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September 14, 2010 > Senior Penpals

Senior Penpals

First place winner of Fremont's Senior Penpal Intergenerational Book Contest

Enjoy a book reading by Amrith Krishnan and his senior penpal Mr. Kumarapuram Subramanian Thursday, September 16. Amrith, a sixth grader at Mission San Jose Elementary last school year, was the 1st place winner in the City of Fremont's Senior Penpal Intergenerational Book Contest. Amrith interviewed his senior penpal and wrote a story of one memorable aspect of Mr. Subramanian's life. His story caught the attention of the judges, who were impressed by his creative and descriptive writing style.

The goal of the project was to bring youth and older adults from the Tri-City community together in a dialogue aiming to bridge generations. Amrith's published book will be available for a $5 donation at the event, and is also being distributed throughout local schools, hospitals, and clinics.

In the past two issues of the Tri-City Voice, the third place story, "Learned to Love It" and second place story, "Growing Up in Germany" appeared. Below is the first place story, "Free Together."

"Free Together"
By Amrith Krishnan
As told by Kumarapuram Subramanian
Photos courtesy of Asha Chandra


India has been an independent country for the past 63 years. This freedom, however, was hard to achieve. There were numerous violent and non-violent revolutions against the British who controlled the country for almost 200 years. When trading began between Europeans and the Far East, Great Britain saw their chance. They started a company called the English East India Company which controlled virtually all trade that went through India. In time, the East India Company increased its powers and started to administer the country. However, its policies were disliked by Indians and together they revolted against the company. This led to the downfall of the company and the administration of India went directly under the Queen of England.

Slowly, but rapidly the entire Indian sub continent came under the British rule. By the mid 19th century, the British introduced railways, telegraph, and postal service in India. They passed many acts that were met with dissatisfaction and resentment by the Indians. As a result the Indians formed large groups and revolted against the British.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was the most prominent political and spiritual leader during the movement for India's independence in the 20th century. Although President of the Indian National congress from 1925-34, he never held a government office. He was mainly known for solving his people's problems in a peaceful manner, which he learned from his mother. She taught him the Hindu doctrine of "ahimsa," the refusal to do harm and the duty to do good. This belief was the foundation for the bold and courageous acts that led to Gandhi's fame as a proponent of non-violent resistance. One of his most effective ways of protesting was fasting. Because the natives of India highly revered Gandhi, the British feared that if they didn't give him his request, the people would revolt.

In 1920, Gandhi launched a campaign of deliberate non-cooperation to free India from British rule. During that campaign, thousands of Indians were jailed. Despite the violence and beatings, Gandhi insisted that the correct response was love for the opposition. Over his objections, his followers gave him the name "Mahatma," which means "Great Soul."

For over a decade, Gandhi and his followers waged an unrelenting struggle for independence, often in the face of violent opposition from the British government. Failing health and numerous jail terms did not deter the courageous efforts of Mahatma Gandhi. India's long struggle for freedom ended in 1947, when independence was granted. The achievement of independence was hailed as a victory for non-violent resistance.

During this time I, Kumarapuram Subramanian, along with my entire village, waited and watched. What a remarkable moment in time!

I was born on March 17, 1933 and lived a simple life. My father passed away when I was three, so my mother, two sisters and brother moved in with our many cousins. My daily routine consisted of breakfast, worship at the temple, school from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that was followed by several hours of playing games, such as marbles and badminton, with other village friends until early evening. After dinner, we joined in more worship at the temple before going to bed. My homework was always done in the morning before school, as it was felt our minds would be sharper after a good night's rest. In school, we talked a great deal about freedom. What did it REALLY mean? I was unaware then that two events were about to happen that would remain with me forever.

