THE SWEET & SOUR MEMORIES OF THE PRASAD FAMILY OF BELLBOWRIE
REFLECTIONS: THE SWEET
The Prasad Family
Life story of
Dr Ram Lakhan Prasad
Mrs Saroj Kumari Prasad.
Journey of the Prasad Family from Basti in Uttar Pradesh India to Botini, Sabeto in Fiji thence to Bellbowrie, Brisbane in Australia .
We believe in the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of humanity.
In loving memory
Saroj Kumari Devi
A devoted wife, a caring mother, a loving grand mother, a quality educator, a faithful friend and an exceptional personality.
19th January, 2013
One day in 2010 I heard an unusual voice that seemed to come from the sky- It seemed as if it was a divine word and a gift of love.
“Do not think that life without a body is an empty one, my friend, for the spring from where we all draw life is next to you but you cannot see it. We bathe in it, you and me. That same spring, you bathe your body and I dip my soul in, can be found just by your side. Seek and ye shall find.
It is this spring, this source, which really supports every miracle, every phenomenon we see as ordinary in our world. We see it all. We are excruciatingly close to this Reality. However, just as we cannot see our own eyes, only the visions they offer, this Reality evades us. Just as we can no longer see the water that makes the snow, no one will ever know the real truth about your life but you yourself alone. So try telling it all to your loved ones, my friend.”
When the voice faded away, I made a promise to the divine words that I will try my best to reveal every aspect of my life to my loved ones. All that cannot be told will be interred with my bones when I am gone from this world. The rest of it is here for all of you to read, interpret, ponder and understand.
Do you find the above piece confusing? Yes, my life has been confusing but I am trying to interpret it the way I see it right. Read along and you will understand my objectives and find me somewhere near you.
There has never been anything more important for me than living a happy and fruitful life. I have always felt that as long as there is life and a devoted wife like my Saroj, there is definitely hope. Hope for the family, hope for the people, hope for the country and hope for better living. My wife Saroj and I have lived for the last fifty four years happily because we had hope. We had trust in each other. We had faith in our future that we planned to build and construct it rightly.
Our hopes have always been much greater than our life because we always believed that within us was a super power and positive potential to enable us to exert and reach for the sky. There never was any limit to our progress. Yet there was no greed to keep acquiring more than what we needed but we had a total sense of contentment.
We always wanted to do better and improve not only our performance but also our total life. We wanted to see and experience greater success in every development that was going on around our family and us. In all our achievements, we felt our complete satisfaction at all times. There was no question of any misgivings. We worked to our definite goals and plans. We have succeeded in achieving many of our aims and objectives.
Although Saroj and I have reached a milestone in our life together, I wish to narrate it alone so that only I am responsible for all the errors and mistakes that have been made knowingly or accidentally. These are all my sweet but a few sour memories. However, I managed to persuade her to contribute and she produced what I called “The Golden Lotus” but she titled it as The Shriveled Lotus.
As an introduction I think it would be appropriate to reveal my roots right here.
My Roots-From Basti to Brisbane
The Fijian chiefs ceded Fiji to the British Government in 1874 but the natives were not culturally ready to participate in the economic development of the country. So the British Government in conjunction with some multinational enterprises went to other colonies to bring people who could be manipulated to help them achieve their economic goals.
The Colonial Sugar Refining Company with the help and support of the British Government was willing to exploit the situation and enter the scene of the so-called economic development of the country. The Company hired cunning recruiters (Arkathis) to visit various villages and cities of India to recruit young and healthy Indians who could work on the sugarcane plantations and orchards belonging to them. They in turn recruited Indian priests and village heads to do the initial ground work for them because the people there could trust these men. Thus began the Indenture System for the Colony of Fiji in 1879 commonly known as Girmit.
Gangadei was my grand mother. She was a pretty girl and was as calm as her name sounds. She was born in Sitapur in the district of Basti which is in Uttar Pradesh (North India). She was the last of the four children of the farming family. Very little else is known about her childhood but she was an intelligent and a strong woman.
She was a twelve-year-old girl when she accompanied a group from her village to go to the annual Ayodhya Festival, a religious gathering of villagers. This festival used to be so crowded with people that once one is lost it would be impossible to locate them easily. It was in that massive crowd of people that my grand mother got separated from the village group. She felt alone and frantically began searching her group but alas there was no hope. Tired and hungry she decided to sit down in a corner completely disappointed. At that time her condition was like a fish detached from water.
Where could she go? Who would help her? What should she do? She was confused and did not know what to do. She had lost her thinking power altogether in this confusion. ‘Into thy hands Lord, I commend my Spirit.’ Nothing remained in her own hands, everything in His.
A yellow robed pundit of middle age saw my grand mother’s condition and expressed his wish to assist her. Such people were respected in the village and she felt at ease to talk to him. He spoke kindly, “Beti, why are you crying? Have you lost your way? Have you lost your family members? You don’t worry because as a holy man I am here to help you.”
My grand mother felt that this help was god sent and she greeted the pundit with respect and told him her sad story. Punditji realised that my grand mother was in real need for his assistance and this made him very happy. The pundit however, hid his real eager feelings and expressed his concerns and pseudo sadness as if his own daughter or sister was in trouble needing his assistance.
He pacified my grandmother and expressed his sorrow. “Well, whatever was to happen has happened but now you do not have to worry any more. I am here for you. I am calling a rickshaw to take you home.”
Whatever my grandmother longed for, this middle-aged Brahman was prepared to deliver so she fully trusted him and agreed to return home with him. The pundit made a signal to a nearby rickshaw operator who was eagerly waiting for him. They sat in it and left the busy festival ground to a destination unknown.
My grand mother was eager to reach home but instead she arrived at a Coolie Depot and then she realized that this fake pundit was an agent (Arkathi) to recruit workers for the Indenture System. She cursed herself for trusting him but it was too late now. She was a prisoner in this Coolie Depot from where it was impossible to escape. There were various other unfortunate souls sitting and cursing their fates there and were unsure of their future.
The next day all the recruits appeared before the resident magistrate to register themselves as slaves to work in a foreign land. After the registration for girmit they were put on a cargo train bound for the port of Calcutta. When my grand mother reached the Depot in Calcutta she could not believe her eyes when she witnessed the dilapidated nature of the place. Her worry and sadness multiplied manifolds but she could not do anything else but cry.
The late Sir Henry Cotton in his report to the British Parliament writes this on Girmit Recruitment Procedure:
In too many instances the subordinate recruiting agents resort to criminal means inducing these victims by misrepresentation or by threats to accompany them to a contractor’s depot or railway station where they are spirited away before their absence has been noticed by their friends and relatives. The records of the criminal courts teem with instances of fraud, abduction of married women and young persons, wrongful confinement, intimidation and actual violence- in fact a tale of crime and outrage which would arouse a storm of public indignation in any civilized country. In India the facts are left to be recorded without notice by a few officials and missionaries.
The new recruits suffered great injustice at the hands of the clerks and agents at the depot. Men and women were forced into small rooms like animals. Men and women were compelled and forced to get into pairs and then they were declared wife and husband. Those that did not agree were locked together and the men were instructed to make the women agree. Those who failed to come out as pairs were punished severely.
This pairing that turned into illegitimate marriage gave the agents publicity that the girmit was conducted with the consent and willingness of wife and husband. This was far from the truth. In most cases the forced pairing led to social disaster and in some it turned out to be a blessing for the recruits because they could share their sorrows and grief.
It was in this Calcutta Coolie Depot that my grand mother met my grandfather. My grandma’s case was a sad one. She worried a lot about her future and the forced pairing so she decided to choose my grandpa as her husband because he was from the same district (Basti) and he was strong and handsome. That was the beginning of their family life and the authorities registered their marriage.
My grandfather was Sarju Murau who was born in Dumariaganj in Basti UP India. His father Shankar had a farm where he grew mangoes and other fruits but since there were four other brothers in the family my grand father at the age of fourteen was asked to work for a landlord in the next village of Senduri at almost no pay but only keeps.
One day my grandfather was caught putting a few ripe mangoes in his bag to take home so he was branded a thief. This stigma became unbearable for a growing and honest young man of fourteen. He knew he would be ridiculed if he went home so he left this landlord in search of other jobs elsewhere. He walked a long distance in search of work, which was not that easy to find. He reached Kashipur but he had not even reached the town when he was spotted by a cunning recruiting agent (arkathi).
After noticing the predicament my grandfather was in, the recruiting agent took advantage of the situation. He started a friendly conversation with my grandfather, which went somewhat like this:
“How are you my friend? Are you looking for work?” asked the agent. “What kind of work sir, and what would I get as wages?” my grandfather wanted to know.
“Well, my friend, this is not work at all,” the cunning agent said in order to trap my grandfather.
“In fact, you are indeed lucky and certainly you are destined to becoming very rich and famous soon. There is a beautiful island off the coast of Calcutta known as the Ramneek Dweep. A very rich landlord resides there and he needs the services of a security guard to look after his home and the farm. You will get full uniform, food ration and a farmhouse to live in. You will only work for twelve hours a day with a gun hanging across your shoulder marching up and down the entire property. You cannot find such a lucrative job anywhere here because you will just enjoy your daily tasks and even earn money. What else do you want?”
My grandfather felt very good and began imagining himself as a security guard with a gun hanging across his shoulder marching up and down the property in the day and enjoying life in his farmhouse at night. This sounded like heaven to him. He began to dream about his future life full of fun. He was not prepared to hear any more but to sincerely thank the agent and agreed to travel immediately. The agent felt good to trap another recruit.
Seeing that my grandfather was tired and hungry the agent took him to a nearby eating-house and fed to his heart’s content. Then they got into a rickshaw to start their journey to the dreamland. But when they reached the coolie depot my grandfather’s hopes were shattered and he felt disappointed with himself for believing such stories of the agent and falling into his trap.
When my grandfather saw the crowd of people he regretted his every move. He too joined the other unfortunate victims in the depot to hang his head down and cry. He too felt like an animal in a strong cage unable to find its way out. He began thinking that his village was much better place to live a free life than this dungeon. He was told by some recruits that he will be in Fiji where he would work long hours on sugarcane farms owned by white men. He will have to sweat from head to tail twenty-four hours a day and tolerate the harsh treatments of the field officers. He was not able to imagine the reality of the situation then but when in Fiji he told me all.
There was nothing he could do to get out of this depot because of very tight security there. At last one day he too was presented to the office of the magistrate who asked him only one question, “Do you agree to go to this island to work as a labourer?” “Yes sir!” answered my grandpa as the recruiting agent instructed him.
Thus his five-year contract (girmit) was signed and sealed. He was a slave. Similar fate awaited thousands of others who were waiting to get on board a cargo ship Sangola Number 1 in 1907. There were women, children and men. Everyone’s heart was filled with pain and sorrow and the eyes were wet with tears. Some were sobbing for their relatives and family members, others missed their parents, and yet there were others who lamented the loss of their motherland. My grand father described that inhumane coolie depot as the hell on this earth.
The Clerk of the Court in a communication admitted that it was perfectly true that terms of the contract did not explain to the coolie the fact that if he or she did not carry out his or her contract or for other offences, like refusing to go to hospital when ill or breach of discipline, he or she was to incur imprisonment or fine.
According to Richard Piper, Indians in India believed in very strict caste system but all caste restrictions were ignored as soon as an immigrant entered the depot. For the poor unfortunate who happened to have some pride of birth, there was a bitter but unavailing struggle to retain their self- respect which generally ended in a fatalistic acquiescence to all the immorality and obscenity of the coolie lines. The immigrants were allowed to herd together with no privacy or isolation for married people.
My grand father and grand mother both admitted that no one who survived at the end of the journey could distantly have faith in the caste system. They were all simple human beings and to call himself or herself Brahmans, Chatriyas, Vaishyas or Sudras or even Hindu or Musalman was foolish to say the least.
Sarju and Gangadei were two of those unfortunate souls who fell victim to the Indenture System of 1879 onwards. Indians lived in poverty but they were subsistence farmers enjoying their lives with their respective families and so were Sarju and Gangadei who were just healthy adolescents.
The late Sir Henry Cotton explains that the recruiter or arkathi lay in wait for wives who had quarrelled with their husbands, young people who had left their homes in search of adventure and insolvent peasants escaping from their creditors.
When one form of slavery was abolished in the western world then another kind of deeper slavery began from the Indian Continent. This was called Girmit or the Indenture System.
Rev Andrews mentioned in his book that before they had been out at sea for two days in the stormy weather a few of the poor coolies were missing. They either committed suicide or hid themselves in the hold. They were dragged by the officers and kept alive but they too lost their battle with life.
Upon entering the depot my grandpa was issued with two thin blankets and a few tin eating utensils. At dinnertime all the recruits were made to sit on the ground in a line and served dhal and rice. Some hungry recruits were frantically eating but there were others who were submerged in deep thoughts about their losses of religion, family members and national pride.
My grandfather sat there quietly for a while because he could not collect enough courage to eat such food in such a situation. The clerks advised him that it was no use worrying about petty religious, social and family matters any more. Life for him had changed and he had to accept it.
He prayed hard. ‘O Lord I give you my heart and soul; assist me in my agony; may I handover all my future into your safe and powerful hands.’
Well time and days keep moving. They do not stop for anyone or any event. The recruits were loaded on the cargo ships and were allocated a small place on the deck that was dirty and wet. The mood, condition and situation on the ship were so drastic that the recruits began to feel ill.
Some kept vomiting for a long time and those that could not tolerate the unhealthy and unsocialised circumstances jumped into the sea to end their ordeal.
The recruits suffered for days and could not eat the poorly cooked khichdhi that was dished to them daily. If the weather became bad and the food could not be cooked they were given dog biscuits. The recruits had to suffer the heat, rain and cold on the deck. The journey was long and dangerous. Many of the human cargo lost their lives through hunger, torture and suicide because they could not bear the cruelty and suffering onboard the ships. However, both Sarju and Gangadei survived the atrocities and were united as a family unit to work on the sugarcane farms in Matutu in Sigatoka.
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya said that the condition under which the labourers lived on board the cargo ships were not good at all. There was not enough care for the modesty of the women, and all castes and religious rules were being broken and it was no wonder that many committed suicide or else threw themselves into the sea.
The sea journey of the coolies lasted a few months and at last the boat anchored near a small island in the Fiji Group in November 1907. This was Nukulau, a quarantine station.
It was here that the recruits were washed with phenyl and examined to give them certificate of fitness so that they could be auctioned. My grandpa and grandma were bought by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company based in Sigatoka and were transported to Matutu where they were given eight feet by eight feet grass huts that were not fit for human inhabitation. Wet and hard floor and a few blankets were allocated to them. Their first ration of rice, dhal, sharps, salt and oil was also handed to them. If they completed their daily tasks well for a month then they were paid ten shillings for that month.
My grandpa recalled that the white men Kulumber or Sirdars allocated daily tasks to the girmitiyas and if any weaker person was not able to complete the tasks satisfactorily they were beaten with whips, fists, kicks and sticks. They had to tolerate all the injustice because there was no place or institution to register their complaints.
Despite the fact that my grandparents were both strong and good farmers and managed to complete their daily tasks well, they too suffered a lot of beating and injustice at the hands of the white men. However, one day towards the second month when the Sirdar was abusing my grandma, my grandpa could not tolerate it any more. He was using a long handled hoe to complete his task and used this to beat the white man. This kind of self-defense happened a few times and then both my grandparents were free from any violent attacks. But verbal abuse never ended.
My grand father encouraged other girmitiyas to stand up for their self-defense but only a few could do this to protect their self-respect. One of them was Tularam who converted to Islam and became Rahamtulla. He was my grandfather’s jahaji bhai and established himself as a farmer in Botini later.
There they were made to work hard, for long hours and suffered cruelty and abuses of the sector officials if they made the slightest of mistakes. Like many other Girmitiyas they too were whipped, kicked and beaten by the Sector Officers. There was no one to hear their complaints and thus they could only blame and curse their ill fate and they could do nothing to escape these hardships.
Whilst in Matutu my grandparents had many good friends and one of them was Rambadan Maharaj who after his girmit became a shopkeeper. The two families interacted with each other long after my grand parents moved from Matutu to Botini.
The families despite their difficulties met regularly to continue with their cultural activities.
My grandfather with the assistance of Rambadan Maharaj had developed a great love for the Hindu Epic Ramayana.
My grand parents completed two difficult and deceitful contracts of five years each and gained their freedom from bondage in 1916. This freedom from slavery was a lot sweeter than the sugarcane. Their happiness was so great that it outweighed the sorrows and sufferings of their indenture.
By 1916 the Indenture System had stopped but my grandparents continued to grow sugarcane and other crops in Matutu until 1928 and then moved to Botini in 1929.
As a result of their loyalty and hard work they were rewarded by the CSR Company with a lease for a large piece of land in Matutu and in Botini in Sabeto to continue sugarcane farming. They had to cater for their family of three sons and five daughters by then and despite the option to return to India they chose to sign further contracts to supply their own sugarcane from their farms to the company.
However, my grandfather went back to India to pay respect to his birth place in 1952 but had to return to Fiji to continue his family life because very few of his family members could be located in Basti by then. Frequent hurricanes, floods and
internal infrastructure developments in India had dismantled and disintegrated the family. This was another price that the girmitiyas had to pay and the loss of their root was unbearable.
