Balliram Sookdeo Goes to Heaven

 The harsh wooooz on my iPhone roused me to action. Likely it was the notification of fees and other expenses I had been paying over the last few days. Quickly I voiced my morning praise “From the rising of the sun I will praise You” then committed my day into the hands of Almighty God. Through the window the pink glow of twilight tinged the light grey morning sky.

I opened the text message. University fees would have been far more welcome. Instead, the terse words were from my brother “Balliram pass away. He was sick.”

Forget the grammar.

Remember Balliram.

September 28, 1947 – January 7, 2021.

The sincere, kind, jovial husband of my cousin Roselyn. He called her Rose. We called him Bandan. Their son Teddy had pronounced Balliram as  Bandan when he was a child and the nickname stuck. My mother and Roselyn’s father were siblings, and my early memory is that she visited our house every evening to wait for Balliram to return from work, then together they would walk to their home down in Small Trace. It was a beautiful marriage, and although this is a tribute to Balliram Sookdeo, it would be incomplete without details of Rose.

Bandan was of medium height, brown-skinned with black hair, and a heart of gold. Rose was a beauty, light complexioned and vivacious. Bandan doted on his Rose. As most husbands do in Trinidad, he brought Rose a treat each time he went out. Caramel was a favourite that I remember. Rose loved my younger sister Karen as her own and saved the daily treats to share with her.

A few years after their first child was born, Balliram and Rose built their new house close to ours. The proximity made both families fixtures in each other’s  homes. As a preteen I was sent over to help Roselyn on occasion.  Rose had inherited the Khadaroo gene for cooking, and her meals were lavish and exquisite. After the birth of their second child, I was at their house helping to prepare dinner. You have to know that I never even helped to cook at our own home, but with Roselyn’s instructions, I would provide a gourmet meal such as Bandan had never tasted before.

The menu that day was dhal, rice, and something I don’t remember. From the hammock Rose instructed me to half-fill the pot with water. I filled. Then I washed the dhal (split peas) until the water ran clear and placed it in the pot.

“Slice an onion and grind some garlic,” she said next. I sliced, and smashed the garlic pegs and those went in the pot.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Put some saffron in the dhal” Rose replied. I took the glass jar with the saffron (turmeric) and  a spoon to her and she measured the amount. She also measured the salt. Gourmet was in action. I burnt the garlic and geera (caraway seeds) in hot oil, and the dhal made the satisfying shhwwiissh as the oil was poured in.

Boiling the rice was easy-peasy: water, rice and salt. A tad soft didn’t matter, right? Cheers to me.

I served Roselyn a plate, inclusive of the other dish which I have no memory of either its prep or finish. She ate dutifully, and so did I. When Bandan arrived from work he heaped his plate and dug in. He paused on the first mouthful.

“Who cooked this?”

“Susie.” Rose replied.

Bandan ate the entire awful meal. (It was indeed a meal like none other.) This was typical of his appreciation to others.

Balliram’s presence in the neighbourhood was one of protector. The cool waters of the river were a constant invitation for leisure, and us girls spent many hours there. Once a rumour went around that a male was seen lurking near the river. Balliram made it known loud and clear that any male found near the river when the girls were there would have to deal with him personally. (This is a gentle paraphrase of what he actually said.)  His blunt message was heeded.

There are so many, many stories of the hardworking, respectable man who now is with his Lord and Saviour. Rose had lived for Jesus since a teen due to the influence of my mother. Later, their son Teddy became an active church member with us. Bandan and the rest of the family gave their lives to Christ later and practiced their faith openly in church.

Their children are Teddy, Steve and Sunil, each with beautiful families of their own. I pray that the blessings of being God-fearing will cocoon them from each direction, and they will be comforted.

Pandemic rules forbid travelling for the funeral but technology can bridge as a secondary measure. I pray that you find healing in the memories of fun and family. May you grieve without limit or time, for deep grief is the corollary of deep love. May you know that the Holy Spirit is always with you in solace.

When I spoke to Roselyn this morning her voice sounded strong in contrast to my quavering one. She said she has not processed the loss, and I pray that as the reality settles in that she will draw supernatural strength from the Lord. I asked her permission to share the details of Balliram’s death because diabetes is widespread in Trinidad.

The pre-disposition from our ancestors from India is accelerated by the tasty foods high in calories, fats and sugar. Our fore parent generations did not know about predispositions and the relationship to food. They were hard-working people who were physically active, yet the visceral fat accumulated in the belly. But today through education we know that there is strong evidence towards our genetic predisposition and insulin resistance. Too many of my friends are dying of diabetes.

And so on December 30, 2020  one of Bandan’s legs was amputated below the knee. The pain, the infection spreading to other parts of his body, the dropping oxygen levels, the minor stroke, his calls for his son and wife, his calls for Jesus…too heart-rending. My prayer was “Lord, you know best. Let your will be done for Balliram.”

Yesterday Roselyn visited him at the hospital and he asked her to bring him home. That was beyond her ability. But it was well within God’s, and this morning Balliram went HOME!

When I spoke to her I briefly mentioned my own illnesses, my three times death experiences, my visits and glimpses of Heaven, and my miraculous healings upon return. Rose’s voice was already strong, but there crept a different note of assuredness when I mentioned “healing” and she said “Really?”.  And I knew in that moment that the Lord was healing her in this sad, sore loss of a husband. That Him being a husband to the widow was setting in motion. Roselyn will be comforted, she will have a friend in Jesus, a companion in her golden years until she is reunited with Balliram in Heaven.

I do not follow a script when I write a tribute/eulogy, nor are two ever the same. I write as prompted from my heart, and so I speak to any who read this piece. YOU CAN BEAT DIABETES BY MODIFYING YOUR LIFESTYLE.

Replace the white flour with whole wheat flour. Replace white rice with brown rice. I know how addicting our Indian foods are – those silky parathas and scrumptious dhal-purees saturated with oil and butter. The deep fried doubles and saheenas and pies and poolories. Those delectable sweets  – kurma, barfi and too many to relate. Those everyday sugars like tamarind ball and candy and sweet drink (soda or pop).

My people, eat less, eat on occasion, eat differently. To continue consuming in portions as I knew were eaten when I lived there, is to give over yourself to diabetes, and eventually to amputations. Eat green foods, fruits and vegetables as used to be planted in backyard gardens.  Skip the fast foods when you can. And exercise daily. Walk in the warm air. You are responsible for the choice. It’s the choice of health over convenience. It’s a choice you can make.

Over 6,000 km spans where I am to where Bandan’s body lies cold and still at Boodoo’s Funeral Home in Penal. On Saturday there will be a service at the family home in Standard Road (which I hope to join in via technology). Then his body will be cremated at the Creek.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ sustain Roselyn, Teddy, Steve, Sunil and their families, the relatives, the neighbours who are also family in the Trinidadian way, the friends and co-workers. I remember Balliram’s sister Golina, the younger one whose name I forgot, Basha, and the other brother whose name I also forgot. I pray that you will live for Eternity so that you may all be a family again in the presence of each other.

A prayer to invite Jesus into your life:

“Dear Jesus, I have sinned and I need your forgiveness. I invite you to be my Saviour and Lord. Help me to be the kind of person You want me to be. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sin and for giving me eternal life. Amen.”

With love and prayers for a man I knew since childhood, a man who I will see in Heaven. A good man, Balliram Sookdeo.

Susan Harris

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