Radha Windmill Journal

From The Windmill – A Journal of the Diverse Voices of Women  

LIFE BEFORE AND AFTER by Radha Sundarakumar 

Hi, my name is Radha Sundarakumar. 

Life before 1977 was very different… raised in an affluent South Indian business family, there was nothing that I had to really work hard for as everything was provided and no major expectations/challenges. On the contrary, my husband Kumar was from a totally different humble background where the Mantra was to strive hard, have lofty ambitions, be successful, and make it ‘big’ in life.  

In 1977, when we got married, I was barely 20 and with no experience of interacting with males, my husband became my hero… he was romantic, extrovert, expressive, caring, affectionate, had a great sense of humour and very ambitious. To appease his fervent desire to succeed, we explored several avenues – getting better jobs in India, working overseas – in Thailand, UAE and UK, and finally migrating to Australia with an earnest aim to provide our children a safe and better future. Subsequently, we developed a very strong bond and became practically ‘two peas in a pod’ enjoying life and being parents to 2 beautiful children. During this journey, Kumar had completed his PhD and done a Master’s in Counselling and Mentoring, and I was always in awe of his determination and drive to succeed. 

Meanwhile, Kumar identified my dormant skill of English language competency and encouraged me to study further in this field. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”; “An optimist is one who finds an opportunity in a calamity”; “Think big” – these were the inspirational quotes that danced around me kindling my desire to study further and then, it was Bachelor of Education, Masters in English literature, and finally in Melbourne, two Post-graduate qualifications to teach English to adults and speakers of other languages. Thus, equipped with several language teaching qualifications, I embarked on an ESL teaching career in prestigious Australian Universities while simultaneously becoming an IELTS Examiner in Monash University and RMIT. Wonderful opportunities came my way when we moved to Dubai where I continued my English language teaching and IELTS examining. Moreover, he put me in challenging situations, sometimes out of my comfort zone, and I slowly transitioned into a total extrovert that I am now. 

Life was so beautiful and almost like a dream – good health; a doting, successful husband; a satisfying career; loving, well settled children; overseas holidays; an enjoyable social life… what more could anyone want! But alas, tragedy struck! Kumar suffered a major stroke drowning all of us in despair as the doctors diagnosed that his brain would never function again, and he lost consciousness. It was frustrating to see him lying helpless, particularly for someone whose brain power was his biggest asset and who had mentored several people during their worst mental traumatic times. Our world had crumbled. After 4 months of keeping vigil by his bedside, despite realising that it was a futile hospitalisation, he passed away leaving me a ‘widow’ – a word I most dreaded.  

Life must go on. My children have become my greatest pillars of strength and the very purpose for living. However, the void that Kumar left in my life is irreplaceable. Looking back, I wonder if he knew somewhere in the corner of his sharp brains that there would come a time when I would have to live in this world without him. All along, it seemed as if he was preparing me to sustain in this world without him, while constantly making financial plans for a future comfortable life. All that I do now is English-language related – teaching English to seniors as a volunteer; an IELTS examiner at Deakin University; and online proof reading/editing English language tests. Little did I know that his mission and inspirational lessons would emerge as a coping mechanism to deal with the loss of the very person who motivated me to pursue academics and develop a strong mind. This has become the very essence of the activities I am doing now to keep me totally engaged, while trying to cope with this terrible loss. I have become an active part of community groups, joined their administration groups, become a volunteer, made friends of my age, and established a social circle wherein I have an identity without being totally dependent on my children to support me emotionally. 

Though I grieve Kumar’s loss every day, I have realised that it is inevitable, and I just must live with the sweet memories of our 40-year marriage. I am grateful to him for having provided a lifelong training to equip me with the courage and ability to face the world.