My grand father then put his eldest son Hiralal on one of the three farms in Botini and managed the other two himself with his other children. His second son Bhagauti Prasad managed the farm in Matutu until the farm was sold to Rambadan Maharaj when the world war two started. His son Bhagauti Prasad got married to Ram Kumari daughter of Bali Hari from a nearby village called Nabila. Bhagauti Prasad, my father, joined his father Sarju to manage the farms in Botini later.
World War two had just begun. Soldiers from various countries began to arrive in the country. Camps soon got established in strategic places in the main island and the army personnel began patrolling the areas on foot and on various types of vehicles. They were there to keep peace but they were definitely disturbing the peace of the village people.
Inhabitants of the small village were all cane farmers who were brought from India as indentured labourers by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. After completing their hard earned indentured contract of five or ten years they were free to settle as cane farmers or return to their motherland India. Many chose to settle in this village on land allocated by the CSR Company. They had to enter into another one- sided contract to supply sugarcane at stipulated price to the mills owned by the Company.
On many occasions upon supplying tons of sugarcane to the Mills the farmers were told that they can not be paid because their product was dirty and it would cost the Company more to clean the mills than to pay the farmers their share. The farmers had no alternative but to accept this sinful decision. There were no organizations of farmers to give them legal assistance until early 1950s. In order to subsist they had to do some mixed cropping.
CRS Company believed that they were doing the farmers a lot of favours because they had used recruiters to enroll them from various cities and villages of India, which in those days, like Fiji, was also a British Colony. They emancipated the labourers from stark poverty in India and resettled them in Fiji.
The village of Botini in Sabeto valley was the salad bowl of the country where farmers boasted growing best vegetables and other crops. Surrounded by the mountain range known as the Sleeping Giant or Mount Evans and the winding Sabeto river the villagers had great prosperity at their feet at all times. Naturally they lived in good homes and had all the conveniences. The farmers worked very hard and lived in a united community that soon had their own educational and religious institutions for the development of their children.
My father Bhagauti Prasad was born in Botini Sabeto Nadi in Fiji on 27th June 1918 and my mother Ram Kumari was born in Nabila in Sigatoka Fiji, on 24th July 1924. They got married in 1936 and lived happily in Matutu for a while and then shifted to Botini when the Second World War began.
It is in this background that my father Bhagauti Prasad, the second son of Sarju, having worked on the joint farms for several years began to do farm work on his own piece of land that was allocated to him by his father. This new venture began in 1949. He was married and the family lived at this new location with my mother, their two sons and two daughters at that time: Ramlakhan, Vidyawati, Vijendra and Shiumati. Other five daughters were born later.
Just to give one example of the wisdom of my grandfather I would like to narrate a story that he told me when I was a first year teacher. The Best Way Out of a Problem is Through it. My grandfather was an indentured sugarcane farmer and when I was a first year teacher he told me a story that intrigued me.
He said that he ploughed around a large rock in one of his fields for years. While doing this he had damaged several of the blades of his plough and even a few ploughs as well. He had grown rather morbid and gruesome about that rock.
After breaking other new plough blades one day and remembering all the trouble the rock had caused him through the years he was finally determined to do something about it. When my grandfather put his crowbar under the rock, he was surprised to discover that it was only about a foot thick and that it could be broken up easily. So he broke it into pieces and when he was carting it away he had to smile to himself and remembered all the trouble that the rock had caused him and how easy it would have been to get rid of it much sooner.
Then he passed this wisdom to me and I still treasure his words. He said that there was often a temptation to bypass small obstacles when we were in a hurry to get a large problem solved. We simply do not want to stop and take the needed time to deal with it immediately. Like I used to do, they just plough around it. Usually we tell ourselves that we will come back to it later but what really often happens is that we never do.
So he said, if the obstacle is of a type that will keep reappearing over and over, we are usually better off to take the time to fix it and be done with it. However, if we are tempted to go around it time and time again, then we should tarry a little and should ask ourselves, if the cost in time and money and trouble is worth it.
He concluded that the best way out of a problem is through it. I agreed and followed his wisdom all my life and still do.
As a young child, I had many dreams and these positive visions kept getting bigger and bigger as I grew older. Some were lost on the way but many saw full or partial realization. As time moved on and my growing up became more complex, challenging, difficult and somewhat confusing I had to fight for my living and my survival on many fronts. Somehow, I knew that childhood was not a permanent disability and one day I would grow up to face the world as a responsible adult. I did grow up and become responsible.
The more I learnt about the world around me the greater my challenges became and my knowledge about religion, politics, economics and culture made me stronger and more able to face the consequences with greater courage. I felt that I needed to narrate some of the important episodes of my life for everyone who would dare to discover my past and learn a few things from my mistakes, misgivings, mirth, miracles and milestones.
When I started to narrate my life story, my past life came to me in waves, my present was constructed on that solid foundation and my future, although nonexistent at that time, gradually became clearer and plausible. So I managed to construct my future as I wanted.
Would my people like to hear my life story? I do not know for certain, but I hope so. It is definitely an unusual story. It is real, truthful and exciting but still one can be forgiven to feel that it is all made up and fictitious, hence not worth reading. After all, our own life is fictitious and destructible anyway.
This is a story about living a full life. It is a real story about a family that was determined to get out of poverty. It is a story of people who wanted to get up and go and it is a story of endeavours and challenges facing people who felt that progress was the only answer for good living.
Having thought of all the predicaments and circumstances surrounding my life, I finally decided to proceed to tell it all for posterity. I suppose this would be the story that could fit any progressive family that wanted to make their existence to be worthy and of real value in this challenging material world. The only difference is that we had to struggle and fight for our survival.
Knowing that my grandparents were brought to Fiji as indentured labourers but turned themselves as successful farmers and later as wealthy entrepreneurs, all our future generations had to be more determined to persevere and find greater success. India had to be left behind and a larger India had to be created in the paradise. Each one of our family members has been responsible for the success that decorated them.
A synopsis of my life could be put as follows: A very simple village boy gains entry to one of the best high schools in 1954 and gets through all high school certificates, completes all his college examinations and university assignments with good results to serve the communities as a successful educationist.
He becomes a teacher in 1960 and progresses to various levels of education after completing his BA and Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of the South Pacific in 1970s. He proudly serves Fiji as a primary teacher, high school teacher, senior lecturer at tertiary level, and senior education and curriculum officer for the whole country and retires as principal education officer of Western Secondary Division in 1987.
In thirty years, he serves various communities and fields of Fijian education and administration with distinction. This really amounted to a thousand years in his lifetime.
After retirement from the civil service, he continues his academic studies in the Human Resource Development and Marketing fields, completes his postgraduate degrees of MBA and DBA from California, and joins a large business organization as their Director Human Resources in 1987. After a decade of dedicated service to that 500 plus company, he migrates to Australia in 1995 to begin a new chapter in his life. He continues to work well for Education Queensland as a senior lecturer at Brisbane Education and Training Centre for ten years.
A complete retirement comes to him in 2005, some ten years later, when he fulfils all his dreams and missions to become a fully satisfied individual living happily in his free home with his devoted wife, Saroj. He is proud to be living happily among a family of his four married children and eight exceptional grand children. This has turned out to be a complete bliss for him.
However, one of the many problems he had with him is the thought that he had not been able to please everyone. There are many in his life that could not be served well because of his sour and difficult attitude. He always felt sorry about this but could not reconcile with this dilemma. He moved on regardless.
What had been buried all these years in the recess of my mind now wants to come out and be displayed so I thought I let out both the sweet and the sour aspects of my life for my family members to read and either enjoy or despise.
A rich village in Fiji called Botini in Sabeto Nadi is my birthplace and I have a special feeling for it. I have loved my sweet and sour memories and experiences in my half a century of living there. All these memories are very sensitive, treasured and interesting but soothing because they have given me a lot of knowledge for my modern living and provided me with many ideas to make my ends meet with ease. My firm foundation was laid in the great valley of Sabeto in a village called Botini with my grandparents, parents and uncle and aunts.
This was the place where I had spent most of my early life, where I had made my best years, my hopes, my illusions, my health and my youth. This was where I loved to hear various kinds of birds chirping and nature awakening to give me a special kind of thrill, exhilaration and protection.
Of all the mountain ranges, the Sleeping Giant of Sabeto is the most attractive natural structure for me because I had a unique relationship with this great range for many of my formative years. It has given me valuable strength and assisted me to develop positive mental attitude to living. It has provided me with the power of positive thinking. The soil, the air and the entire atmosphere around this great giant are supportive to everyone who has lived and worked in that fertile surrounding.
It sleeps silently along the humbly flowing Sabeto River and gives hope, honour, healthy living and support to many families. Our own family benefitted from its existence for over a century in a variety of ways. We procured our food, firewood and festivities from and around this great monument and the ever-flowing river.
This great prakritic or natural monument has made me develop this theme or mantra of positive thinking early in my life and has kept me moving ahead with added vigour and strength. I have called it my possibility thinker’s creed which I have been reciting many times a day to provide me with the needed inspiration and motivation.
POSSIBILITY THINKERS’ CREED
WHEN FACED WITH ANY PROBLEMS, LIKE THE MOUNTAIN RANGE OF SABETO I WILL NOT QUIT, I WILL KEEP ON STRIVING UNTIL I CLIMB OVER IT, FIND A PASS THOUGH IT, TUNNEL UNDERNEATH IT, OR SIMPLY STAY THERE AND TRY TO TURN THAT SLEEPING GIANT INTO A GOLDMINE OF MY CHOICE.
I was born and raised in Sabeto; a village that is very rich in its culture, community and control, a place where people live in harmony and all sorts of cultivated activities are at a peak. In fact, an environment that boasts self-sufficiency at all times. The people living there lack almost nothing and try to enjoy life to the fullest. The people living there are rich in many respects- body, mind and soul.
Years later when I returned to my birthplace as a man, I was mesmerized by the beauty of this God-sent land. My grandfather built his farm in Botini around 1917 when he completed his indentured contract (Girmit) with the CSR Company.
Within a few years when his farms flourished, all the local residents were too superstitious to call it luck. The village people were envious of his farm. They had no explanation why the vegetables and fruits were twice the size of others sold in any nearby markets. According to my grandfather, his son, my father, Bhagoati Prasad, was the main architect and character of this production.
Our farm was made up of thirty-hectares of native lease that had rough terrain but the soil in the valley was very rich and alluvial for any crop to flourish. This little island in the Pacific could have been the land of milk and honey if all the people tried to understand each other properly and worked hard with acquired skills like our parents and grandparents did.
While the life of my parents was flourishing, the country was gradually deteriorating in a variety of aspects because of lack of good leadership and proper understanding among the people.
The early social, political, cultural and economic interactions and dealings of the two major races, Indians and Fijians, were looked upon by each other somewhat suspiciously. The leaders of these respective communities were caught in the smart move of the British to divide and rule them since 1874. Even after when the country became independent in 1970, the people and their leaders could not find any worthwhile and workable solutions for real harmonious multicultural existence. They became worse neo colonialists.
It was very sad that the Indians and the Fijians, with their respective excellent cultural backgrounds, rich languages and worthy beliefs, could not reconcile and understand each other well enough to make the country give them the best benefits. These conflicts affected their living standards but the Indians pressed on regardless and made many good and beneficial contributions for the over all development of the nation. In the process, they became the richer of the two communities but an envy of the other because they had better living standard in the form of income, homes, cars and education.
Whatever was the political persuasion of the days of our lives we managed to live well and look at our progress as a law-abiding family that was determined to succeed and prosper. Our Fijian and Indian neighbours were cultured people ready to help us at any time and our village was a place of peace and tranquility. We became a role model for many people.
For us this was like a haven on this earth where relatives were many and friends were in abundance. We did not worry about knowing people; we just made ourselves worth knowing by being friendly with everyone. If it were not for these beautiful people around us, we would have been total strangers who would have been deprived of love and laughter of our friends and good neighbours.
The secret of my parents and grandparents was to interrelate and interact meaningfully and healthily with everyone around them. They learnt the language and the culture of the native Fijians of the village and established not only friendship in sharing the tasks and ceremonies but had good social relationship with them.
The village headman, a native Taukei, Apisai Mawa called my mother his sister and asked my mother to tie the Hindu traditional bond of raksha bandan on his wrist to always remind him to help her in her needs and difficulties. Apisai Mawa, his people and his children honoured this tradition very sincerely at all times and our family reciprocated. My greatest thrill came to me when as a child I played with my native brothers and sisters. I called them tavangu and they called me bhaiya.
My life has been a mixture of many sweet experiences but there were some sour situations that have given me a lot of cause for concern. All these life experiences combined together to give me a very healthy, wealthy and wise family life. I have no regrets and no repentances because the people with whom I interacted constantly enriched my life in many ways. I kept up with my good experiences, treasured them and enhanced them to give me more. I am happy and honoured to give the benefit of all my experiences, fascinating as well as the boring ones, to my readers.
Very early in life I had learnt to create suspense and my imagination managed to produce great stories for my friends in the village as well as the schools I attended. This is one of the reasons for my popularity in my social and cultural circles. I learnt to grasp all my opportunities and turned them to my advantage. I loved to share these strengths with my friends. I grew up by sharing and caring.
On the other hand I made every effort to suppress the sour points of my life and did my best to turn these liabilities into assets. I always regarded them as my weaknesses and threats to be replaced with my talents, skills and opportunities. This philosophy has paid me huge dividends and has given me a good social and family life.
Very few people can come out at the end of the tunnel of modern living and sing the songs of praise as I have done in my difficult but challenging expedition. Whether it was good, bad or ugly, I loved every moment of my living. One thing was clear to me right from the beginning and that was a simple belief in me and the feeling of positive thinking to stand up every time I fell and to continuously say “I can” and “never give up”. These mantras of modern living have always made me move ahead with courage and determination.
In fact this had been the call of all the successful Indians in the land that they took as their own after their indenture system ended. In their second home they had to find their rightful place, hence their hard work, dedication and perseverance to find their correct bearing. They were banished once but did not want to suffer again.
My growing up was simple but the confidence, hope and strength that I developed with the assistance of my grandparents and parents made me look ahead and always say, “If it is to be, it is up to me”. So I had to do whatever I thought was right and did not worry too much about what the rest of the world thought of me or my words, thoughts and deeds. I developed as I wanted to.
If I made a mistake I was always prepared to accept it and change for the better. I learnt to live in the present time by learning from the past but looked to the future for my vision. I fell at times but I quickly rose to take charge of my activities as I wanted them to be. I did not dwell too much in the past but certainly learnt a lot from history.
Nothing ever made me stop and divert my attention from my progress, prosperity and personality that I culled out for me. I forged ahead and pressed on regardless. This has been my way of living for over seven decades in different countries and in a variety of circumstances and in varied situations. The days that gave me tough times I had to become tougher and stronger. I knew that there was nothing without a problem of some sort but I also fully understood that there was nothing without a solution of some kind.
One thing that gave me courage to keep moving was my firm belief in the power of prayers. I took God as a Supreme Human Being so emulating Him and His practices from the scriptures became my way of life. I never was a blind follower of any religion because I regarded over indulgence in religious rites as a type of drunkenness.
My father told me that no one has seen God because He is the Supreme Power- Shakti- on this Universe. He has no form or shape and is present everywhere. This great Shakti can only be felt and perceived but the people who have carved and displayed various images of God, have done these just from their imagination. Whatever is our healthy imagination of that Supreme Being that becomes our image of God. My image of God has been a truthful, resourceful and intelligent super human being worth emulating.
As Karl Marx said, religion for me too has been the opium of the society. I soon learnt that if one followed these outdated practices completely blindly and indiscriminately then one would quickly lose the real meaning of living a productive life. Very early in my life I realized that my religious belief needed a change to suit the modern society. So I reformed my thinking accordingly.
I have never been any expert on religion but an ordinary human being who always thinks for himself. Change for me has been a constant aspect of my living. History has revealed that we have experienced a variety of cultural, social and religious changes in our lifetime. It is believed by many people that our way of life needs a change if it does not meet the demands and requirements of the current situations. Religious practices have been modified or changed many times previously when they became too rigid for any group of people. My situation was no different.
While growing up we gradually want some form of spiritual consolation, a bit of solace and maybe eternal peace in our life. We do not have to stick to and live in the past to achieve these phenomena. Change as I have seen has in many respects brought a lot of peace, progress and prosperity for our friends, family and all the people.
Depending on the place of our birth, our association with each other and our family history, we look toward a certain belief and either retain our original belief or convert to any of the many other religions of the world. Whatever is our religious belief, ultimately we have to behave as good human beings. The reason for our success as immigrants has been this belief of truth, goodness and beauty.
I have found that good human beings attain truth, goodness and beauty in their words, thoughts and deeds. Any deviation from these sound and solid aspects of living makes us alienate and we tend to differ in our human conduct and behavior to be corrected through the processes of social, economic or religious controls and the justice system. Some of our family members and I have faltered at times and had to be rightfully corrected for all our silly and small errors.
Very early in my life I realized that if truth, beauty and goodness were the cornerstones of our way of life then it was time to become more elastic and tolerant to the new changes that were inevitable. We needed to be more elastic in readjusting to the externals and non-essentials and then we would succeed in keeping our new generation intact and to be followers of new form of living that would lead us all to prosperity.
