On 5 July, we left Auckland to go to Chennai. We are leaving behind two situations that niggle away constantly at the back of the mind. One is my father GB, whose health seems to be inextricably linked to my presence. We hope that he will cope well with my two-week absence, without declining. I have promised to call him and talk to him every day. The second situation is the birth of our first grandson that will probably take place when we are away. Leaving both these matters in the hands of the Lord, we leave. Here is a picture of us taken during our transit in Malaysia.

6 July

We reached Chennai. The familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the city welcomed us as we made our way to the Airbnb appartment that we had booked in T. Nagar. After a restful day, we went to the Edward-Gnanasekhar home for dinner, where we met Edward annan, Hephzibah akka, Pritam, Kavitha, and little Cedric.

7 July

Meeting with Joe, Jothi, Jonisha, and Nirmala akka in the morning was a pleasure. We went out for lunch, after which Prisy had to return to the house with Jothi, because we could not all fit in the car. She found riding pillion rather strange, although for most people, it would be such an ordinary thing.

[Note: In this post, you can click on any photo to see it better.]

After lunch it was time to meet our would-be daughter-in-law for the first time. The wait at the airport seemed to take forever, and then she came.

8 July

It wasn’t awkward for long, and this visit gave Shama an opportunity to get to know some of our friends and family.

9 July

While the young people went to visit their old friends in Annanagar, Philip and I, along with Vinotha and Surendar annan visited many relatives in Chennai. 1. Prabha annan and Helen, 2. Mary akka and Pamela akka, 3. Gracia athai and Papu akka. Such meetings are rare and far between, and we are reminded of the preciousness of the hope of heaven and also of the importance of sharing the faith with one another.

Sometime during the day, I even got to get some flowers for my hair, something I have always loved.

Our last meeting for 9 July was in the evening at the home of Jeevan annan and Rosie. We met second and third cousins—Rajan annan, Jeevan annan and Rosie, Gracie akka, & Chakra and Lynette—all of us belonging to the NSamuelite clan. It was Surendar annan’s birthday, and so the group sang for him. A very historic meeting indeed.

10 July

After a restful day, we left in the evening for the airport to catch the flight to Pune. It was fun to travel as a large group, and it felt like our adventure was beginning. The night was not without its share of stress however, when Prisy’s boarding pass went missing, and we managed to get a duplicate in the nick of time.

11 July

We reached Pune after midnight. (Because Pune is a defense airport, we could not take photos after landing.) Shama’s dad Vishram and their friend Sylvester Rodrigues had come with the driver to receive us. We dodged the rain as we made our way to the cars. The Bhaves had made every conceivable arrangement for our comfort. They put us up in another apartment in the same apartment complex as their own apartment. It had mattresses on the floor and some beds. That night we were transported back to our childhood when families slept together in this way, when they gathered for special occasions. We had been supplied with plenty of snacks and beverages, including bottled water. I was surprised to see an electric kettle too. We met Shama’s mum Hema and Deepika Rodrigues.

In the morning, we all woke up after a good rest, and Shama brought us breakfast! We were asked to get ready and make our way down the three flights of stairs and up another three flights of stairs to get to the Bhave apartment for more breakfast. It was all very exciting.

With the apartment being just opposite from the Bhaves’, they joked that it was just like the Hindi movie song ‘Mere samne wali khidki mein.’

And out the khidki went any pretense to fitness, when we made our way downstairs and up again, huffing and puffing, to the Bhave apartment, where we were presented with a wonderful spread. (From the moment we landed in Pune, we began to meet members of the Bhaves’ close circle, and this continued all through this day too, starting with meeting Rhoda Rathnam.)

Then we were all showered with gifts.
– Shama’s Ajji to Tim
– Shama’s Santosh Kaka to Tim’s Surendar Periappa and to Tim’s cousin Arun
– Shama’s brother Sumukh to Tim’s sister Prisy
– Hema to me
– Vishram to Philip
– Shama’s Neelima Kaku to Tim’s Vinotha Periamma and Thilaga athai
– Rodrigues to Joe and Jothi
– Sumukh to Jonisha
The gifts were just perfect—items of traditional clothing

After this, we went to a clothing shop and then to the jewelers to purchase wedding bands for Tim and Shama. (God willing, the wedding will be held in about six months or so.) Then it was time for lunch.

After lunch, some of us went on a little street-style shopping spree with Hema.

Our hosts for dinner that night were the Rathnams—Rhoda, Vishal, and Sulekha.

On our return, two lovely ladies came to apply mehndi on Shama’s hands and also for any one else like me who wanted it. The two ladies who came were very talented and it was wonderful to watch.

It was quite mesmerising to watch, and this time-lapse video provided by Arun takes it to another level.

12 July

Shama’s parents Vishram and Hema had hired a bus to take us all on the journey of a lifetime, to show us the village of Shama’s childhood, a little village called Bhor, and also to savour food from many authentic eating places along the way.

