Grease and Grace

 I wrote this following a recent visit to some friends from way-back…a delightful visit.

As a young man, my husband rode a Royal Enfield 350cc motorbike known as a Bullet:  a single cylinder, four stroke, 17 HP, four-speed, air-cooled Indian icon of the roads. With a top speed of 110 kilometres per hour, the Bullet was part of our courtship and became our family vehicle. Bullets have a distinctive pulsing exhaust thump, so I usually heard my husband return home 300 metres before he rode into view.

he takes me

to meet his family –

I hang on

wind in my eyes

and six metres of sari

 Thirty years later, on one of our regular trips back to Chennai, we visit an old college friend of my husband’s: a fine leather craftsman and an exceptional photographer who, having turned sixty, has just invested everything into restoring and selling Enfield Bullets. His wife greets us on a gloomy wet evening at a narrow entrance.  She guides us under a dripping roof along planks placed above pooled water.

The workroom-cum-showroom is filled with motorbikes – all Bullets – in various stages of repair and re-construction. We pull up chairs, chat and take tea and cake from a table cluttered with tools and paraphernalia.

wrenches, wheels

disassembled chrome bits

from a chassis –

rear-view mirrors reflect

a jigsaw dream

My husband’s friend and his wife have difficulty finding mechanics with sufficient specialisation for their business; they both spend long days at the workshop. The man eats his cake with hands engrained with grease; enthuses about being able to indulge his passion for the Bullet; is cheerful about his lack of business acumen. His wife shrugs at the “showroom” her husband has turned into a work-pit; at the fact they live in a partially constructed home.  She is dressed in loose top and long pants, her hair caught up in a soft twist. Her skin is flawless, without make-up. She is charming, elegant and radiant.

incessant rain

drips through cracks

into a dark pool

rainbowed with oil

a single lotus

                                                                                                     India, October 2015

Published in Skylark, 4:1, Summer 2016

Recent reviews of Saffron and Silk

I’ve been most encouraged by two recent reviews of Saffron and Silk.

  1. The first from Bookabuy. 

https://www.bookabuy.com.au/blog/saffron-and-silk/

SAFFRON AND SILK

Anne Benjamin

Anne Benjamin’s Saffron and Silk is the incredible personal account of an Australian living in India. The author writes about the massive life changes she combats when she moves from suburban Sydney to Chennai, the capital city of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Benjamin’s memoir commences with a fast-moving romance and wedding with Susai – a man that she met at an education conference in Canada. We are then taken on her journey from Australia to India, where the vast cultural differences between the two countries are beautifully portrayed.

Benjamin does a magical job of weaving both her own personal memories into important historical moments that we have all read about in textbooks, but have failed to truly see through the eyes of ordinary people. I especially appreciated the detail Benjamin went into when discussing the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and the catastrophic impact this had on the people of India.

As a woman who has lived in two polar opposite worlds, Benjamin is able to share her experience in the most authentic and eye-opening way. Saffron and Silk will give you insight into life in India from an Australian woman’s perspective that you have never seen before.

2. The second review from Indian Link, a Sydney-based publication linking India with Australia since 1994: newspaper | radio | digital

 Indian Link, November 18, 2016

LAKSHMI NARASIMHAN reviews Anne Benjamin’s new memoir Saffron and Silk: An Australian in India

Anne Benjamin, an academic from NSW, shares her experiences of life in rural and metropolitan India in the 1980s through her brilliant new memoir Saffron and SilkAn Australian in India. The book was launched in Blacktown in September by former NSW Premier Bob Carr, who is known to Anne and her husband, Susai Benjamin, a Blacktown councillor.

The book starts with Anne’s first meeting with her future husband Susai at an education conference in Edmonton, Canada, in 1983.

During the question time, Susai responded with the phrase, “There’s another world and another perspective.” He knew how to capture authority in his tone.  Needless to say, Benjamin was enamoured by Susai’s his passion and his commitment to the neglected.

Sharing the ideology of being a “voice for the voiceless” and providing support for the marginalised, Benjamin describes her marriage ceremony in Sydney, the first time Susai had set foot in Australia, and subsequent wedding reception in Chennai.

She vividly captures the culture, tradition and uniqueness of India through many Sanskrit words, a few of which will be arrestingly new.

Benjamin provides graphic details of their development work in Cheyal Nagar (Place of Activity) in the outskirts of Chennai, which had a very minimal infrastructure by way of road, water and electricity.