We so called modern dwellers need the emergence of more courageous and determined new and reformed teachers, parents and leaders to give us new meaning to our old ways of living. One more thing to remember is that our voice for a change is more than what we have heard and a lot greater than whatever we have experienced. If we forget these then we will banish before we see our progress. I managed to liberate my family from archaic beliefs and search for ways to live happily in the modern society. I am proud of this development.
Throughout my life no temple or mandir was ever better for me than my own home, sweet home, because it was here that I found the peace and love that I was always fond of and was constantly searching. My home has always been the place of needed peace and universal prayer.
During my early childhood and adolescence I did visit many places of worship and prayers but none gave me the solace and tranquility I was looking for because people participating in those socio-cultural events were not at all genuine with their conduct and faith. All the religious gatherings seemed meaningless and selfish because people were there to show off their wealth, false pride or power and compete with each other.
Firstly, these forms of worships and prayers were too long and laborious that made everything and every practice very boring and meaningless with the use of language that very few of us would understand. It was a waste of our valuable time and effort. I quickly realized that I could better use my time and resources elsewhere.
Secondly, the unease of people shuffling their places and searching out their ideal sitting positions, their constant coughs, whispers and other noises made things more difficult to appreciate and empathize. Everyone attending these meetings was there with their own specific agenda.
Thirdly, the forcing down of old doctrines and archaic religious ideas upon our tender brains was somewhat torturous and unbearable. Almost all the stories revealed various aspects of fairy tale and looked and seemed unbelievable and suspicious. A lot of these religious stories contradicted scientific and biological reasons.
Even the prayers and scripture songs with loud musical instruments and hoarse voices made a mockery of peaceful deliberations to reach any form of salvation and bliss. The wasteful usage of food, flowers and foliage in and around the fire did not help the idea of offering these elements to God when the prayers themselves said that God is the giver, the creator and the destroyer of everything. We would rather give these things to the poor than waste them.
Then the serving of grog and the aspect of free smoking did not at all set any good examples and precepts for the followers. The rich did these in a lavish way and the poor repented their existence and state of poverty. The priests were uneducated and made people follow many unnecessary and obsolete customs and traditional obligations by instilling fear of punishment. I soon abandoned the use of the priests in conducting my prayers which I organized myself in the comfort of my home. I regarded my God as the giver of all good things rather than punishing me for not following the out-dated religious and social beliefs.
As a result of these beliefs, I kept developing a feeling of indifference with these irrelevant and unbelievable practices of those types of cults and stuck to my own definition of religion. There was no freedom and no democracy of belief for any person who had an alternative view and critical appreciation of these out-dated, obsolete and unnecessary practices. We had no choice but to blindly conform and I found this very painful and disturbing so I chose to opt out and I became a lot happier for doing this.
However, for the prosperity of my family life I pressed on and followed the more humanistic view of living by developing my own philosophy of truth, goodness and beauty which was the cornerstones of real human existence anyway. All throughout my life I listened carefully, read with proper comprehension, I comforted my friends and relatives, I learnt to give advice and receive good suggestions, I taught well, I loved to tell stories and consequently, I lived a wonderful life. This became my way of life. I stopped pleasing everyone and started doing what I could do best for myself and my family. All else was immaterial for my rightful co-existence.
I always firmly believed that in order to live happily we do not need to be extravagant and lavish in our worship and prayers but follow the very simple ideas of loving, giving and believing in the powers of the Supreme Being. There isn’t any only one way of offering our prayers to the Almighty. We are individuals and should perform individually and treat everyone as equal. I had always seriously opted out of the idea of caste system because it had no justification at all for humanity.
If we as individuals managed to educate ourselves well enough to serve our people, train ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually to protect the nation and work hard enough to till the land and produce food for others then that is our contribution to this world. We need to learn and accept to assist our fellow being to live, pray and play the respective roles in life. This is what is termed as the division of labour and cannot be mixed with any definition of out-moded caste or creed.
I strongly felt and it was important that our inner self was illuminated enough to see the good from evil. We now live in a new world that has many different challenges and so we have very little choice but to vary our living style. We need to pray with a different emphasis. Our prayers need to be more meaningful and suit the current individual demands and needs of our family life.
Most of these existing universal tunes and melodies of our prayers have been adding a new dimension to the way we offer our prayers but these added adjuncts had never distorted or hidden the real and valuable meanings of these prayers. My family always felt that prayers must be meaningful, short, sweet and satisfying to everyone, so much so that they should produce and vibrate a complete tranquility within and around us.
I have done many sacrifices in my life for my family, my friends, my people and my country but I have not received the total support from any of these institutions. Therefore, I feel that complete renunciation of work for personal profit is not possible. We should be adequately compensated and rewarded for anything we do for anybody. This does not have to be of monetary nature alone but could be at least in the expression of kind words and deeds. To be kind and candid is my religion. I want all human beings to behave in this manner for me and then I would love to reciprocate.
My philosophy dictates that all work or sacrifice that makes us happy and gives us benefits should be done to the best of our ability and recognized with adequate compensation and reward. Any form of charity, sacrifice and austerity should be done with self interest and when time and opportunity warrant. Some people can do more of these than others but that does not make the others any more important, blessed, deprived or sinful.
Threefold fruits of all work or sacrifice are desirable, undesirable and mixed. If people need to work for their living then it becomes desirable but if the work is for any sinful purpose then it is undesirable. For many of us, our work or sacrifice is mixed because we are not sure if what we are doing is legitimate or not. Whenever I was not sure of the work I was doing, I stopped doing it and changed my course.
Then with old beliefs and practices we get confused and seek advice. Our religious books give us greater confusion and we need to follow these very carefully and dispassionately. I have tried to perform my duties and obligations desirably and have never hesitated from taking the rightful reward. I always fought for the rights of everybody but they themselves must be responsible. This was the reason I joined with the Organizations and Methods of the Fiji Government in 1963 to improve the working and financial conditions of all the poorly paid teachers of the country. That Job Evaluation exercise changed the lives of all teachers in Fiji and in fact gave them a qualitative status.
We perform all our right or wrong actions using our thoughts, words and deeds. People with the necessary wisdom and knowledge decide to take wiser actions but an ignorant person can take wrong actions. An unpolluted-minded doer reaps the desirable fruits of his or her labour but those that are ignorant, unwise and lack the necessary knowledge, often suffer the bad consequences of their actions. We must leave them to reach their own conclusions in the end but be always prepared to give them good guidance where possible.
Knowledge for me has been of three kinds as well; good, passionate and irrational. If any person takes actions according to good knowledge then the fruit of it leads to truth, beauty and goodness. The knowledge, by which one is able to differentiate good things from evil, real things from unreal and acceptable aspects from unacceptable, is passionate. The irrational, baseless or worthless knowledge makes us cling to one single effect that mostly gives us darkness and ignorance. Whoever appreciates these aspects of knowledge knows that knowledge is power.
Our actions can be obligatory when we perform our duties without any likes and dislikes and without any selfish motives to enjoy the fruits of our labour. This is good and acceptable action. Then an action performed with ego, selfish motives and with too much effort is passionate action but the action taken because of delusion, disregarding consequences, loss, injury to self and others is regarded as ignorant and an unacceptable action. I have been responsible for all my actions whether they were good, bad, or ugly.
We all have intellect and accordingly we make our various resolves. The resolve that understands the correct path of work, differentiates the right from the wrong act, knows fear and fearlessness, clarifies bondage and libration is a good resolve. However, the resolve that craves for the fruits of work, clings to duty, wealth and pleasures with great attachment is a passionate resolve. An ignorant resolve is the one by which a dull person does not give up laziness, sleep, fear, grief, despair and carelessness. I am proud of the fact that my resolves have always benefitted me and wherever and whenever I reached an ignorant resolve I used my knowledge to get out of the problem.
We all love pleasures in our lives and the pleasure that ceases all our sorrows and enables us to enjoy spiritual practices appears as poison in the beginning but is like nectar in the end and it comes to us by grace of self knowledge. This self knowledge has given me the courage to differentiate between the fairy tales and the truth that are in our religious books. I have learnt the hard way not to perform any tasks that are not logical to my mind be they political, religious or financial.
On the other hand the pleasure that appears nectar in the beginning but becomes poison in the end is passionate pleasure. The pleasure that confuses us in the beginning and in the end makes us lazy and ignorant is harmful. I tried to fully understand and appreciate these pleasures and put them into practice as best as my life could dictate. I am happy for taking all these actions.
These are the reasons for the original civilized people to establish division of labour according to one’s ability for the smooth organization of our society. There are four categories based on the qualities inherent in people’s nature or natural propensities and not necessarily as one’s birth right. We are all born equal. These categories are achievable through effort, perseverance and hard work. No one is born a doctor, or a teacher or a carpenter but we have to learn these skills.
Firstly, there are intellectuals, who are supposed to have the needed serenity, self control, austerity, purity, patience, honesty, transcendental knowledge and experience and they believe in the power of the Supreme Being. We can call them Gyanis but Hindus wrongly call them Brahmans. Intellectuals for me are not born as such but they make themselves wiser, knowledgeable and worthy of performing better than others. So for me there are no born Brahmans as there are no born doctors, teachers or nurses. We all can achieve the intellectual status through our acquired education and knowledge.
Secondly, there are those who show the qualities of heroism, vigor, firmness, dexterity, steadfastness in battle and peace, clarity and administrative skills. They may also have some or all of the qualities of the intellectuals and we call them Rakchaks but Hindus have given them the name, Chatriyas. No chatriya is born as such as well because to have all these skills you must develop them to become real saviors of others.
Thirdly, there are those people who are good at cultivation, cattle rearing, business, trade and industry that we can give them the title of Jimidars or as Hindus call them Vaishyas. These are the backbones of our agriculture and business world.
Finally, there are those important people in our community who are very good in giving their unreserved service and are able to perform all labour type of work. We call them Sewaks but sadly Hindus have culled a derogatory name for them, Sudras, the untouchables. They are the teachers, nurses and the like.
After correctly interpreting what Lord Krishna said to Arjun in Geeta Chapter 18, I strongly feel that all the four divisions or castes as shown there have the ability, freedom and opportunity of movement within these categories. There is no hierarchy in these categories because all are equally important for the proper welfare of the society.
These categories cannot be determined as a birth right of any person but they are achieved and attained, changed and transformed as the human skills and qualities improve or deteriorate. This division of labour is universally accepted but no one has ever condoned and supported the caste system that the old Hindu thinking produced.
Sadly enough our traditional Hindu society regarded it as a caste system and gave it a very derogatory image but we are glad that this has changed with the time and now many branches of religion rightfully condemn the negativity of the caste system. However, it is indeed very sad that many individuals of Hindu faith still cling to this wrong practice and discriminate each other only because they have not been able to rightfully understand and interpret Chapter 18 of their holy book Geeta. I have labored to elaborate this aspect only because I strong feel that it is erroneous.
I am sure if my grandparents remained in India rather than exported and uprooted to Fiji, they would have done the same to raise, motivate and nurture us and we would have moved to become anyone like the modern Indians. However, life in Fiji was very simple but quite challenging for me. I thank my parents and grandparents who instilled into me the needed courage to grow up differently.
I have always thought of myself as a rash man. I was quick to anger and prone to swift decisions but despite these short comings I always liked to consider every facet of any choice, peering at each aspect of my life as it were the edge of a diamond, examined under a microscope. As a result of these developments I came out as the winner.
I have been an academic both in profession and nature and tried to move out of stark poverty to a modest middle class living. As I said before, change has been a constant aspect of my life and I welcomed any change in my disposition and personality with pleasure. However, change for the sake of change has never been my cup of tea. This is the reason I am different and I enjoy my family life. I love this personal development.
I also appreciate that many times continuity becomes the right answer for good family life. I continued to do whatever I thought was rational and right in the circumstances. I had no fear of any criticism when I moved away from norm to new way of thinking because my conscience was dictating my actions. I also believed that everything that happened in this world happened for a reason. Consequently my growing up was very meaningful for me.
Three hallmarks of sanity for me have always been my discipline, intellect and emotion. I believed in lineage and light, in form and function, in the beauty of things and aspects built to last. In many aspects of living I honored continuity and peace that came with it. Again while change is a constant aspect of living, I feel change just for the sake of change is useless. Change for the better is more meaningful.
My birth, I am told, was very symbolic, because I was born in my grandparents’ home during world war two. My grandmother welcomed me into this world by putting a drop of honey in my mouth so that despite the world being violently at war I would always have a sweet tongue. I do not know whether this was her superstition or a firm belief but I do not think I have ever knowingly disappointed her. It was a very logical move.
My birth was celebrated with almost as much spectacle as the birth of my namesake Lord Ram in the Hindu scriptures. Sweets were distributed throughout the village, alms given and if one looked hard enough one could have even seen flowers being sprinkled from the heavens.
I am not sure if I managed to do justice to my grandmother’s wishes but I always tried to be sweet to everyone around me whether they received me sweetly or with bitterness. I may have paid dearly for such ethical and practical way of living. My existence has been normal, thoughtful and simple but wise, difficult and fruitful.
My grandparents, who were brought from India as indentured workers by the British in the early 1900, chose to live in Fiji after their indenture was complete because they were given this choice. They wanted to start afresh here rather than return to where they were uprooted from against their wishes. They settled in Botini in Sabeto with their extended family in the homestead that housed my parents, my two uncles and seven aunts. Since I was the first born I was the pride of the family and was looked after like a very precious commodity.
Through sheer hard work and determination my parents became great farmers and worked on the four large farms owned by my grandparents. My father was an intelligent man who had the privilege of attending primary school in those days when education was not as important as making ones ends meet. The family lived in an extended social structure where all were for one and one was for all. This became the most basic principle of a successful joint family.
He believed that he was a man of routine but he had many adventures in his adult life. One dark night while fishing with some friends in the deep Pacific Ocean near Naisoso he was separated from his companions and was almost drowned. He was rescued by his younger brother Chetram.
His second adventure was when he was testing a home assembled rifle that discharged a bullet which struck his ankle but could have been more dangerous and even fatal. He limped all his life but learnt his lesson. After this incident my grandfather asked him to sit in a special prayer for twenty one days to destroy the evil spell.
Although he did not fully believe in such superstitious practices he had to reluctantly conduct the whole ceremony because that was the order of his parents. My father instead felt that more care and caution in life could be the answer for our safer living.
His third adventure was a lot more dangerous one and could have ended his life. His childhood friend Ori Prasad joked with him and challenged him to swim cross the rapidly flowing flooded Sabeto River. Before his friend could clarify that he was only joking, my father jumped into the very swiftly flowing and muddy river full of debris to start the challenge. He was hit by a floating log and seeing this Ori also jumped to try to rescue his childhood friend.
Fortunately, my father reached the other side of the river some two kilometers downstream but unfortunately his friend Ori never made it. His body was found after several days at the delta.
My father lost his friend in a prank. Death has a way of evening things out. It is unrelenting. This silly adventure was a cause of temporary mental disturbance for my father but I am told that he abstained from eating any meat for thirty six months as repentance. These are some of the ways my father disciplined himself.
While growing up I experienced the death of my father in my arms when lightning struck him in 1956. I was working with him in his pawpaw farm when it started raining heavily. He asked me to run home for shelter. While I was running up the hill towards home, a severe thunder and lightning occurred. I turned back to see my father’s body move up and fall on the ground with a thud. I ran to help him and witnessed that there was no life in him. He lay on the ground still. Thank God I had just completed my First Aid Course at Natabua and immediately started using my skills to revive him.
In the shock his teeth were locked and mouth tightly shut. I used my thumb to open his mouth and pull his tongue that was stuck in his throat. It took several minutes of mouth to mouth resuscitation and I could see some life come back in him so I used my hand cup to collect a bit of water that had collected in the hoof mark made by animals. I put the water in his mouth and with a gulp he woke up. I know not from where I got the strength to lift him on my back and carry him home, a distance of about 200 meters.
I was glad that I brought my father back from hell and he never forgot that episode of his life and my quick thinking to save his life. I did my duty as a son.
My mother on the other hand never saw the doorstep of any formal school. She was illiterate but very wise in her dealings with people and various aspects of family life. She called a spade a spade, so to speak, and was a very straight shooter. As a result of this inherent behavior she never had many friends and led a solitary life. I remember that for many years she sung the song of my bravery in saving her husband’s life.
My childhood was extremely interesting for various reasons. I was growing up in an environment that had a lot of compassion, love and comfort of the family on the one hand and violence, commotion and disturbance of the prevailing world war two, on the other. My family made it sure that my early childhood struck a very good balance between these two extremes. I was brought up with a lot of tender loving care by my extended family.
My favorite aunt Guddi, who was only twelve when I was born, carried me in her arms whenever she saw me crawling in the yard of the farmstead because as she put it, she did not want me to get dirty. She was always very protective of me while I was growing up in the village as if I was her favourite doll. She always tried to keep me away from any evil or bad influence.
Later in my life I found out that she always prayed for me, she played with me and she asserted a special authority on me. I was her favorite doll indeed. I had a special place for her when I grew up. It was very early in my life that I learnt that women lit up our homes as daughters, sisters, wives, aunts and mothers and they needed to be honoured and respected.
