It is with a very deep sense of being loved and cared for by God and with gratitude to friends, family and just people who have seen me through, that I am writing this...
I am Swapna Abraham also known by my maiden name Swapna Susy Cherian and my Christian name Anna. I was born in 1971 in a traditional Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox Christian) family. My father, the Late K. A. Cherian was a banker and my mother Soosy Cherian has always been a homemaker, but at one time also worked as an accountant. My parents were always “heard” in Church. They sang. My father was the choir master and mum’s voice always stood out. Both my parents hail from small villages in Kerala, India. My father’s closest town was Cochin and mum’s was Kottayam. My parents spent the first few years of their life together in Chennai, which was then called Madras, from where they moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE. I was born close to Pathamuttom, the small village where my mum has her ancestral home. I saw my dad when I was nearly a year old. My sister Sebeena, now a dentist, was born when I was two years of age.
When I turned four, I was sent to a boarding school in a hill station in India. A little town Coonoor, near Ooty… From kindergarten till I finished high school, it was in that Convent that I studied. Most of what I know and what I am, is from there and those hills. I remember the contours of those hills, the four seasons all those eleven years... I saw my parents every twice a year, three months in all. I remember growing up with a strong resentment for having been forced to study in a boarding school for nearly all of my school life; my parents did what they thought was the best for me and our family. Over there, I got trained in sports and games besides other things. My favourite sport was volley ball and I was a champion at that. I was also good at public speaking, although very nervous initially. I was forced to learn Bharatnatyam – Indian classical dance. Even though I did not like it one bit, I did well, so well that I was awarded the prize for ‘the best outgoing dancer’ when I left school. I did a bit of drama, besides what I ‘dramaed’ with life… studied reasonably well since Grade Six, so much so that I kept getting the Best All Rounder (the General Proficiency) prize every year, except the last year when I got all rebellious and disobedient, but was never the less a winner at anything I put my heart to.
What I seriously enjoyed doing was writing poetry and singing. Poetry, because it was a vent for my feelings, especially those of self-pity and bitterness; and singing, because I simply loved to sing… My paternal grandfather, Kallarackal Varkey Abraham was an extremely devout Christian. He was blind, but very intelligent and deeply intuitive. His sixth sense was too cool! He prayed a lot. Several times a day, and through the night... He was thorough with the Bible and the liturgy of the Syrian Orthodox Church. A Syriac scholar himself, he taught the language to many who aspired towards priesthood. And he sang like a nightingale! I so loved and admired him.
I started with singing Church music. Kind of was a help to my father during the holidays. It was only in Grade Seven that I started learning to play the piano. When I left home for boarding school, my father gifted me a little colour-keyed, battery operated piano, and I kept getting more and more of them all along… they just kept getting bigger and better every time. I was not fond of playing by sight, but would spend long hours playing just about any song I loved. Playing with the lights off was the best thing really…. I did not persevere after Grade Five of Piano, Trinity College of Music, London. But kept playing… When I was nine years old, there was this Pakistani sister-brother duo, Nazia and Zoheb Hassan who were then very popular on the Indian pop music scene. How I wished I could be like them! I knew that I could sing. I even dreamed that I could make music, but I did not know the language Hindi. The only languages I knew were English and Malayalam which is my mother tongue. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine that I could write songs in English, although I was already writing English poetry! Anyways, a lot of things changed about me when I was in Grade Seven. Even my choice of music... After Abba and Boney M from Grade Four, I was listening now more to popular English music, the likes of George Michael (is still my favourite), Madonna, Lionel Richie, Duran Duran, Stevie Wonder... A couple of years later, I remember the first time I tried singing one such song. It was Queen's ‘I Want To Break Free’. And it sounded fine. Then I tried George Michael's ‘Last Christmas’ and Madonna's ‘True Blue’ and it all sounded fine. Sometimes I thought I was mimicking them! I didn’t know even then that I could write my own songs, even given that I was already making my own little melody lines.
