KALPANA CHANA

SOUTH AFRICA/AUSTRALIA

I was born in 1965, into an Indian family, in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am the youngest of six siblings, three brothers and three sisters. My parents brought us all up in the same house and when my elder brothers married and had children, we continued to stay together in one extended family. It was a natural aspect of the collectivist culture that was part of our history, our being. The beauty of growing up in an extended family, especially being the youngest of the pack, was the feeling of having more than one mother. My mother was sickly when I was a little girl, and not always able to care for me by herself. However, I didn’t feel like I was losing out in any way, as there was always someone to take care of my needs. I had the privilege of feeling the love and care of five mothers, my eldest sister, three sisters-in-law, and my own mother. We would always be together in the kitchen when it was time to cook the day’s meal. Every day, cooking was an occasion. My mother would tell us about the stories she had been reading about while cleaning and cutting the vegetables. Everyone contributed in some way to the preparation of the meal and there was lots of chatting and laughter going on during this time. It felt like the meal would be done in no time, as if by magic. I grew up observing my mothers and learning how to cook with love. 


Living in a large family of different personalities also teaches one to be tolerant and patient. As is normal in every family, there were arguments and differences. However, mostly there was love, respect, tolerance and patience. Today, I live alone with my partner in the northern tropical region of Far North Queensland, Australia. While I do enjoy a quiet lifestyle, I miss the feeling of living in a big family sometimes. At the same time, I am grateful to have had such a rich upbringing. I feel it has given me the skills of adaptability in diversity. I wonder if this might be part of a big answer to the big question of climate change and sustainability? By telling stories about the old days, we can learn from each other how to keep using and sustaining the old ways that worked well.

KALPANA CHANA