When the family priest Mathura Maharaj was called to draw up my horoscope, (my janam kundali) my aunt made it sure that he used the right scriptures to interpret the astrological symbols. When the priest announced that my name should start with the letter “R”, my aunt was very happy because she wanted my name to be Ramlakhan. The priest had forecasted that I would have a pleasant and rewarding life to enjoy good health until I turned seventy five. Any more years of life after that would be a bonus from the Supreme Power.
She told everyone in the family the reason for the name. Ramlakhan was the name culled out from the names of Lord Ram and his brother Laksman. To bestow the name Ramlakhan to me was to see that I loved my people and in return I would be loved by everyone. I would be doubly blessed to grow up well in the family and the society.
My father, who never paid much attention to this religious significance, accepted whatever name that was drawn out from the astrological symbols. My grandfather was thrilled with the name because he was a devotee of Lord Ram and he recited Ramayana almost every day. Later in life when I was able to read I used to sit with him to read the Ramayan and listen to his interpretations. His critical appreciation of the epic was very logical. These instilled a special love of literature in me and I was fraught with many contradictory feelings at an early age.
The name Ramlakhan for my grandparents was the perfect answer for the new world they called the Mohini Yug, where all economy, industry and human culture would revolve round the power of influence. Rightly or wrongly my family believed that I was born to exert my influence in this world.
As a child I was like a deer, self-contained, poised, silently watching the world from the intensity of my own space. Everything was my own invention. I played my own games, did my own drawings and even had my own pooja cupboard where I kept clay dolls as the images of my favorite Gods and Goddess. I was led to believe that whatever I wanted in life I could ask these deities to give me and they would always oblige.
I began to explore the sweet, sometimes hot and the many sour side of village living. Our house was built on a hill from where we could see the thriving orchards, vast sugarcane fields, flourishing rice plantations and green vegetable gardens. The mountain range on the border of the village was a spectacular sight because the river that flowed out of it made the farmers happy at all times. Our orchards had a variety of fruits but we loved the mangoes, rock melons and mandarins.
When the mangoes were green, the younger children gathered round the trees with a container called pyala that had salt and tamarind paste in it. The bigger boys climbed up the trees to pick the green mangoes and the bigger girls pealed them with their pen knives for us to enjoy eating the slices by dipping them in the sour mixture. That sour taste of green mangoes and tamarinds made our teeth very sensitive for a while but this did not last long because soon those trees started giving us sweet fruits to forget the sensitivity and sourness.
Then after playing hide and seek in the nearby rice and cane fields the boys and girls gathered under the biggest mango tree to enjoy the special sweetness of this unique fruit. My aunt Guddi would get the best mango for me to suck and eat and she would clean me when the juice from the ripe mangoes made a mess of my clothes, face, arms and legs. On reaching home I remember my grandmother telling me that I smelt like a ripe mango. I loved my growing up.
A small stream of fresh water ran across the property and big nut trees of na-ivi, breadfruit, coconuts, mangoes, and other citrus fruit trees were growing well along both sides of the stream. Fish of various types and eels swam in that stream and during my childhood, I loved fishing there with an old man of our village called Sahadatt, who lived as a hermit in a small thatched house that my father had built for him. He was no relative of our family but a loyal friend who was worth a thousand relatives because of his honesty and helpful nature.
This old man was like a caretaker or a security guard for our farm. He cooked his own meals and many times made me enjoy the good taste of the eel and other curry that he so deliciously prepared. He became my good friend and I enjoyed listening to various stories that he narrated when he was in his good mood. I managed to plant a seed of friendship in this old man and I was able to reap a very healthy bouquet of happiness in my childhood.
On our farm of sugarcane, pineapples, rice and mixed vegetables there was always plenty to do and enjoy. The hilltops were over grown with guava trees that were always laden with fruit for us to pick. Anything that we wanted was on the farm; sugarcane to eat, pineapples to slice, delicious coconuts to drink, mangoes galore, citrus fruits of all kind, paw paws, melons, cucumbers, rock melons and many others. That was self-sufficiency at its extreme. The panorama was ecstatic and scenic.
While picking the fruits and playing in the orchards were real excitement and enjoyable activities for us, we faced a few problems as well. Many of us experienced stings from hornets and the bull ants at times but these did not deter us from taking full advantage of the freedom and enjoyment we got from the village living and rural activities. I still remember the day when I had a centipede sting or bite and the whole family gathered round to treat and comfort me.
The Botini farm was my childhood world, my favourite playground. My love and care of animals was boundless. At our large paddock, among the many Jersey cows and well-bred bulls, we had a few horses and goats. I loved to feed the cows and milk them and to use the oxen and the horses to assist my father in his cultivation. Our fowl yard had many chickens and ducks that provided us regular meat and eggs.
Our life was very simple. We were living in a large thatched house we called our bure. My bed was near the window and I had an enchanting view of the beautiful rural landscape. That unique and colourful panorama of the mountains, rivers, trees and pretty birds is still fresh in my mind. At night, I loved to look at the clear sky and the twinkling stars, which I found very comforting.
Those silent nights of Botini were my early childhood kingdom, my heaven of peace and tranquility. I used to escape into a life of make- believe, where I was free from all worries and troubles. This was my childhood, my innocence.
As I said before, during my childhood, I loved to play hide and seek with my only brother Vijen and one of my sisters Vidya. One day I hid myself in an old war cave but was surprised to be among the bees that had multiple hives there. Somehow I managed to escape the wrath of the insects with only a few stings but when we narrated this episode to our father he used his skills to extract many bottles of pure honey that lasted us a few months and made me forget the nasty pains of those bee stings.
It was against this backdrop that my parents were always eager to practise great experiments on their farm and the Agriculture Department of Fiji assisted them with advice, seeds, and seedlings of potatoes, citrus fruits and other vegetables. The vegetable section on our farm produced enormous amounts of beans, cabbages, corn, cucumber, melons and similar crops. These farm produce were regularly harvested by us and delivered to the Lautoka and Nadi Markets every Friday on our own family truck for sale to the urban dwellers. Our Saturdays were full of fun when we became sales people at these vegetable and fruit markets helping our father.
Such were the rural and village luxuries I enjoyed on the farm when I was a primary school child at Sabeto Indian School from 1946 to 1953 and a secondary student at Natabua High School from 1954 to 1957. Travelling to and from the schools by various means was not always easy and comfortable but a necessary part of my life because the schools were located far from home.
It had never occurred to me that a child could not like learning. My father filled this truism into me when he used to do his style of teaching at home. During these teaching sessions, he would have nothing else to give his love but his wisdom, his real self and me. When I asked him questions about religion and God, I always got the best of his answers.
After looking at my pooja cupboard and my doll deities, he told me that God was not in these things. He was in our heart and we can feel His presence when we breathe in. God resides in us and He is the life force in every breath we take in. God was not in the statues or pictures but we can love these images just as we love the feeling in us.
As I mentioned before my father told me that no one had seen God and all the images that people displayed of God were their own imagination. I was asked to make a unique image of God in my mind and stick to it as my guide for my future prosperity. I found that the image of my God resembled my father.
We travelled to school on foot, on horseback, using a bike and later mostly by bus transport. The travelling to and from school made us very tired at times but school work, our teachers, the variety of activities and faithful friends cheered us up. These journeys to and from school were our places of learning as well. We read our books, studied the behaviour and conduct of the people around us and looked at and appreciated the ever-changing environment.
Life went on wonderfully well because every day brought new discoveries and experiences for us. These informal learning adventures enriched our way of life and gave us a very firm foundation to keep moving ahead with determination and vigour. School equipment, books and other stationery were always in limited supply and we had to share these or go without them but we survived.
During my school days, I worked on our goat and cattle farms as a herdsman and acted as a cowboy on many occasions. I also did a lot of ploughing, planting, weeding, hoeing, grazing and harvesting using our pairs of oxen and finely bred farm horses. No farm work was too hard for me and I could work equally well in the vegetable gardens, fruit, pineapple and sugarcane farms. So much so, that my father had to ask me to slow down and concentrate on my schoolwork, so I had to divert my energy and move on in this educationally progressive direction.
Horse riding was one of my best leisure activities. My brown horse was called Goldie but I also had a good bicycle called Hercules. These two means of transport took me to many surrounding areas of larger Sabeto. Visits to the seaside, the Sabeto River and the Mount Evans Range, now called the Sleeping Giant, were always on our list of proposed destinations when my father allowed us to go with my friends for a spin. I was regarded as one of the best equestrians and an unchallenged cyclist in the village.
These past time activities were of tremendous value and great benefit for me because in the process I became friendly with the people I came to know. Soon I was able to comprehend that friendship was like a slow ripening fruit when I had developed a chain of faithful friends in the village. Later in life, I found out that these friends were always prepared to overlook my faults and failures and celebrated my success when I excelled and became a brilliant scholar and a role model for them.
I vividly remember a day when I was riding my horse from Botini, our farm and homestead to our goat paddock. I was riding to Sipia in Votualevu, where our goat paddock was and Goldie ran into a hornets’ nest. He was stung by these disturbed hornets and went berserk, started running wildly, and would not stop despite my many attempts and efforts to calm him down. I knew I was at a risk of being thrown over, so I had to act and act fast I did. I came across a pandanus tree, held on to the hanging branch to let me slip from the back of the horse, and let the horse keep running. In the process, the branch of the tree broke and I fell heavily with the branch to the ground. This impact created a dent in my backbone and it has given a lot of problem ever since. My initial reflex was to look around me to make sure that nobody had witnessed my humiliation. Wasn’t I one of the best equestrians in the village?
My uncle Govind found Goldie after about two hours. Goldie was cooling himself in the nearby Votualevu River. Uncle Govind had arranged for my treatment at the Outpatient department at Nadi Hospital. Doctor Mukherji treated me for scratches and cuts but he warned me to take special care of my backbone because it was going to give me a lot of trouble later in life. He was very precise with his diagnosis because that pain has been bothering me ever since.
I hurt my back and lost my horse because my father then decided to sell the horse to stop me getting into any further troubles. There were no more horse rides for me but my bike came as a substitute to my local travelling. Checking of mail and visiting friends and family members became easy on this means of transport.
Right at the start of my teenage years I had gone through a dramatic phase of opposition to just everything. This phase had lasted for only a couple of months but just enough to bring me into conflict with almost everything and everybody around me. I used to wonder whether this was merely something that would pass like so many moments of my normal growing up and adolescent development.
I thought a lot about a predictable vision of my future even at this tender age but I was fortunate to have such calming social agents around me like my aunt Guddi, my uncle Chetram, my younger brother Vijen, my faithful friends and my teachers who carefully guided me out of this dilemma of adolescent craze and revolt.
Of course, at times, I did engage in a risk or two and in the process, I lost some good friends. I tried smoking; drinking grog and engaging in some violent activities with the boys living in the next village but soon some realization must have come into me to opt out of that wrong path. Here I am truly thankful to my father who saw me making these mistakes and corrected me at the right time. He rightfully nipped my faults in the bud.
My father gave me an almost perfect answer to my question of ethics when I asked him, “How do you know when you are doing something wrong?”
He stopped for a while and then told me something like this, “Beta, each one of us has the right to supreme fulfilment through right action. If our actions are guided by our inner truth then we are happy. Any action of ours that makes us unhappy should reveal that we are doing something wrong and we should then correct ourselves and do the right thing immediately. It is this sound practice that leads us to perfection and if we do not practice, we will certainly lose touch with the force that guides us. This is self realization.”
After these incidents and a few other similar ones, I became like the clay on a potter’s wheel, constantly turning, being shaped and waiting for the heat blast from the furnace to finish me. So things started taking shape again and I began to feel I was a reformed individual moving to my predictable future. I was now within the standard parent-child dynamics again.
The rebuilding of my social fabrics took a few months but when many of the loose ends were settled, I began to act as my parents directed me. I managed to reconcile almost all the comedy of errors of my existence. I owed a prayer for my elders every single night for the rest of my life for the way they guided me during these turbulent times. I could have been the most spoilt child of the age but I became the best boy of the village.
My friends started coming back to me. My leisure activities resumed. I made various fishing trips to the nearby Wailoaloa Beach and the Sabeto River with my friends Satnarayan and Saddik. We brought home enough catch of fish, crabs and prawns to make my parents happy because the catch provided good meals for all of us. It was on these platforms that I learnt the camaraderie of sharing, giving and receiving.
These trips were made once a month but were of great interest and refreshment for us because they gave a lot of outlet for our emotions. We learnt the art of patience and love of outdoor life. We consolidated our friendship by trivial chatting and being on our own. That was our rural life and we enjoyed it very much. One of the greatest lessons we learnt from these expeditions was the idea of sharing and giving. We shared our catch with great care and if there were too many items then we would give them to our neighbours.
The social interactions of these young days made me understand that true friendship provided us great emotional support, cognitive guidance and many tangible help. My village friends are still important to me when I visit them because they not only bring back the soothing memories but also give me a lot of happiness. The more I meet my old friends, the greater becomes my understanding of the deep friendship of Lord Krishna with Balram and Sudama as narrated in the Hindu scriptures.
I remember making a few trips to that mountain range that is now called the Sleeping Giant to hunt for wild goats. This was very difficult adventure for us because the goats would run wild on the high rocks and we would be left behind with our traps and snares. However, there were times when after spending the whole day we managed to get a few in our traps. We had to kill the goats and clean the carcasses and brought only the meat with us. Carrying the bag full of meat was always a problem but my horse Goldie was our help until it was sold.
On a few occasions, I accompanied my father to enjoy pigeon shooting and I remember that our hunting and shootings were also very good because in those days, very few people had guns and there were no such restrictions as the gaming licence. The difficulty that we encountered in shooting and bringing the birds home was well compensated when my mother made delicious curry in the evening for us to enjoy. The adult members of the family enjoyed the chaser of dry pigeon meat with their homebrew and we children had the opportunity to eat that meat to our hearts’ content. Our drink was the lemon drink called sharbat made from the fruits of our orchard.
As I said before my mother never went to school and did not have any reading and writing skills but she had many good human qualities. She was a very powerful woman who controlled her children well. She was an excellent cook and displayed extreme passion and understanding when she interacted with her children. She could not help us with our schoolwork but she guided us to lead a good life. I always had a great admiration for her commitment and empathy. At times, she had to be cruel to be kind during our adolescent years. In retrospect, I believe she was right in enforcing her kind of discipline on us.
People say I have learnt most of my values from my parents and they may be right because a lot of my social communication style, my general human interaction and my daily conduct have come from my parents. I am proud of the fact that despite their limited literacy skills they were able to do so much for me. When it comes to my mother’s care and control, I am often reminded of the opening line of Ravindranath’s poem: Amma teri mamta ka nahi koi mol. O mother! No true value could be placed on your love and affection towards me.
My family members called me Lakhan in those days but my mother called me Barkana, which meant the eldest. I started my formal education at Sabeto Indian School in 1946 from Class 1 and finished my primary school studies there in 1953. My formative years were of average academic standard but I began to excel from Class 6 onwards and was a role model for many village students.
I was always among the top three students at school but my sporting activities were limited to some soccer and hockey games only. I loved sports and athletics but there were not many opportunities to participate and compete in those days. Once a while, when various schools met at the Young Farmers’ Club markets and sports festivals we happily participated. I remember winning a few certificates at these gatherings that were called ulloo bazaar.
My reading activities were limited to reciting from the Holy Books-Ramayana and Bhagwat Gita for my grandparents and parents and the Jungle Book and the New Method English Readers at school. There were no public libraries in those days and the school library had only a limited collection. Our bedtime and leisure stories were the oral traditional stories of myths and legends that our grandparents and parents narrated to us. This is the reason why I am able to rightly interpret our religious beliefs.
I did not have the luxury of bedtime story reading. However, whenever we got our supply of bread and other goods from the town shops, the items were wrapped with pages of old newspaper. My father collected these for us to read and at times, he tested us by asking us to read the news items aloud to him and then explain the contents therein. I enjoyed these sessions with my parents because they gave us time to interact and bond with them. I had nothing to fear from the printed pages because they always offered me knowledge but never asked me questions.
While I was at primary school, I participated in many dramatic activities at the local temple, where the religious drama activities of Ram Lila, Krishna Lila and Lav Kush Lila were dramatized on stage for the public to enjoy. These were conducted at the hall at nights for weeks and I enjoyed acting the role of Lord Rama. I was barely twelve years old but I had incredible energy. I used my youthfulness and naivety to help me fulfill my childhood dreams.
My grandfather was the playwright, director, choreographer and conductor creating excellent religious drama for the audience. We sang, danced, mimed and acted enthusiastically to please the people of the village. My father was the president of the Sanatan Dharam Mandali of Sabeto and he acted as our stage manager. After the stage work was over, we had our dinner there. We enjoyed the dhal, rice and chutney prepared so skillfully by my grandfather, who was a great cook in times of need.
All my teachers were very good and worked hard. They were Ram Kissun, Vijendra Sudhakar, Ramendra Dutt Mishra, Ram Krishnan and Gaj Raj Singh. The head master at that time was Rameshwar Prasad. Rameshwar Prasad inculcated a love of hard work and a habit of dedicated study into me when I was told that he completed his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Teaching degrees by correspondence from University of London in those days of horse and buggy. This display of academic excellence was unheard of in those early times. I remember telling my friends that one day I will beat my head master’s record by doing my degree as well. The day I completed my first degree in 1974 I thanked my teacher Rameshwar Prasad for inspiring me.