After I left high school, I studied staying with my parents for a couple of years, and during the time, it seemed like I was very depressed. I changed so much more those two years! My parents took my sister and me on a vacation to the UK and to Europe. I started acquiring other accents with relative ease. I will never forget… as the bus was going through some part of Germany, I felt this song coming up from the pit of my heart. I came back to the UK and completed it on the piano. The name of the song was ‘I’m Crying’. A simple love song... I was fifteen then. A cousin of mine in the UK taught me a few chords on the guitar. And then the songs kept coming. ‘Live Love Laugh’ and ‘Across The Ocean’. I got back to India for my studies in University. And kept writing more songs, ‘Letter To Heaven’, ‘Along With The Desert Sand’... and winning more singing competitions. Our college had a band that I was a part of. Just played the keys and sang. There were only two of us who came to the university competition then with our own songs. Some of those that I wrote were already popular among my mates in college. It was nice to be considered the weird singer-songwriter… Winning the first position in Western Music in my university (Mahatma Gandhi University) was a breakthrough. However, I did not win in the first year. In year two, my Sir, Joymon (Jacob Alexander Benjamin), who was very real in his relationship with Jesus, challenged me to sing for Jesus, and write about Jesus, since I claimed to love God deeply, not having believed in human relationships since childhood. He gave me a whole lot of gospel music records, showed me one particular album of Amy Grant’s and said that I could sing like her. I liked the depth, the passion and intense emotion in her voice, the conviction in her lyrics and the chord progression in her songs. I saw her concerts on video and thought her charisma was incredible! I wrote a song for Jesus, ‘It’s You’ and I sang and won. Year three, I did the same thing with my songs ‘Victims of Sin’ and ‘More Than I Know’, and I won.
Considering the guys I was competing with have made it so big in the world of secular music, I know that that was no cakewalk. By that time I will have written 25 songs in all and about 100 poems (Much later, in 2004, I lost the notebook where I had recorded all those songs). The best thing that happened to me in University was when I graduated as the Best Outgoing Student of the same college where my mother studied, and won the same award that she won in her time. After my Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce, and I did well enough to top my University on a district level, I enrolled for my Masters in Business Administration.
No matter how much and how well I performed in life, there was this huge emotional chasm, so not dealt with. Well, at this point in life, things were looking up... And I sincerely thought what would follow would be the end of a prolonged sad spell. But to my surprise I was just about to step into the real wilderness. It is ironic how “singing” can make the wilderness almost seem like lush green meadows! And I saw them all over my country - Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata, Madurai, Trichy, Coimbatore, The Nilgiris, Mysore, Chennai, Goa, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Cochin, Kottayam, Trivandrum, Nagpur, Assam, The North East… in towns and villages. And in the world beyond borders... the US (San Fransisco, Portland Oregon, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver Colorado, Oklahoma, Dallas, Houston, Boston, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut), Canada (Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver), the UK (London, Leeds, Hartlepool, New Castle), Germany (Stuttgart, a military camp close to the Austrian border), Kenya (Nairobi, Nzaickoni, Mombasa), Tanzania (Dar es Salaam, Arusha), the UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah), Bahrain, Sri Lanka (Colombo, Kandy, Galle), Malaysia (KL), Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines (Manila, Cebu, Abra, San Fernando, Pangasinan, Laog, Subic City, Mindanao), Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth), New Zealand (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Whangarie), Israel and Egypt.
It didn’t matter what I was going through, I was still good enough to make a difference in the lives of several millions of people - from a stage, at work and at home. And my son Adrian whom I carried all through my second year of MBA and daughter Amy born a year later... I’d never have known the power of love, if not for those two precious ones. Thank God for the wilderness!!! He surely works everything for the good of those who love Him, in spite of our mistakes and wrong choices.
For the longest time, I felt like an ace failure in the bigger picture (if you read this section earlier, you would know what I'm referring to <laughs>). And then I completed the thousand-day challenge, and the feeling was fixed for good.