It was August 15, 1947. I lay on my mat, staring into the tiled ceiling of our village house. The village of Palakkad was silent. Even those animals that were noisy and joyous every day were quiet. The radio crackled. I jumped up. Was this it? Was this the day that Indians had been waiting for since Britain colonized us? The radio's static suddenly cleared and spoke; "Fellow citizens and friends of mother India, I know you have been waiting for this day! The British, who we have been answering to for centuries, have...gone. We are a free nation, no longer the puppets of the oppressors. From this day on, we play the Indian National Anthem as our song. We...are...FREE!" I was ecstatic! The village had blossomed into a place where there was only happiness. I darted outside. Firecrackers were already bursting the sky apart. Some people sobbed uncontrollably, shedding tears of pure joy. I felt exhilaration and excitement, for India had now become a country of no sorrow. I saw only dancing people, singing people, and laughing people together in celebration. Without thinking, I ran into the midst of this jubilant crowd and danced to the rhythm in my own heart. My friends then came over. We played happily for a long time. I took part in the festivities until it was very late and then dragged myself back home. That night, images filled my head as I reflected upon the endless possibilities that were mine. Finally, I closed my eyes, but it was hard to sleep after such excitement. What an amazing day! Tonight, India's freedom sat in a warm place within my heart and as the positive energy began to settle down, the more I relaxed and eventually drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Early the next morning, I was awakened bright and early by the obnoxious call of the rooster (the sound that meant rise and shine NOW no matter how much you want to go back to sleep). However, today it meant so much more. It was the first dawn since India gained its independence and already that made it a remarkable day. I eagerly got up and dressed. What would the new day bring? I ate breakfast cooked by my mother. She had made Idlis (rice cakes) and they were my favorite! I shoveled the food into my gaping mouth faster than you could say "Independence"! School had been canceled, which provided a rare opportunity to celebrate all day with my friends. Even at this early hour, the whole village of Palakkad was teaming with excited voices. Students from nearby schools were all assembled in the fairgrounds called Fort Maidan. There were flags and banners everywhere! We feasted on treats and snacks. The best part of the celebration, however, was the hour long fireworks display. What I did not know then was that in a short while a single piece of news would result in the light going out of our lives.

It is January 30, 1948. I lay on my mat, staring into the tiled ceiling of our village house. The village of Palakkad was silent. Even those animals that were noisy and joyous every day were quiet. The radio crackled. I felt an overcoming sense of deja vu. I placed my hand on the radio's vibrating knob that seemed impatient to tell me its news. "India, this is a bad time. It is a bad time indeed. Do you remember just five short months ago, the exhilaration that you felt hearing the news on this radio? I do not know what to tell you or how to say it. I am sorry to inform you that the father of our nation, our beloved Bapu, the one who first brought independence to us... He is... " My eyes were wide with anxiety. Was it true? Gandhi, India's role model and inspiration, he couldn't be..."dead. He was shot three times in the chest by an assassin... Have faith; all is not lost! Together we must carry on just as he would expect of us. Remember him. Remember him, the enlightened one, who first introduced freedom to this country." The radio whimpered feebly, recited a few last words and was then silent. Soon tears appeared from everywhere. I stepped out onto the street. It was not at all like that day just five months ago. People were sobbing, but now they were tears of sorrow and sadness. I walked up the main street that linked all our houses together. A man came up to me. His eyes were red. He turned towards me, and then collapsed on the street. It reminded me of a scene from a sad opera. The glory and jubilation from so short a time ago was gone. India's "Great Soul" was no more! I felt very sad as well as anger and hate for the man who ended Gandhi's life. I wanted to beat and torture this man, who took India's hero from us! But then immediately our beloved Gandhi's words began to flow through my body. "The policy of retaliation has never succeeded," he said. "Hate the sin, not the sinner." Our village must now join together in honor of Gandhi and continue with his practice of non-violence.

In the days ahead, our village gathered to mourn the death of Gandhi. A newspaper article read, "Just an old man in a loincloth. Yet when he died, humanity wept." People in our village then began to concentrate their focus on all that he left behind, rather than on what was taken away from us that day. Gandhi believed that the only way we can forever be free is together. Our village realized the importance and value of adding to the inheritance left by our ancestors. We shared his belief that there is no misery in life, just the absence of good. Accept life as it is; believe in karma to guide you along your path to success.

These events will forever be a part of my life. One a day of happiness and one a day of great sorrow, but together, our village grew in strength knowing that "you must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Meet the authors and their respective senior penpals in person at the book signing event, and learn more about how their stories evolved. Support the students for their wonderful work!

Book Reading and Signing of "Free Together" by Amrith Krishnan
Thursday, September 16
4 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Fremont Main Library, Fukaya Room
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
Refreshments served

Also meet:
Julia Noona, 2nd place winner and senior penpal, Gerry Esparza
Sharon Chen 3rd place winner and senior penpal, Hilda Vandenhole
Marty Fraga, local artist and illustrator, "Free Together"
Lita Eitner-England, local children's author of "Bullmina The Courageous Bulldog to the Rescue"

Sponsored by the City of Fremont Human Services Department, Fremont Main Library, Tri-City Elder Coalition, Cargill, and Tri-City Voice.

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