All these were exceptionally brilliant teachers fully dedicated to keep us working hard and progressing. They taught us facts, figures, faith and fortune. I could not have asked for any better deal at school because I got the best at all times, maybe because the school community very well knew my father. This excellent teaching environment and my father’s active involvement in the school affairs may have been a deciding factor for me to develop skills to become a teacher myself.
One of my regrets of my primary school days was when I accidentally hurt the headmaster’s daughter Radha and then offered her some lollies to forgive me. She was a very pretty girl and I may have had some liking for her. She reported the matter to her father and I was called to the headmaster’s office and punished. We were classmates but after this incident, we did not talk to each other for ages until she visited our house in Nadi in 1988 when she was a doctor in Wellington in New Zealand.
She is no more but she was a charming woman who was one of those people who made me a good student. I made every effort to beat her in all the subjects at school. Later in life I found out that she was a good friend and classmate of my wife when she was a border at Dudley House. We did talk about our childhood stupidity and made up with a delicious dinner prepared for her. However, she died of cancer in Wellington a few years later.
While attending Sabeto Indian School, I was usually walking on foot to and from school, a distance of about ten kilometres daily with my uncle and aunts. Sometimes my uncle Chetram used to give me a ride on his bicycle. Other times he used to go on a horseback and took me piggyback or as a double rider. Walking that distance on gravel and dusty road was no problem at all. With no shoes on our feet, it acted as a very good exercise for our mind and body.
Like my aunt Guddi, my uncle Chetram was my mentor during my childhood. He was my hero who could do miracles like climbing the coconut trees, keeping me safe from the bullies at school and providing me with the best of chocolates that the American soldiers gave him. My uncle and my father both worked as volunteers for the American Army and exchanged the variety of garden produce with whatever they were given in addition to the money.
On a few occasions, I did manage to return some of the favours that my uncle Chetram gave me. I helped him with his fight with a village bully Shrikant who used to meet and challenge my uncle in the village grounds for an illegal duel. Seeing my uncle at the verge of distress in this fight, I reluctantly joined in to defeat his opponent in such a fashion that there never was another call for a duel ever from either Shrikant or any Kant.
I loved my uncle and to do this was fair play for me at that time. There was no question of ethics involved here but it was just a spontaneous reaction to assist a family member. He and his wife, my Kaki, helped and guided me throughout my early childhood, my school days and my early family life.
During the war, my father had also received a lot of arms and ammunition from the soldiers in exchange for his services and garden products and these were kept in his private arsenal. My memories of the gunshots and the sounds of dynamites are still fresh because these were great excitement for us.
A year after the War ended in 1945, the police charged my father for possessing illegal arms and ammunition but his solicitor AD Patel convinced the magistrate that during the war the soldiers were so careless that they left the weapons all over the fields that they occupied at that time. They could not prove that the weapons were my father’s property. Temporarily a kind of détente was reached between the authorities and my father.
However, after he was discharged he foolishly challenged the authorities to face him in a battlefield situation for three hours. Although the people did not take him seriously, he was again searched for the similar offence. When the police could not find any weapons they tried to assault him physically and then he got furious with them and caused chaos for a few senior inspectors. The court of law again discharged him declaring the event as a riot and his action as self-defense.
My recollection of hidden weapons is very vivid in my mind. When the police came to search our property in 1946 I was a six-year-old boy running in the yard with only a loose shirt on. The officers asked me to tell them where my father kept his guns. I knew that the weapons were hidden in the cavity of the dry pandanus branches lying in the compound but I took them to the cow shed. There to their surprise, I lifted my shirt, showed them my private parts, and ran away. I remember the fury of my grandfather for this mis- behaviour.
The legal authorities were so annoyed with their defeat that they alleged another criminal offence on my father in 1947. This time he was charged for dealing illegally in the sale and distribution of liquor. Because of fabricated evidences planted by the police department that could not be ruled out, he was rightly or wrongly sentenced to serve a prison term of three months.
His life changed altogether, when he returned from his reformatory. This turn around in his life made him a good person. My father then became a serious family man and never looked back on the foolish and silly activities of his younger days during and after the wartime. A properly reformed man, he dedicated rest of his life to his family, his community and his village reforms.
When the war was over and my father had returned to his normal family life I was enrolled as a pupil in Class 1 with no knowledge of school life at all. There was no early childhood education or kindergarten experience in those days. My life at school in the first year was a traumatic experience and I ran away from school several times because of fear of the teachers and uncertainty of a secure atmosphere.
My uncle and aunt who accompanied me to school ensured that I received the needed consolation so gradually I got used to the system and continued to attend classes reluctantly. The school that was dead for me in the beginning came alive all because of the kindness and empathy that I gathered from my early childhood teachers such as Purnima Devi and Chand Kuar. Things began to reconstruct themselves when the teachers showed empathy towards me and provided me with the necessary motivation to continue my schooling. When I got into gear, I never looked back but kept moving ahead.
During my primary days, I used to work on my father’s farms of rice, pineapple, sugarcane and lentils and go to the markets with my father to sell the items on Saturdays at the CSR Compound in Lautoka where the market day used to be organised. These were one of the most interesting selling experiences and interactions with the business and other communities and I learnt a lot from these involvements and activities.
My father had many regular customers only because his products were always clean, fresh and well displayed. My father was fundamentally a different type of vendor for the customers because he cared about their needs and wants. He always spoke kindly to them, gave them tender loving care and good service.
The days when our supplies were more than the demand and we were left with some of our products, we had to throw these in the nearby paddock where the cows enjoyed eating them. My father would not sell them cheaply or give these free to anyone. Instead, he was very happy to witness the scene when the cows of Maan Singh Dairy farm munched the vegetables away slowly with special interest. This paradigm of circumstances confused me in the beginning but when I understood the ethic behind feeding the domesticated animals, I could see that as a Hindu my father was doing nothing more than just feeding the sacred cows.
Milking of cows and goats was one my favourite farm activities. Then the rule was to boil your milk and extract the butterfat from the yoghurt the next day using a bamboo extractor in a large four-litre container. Of course, it was my duty to get fresh green para and guinea grass for my cows and goats in order that they continued to provide us with a lot of fresh milk. These were difficult chores but interesting and soothing to my soul.
One of the ideas that got ingrained into me after my father constantly and continuously motivated me was the concept of hard and quality work. Therefore, whatever I did, I did it well and with all the interest and enthusiasm. There was no farming activity that I could not perform well but while doing those I never faltered in my studies. My commitment to all my tasks was very solid and deep.
It was through these quintessential paths that my parents built for me that I found my upward mobility easy and smooth. My parents were poor in the beginning but that was no excuse for their inadequacies. As transformation of circumstances developed, they learnt to persevere and cleared the slippery rung of their ladder of progress through hard work and determination. I shared the same anxiety, commitments, ambitions and adaptations to move ahead with pride. We developed a different outlook to life generally when we came out from rag to riches. We were classed as one of the richest farmers in the area all because of our diversification and hard work but we always remained humble.
I had the opportunity to learn some aspects of sexual behaviour by accident. A neighbour of ours named Zhinnu had two grown up daughters Sridevi and Bhanmati, who did not go to school. A married farmer, Bacchuram who was living next to their house had developed a relationship with Bhanmati. I found out about this accidentally when I visited their home one-day to collect some items for our farm. Since no one answered my knock at the door, I looked through the window and to my surprise, I saw Bacchu and Bhan having intimate sexual relationship. Without their knowledge, I kept watching their intimate behaviour from the cracks of the window.
However, one day they saw me peeping through the window. My accidental sexual education ended there. Bacchuram ran away for fear that I would tell the secret to his family. Bhanmati called me, offered me some reward, and asked me not to reveal the secret to anyone. I kept it a secret for a long time because it was one of my private tuitions that gave me some aspects of sex education when I was an adolescent. The other reason to keep it a secret was to save the two families from any disgrace in the community.
However, it was having an adverse effect on my conscience so I let it out to one of my cousins long before Bhanmati was married, divorced and committed suicide. My cousin Vedh in turn used this secret information as a weapon to extract some sexual favours from his classmate Sridevi, Bhan’s sister.
Had I known that this was a possibility I would have suffered silently than to be a reason of dispute in my cousin’s family life. I regretted the whole affair but could not do anything. Tell or not to tell became my problem but I managed to overcome this by joining the village Ramayan Mandali and reciting the Dohas of Tulsidas and Balmiki. Two couplets from the epic Ramayan that gave me solace were:
Kaliyug taran upaay na koi, Raam Bhajan Ramaayan doi and Kaliyug yug san aan nahi jo nar kari biswaas Gaaye Raam Gungaan Bimal Bhawtaraheen bin prayaas
There are times in the life of a person when a slight mistake or slip leads to a greater tragedy and this episode was one of those that have been haunting me. In retrospect, I should have had the courage of my conviction to tell all to everyone concerned whether they would have believed me or not is another matter.
My fear was that Bacchuram and Bhanmati as adults would have declared my story as false and I would have been punished instead. For some time I carried a package of anger within me towards this episode in my life. Reluctantly I turned to my religious scriptures to help me get rid of this error and feeling. In the process, I became richer in religious knowledge and gained better understanding of Hinduism.
Later in life I wrote extensively to advocate that Hindu religion was a way of life that needed some changes and I received various supporting comments and views.
I am not any expert on religion but a common Hindu who thinks for himself. The views presented here are solely for intelligent discussion and not as an argument or any form of debate. The readers are free to make their own conclusions dispassionately after reading these remarks.
Change has been a constant aspect of our living. History has revealed that we have experienced a variety of cultural, social and religious changes in our lifetime. It is believed by many people that our way of life needs a change if it does not meet the demands and requirements of the current situations.
Religious practices have been modified or changed if they became too rigid for any group of people. Hinduism has had many changes where wise people went on different paths but kept the initial beliefs. As time went by we saw the emergence of Arya Samajis, Kabir Panthis, Buddhists and others like the Saibaba followers. All these came about because people thought that necessary changes were needed.
Hinduism has had many internal changes as well. From time to time we have seen the emergence of a great lawgiver. He would codify the existing laws and remove those, which had become obsolete. He would make some alterations, adaptations, readjustments, additions and deletions to suit the needs of the time and see that the way of living of the people would be in accordance with the teachings of the Vedas.
We Hindus have seen that of such lawgivers, Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara were the most celebrated persons. They gave us their Smritis or laws and institutes. These laws and institutes were intended for a particular period and time and were never intended to go on forever.
These laws and rules of Hinduism, which are based entirely upon our social positions, time, climate and region, have been changing. It follows therefore that it must change with the changes in society and the changing conditions of time and clime. If this happens with consensus of the people it affects, then and then only the progress of the Hindu society can be ensured.
Many Hindus agree that it is not possible to follow some of the laws of Manu at the present time and in places like UK, Australia, USA, Canada and other overseas countries where Hindus have migrated. Maybe people are rightly questioning some of the practices that need change. Of course, we can always follow their spirit.
Our society is advancing and when any society, like ours, advances, it outgrows certain laws, which were valid and helpful at a particular time and stage of its growth. Many new aspects, which were not thought out by the old lawgivers have come into existence now. Many people believe that it is no use insisting that people should follow those old laws, which have become obsolete.
Our body needs food to function but we cannot live by food alone. As we grow up and receive or are given the needed knowledge we wish to attain some form of realization. It is natural that we then look for a lot more reasons to live than the other animals do. A time comes when all the worldly prosperity and prestige do not give us full satisfaction in life. We seek wisdom, knowledge and peace of our mind.
We gradually want some form of spiritual consolation, a bit of solace and maybe peace in our life. We do not have to stick to and live in the past to achieve this phenomenon. Change in many respects brings progress.
It is at this time of our life that we look to some form of religion to give us some happiness and better understanding about our world we live in and the human society we interact with generally. We realise that there is a Supreme Power somewhere that created everything for us. We know that we have to bind our soul to that Supreme Power known as God. This then makes us somewhat religious. It is this comprehension of religion that reveals to us the way for the attainment of human peace, progress and prosperity. We differentiate our living from that of other animal existence.
Depending on the place of our birth, our association with each other and our family history we look toward a certain belief and either remain a Hindu or convert to any of the many other religions of the world. Whatever is our religious belief, ultimately we have to behave as good human beings. Good human beings attain goodness, truth and beauty in their words, thoughts and deeds. Any deviation from these sound and solid aspects of living makes us alienate and we tend to differ in our human conduct and behaviour to be corrected through the processes of social or religious justice.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions and the people who follow these principles and practices are known as Hindus. Unlike other religions, Hinduism is neither founded by any prophet nor has it any fixed dates. It should be free from religious fanaticism. It is an eternal religion based on the Vedas that were expressions of intuitive experiences of the sages of those days.
Therefore, we can say that Hinduism is a revealed religion. If it is so then some realistic changes are not only necessary but needed if it wants to survive the modern pressures of living and just criticism.
We cannot run away from the fact that our present society has considerably changed. Maybe there is a need and necessity for a new Smriti or religious laws to suit the requirements of this age. Another sage like Manu would have to emerge and place before us new and suitable codes of practices and laws. I certainly feel that the time is ripe for a new Smriti or law for Hinduism.
This will make our younger generation of Hindu families to better appreciate and fully understand the purpose of their religion. We all are able to hear some of the valid objections of this new generation but in our religious pride we attempt to force our own views on to them and are not able to think dispassionately to assist them. The children either withdraw altogether and change their religious paths or are fed up with religious fanaticism and become non believers.
We all believe that Hinduism, unlike other religions, does not dogmatically assert that the final emancipation is possible only through its means. It should allow absolute freedom to the rational mind and it should never demand any undue restraints upon the freedom of human reason, thought, feeling and will. Hinduism has always allowed us the widest freedom in matters of faith and worship.
However, nowadays we notice that as an individual we Sanatanis or Hindus have very little say if any in the performance of our religious prayers that we ask our priests to conduct for us at our homes. The priests go on and on with their same routine and give us the religious jargon in a language that our new generation are not able to comprehend and find it boring. We are at the mercy of these priests to obey the obsolete and archaic practices and laws. If we want any changes to suit our time and clime they refuse to conduct the prayers for us and ask us to seek the services of a priest from a different sect of Hinduism.
Where has that allowance of absolute freedom to the human reason gone for Hinduism? I am told that Hinduism does not lie in the acceptance of any particular doctrine, or in the observance of some particular rituals or forms of worship. It should not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship. It should allow everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate. I am happy that the Arya Samajists have progressed with the needed reforms in Hinduism. They are doing well and educating people to believe in the principles of truth, beauty and goodness.
Of course, Hinduism does not condemn anyone or any religion. Even the unbelievers should be recognized as pious and honourable members of the society as long as they are good human beings. This is why Hinduism is proverbial, is extremely catholic and liberal. Despite all the differences of prevalent metaphysical doctrines, modes of religious discipline and forms of ritualistic practices and social habits, there should be an essential uniformity in the conception of religion and in the outlook on life. This is my reason to look for some changes.
It is good to notice that in some places in the world like the West & East Indies, Trinidad and Mauritius a lot of aspects of Hinduism have been modernised and the people have absolute freedom to practice Hinduism as they feel and like. The people there believe that Hinduism is a synthesis of all types of religious experiences. It is a whole and complete view of life. It is free from fanaticism and that is the reason is has its survival there.
If truth, beauty and goodness are the cornerstones of Hinduism then it is time now to become more elastic and tolerant to the new changes that are inevitable. We need to be more elastic in readjusting to the externals and non-essentials and then we would succeed in keeping our new generation intact and to be followers of new form of Hinduism.
Some priests I have spoken to agree that some changes are definitely needed in our obsolete practices and there are others who are prepared to conduct prayers for us in our homes and in public places as we would like them to do. But there are many around us who are still stuck in the past and any changes in the principles and practices of Hinduism for them are impossible and cannot be accepted.
We modern Hindus need the emergence of a courageous and determined new and reformed sage or lawgiver like Manu to give us new meaning to our old Universal Hindu Religion. Alternatively we can follow our instinct and reform to make our own home and family a place of worship and religious practices without any interference from anyone.
One last thing to remember is that our voice for a change is more than what we have heard and a lot greater than whatever we have experienced. Our revelations and traditions are books written by sages but they cannot constitute the final authority because they were heard from someone’s experiences and were left as a record for the benefit of posterity.
What the sages heard and what they experienced and then what they wrote could vary from the original form of religious law. This is because the ones who heard and the ones who experienced the laws of religion were different from the ones who acted as scribes. So some items may have been either forgotten or left out from the original in the process of recording and writing. Therefore we have more reasons to say that the time has come for a change, a modification that will be useful to all Hindus.
I know that many Hindus of old and orthodoxical views will not like my contentions because it affects their own performance and beliefs. The pundits who perform the ceremonies following the older styles and traditions will criticize my thoughts because they know sooner or later their income will be depleted. I am told that many of the Hindu priest nowadays charge exorbitant amount of money to perform ceremonies. This has never been the call of the Brahmans before and it is really degrading and shameful deed indeed.
I need to continue with my sweeter part of the memories and forget about the religious aspect that does not do any anyone much good.