Benjamin confesses (with perhaps some humility, a great credit to her upbringing) that she held no more than a stranger’s perspective in a complex India.  She reinforces this view by a quote from Jawaharlal Nehru, “To endeavour to understand and describe India would be the task of a brave man. To say anything about tomorrow’s India would verge on rashness.” Indeed throughout the book it is evident Nehru’s and Tagore’s views are strongly implanted in the author’s mind.

During her three-and-a-half year stay in India, Benjamin bore witness to catastrophic events which, even some 30 plus years later, have not been redressed. These events included the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, where Sikhs were at the brutal receiving end; and the Union Carbide gas leak at Bhopal, resulting in the death of thousands of people and paralysing life in the city for decades to come. The incidents did no credit to the politicians and bureaucrats who were lethargic and failed to act swiftly. There is a poignant quote from film-maker Safina Uberoi which ends, “For we had looked into the eyes of Mother India – we had seen the dark side.”

In the chapter ‘Taking Sides with Poor’, Benjamin portrays the plight of Indians working in unorganised sectors, which probably amounts to more than 80 per cent of population. She recaptures the scene of India after liberalisation and becoming IT savvy in the 90s and just how much things have changed.

As Benjamin writes about a flight from Singapore to Chennai in 2008, some 25 years after her first trip, there are “No longer one of handful of non-Indians on the flight. Now nearly half the flight is passengers from Canada, Australia and Japan… The commercial world has discovered India.”

Benjamin must be still be wondering with a contemplative mind – notwithstanding the opening of free markets and the world becoming global village – when the commercial world will really discover the rural poor in India and make attempts to ameliorate their condition.

Admittedly it is no easy task. Anne Benjamin is no stranger to the struggle against vested interests, bureaucracy and entrenched corruption. Her fervent hope with Saffron and Silk is to provide people with unique insights into the world of India that may trigger a positive attitudinal change.

‘The morning after’

I was delighted to be awarded Second Place and Best Poem in this year’s ZineWest 16 competition for my poem, ‘The morning after’. This competition is run by NEW Writers’ Group Inc who produce an anthology of prose, poetry and art each year for artists from Western Sydney.

The ‘Zine also features very exciting writing and art from young artists in Western Sydney. I look forward to reading more from these writers in the future.

zinewest16

Saffron and Silk launched

A very successful launch last night with a large gathering at Blacktown.

Hon Bob Carr, former Premier of NSW and former federal Foreign Minister, launched the book that was published by David Lovell of David Lovell Publishing.

Copies can be purchased by following instructions on the BUY page.

dsc_9051

With publisher David Lovell, Hon Bob Carr and author Christopher Kremmer

ab-book-signing-saffron

 

Launch of Saffron and Silk

I am delighted to announce the launch of my memoir, Saffron and Silk by Hon Bob Carr, former Australian Foreign Minister and former Premier of NSW. Published by David Lovell Publishing.

s&s cvrs1Jul16 frontcopy copy

Nirimba Room, Level 5,
Blacktown City Council
Campbell St, Blacktown

Friday, 16 September 2016
5:30 PM to 7:30 PM (AEST)

Entry to the Nirimba Room is through the Campbell St entrance to Council building. Parking is available through the boom gates off Campbell Street. Please proceed to the Caretaker/Security office directly ahead of the boom gates on Campbell St for secure entry to Level 5 via lifts.

RSVP COB Wed 14th Sept:

 

Bookings through Eventbrite at: http://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/anne-benjamin-launched-by-hon-bob-carr-published-by-david-lovell-publishing-11172663993


‘But he’s a stranger,’  my mother lamented when I announced my intention to marry. I suspect that this might be the cry of every mother when her daughter announces her intentions to marry anyone but the boy-next-door.

In this case, Mum had a point. Neither she nor Dad had met the man in question. In fact, he had never set foot in Australia.

Three months later, I stood with my new husband in the light of early evening beneath an arch in the gardens of the hotel Ashoka in the South Indian city of Chennai…


This book reads like smooth silk. It gives a vivid account of the conditions of Tamil villagers, the status of rural women and the hurdles in the development process. It is a well-crafted book written straight from the heart of a person who loves India and has been an inalienable part of India. It should be read by Indians and non-Indians alike.            Professor T. Krishnan Nair Chennai

 

Recently published

This collection of tanka, written in collaboration with eight international poets, was a joy to create. In launching Gemstones, Beverley George began, “From the moment we pick it up, this book invites us to explore…”

The cover photograph by contributing Canadian poet, Luminita Suse, was designed by Owen Smith, and produced by Skylark Publishing. Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00058]

Gemstones is available through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1530574889/ref=rdr_ext_tmb, or

Createspace at https://www.createspace.com/6140640