Home after 77 years
AN 85-YEAR-OLD woman who travelled to India with her grandmother when she was eight years old, and was married off at 15 to a stranger who was more than twice her age, has finally returned home.
Heavily scarred from the pain of being separated from her family and homeland for almost 80 years, Poona Bushammal says she never thought she would set foot on Fiji again.
Her story of life on a farm in Chennai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, was one of struggle and hardship.
But she holds no grudges against her grandmother who left her and a sister — who was three years older than her — in India and returned to Fiji.
Mrs Bushammal said she missed her parents and often yearned to see them one more time.
Her return to the country three weeks ago was no easy effort, but it fulfilled her lifelong desire to reconnect with her family in Fiji.
Teary-eyed and emotional, she relayed to The Fiji Times about how she had travelled to India in 1939 with her grandmother, a brother and a sister. She grew up in Ba where her parents owned a sweet-selling business.
“I didn’t know anything at the time so when it was time for me to leave Fiji for India, I did so because I was a child,” she shared.
After an arduous one-month journey, the group arrived in Calcutta. The business trip turned sour when the WWII broke out, forcing India to initiate a curfew and limit the movement of people.
As a result the family was stranded in India, but despite the challenges, they made the best of their situation. She described her grandmother as a “strong” woman, who helped them get through this difficult period by finding temporary housing and enrolling the siblings in a nearby school.
“Soon after, our grandmother decided that my sister and I were of age and she arranged our husbands. We didn’t have any say.”
Mrs Bushammal was married off to a 30-year-old farmer.
“My sister was also married off. Before long, the war ended and the immigration system was cleared.
“My grandmother and brother returned home. Me and my sister did not.
Years passed and she struggled with her new life. Domestic violence was an everyday issue for her.
Mrs Bushammal recalled how she would seek refuge at her sister’s house until her husband passed away in 1975.
In the years that followed, she leant and relied heavily on her sister for support.
She said it was when her sister died a few years later that she felt the loneliest and had deep yearning for her family.
It was only in 2008 that a younger sister in Fiji, Rukmani Narayan, arrived at her doorstep.
“I wasn’t even born when she left and I know how much my parents missed her and worried about her,” the 77-year-old said during the interview at her Lautoka home.
“We all heard the stories and one of my daughters decided to fund my travel to India so I could get to see the sister I had never seen but worried about.
The rest of the family then worked on bringing Mrs Bushammal for a visit to Fiji.
“I am just happy that we were able to get her to come to Fiji because she always desired to return to the place she was born and where her parents lived and passed away.”
Mrs Bushammal will return to India after about four months. She has three children.