It was examination time at school and I had to study hard so I used to carry my notebooks with me when I was looking after and grazing my cattle in the field. I was so engrossed in my studies that I forgot to keep an eye on the animals, which wondered onto a nearby vegetable area and destroyed a lot of our seedlings and crops.
My father was furious to see the destruction of his flourishing crops and I remember getting the brunt of his full anger when he used his whip on me instead of the animals. I regretted this but never again did I falter in my farming duties and chores that were allocated to me. The paradox of this event is that many times you have to be cruel to be kind.
My father was a disciplinarian and always wanted his children to do the right thing and do well in every human and social activity. He loved his children very much and would do anything to keep them happy. He never spared the rod because he did not want us to be spoilt. He wanted me to be someone to be remembered and be a role model because I was his eldest son.
Life had a way of making its own scars, without too much conscious effort. The scars of physical beatings that I have on my body are reminders to me that I made a few unforgiveable mistakes that my father needed to correct and I have no regrets. Had my father not disciplined me at that time, I would have taken a different path altogether and ventured into many more errors.
His happiness was beyond his control when he learnt that I had passed all my examinations at my High School and I was going to be a teacher. He was overwhelmed to hear that news because that was his objective. It turned out that I was his only child out of the nine that had developed a profession. Later in life, he told me that he was very happy that I had achieved good results in life and met his expectations.
In those days as a reward for good work for the whole month, I was allowed to accompany some of my friends to Nadi town to see Hindi movies in the old wooden theatre of Harry Uraia. We used to travel by bus but later the open-air theatre came to our village and they used to
screen the Hindi movies at the temple grounds and we used to enjoy the Saturday evening programs. It is through these participations that I developed my love for old movies and songs. If we had enjoyed a particular film the previous week, we used to re-enact it in the village grounds or school.
My father was one of the first persons in Sabeto to have a radio that needed a wet-celled battery to run and the battery needed to be regularly recharged at a charger that was located about five miles away from our house. In my enthusiasm to listen to the Hindi Radio programs I used to carry the heavy battery on my shoulder to have it recharged and then bring it back. In this process, the battery water and acid, on many occasions, spoilt my clothes but the enthusiasm and anticipation to listen to the one fifteen minute Hindi program on Tuesdays and an hour’s evening Hindi program on Saturdays kept me going to the charger and back.
This radio station was called ZJV and the announcer and presenter of programs was Chandrika Prasad Shriwastow who had a wonderful radio voice. The program was largely made up of news items but if time permitted, we were lucky to get a few old songs.
Later in my working life when the radio station was institutionalised to become Radio Fiji I used to present various weekly programs in English and Hindi. Many of my radio plays and short stories called the Geetoon Bhari Kahaniyaan were regularly used for the Hindi listeners who enjoyed them tremendously. Over the years radio programs became a source of misery for me. When songs were played I felt like I was part of the scene in it. Most old songs depicted a lot of negative feelings.
The ‘Education and Society’ program in English and the ‘Sikhcha and Samaaj’ episodes in Hindi became very popular for the listeners. I became a regular contributor for the notable women’s program when I produced a series of advice for parents. Mrs Vaishnoi, the famous Bahenji of Radio Fiji kept using my snippets for a long time. These snippets were later developed into a Handbook for Parents with the help of my wife Saroj.
The same Chandrika Prasad Shriwastow later became the General Manager of FBC and he offered me a lucrative job with Radio Fiji but I had to decline his offer because I was promoted as a Senior Education Officer in the Ministry of Education in Fiji.
During the period of my adolescent development, I was working very hard with my father on the farms to learn all the necessary tricks and traits of planting rice, vegetable and rearing goats, and other animals. A lot of my religious learning was in the company of my grandfather Sarju Mahajan who sang bhajans and kirtan and recited words from the scriptures.
Since my mind, body and soul were all busy concentrating either on the farm or on schoolwork I had very little time to develop any serious hobbies of my own but I did manage to go swimming in the Sabeto River and learn some wrestling skills from my father who was a wrestling coach to various youths of the village.
I never missed an opportunity to go to any social or religious gathering in the community with my grandfather and my father. Most of the time they were asked to speak at such meetings because of the respect the community held for them. One evening when my father was asked to speak at a religious function, he put me to test by telling the people that instead of him his eldest son was going to say a few words that night. I could not disappoint my father so I stood up and recited all the things that my grandfather had taught me.
After I finished speaking I was amazed by the applause I received from the audience and the palm of blessings was placed on my head by my father who on our return trip home said three very important things about public speaking that I always kept in my mind as my powerful rules and styles of effective communication.
Firstly, he said stand up tall when you are asked to speak in front of an audience. Secondly, he mentioned that you must speak up clearly and loud enough so that everyone can hear you. Thirdly, he told me to sit down and stop speaking if you have nothing more useful to say.
Ever since then, whenever I have spoken in any public or private gatherings or meetings I have always kept these appropriate lessons of effective communication at the back of my mind and have never failed in any public speaking duties. Of course, I have added my own ideas to public speaking to my father’s teachings.
After a few years, pineapple farms flourished as did the sugarcane farms and I was very interested in harvesting pineapples and sugarcane for delivery to the Colonial Sugar Refinery in Lautoka on the family truck.
Coincidentally the registration number of our truck was the same as my Teachers’ Personal File number (TPF3408), which was allocated to me when I graduated as a teacher. I began driving the family Ferguson Tractor and the Ford 6 truck from the age of twelve when I was in Class 8. It never occurred to anyone that these were dangerous and unlawful activities.
By 1952, my parents were well-established farmers and began to pay more attention to my education and my academic progress and prosperity improved considerably. My other brother and sisters were at school as well but I was the centre of attraction all because I was the eldest and I used to bring good school reports home from a very reputable high school. This put me in a hyperactive drive to accelerate my efforts at school.
My other siblings were given the same opportunity but because of various reasons were not able to follow the same path. My sister Vidya had an accident and had to leave school after completing her primary school education. She was married away to a village farmer and has led a reasonable family life.
My brother Vijendra did not want to proceed any further after completing his junior high school because he secured a good job in the technological and airline industries. My relationship with him is very vivid and worthy of mention. We were born six years apart but that made me love and protect my little brother a lot more during our living in the village setup. He in turn was my greatest little helper.
My only brother Vijendra has been a great support for me throughout my life and he still is in constant touch to ensure that I lead a healthy life. Our growing up together was very meaningful and we developed an excellent rapport within the family.
My second sister Shiumati failed to complete her primary education because she had to care for our mother who had taken very ill after a few pregnancies that went wrong. She too was married to a farmer in Sigatoka and has lived a good life.
However, my other sisters Kushma, Kusum, Upma and Sarla all completed junior high school education and were gradually all married to lead a happy family life as well. They all keep me informed of their progress and I continuously visit them to bless their respective families. I sincerely honour their respect for me and try my best to ensure that they lead a comfortable life of their own. They are rich in family and cultural matters. Like me, they too are great believers in the power of prayers.
Although we left Fiji with good memories of everything, we were left with a bitter taste in our thoughts forever. I can speak very highly of my own siblings but one bad egg gave me a different feeling altogether. I usually forgive people for their trespasses and forget the wrong that they have done to me but these incidents and episodes are unforgiveable and thus cannot be forgotten that easily.
Unfortunately I do not have the same blessings and regard for my youngest sister. My youngest sister became the black sheep of the family and brought a lot of disrepute to my parents. Many prevailing factors contributed to derail her completely from either being a good student or becoming a good daughter, wife, mother and even a person of any worth.
In retrospect, I certainly believe that one of the reasons she was spoilt and reached that low in her habits and attitudes was all because of the freedom that my mother allowed her. Maybe this freedom was given to her because she was my mother’s baby. This confirms my view that if you spare the rod you are bound to spoil your child. There were no checks placed on her growing up, hence her evil character.
Since she was the last-born and grew up in an urban environment, my parents found it difficult to control her deteriorating habits and dispositions. What she did to harm the image of the family could not be taken lightly and be easily forgotten and forgiven.
When her marriage broke up and she started her other misdemeanors, my father could not bear the shame and died of a heart attack after feeling the full brunt of her misconducts. She was also responsible for the death of my mother when she wrongfully and fraudulently changed the existing Will of the family. She did this with the help of some corrupt officials of the government and transferred the family property that was willed for the seven sisters to her own name only.
My other six sisters contested the fraudulently converted Will of my mother in the court of law in Fiji because the previous Will assigned the family property to all seven sisters. Shobhna got away by accusing other family members of plotting against her.
Unfortunately, she was allowed to make some very distasteful and erroneous accusations in the Court against the other honest and absent members of the family. The judge and the lawyers failed to see the devil in her. The presiding Magistrate could neither assess her fraudulent behaviour nor accept the medical evidence that my mother was not in her proper frame of mind and senses to change her last and final Will.
Thus, the judge gave the benefit of false doubt to her and the judgment was wrongfully given in her favour that deprived my other sisters of a fair decision. One of the allegations that Shobhna made about my wife remains a very sore point in my life. She got away with an unbelievable tale to the Court that my wife Saroj stole $30000 from my mother’s bank account, which never had more than $3000 in it. My mother had kept this fund to be used for her funeral expenses as per her last wish.
This money was withdrawn by my mother before her death and used in her funeral with the total agreement of everyone. It was indeed sad that the lawyers representing my sisters did not contest this truth despite having the ANZ Bank book record with them showing clearly the $3000 withdrawal a week before the death of my mother. We know for sure that this false allegation will forever haunt Shobhna.
In the hind side, we think that Saroj should not have felt so much pity that she volunteered to go to Fiji to care for her mother in law, my mother. Had she not gone, no such incident would have occurred and no such false accusations would have been labeled against her. I do not think I would have gone either because I would not have got my leave from work.
Now we feel that the ticket worth over a thousand dollars she bought from Fiji Travel owned by my brother would have been properly and usefully spent on some other beneficial things for the family. If that fund was sent to my mother she would have hired a carer to look after her.
Saroj would not have been persuaded by my mother to go to the bank to withdraw that meager amount of three thousand dollars. This would have saved her getting that unnecessary blame. What had happened at that time has left an indelible mark on our sincerity and it could have been avoided.
Shobhna later sold the family property for peanuts. She is now a lost cause of humanity and definitely unable to reconcile all her miss deeds. She is now the sad and unfortunate victim of her own misconduct and lives somewhere homeless, without the blessing of her family members and burning in hell with repentance. The sinner cannot be living in peace unless proper justice is done to her and unfortunately, this may not be possible for her in this life. I do not think she will get another chance.
Whatever she has done and however she succeeded in doing all these would be a solid surprise and acute disturbance for the resting and peaceful soul of my parents. However, after listening to her defense and her other shameful activities I am convinced that not all these will bother a person of her distaste and disposition because she has definitely lost all her sense of fair play, judgment and values of family life.
Apart from the downfall of this odd member of the otherwise very peaceful and religious family, all the other siblings have been conducting themselves well and honourably in all their activities in the community.
I want to let her suffer more before she finishes her life. I am a caring person but what do I care for the one who has offended us so much? This episode in our life has confirmed my belief that Kaliyug indeed is where blood eats blood, and nothing ever seems sacrosanct for a sinner like her. My curse will always be on her because I have never faced any person with such dubious social values amongst my relatives.
At times I have felt like searching the whole village of Sabeto for the deepest well so that I could throw her into it and forget about her. I do not want to go on with this odd feeling, so the best thing is to forget it altogether. That is what I have done.
My wife has narrated that episode very bitterly in her story because she was very badly hurt by the false accusations and very little to no assistance that she received from other family members to clear her name from this sad and unfortunate event.
My personal relationship with my only brother Vijendra has always been very cordial and serene. We grew up together in Sabeto and have very fond memories of our interactions that we always share when we meet every now and then. He is a very successful businessperson living a happy family life with his wife Nirmala and the families of his two sons, Manish and Sanjay in Los Angeles in the United States of America. He is very thoughtful and shows extra care for our health and wellbeing. We are proud of the fact that we have always conducted ourselves in the community as the legendary characters of Balmiki, Ram and Lakhsman of the holy book Ramayan. The love, respect and the mutual feelings that we have displayed for each other have been exemplary and very commendable.
Many people in the village and the family members had great appreciation for our brotherly conducts. We were true role models for other children of the village then and are still keeping those essential elements of brotherhood and goodwill flourishing. We are thankful to our grandparents and parents for inculcating these cultural and social values in us.
I was the first child from the village to pass the then challenging Primary School Leaving Certificate and be selected to attend the prestigious secondary school called Natabua High School. The joy that this sweet success gave me was very odd because I was happy on the one hand and uncertain of my future on the other. However, my parents and the rest of the family were very enthusiastic and provided an affirmation to my commitment so I had no choice but to go ahead with added vigour. From 1954 to 1957, I studied at this school and did reasonably well to keep my parents and the family members happy.
I travelled to Natabua by bus every morning and returned by bus after school around five. These travelling experiences gave me many advantages. While sitting in the bus for about an hour I remember revising some of my schoolwork and catching up with my required as well as other readings. I read many classical readers written by Charles Dickens, RL Stevenson, Jane Austin, James Joyce, Walter Scott, George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, D H Lawrence, Lord Byron and the Bronte Sisters.
Later in life, my best-loved books came from GB Shaw, V S Naipaul and Lewis Carroll. These literary interests provided me with many opportunities to search for new directions and pathways. Paradoxically this anguish was quite exhilarating because I was constantly seeking and gathering many worthy symbols, ideas, omens, themes and guidance from my literary pursuits.
I read the books and was always interested in the various ideas, imagery and plots contained in them. I never failed to compare my own situations and circumstances after reading the novels. Therefore, the learning from my reading was not only enriching my vocabulary but also the style and structure of language. The varied backgrounds and settings in each novel gave me a lot of insight into different situations and circumstances that human beings interacted with in different and difficult situations. My extensive reading habit made me a better student and an improved human being.
Studying the works of Shakespeare and the early poets was my deeper interest. My collection of Shakespearean plays started from Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet. However, I was introduced to other Shakespearean plays as well later in life. Shakespeare enabled me to look at the larger picture of conflict, love and politics.
I never got enough of Shakespeare and the more I read the plays the better my understanding became. Love of style and vocabulary made me act in the plays at school. Fictions, non-fictions, myths and legends gave me a lot of knowledge, imagination and interest.
My poetry studies included Tennyson, Elliot, Blake, Wordsworth, Browning, Hopkins and WB Yeats. I searched for ideas; rhymes and rhythms that made me love the words and structures used in them. I liked reciting important and valuable stanzas from selected poems. I loved to visualize the settings in all the poems and to see the meaning and manner of presentation in all of them.
Whilst at school I studied subjects such as English, English Literature, History, Geography, Commercial Studies, General Science, Mathematics and Book Keeping. I did not have any favourite subjects but excelled in all of them. At school, I participated in drama activities, Hockey and Soccer and kept my academic position in the first three boys in my class. There were no girls in our class initially but later we had the opportunity of interacting with at least three of them in the whole school.
While at the school, I had the proud privilege of being educated by such prominent teachers as Rohan Prasad, Parshu Ram, John Ram Sharan, CP Balakrishanan, CM Dass, Sursenap Ram Sharma, Govind Sami Naidu, Khalil Mohammed and F E Joyce. The school provided us an all round balanced and quality education with equal emphasis on drama, art and sports.
These were great educators ready to impart the best knowledge to their students. They were wonderful guides, excellent friends and very effective personal trainers. I owe a lot to the super gurus who developed a love of learning and knowledge into me.
I acted on stage in two Shakespearean plays Julius Caesar (Cassius) and The Merchant of Venice (Basanio). Our school drama club had presented these on stage at the school hall and in a few theatres in Lautoka and Nadi. Acting in these plays built my confidence and self-esteem and I became a better public speaker.
I was a Non Commanding Officer (NCO) in the Natabua Cadet Squadron. This was part of the total education at Natabua. Our commanding Officers were our teachers who taught us the discipline required in the army. Our field exercises included jungle training and platoon marching exercises with our rifles that had their firing pins removed and the bullets in the magazines were blanks.
One afternoon I was disciplined for poor performance when I giggled at the way the Commander gave us the command and his large belly shook heavily. I was given the task to march from the school ground to the Natabua Junction with the rifle hanging across the shoulder. This took me about an hour to complete and I was very exhausted at the end of it. I had to be taken to the sickbay for treatment because I had dehydrated badly.
I represented the school four times in Oratory contests in Lautoka’s Globe Theatre and came back with a Shield once and a Trophy twice. We also took part in various debating competitions at times. Presentations of speeches and debates were of very high quality and we always had a full house in the halls. My topics for the oratory even then used to deal with rural versus urban life, war and peace and the need for happy family life.
Life at this prestigious High School was full of fun and we had fantastic opportunity to develop various important skills and talents. I was intrigued by the display of honesty and integrity by one of my favourite teachers at school. His name was Rohan Prasad, a Science and Maths graduate from Auckland University. His teaching style was unique because he practiced discovery method and believed in discipline and democracy in the classroom.
He was greatly instrumental in motivating me to become a teacher myself. His love of Hindi Language was great and I am thankful to him for encouraging me to keep up to date with my Hindi Language studies. Literary works of Prem Chand, Kabir, Rahim, Tulsidas and Soordas made us appreciate the various aspects of total human living. We enjoyed the dohas from the olden and golden books.
