I saw my father’s friend, Ipe Joseph, with whom he studied at the Leonard Theological College in Jabalpur, India, forty years ago - it was the last time when I was in India. Several years later we received a letter from him in Suriname, South America, then known as Dutch Guyana. After that, we lost each other. Life went on, with ups and downs of human life.

Chacha Ipe

Three years ago, I had a strong urge to see him again. I had only some faint memories. I said to myself: ‘Is he still alive?’ I didn’t hesitate and searched him on Google. To my surprise I found many entries with this name. He seemed to be connected with the Mar Thoma Church in India. All mail addresses I found with the name Joseph I had sent an e-mail to. ‘Are you my Chacha Ipe, who studied with my father in Jabalpur?’  After a while I got a mail back: ‘Yes, it is me’. He wanted to know everything about me and asked me to send a picture. He also invited me to visit him in India.

My Family History

Who am I? I belong to the Surinamese Indian community that came to Suriname, South America, 135 year ago. I consider myself of Hindustani origin, the third generation Indian Christians, born in the Netherlands in the early sixties of the last century. My father came to the Netherlands from Suriname to study by that time.

My own history started 96 years ago when my  “aja/ dada”, my paternal grand father - came as a three years old boy with his mother, Nani (my maternal grandmother) and elder brother in 1912 from “United Provinces”, later known as “Uttar Pradesh” India with a ship named Ganges IV to Suriname. They departed from Calcutta on February 27th 1912 and arrived in Suriname on the 7th April 1912. He was the son of one of the free immigrants, pass nr.5. My grandfather, a Hindu, settled down on the West Coast of Suriname, in a town called Nickerie, where he married a girl from a family who was partly Hindu, partly Muslim.

It was in this village that he was surprised one day by a traveling evangelist who sang songs about the gospel of Jesus Christ in Hindi. My grandfather wanted to know who this strange God was, about whom the man was singing and invited him for discussions under the mango tree in his garden. The evangelist sang songs for him from a book that had brought from India. In course of his discussion with my grandfather, he explained to my grandfather the meaning of the words. The book is called Geet Pustak, which means hymnbook. The book contained songs not only in Western church melodies, but also traditional Indian melodies as bhajans and ghazals. After some time, in 1940, my grandfather became a Christian and was thrown out of his house but later on he was accepted again.

My father was the eldest son of the family and therefore was lucky to be sent to the Netherlands for further studies and from there in 1967 he went to Jabalpur India. He moved with his family to live there for almost a year. During that time, he met a number of fellow students and made friends with them. One of them was Ipe Joseph, with whom he had such a close relationship that he traveled with his family to Kerala for a holiday. My memory of Ipe Joseph starts from there as a small kid.

Namastey India

Finally, this year, 2008, I accepted the invitation of Ipe Joseph. It took me 12 hours by plane from Amsterdam to Trivandrum, the capital city of Southern Indian state of Kerala. During the journey the film Namastey London was showing on board. But to me it is Namastey India! During all this journey I was very tense: I was going to see a strange man of whom I have only a vague memory. In fact it was a journey down the memory lane, undertaken on sentiments of my childhood. When the plane arrived at the destination and as soon as I got down from the plane, a feeling of familiarity overcame me. I felt as if I was in Suriname; the climate was like that. I picked my luggage quickly and got out of the immigration. A stranger was addressing me by my name. Surprised happily, I looked at him. He led me easily through the crowd waiting for their passengers. Behind them, I found Chacha Ipe with his wife, in his white pastoral attire waiting for me. We kissed each other, and his wife presented three pretty and fragrent little roses to me.

Chacha Ipe used this occasion to visit some family members in this big city, because they are lived in a small place which is situated at 2½ hours driving distance from there. On the way, we talked a lot; those forty years of separation was overcome easily and it looked as if never existed. Quite comfortable and of proud of me, he introduced me as his daughter from South America; thus it was my home coming at my father’s Indian brother!

Journey

After almost a fortnight stay in Kerala, where my sister also joined me later, I decided to travel further to the place where my father and Rev. Dr. Ipe Jospeh studied together - Jabalpur. I had a 32-hour train journey in the sleeper compartment with my sister. It was a real adventure – you eat and sleep in the train and there are a lot of things going on. Memories of such a train journey – which I made as a child with my parents – were revived, especially when I tasted the dahie (yoghurt). We arrived late in the night. From there we made a 6-hour bus journey in the night – which broke down twice - to Jabalpur, where it was much colder.

Leonard Theological College

In the morning of our arrival, we were expected to attend a small service in the local chapel. Here I got the opportunity to explain the purpose of my visit. After the service, there was an informal meeting, where we were received warmly and honored as daughters of Leonard Theological College by getting a mala (floral garland).

My dream for which I visited Leonard Theological College came true: I could see my father’s file, which has been preserved for the last forty years.

Dedication

My father was sent to Jabalpur to acquire knowledge and gain insight about the Indian Christianity. He was one of the first Surinamese Indians who studied in India. With this knowledge, he went back to Suriname to work among the Surinamese Indians.
We also met Jabalpur’s famous Hindi gospel songwriter Rev. Ahsan Masih who is worldwide known for his song Awaaz uthaenge.


Later, it was time to visit the college compound. In forty years not much had changed; only the buildings were in a deplorable state.

After a weekend in Jabalpur, where I had a lot of time to revive my memories, it was time for the journey back to the Netherlands.

This year we are celebrating 135 years of Indian Immigration from India to Suriname. I dedicate this article to those who made this journey under harsh conditions and bad circumstances and also to those who taught us Hindi gospel.

Videos produced by Mitra at HannaBaran Media Productions