Prisy and I are delighted that the mehndi designs on our hands have turned out so well. All past efforts at this for me ended up as light-orange doodles.

We stopped for breakfast. We were told what each dish was, but it was too much to take in and remember. Still everything tasted wonderful. We washed it all down with a tandoor tea. It was amazing to watch how it was made.

We then came to Necklace Point, a beautiful location near Bhor, where we stopped to take some pictures.

We then spent some time at the Bhaves’ house in the village.

We then set off again and had lunch at another interesting place, where the staple was rotis made of pearl-millet flour made in the simple age-old way.

Somewhere about this time, we heard that our grandson Micah is born and also that very important fact that he weights 3.5 Kgs. Everyone in the bus cheered.

Then we came to this bridge where we took some more pictures.

Our last stop was at the gracious home of Shama’s Santosh Kaka and Neelima Kaku in Bhor. There we found one of Shama’s paintings on the wall. We had not known till then that she was artistic.

And then it was time to get back home to Pune. I do not know how the Bhaves did it, but we had a dinner at home where all the family were present. Time to rest. Tomorrow will be a big day.

13 July

The day of Tim and Shama’s engagement dawns. The Bhaves are not easily flustered. This is one big difference I have noticed between the Bhaves and Dhinakars.

The venue for the engagement function was welcoming and elegant. Slowly the guests came in and filled the hall.

The function began with prayer after which we sang songs of praise to God in Hindi, Marathi, and English. Also included was a time when Vishram introduced us—Tim’s family—to the gathering of friends and family. Vishram, Hema, Philip and I described to the audience how it came about that Tim living in faraway Auckland came to be engaged to Shama in Pune. Of course, we could only give all glory to the Lord.

Pastor Chris Williams, Pastor of Disciples Community Church, shared from the word, with his dear wife Leena Williams translating into Marathi. He spoke about what a Christ-centred engagement looks like. After this, Tim and Shama made their commitment before the gathering. Pastor Chris then committed the couple to the Lord.

The service ended with prayer, after the singing of the great Hymn ‘To God be the glory.’

Next came the group photos, and here are some of them, including the 360-degrees photo taken by my nephew Arun.

The program included a sumptuous meal and meeting the family and friends of the Bhaves. The young people seemed to be having a good time too.

Here are some pictures from the photo shoot that followed.

We then walked over to the home of Captain Saju and Sukhi Cherian for evening tea. Tim and Shama left after a while to visit a family friend and do some shopping.

Later that night, we had yet another meal (all we seem to be doing the most is eat eat eat) at the Bhave residence. Accompanied on the guitar by one of the young church friends who Shama refers to as Stephen bhaiya, most of the family and friends sat outside on the balcony singing hymns and choruses.

We were about to receive a group of much awaited guests, the James family from Mumbai. This is the backstory: Our great uncle Rev Gnanabaranam was a missionary in Rewa (now in Chhatisgarh), and we had lost touch. In fact, we had lost touch for nearly 70 years, until Philip and I made contact on 26 October 2018, with excellent detective-style help from a local pastor labouring in that region. And this evening — nine months later — we were about to meet Mukul James, the eldest granddaughter of Rev Gnanabaranam, along with other members of her family.

The meeting did not disappoint. In fact it was delightful beyond expectations. We got to meet Mukul didi, her husband Sharad Bhai, their son Madhur and his wife Usha with their children Aryeh and Ellie. None of the Mumbaites spoke Tamil, and yet we were blood relatives. Mukuldi had been close to her grandfather Rev Gnanabaranam, who having missed south India and his relatives very much, had told her a lot about the family. So although she was meeting her South-Indian relatives for the first time, she had a good grasp of names and the general context, which made the sharing of information a great joy. I wondered how much of this I would be able to convey to my father when I return to Auckland — past the gradually increasing fog of his dementia. When it was time for them to leave, I felt a sense of loss and that now-familiar longing for heaven, and I watched them leave till they were gone from view.

14 July

We had hoped to be able to be in the Sunday worship in Pune at least for a little while, but we needed to get to the airport. Philip and Tim will fly to Chennai, while Prisy and I will fly to Goa first to complete one more important task, which is to pick up a Goan friend, Harsha, who wants to return to Auckland.

Goa and Pork Vindaloo go hand in hand in my head. Prisy and I have never been to Goa before, and in this visit, we will not taste any of the cuisine, and we will get to see next to nothing of this world-renowned tourist destination. We have only a few hours before our next flight, and so we take a taxi to Harsha’s place. In the video, you can get a sense of what Goa’s monsoon rains are like. Harsha is relieved to be able to get home to Auckland and at this point in time, she does not even know that we are going to leave via Chennai. In fact she assumed that she would be leaving from Mumbai and is quite surprised to be heading to Chennai.

15 July

After spending the night in a hotel near the Chennai airport, it was home time. I make my last ‘daily’ call to my father from India.

16 July

We reach Auckland before mid day. It has been a satisfying trip, but many things occupy our minds. It is good to know that the Lord is in control every step of the way.