Kabir’s couplets had a very powerful influence on my personal development: Aisee Vani Boliye, Mun Ka Aapa Khoye Apna Tan Sheetal Kare, Auran Ko Sukh Hoye
Literally translated it goes like this: Speak such words, that ego's ploy Body remains composed, giving the listener joy
This Doha is a gem. It deals with human psychology, metaphysics and a basic tenet of the Indian philosophy. The ancient poets of the Vedic literature have laid tremendous emphasis on speech. They have mentioned in innumerable shlokas that our speech has a direct connection with our actions. They proclaimed that sound and sight are the underlying source of all vibrations. This has been scientifically proven repeatedly.
We know that all sounds create vibrations and these vibrations affect both the speaker and the listener. Soothing, compassionate and loving words breed togetherness, while harsh speech breeds hatred. We also know that human speech is one of the main ingredients that differentiate humankind from the rest of the animal kingdom. Very early in my student days I learnt that the word listen can be altered into silent without adding or subtracting any letter so in order to listen well one must be silent.
Thus, Kabir, in this Doha crystallizes the power of the spoken word. He teaches us to speak in such a manner that keeps us harmonious and composed thereby making the listener feel a sense of joy in the communication.
We were asked by our teachers to experiment ourselves and rediscover the power of the spoken word. We have been trying our best to do this. In this process, we have enriched our life with not only Kabir but also Rahim. These activities made me come alive with new ideas like these:
Dheere Dheere Re Mana, Dheere Sub Kutch- hoye Mali Seenche So Ghadha, Ritu Aaye Phal Hoye
Of course, Dohas of Tulsidas and Soordas have always intrigued me. All the love for such ingrained interest is rightfully dedicated to my favourite teacher Rohan Prasad.
At the end of my four fruitful years at Natabua, I became a well-developed student with excellent records in Literature, Mathematics, Social Sciences and Accounting. I passed my Fiji Junior Certificate and Overseas Cambridge School Certificates in the B Division and was advised to take teaching as a career by my careers’ teachers. I just followed their advice.
At Natabua, I cannot forget the healthy contributions of my friends such as Reginald Vinod Nand, Uttam Chandra, Ameer Khan, Moti Chandra, Kantilal, Asmatullah Khan, Sadik Koya, Shiu Charan, Purushottam Reddy, Shikandar Khan, Parmanand and Babu Bhai just to mention a few that we managed to keep in touch with after leaving school. They all turned out to be great scholars and leaders in their respective communities.
It was at this High School where I understood that a best friend was hard to find and lucky to have and no person would be useless as long he had a few faithful and honest friends.
It has been this bond of friendship that has allowed us to explore our depths with non- judgmental feedback and supportiveness over the years. I was often told and believed that good friends are like stars. You do not always see them, but you know they are always there.
All my friends were great and we still honour each other’s words, thoughts and deeds. A lot of my personal development is a credit to my friends and colleagues. I loved Khalil Gibran’s words on this issue, “For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness. In addition, in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."
My teachers contributed a lot through their motivational pursuits and excellent guidance and I owe them a lot for all these developments. What I am today is the direct result of good family life education, excellent primary education at Sabeto Indian School and a balanced educational development at Natabua High School.
My initial professional preparation at Nasinu Teachers’ College was very good foundation to proceed in the pursuit of excellence in educational field. One of my mentors of the training days was a person called John L Stevens, who in many respects guided me and provided me with excellent opportunities to further my teaching career.
In 1958, I went to Nasinu Teachers’ College to be trained as a teacher. I stayed there for two years and graduated to teach as a primary school teacher. I was posted to teach in Vanualevu, Labasa in 1960. I was put on an annual salary of 240 pounds, which was high up in the ladder of salary scale for civil servants.
Life at Nasinu Teachers’ College was very difficult for the first year because I was a rural youth and in the beginning, I was not able to freely and confidently socialise with the other urban-based students. However, when I gradually learnt to assimilate and meet the challenges facing me I began to mix well with everyone. Two years moved very fast and I made many friends whilst there.
It was at this institution that I began to behave like an adult because my colleagues were all very responsible and mature individuals. My close friends such as Keshwa, Hari, Prushottan, Shiu and Chandraiya were in my team of socialisation. It was here that I had made some very good friends from the Fijian community and started appreciating their culture and customs a lot more sensibly. Netani Rika, Ilaitia Damu, Mereoni Samusamuvodre and Susana Sotutu were my favourite from whom I learnt the Fijian language and culture to get by in the community.
My first year was spent in serious studies and getting to know the environment and the colleagues. Whilst at Nasinu Teachers’ College, I continued my studies from London School of Accountancy as an external student with the help of the Vice Principal John L Stevens. He was instrumental in guiding me to complete my Diploma in Accountancy in November 1958. This boosted my ego and my status at the College so much so much that I was elected as the Treasurer of the Students’ Council in 1959. This was a very responsible leadership position and I managed to perform the tasks and responsibilities with dignity and dexterity.
While the lecturers at the college prepared us fully by giving us the skills of teaching, they also provided many opportunities for us to participate in sporting activities, hobbies and fine arts. I played soccer and hockey for the College B Teams that met every Saturday at the Albert Park Grounds. The rationale behind all these activities was that we needed to be trained in body, mind and character in order to ably fit into the society that we were posted to as qualified teachers after our professional preparation.
After introducing us to the initial theoretical teaching skills, we were sent to do our teaching practice for six weeks twice a year at selected nearby schools where experienced teachers became our mentors and we learnt to put the theory into practice with their professional guidance.
During the first year, I did my practical teaching very successfully at the St Columbus Primary and Samabula Government Primary Schools in Suva. In the second year, I taught at Naitasiri Baharatiya School in Nausori and at Deenbandhu Primary School in Suva. The associate teachers as well as the Head Teachers of these schools provided many valuable professional and technical tips to teach effectively and efficiently.
During the second year at College, I met my dream girl, the person of my life and fell in love at first sight. She became the reason for my existence and I used to find excuses to keep her in sight at all times. While supervising the duties of students as a Member of the Students Council I made frequent trips to the college library every morning just to get a glimpse of her and exchange a few words. As a religious fundamentalist then, I had faith in my new relationship and it was this faith that gave me a priest-like integrity to keep moving with determination towards that lovely destination.
She came to me as a divine gift like a fresh pink lotus and a pure gift of love and I accepted her as my saviour, my guide and my everything. She opened my eyes to the new world of love, beauty and wisdom. Definitely, this was for a reason and that was that we were made for each other. We were the soul mates and cared a lot for the happiness and peace of each other.
These interactions and exchanges kept increasing and we were fortunate to share the same table in the dining hall for a year. Our conversations and chats were professional and we kept developing our affection for each other because a lot of our likes and dislikes seemed congruent and matching. I developed a liking for a Hindi song all because of her. This explains my true feeling for her.
- Rahoon kaise main tum ko nihare bina re mora mun hi na mane tumhare bina.
In return, she gave me her favourite couplet that has a lot of meaning in our life.
- Jeewan ke safar me rahee milten hain bichad jaane ko Aur de jaaten hain yaaden humko tadpaaneko
Very few of our friends and colleagues knew that we were developing our romance to lead us to the ultimate ending of making a family life together. When the year ended, I graduated and she was left to complete another year at the College. I was sent out on my teaching assignment to Labasa the main town on the island of Vanualevu but regular telephone calls and letters kept our love lamp alive and active. In those days, two of my friends who were working for the telephone company helped me get free telephone calls once a month.
I was no actor or artist as such but I kept my dramatic skills alive at Nasinu by acting on stage as the lead role in the epic play Chandragupta and toured to perform at all centres of Fiji during the school holidays. I also acted in short plays at the Lilac Theatre. Andrew Gaya Prasad and Ram Harakh directed our stage shows and radio plays and provided us with many dramatic and acting skills, which further improved our role and image as teachers. The continued participation in these dramatic areas developed our communication skills, our confidence and improved our social living skills generally.
I did multiple radio plays, presented many short stories known as Geeton Bhari Kahania for Radio Fiji, and wrote other short stories and poems in various Hindi newspapers like Jagriti, Shanti Dut and Fiji Samachar. It is not my natural inclination to bend the truth but I did this under the pseudonym of Ghayal and made many real stories look like fiction. Truth bending was something I had to do as an outlet to my emotions.
After spending two long years at the College, I graduated as a primary school teacher in December 1959 and when I reached home my parents, who had organized a big party for me, welcomed me. My father was very happy to see me as a teacher because this was his dream. His happiness at this party was immeasurable when he kept telling the family members and friends about the great work I had done to fulfill his dream and ambition. His joy turned into sadness when I told him that I had to go to Vanua Levu and teach in Labasa but he accepted it as my duty to serve the community.
I began teaching at Vuo Bharaiya School in Vunika in Labasa in 1960. I developed a very intimate relationship with the community and whilst I lived in the public quarter in the school compound I spent most of my after school hours at the homes of mature people like Shiu Narayan, Shareef, Santram, Krishna, Shree the taxi driver and many others. They were all mature adults with strong family ties and were my regular partners during fishing trips, picnics and all other outdoor and religious village activities.
An old man Nagu was my immediate neighbour, who visited me regularly in the evenings with the pretext of lighting my Tilley lamp to give light in my dark home. This kerosene lamp needed methylated spirit to heat it before it could be lit. Nagu used to light the lamp and then drink the left over spirit but I caught him red-handed one day and showed him the warning on the bottle that read: is ko pine wala andha ho sakta hai. He immediately replied that ho sakta hai lekin hoga nahi.
I met this old man after eight years in Vunika and he was as strong and bright as he was when I saw him using methylated spirit as his fuel. His son Subramani became a good friend of mine who accompanied me on my shooting, hunting and fishing trips.
As a young man, I played soccer for the Wanderers Team and enjoyed hockey for the Teachers’ Team. Later I organized an association of young people to play soccer and other sports at the school grounds. These events became a good source of get together for the young people and a revenue earner for the school committee.
As I lived in a public quarter (house) on the school compound, I had to do my own cooking and looked after my housework. I smoked very heavily and got into a company of people who were very heavy drinkers of all sorts of alcohol. In 1962, my salary was revised to three hundred and eighty pounds annually but in those days, this was not enough to live as lavishly as I was living. Therefore, in four years when I completed my country service in LA and returned home to Sabeto I had a debt of over 1000 Pounds in Labasa. This was paid later when I got married.
My teaching service in Vanualevu was very interesting because I loved the community and served them well and in return, they gave me good respect and treatment. I used to visit friends in various areas to go for pigeon shooting, pig hunting and fishing trips to the ocean. There never was a dull moment and everyone in Vanualevu was so kind and considerate to me. Some of my weekends were spent in driving taxis for friends and I loved this part time job.
During these school holidays, I used to go home to Sabeto and it was here that my father taught me many additional skills of farming. These very interesting and adventurous activities gave me a lot of confidence and self-esteem. Of course, it also provided special bonding with my father who began treating me like his friend and shared many ideas about family life. I would have been a lot poorer without these social interactions.
While serving in Vanualevu I began studying for my degree from Massey University of NZ through correspondence and completed History I and Education I despite so many difficulties of delayed posts and scarcity of textbooks. This was difficult but very encouraging step for me when one of my teacher friends Deo Narayan a graduate of Auckland University acted as my tutor.
One of the advantages of studying history was in the models of action that great men had taken through the centuries. The actions of great people made us realize the importance of peace, war and conflict. As a history student, I learnt to be more pragmatic, cold eyed and calculating and these traits helped me to cull out my future even better.
After serving Vuo for three years, I was transferred to Tabia Sanatan School and developed an excellent relationship with the community there as well. Like the Vunika community, the Tabia people were very helpful to me as well. My relationship with them was very family-like. I bonded well with Udho and Madhai families and the Jwala Prasad family treated me as their additonal relative. It was here that Kamla Prasad became my adopted brother and later I arranged his marriage from our home in Sabeto to Maya, daughter of a Lautoka businessman.
My service in Tabia taught me to be more confident, trusting and independent all because I had wonderful motley of people around me after school. The people were kind, faithful and very helpful to me. They were always prepared to take me into their family and give me all the respect. One of my village friends Hari Prasad was my great pig and pigeon-hunting companion during the weekends.
It was with him that I found out how to brew your own liquor. He had an outlet up in the hills in the forest near a running stream. His container of fermented mixture with fruits and other ingredients was placed on one side of the stream. The thin bamboo sticks with punctured knots were fixed to the spout of that container and pasted with clay so that they transferred the steam from the kettle through the stream to condense into drops of alcohol in a container.
The container was heated to let the steam evaporate and pass through it. These connected bamboo sticks were made to pass through the cold running water of the stream. On the other side of the stream was a large plastic container where the steam condensed and turned into liquid that was our homebrewed alcohol that we enjoyed after the hunting spree that gave us good roasted pork and char grilled pigeons.
Time was still flying while I was having fun with friends in Vanua Levu. My future was calling me to stand up and be counted. We all have some dark sides in our life and it is human instinct to detect our weaknesses at the right time and quickly find that important button which opens the door to our brighter side. I was a bachelor for four years in Labasa but because of the company I kept and the communal activities I did, I never faced any social or communal problems.
By now, people began to call me RL and I served the Education Workers Society as their secretary and then Executive member of the Fiji Teachers’ Union Labasa Branch until my transfer to Nadi's Sabeto Muslim School in 1964. The communal and social interactions enabled me to spill out what was in my heart. In fact that was the best thing I could do. I was in love and I needed to settle down. There was no such thing as success unless a man was also ‘settled’.
God is never cruel and there is always a reason for all things. Love is or it is not. I knew this because for me love was flourishing. I began to see a different man in me. I became a person who was ready and prepared to enter a very vital phase of living. Since I had been raised to believe I began to see things clearly for my new life. There was a lot to do, think, ponder, cogitate, reflect and wonder.
It was at this time that I began to feel that if there was God then he would not tolerate such atrocities that were happening in the world. I wanted to rebuke him and question his existence for not being able to provide peace, prosperity and progress for the people. Then I was terrified as well at the thought that I might be cursed as a punishment for my disobedience and disloyalty. So I joined in harder prayers to say that I took back what I thought and said about God.
I was 24 years old and had never questioned the inevitability of marriage. Of course, it was the duty of my father to find me a wife. Sometime back, he had asked me to settle down and I had confessed to him that I had found a girl that I would get married when everything turned out good. He left the matter of marriage to me. Life is too short to live without our own desires, let alone the desires of another.
This is where my married life began with my wife Saroj. Our marriage date was auspicious because everything was done by the religious books but my family did not follow traditions blindly. We got married a day after my 24th birthday on 19th January 1964. After our marriage, we lived at the family home and started teaching at Sabeto Muslim School. This life was vivid, strange, and at times tumultuous but I began to see beauty in it. The beauty that had more faces than beaches have grains of sand. There was no return from this aspiration and bliss.
Actual preparations for my wedding ceremony started early in January when my parents began conducting various cultural activities for this important event of my life. Since their eldest son was getting married, they had invited all the family members and the entire village rallied behind the family to see that everything was conducted well. It all started with the Tilak ceremony when my father in law, Chandar Pal Sharma came with some of his male family members to confirm the marriage.
Among the Hindus, this Tilak ceremony holds an important position when the selected male family members from the bride’s side visit the groom’s residence and perform the cultural rituals. After all the rituals, the bride’s father offers gifts to the groom and his family members.
The bride’s brother marking formal engagement places a ceremonial tika on the forehead of the groom. This was done for me in 1964 on 11th January in the evening when the Sharma Family members Pt.CPSharma, Pt. KPSharma, JPSharma and Vinod Sharma came to our residence to conduct the ceremony.
These were the first twenty-four fruitful years of my life and I dedicate these good years to the healthy interaction with my grandparents, my parents, my family members and friends. I was betrothed and ready to lead a family life of my own with my soul mate Saroj.
I was a role model for many young people in the village and to my only brother Vijendra and my six sisters Vidya, Shiumati, Kushma, Upma, Suman, and Sarla. They too in turn enriched my life through their healthy interactions and contributions. Figuratively speaking my seventh sister stabbed us in the back and this is the reason I am not counting her among my siblings.
Life after marriage in Sabeto was very interesting but difficult. Our marriage ceremony was done very well with equal enthusiasm from both sides of the families. We went through all the reasonable and sensible steps of Hindu marriage and felt extremely at home performing all the duties that the enlightened priests and our parents asked us to do.
My brother-in-law Lal Chand made me dress like a king. I had a special headgear called maur and my yellow robe with the added sashes and cummerbund made me look like a real ruler and king of Sabeto ready to travel to Nabua in Samabula to wed the queen of my heart. I remember watching everything around me with eagerness through the tinsel strings that dangled from the light yellow turban.
After completing all the weeklong ceremonies, the procession of some fifty family members and friends left Sabeto for Samabula. We began our journey in the morning of Saturday the 18th of January 1964 my 24th birthday. After a cut lunch at the foothill of Galoa Range along the cool riverside midway on the dusty Queens’ Road, we reached our destination by five in the afternoon. When the busload of people and the music cab that had carried us arrived at 6 Nabua Road the Sharma family and their representatives very warmly welcomed us.
