tweak their helmets, but never lose sight of the fact that they’re still chasing down the glory of the British empire on behalf of each and every one of us!