Before sitting on the holy seat of the special mandap, I learnt many good things about my wife Saroj. A divine thought that has never escaped my mind is that she became the special person who was going to be an inseparable part of my life. She was the one whom you give any oyster and she could give you the best quality pearl from it.
This is how she was able to enrich the whole life and living styles of the Prasad Family. So I was blessed with a pretty swan that turned to be the bright light of my life and the lotus of my lovely pond.
After the wedding ceremonies were conducted and concluded we rested for the night and left Sabeto the next morning of Sunday the 19th January with the greatest treasure of my life. Saroj had to be uprooted from her family so the departure was naturally very painful for everyone. She cried with the family and I felt her sadness but our happiness was awaiting for us elsewhere.
The journey back to Sabeto from Nabua took us to a family life that was new and exciting for both of us. We were determined to embark on this adventure with all sincerity and devotion.
Many personal adjustments were needed and we were proud to accept those for over a year. That night Saroj and I prayed to the Almighty God to give us the strength to conduct our family life with dignity. The next day was Monday 20th January and as the custom demanded, Saroj was taken back to her parents’ home by her brother Vinod in a taxi. This break gave me an opportunity to make some serious infrastructure changes to our home, bathroom, toilets and water supply but I could not make it anywhere even nearer an urban living. After these temporary adjustments were completed, I travelled to Suva to bring my Saroj from her family. She arrived in our Botini Home on January 29th 1964. We began living as wife and husband in our home at the farm.
My wife Saroj went through many stresses and strains while she was living with my extended family in Sabeto. Now when we look back to those days, we have some very fond memories that have definitely enriched our life. We had many difficulties but there were more ups than downs. Saroj was one of the greatest positive thinkers and survived the ordeals of rural living and limitations by accepting the challenges happily and with dignity.
We managed to live in a rural setup with various limitations such as poor water supply, lack of electricity and no toilet facilities. Our kitchen was a makeshift shed with stone stoves that later changed into a primus and gas burner. We walked a long distance to report to work but we felt a deep sense of duty and responsibility to keep moving to serve the community and our extended family.
Our teaching assignment was at Sabeto Muslim School. Every day we walked to and from home along the dusty gravel road for five miles for good first half of that year.
My grandfather could not bear the suffering of his grand-daughter in law and paid the initial deposit of 250 pounds for our first new car, Dutsun Bluebird that cost us 750 pounds. Our travelling and life became a lot easier and smoother after we had the luxury of our new car.
My father was supportive of our rural living but my mother was a bit indifferent towards my wife. Maybe it was because of her own earlier background and upbringing. Whatever it was, we managed our early family life well for a year, which included our honeymoon to Levuka in the first term school holidays. Our stay at the Royal Hotel was very interesting and the boat trip from mainland to the old capital city of Fiji, Levuka was exciting and eventful.
Saroj still had to draw water from the deep well, wash clothes on the stone, have cold shower, cook in the makeshift kitchen, make do with the limited toilet facilities and look after the interests of her nagging mother in law and demanding sisters in law. She continued to do the schoolwork and care for my needs as well. To make matters worse she began suffering from her morning sickness after conceiving our first child.
However, her good personality and calm and collected attitude as well as her family upbringing made her bear all these silently with pleasure and tolerate all the difficulties, hardships and odd behaviour of some of the extended family members. In the process, we did learn and experience the truth of the olden Indian belief of the difficult and unforgiving mother in law.
A year passed reasonably happily in Sabeto making us experience various aspects of difficult rural living. We managed to get a transfer to Nakaulevu Primary School in Navua in 1965 and started teaching there by occupying a public quarter (house). Our family life changed a lot for the better and our first child Praanesh was born on 6th March 1965 at CWMH Anderson Maternity Unit under the care of Dr DJ Lancaster.
This was the most wonderful moment of our life. We had become parents to a very beautiful and healthy baby boy and we started looking after him with all our love, care and interest. We decided that all our children would have an eight-letter first name because the figure 8 was good sign for us and gave us eight most needed attributes of humanity that our children had to master. These included: academic, brilliant, courteous, dexterous, effective, faithful, graceful and honest.
Praanesh for us really meant our life and soul. He was all we had until 30th June 1967 when our life was filled with our first daughter Praneeta. She was as pretty as her name and as precious as the most expensive diamond in the world for us. Her arrival made us richer and gave great solace, satisfaction and sense of fulfilment to us. We were blessed with a son and a daughter to make us a complete family but we had wish for more.
In those two fruitful years of our early-married life, we made a lot of progress and enjoyed our service to the people. We managed to buy a freehold land at Lami near Suva from one of our friends, Mahesh Prasad of Nakaulevu.
He immediately transferred the land in our name by allowing us to meet regular payments for the next two and half years to enable us to obtain housing loan to build our first home on our land.
This kind gesture made us borrow two thousand pounds from the Home Finance Company of Fiji and start building our own first home. Saroj’s Dada Durga Prasad made the plan for the house and it took almost six months to build.
We hired a carpenter by the name of Suruj Bali and helped him erect the house slowly. After our hard day of schoolwork, Saroj and I worked with the labourers every afternoon and the weekends.
We were transferred to Suva’s Nehru Memorial School in 1967 after my retraining at the University of the South Pacific as an English Specialist Teacher. While our house was being built, we rented the Sharma House at 6 Nabua Road. To supplement our income we had to do extra tutorial and other work.
Saroj and I taught children after school and I worked as a bookkeeper for a few Suva business people. I worked as an insurance agent for Life Insurance Corporation of India. The income from these additional sources gave us enough funds to keep building our first home.
Some envious people who reported our supplementary work activities to the Education Officials could not tolerate our progress and hard work. We were given a punitive transfer to Taveuni but we objected, appealed, and got that move changed to Nakaikongo in Nausori. My fight with the corrupt officials of the Education Department began that year and I turned to become a very active member of the Fiji Teachers’ Union.
By this time, our home was ready and we had moved in but travelled daily to and from Nakaikongo. The school was across the Rewa River and we had to cross the river on a hanging bridge by walking the muddy path for a kilometre to reach the school but we managed and survived the ordeals. We had to wear gumboots to make this daily trip safely.
Because of our good work in 1968, I was appointed as Head Teacher of Rishikul Primary School and then within a year because of our financial difficulties I asked for a transfer back to Nakaulevu so that we could rent our house and release the pressure of meeting various outstanding payments. On 29th September 1968, we were blessed with our second daughter whose birth gave us a lot of hope, happiness and faith, hence the name, Harshita. She came as the Goddess Luxmi amidst us and solved many of our financial difficulties.
We began enjoying our public service at Nakaulevu and on various occasions, my grandfather (Aja) and Saroj’s grandmother (Iba Nani) used to come and live with us to help us look after our children. Our house cleaner and maid Daya was a great help to us as well.
Accidents do happen, when one day while playing with a few coins at home Harshita, at the age of 18 months, put a shilling coin in her mouth, and it slipped down her throat. When we rushed her to CWM Hospital Dr Shiu Ramrakha, the surgeon tried to pull it out but when that was not possible he pushed it further down into her stomach so that it could come out the other end later. It did after a day and we were relieved. We kept this coin as a souvenir until the floods of 1972 swept it away to the Pacific Ocean.
As Head Teacher of this school, I helped the village in many of their reforms and organized a variety of programmes to enrich the school generally. The country became independent on 10th October 1970 and I actively participated in the politics of the nation as well as the Union, thus gaining a lot of respect and honour from the community we were serving.
As if our family life was not yet complete, so we decided to have another child and consequently Saroj gave birth to another son on 29th September 1971 and we called him Rohitesh. He was our last born and very delicately handled at all times. As per our wedding pledge, we began the process of raising our four children with great care and responsibility. We decided that we would do everything in our power and means to ensure their best growth and development.
Life progressed very well for us and in May of 1972, I went to Russia (USSR) as a guest of the Federation of Labour for five weeks and thoroughly toured Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Orissa. This trip was very educational for me because I gained a lot of experience and knowledge about political parties and unionism. On my return journey, I visited the unions and political parties in India and Singapore.
While I was away, Saroj managed the family and the schoolwork with great skills and responsibility. We were fortunate to get her grandmother who kept her company during this difficult time. Other family members also came to her help.
In October 1972, Navua faced its biggest natural disaster when hurricane Bebe brought flood to the area. Our house went under water and we suffered a lot of loss to our properties. Our car was swept away and we took refuge in the school building with our four children and other village people. I had to go out in small boats to rescue stranded people whose homes were uninundated. Navua bridge was destroyed and all transportation to and from Suva stopped but after the floods receded Saroj’s parents managed to travel to us and brought the needed food and water for us and helped us clean the house. They took our children away with them and looked after them for a week.
Later that year I was selected to represent the Fiji Teachers’ Union to conduct a job evaluation exercise for the teachers of Fiji to improve their terms and conditions of service and salaries. The team spent three months doing this project and came up with an historical report that gave the teachers of Fiji greater respect and place in the community and improved their salaries as well as the terms and conditions considerably.
I continued with my interest to improve my qualifications and by this time, I had completed a few requirements from Massey University as well as from the University of the South Pacific (USP) towards my Bachelor’s degree. Then the Fiji government recognizing this effort, awarded me an in-service scholarship in 1973 to complete my studies at the university. The scholarship was for four years but I completed my Bachelor of Arts degree with a Graduate Certificate in Education in three years and was posted as Head of Department Languages to Gospel High School in Suva.
We moved into our own house in Lami and Saroj while teaching at Suva Grammar School was also awarded the same scholarship by the government in 1976 to complete her studies. She completed her Bachelor of Education and was appointed Senior Lecturer in English at Nasinu Teachers’ College in 1978.
I was promoted as Senior Education Officer to work at the English Department of the Curriculum Development Unit of Education Department. Everything began to move very well for us professionally and financially.
Our four children were attending Suva Grammar School by now and we had sorted and eased many of our financial problems. However, to get into better financial position we reorganized our life a little. All our children were doing well and we had reached prestigious positions in our work situation.
Therefore, we decided to sell our Lami home in 1979. We made good profit out of this deal and moved to our new home in Laucala Beach Estate.
This was a very large and prestigious home located in a very elite suburb of Nasinu. We enjoyed living happily in it for five good years. By now, we had a new car AQ361, a Toyota Cressida and kept two pet dogs called Lucy and Rodger, German Shepherds. Unfortunately, they were poisoned by some people and had to be cremated in the property.
While living there I formed an association of residents to look after the interest of the area and help beautify the place. Dr Timoci Bavandra was the President and I was chosen the first secretary of the Laucala Beach Estate Residents’ Association. We planted many trees along the road side to beautify the estate and enable walking people to get some shade.
Chapter Twenty- Two
I was elected to the Executive Council of the Fiji Teachers’ Union as their International Relations Officer and from 1979 to 1984 went on various overseas assignments to USA, Canada, South America, Japan, Hongkong, Singapore and New Zealand. These trips, though they were educational and beneficial for me, became very taxing for Saroj and my family because I could not give them enough attention as a husband and as a father.
While working as a Senior Lecturer Saroj did a wonderful work in keeping the children at school and looking after their interests at home. I have never felt more indebted to her in my entire life for sharing this great family and personal responsibility.
As a compensatory gift, I took her on a world tour in 1983 December school holidays just before we moved to Ba. We went through America, moved to Canada, then to UK. We returned to Fiji through Dubai, India, Singapore and Australia.
However, some form of madness had entered into my mind temporarily and I began to act indifferently towards my family for a while. During these spurts of lunacy I even began to act violently towards my wife and children.
Saroj felt the need to reinstate my original conduct and asked and assisted me to learn to control my deteriorating temper. Consequently, after some therapy I gained my previously ingrained loving behaviour and kinder disposition to the advantage and benefit of my family but it had tarnished my relationship somewhat and took long to re-establish. We managed to overcome the setback gradually.
Things kept moving well from my rejuvenated self and as time passed and situations improved, I was very well established at Laucala Beach Estate. We regained our bond of love and passion and started living a family life that excelled every aspect of our living. We have never looked back to those few darker days of our life but it did leave a bitter taste in our relationship.
No amount of apology and feelings of sadness and sorrow would make me completely get over it. It is even harder for the other members of my family, especially Saroj, to forget those temporary but treacherous episodes but I know that she, being a person of great wisdom and compassion, has forgotten those events but I rightly think that she would not be able to completely forgive me for my trespasses. Life went on and we made our needed amends for the better living.
My parents who were living happily in our Sabeto home had earlier decided to sell their property because their native lease was going to expire soon. They moved to Suva and after living with us for a while in Nakaulevu. We helped them relocate in Nadera.
I helped my parents buy a Crown Land in Nasinu from Housing Authority and they moved there to build their own house. My parents were no longer the hard working, carefree and independent farmers. They had to adjust to a new type of urban living because Nasinu at that time was fast developing into a busy satellite town.
My parents had difficulty adjusting to this new environment and unusual situation in Nasinu because they no longer had the luxury of a regular income and they had to look after the increasing needs and demands of their five grown up daughters. They had to make new friends; found it hard to get around because the type of transportation had changed; various types of noise were bothering them; they were getting frustrated with life generally and above all the cost of living was a lot higher because self sufficiency of the farm was gone.
However, we had to find some means of earning for them and guided them. Therefore, my father began to act as an intermediary or a middleman at the Suva Market and then he started lending money to needy people who he could trust. Thus, the difficulty of irregular income was somewhat resolved. The increasing educational, social, cultural and travelling demands from the five daughters had to be met adequately.
Gradually my father was able to find good husbands for four of his daughters and was happy to marry them into good homes. We were happy to see that the burden of looking after the family had eased and my parents began to relax.
Time moved on and because we were thinking of migrating to Australia eventually, we decided to sell our Laucala Beach property as well. We managed to find a good buyer in 1983 and made reasonable profit on the sale of our home. Around this time, Praanesh was sent to Brisbane to complete his High School studies at Indooroopilly State High School. He lived at 19 Warren Street with Saroj’s parents but later moved to a rented accommodation when he was at Queensland University of Technology doing his mechanical engineering degree..
My transfer as Head of Western Division Advisory Unit of Secondary Schools happened in June 1984 and I had to stay in a government allocated house in Ba. This happened while my family had to stay in Suva because my children could not be disturbed from their school and my wife could not get a transfer. I commuted to Ba every Monday mornings and returned to Suva on Fridays. This continued until the end of the year when our children finished their studies in Suva.
Saroj was transferred to Ba as Head of Department Languages, Praneeta and Harshita were sent to Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School but Rohitesh began attending Xavier College in Ba. Harshita could not settle comfortably into the boarding life in Brisbane and had to return to join Rohitesh at Xavier College. I continued doing my work as Divisional Education Officer Secondary Schools in the Westerm Division looking after all the secondary schools from Sigatoka to Raki Raki.
I was invited to join the Rotary Club of Ba in 1985 by one of Saroj’s uncles Dhijendra Singh and eventually became the President of that successful Club in 1986. This turned out to be the door to my retirement and change of work because I was offered a lucrative position of Director Human Resources with the Motibhai Group of Companies in Nadi. I took an early retirement from the Government of Fiji and joined this Group of Companies in 1987.
We had to move to Nadi into our new company residence and were allocated a new 929 Mazda company car. Saroj was transferred as Head of English Department in Nadi. Harshita and Rohitesh went to Natabua High School to complete their respective forms five and six education.
We experienced the brunt of Fiji’s first coup- de- tat in May 1987 but felt no disadvantage at all. Life continued as usual for us until we were ready to send our remaining children overseas. In 1988, Rohitesh went to Brisbane Boys’ Grammar School and Harshita was sent to Victoria University in Wellington New Zealand to continue her tertiary study.
By this time, Praanesh was attending Queensland University of Technology as an engineering student and Praneeta was a first year science student at the University of Queensland. All our children were reaping the benefit of Saroj’s responsible motherhood and excellent child rearing.
After completing his studies, Praanesh got married to Ranitta, daughter of our College mate Regina Prasad. This was our first big function and we tried to do our best despite the death of Saroj’s father a few weeks before the wedding. Both Anand and Regina, our daughter in law’s parents were very supportive.
Time kept moving and we were able to conduct successful marriages for our daughters Praneeta and Harshita. Their weddings took place in Brisbane and we travelled from Fiji to perform the important duties. We were very pleased with the ceremonies and the contributions of the respective families in making the events turn out well. Harshita travelled from Wellington with Naresh Patel and his family to get married.
Saroj too was promoted to her former position of Senior Lecturer English at the Lautoka Teachers’ College. She had to buy a car to travel the distance from our Mountain View Home to her work place every day and visit schools to inspect the work of her students. After our Cressida was sold after ten years at the same price that we bought it off as new from Automotive Supplies, her white Toyota Corolla BU152 began giving her the same service.
In the meantime, I decided to continue my studies as well and finished up with my double degrees of M.B.A. and D.B.A. majoring in Human Resource Management from California in 1991. We made serious efforts to reapply to migrate to Australia when Praanesh was married and with Ranitta they acted as our sponsors.
We went through many hassles to get through this application because the Australian Authorities in Canberra declared us obese and overweight. Because of this declaration and the strictness of their representative doctor Shamma Raj, we had to go through a rigorous weight loss programme to arrange a loss of over 20kg each. We learnt at that time that other applicants who were more obese than we were, managed to get past this hurdles because they had different doctor to provide them the certificate of health and fitness. I managed to do so but Saroj had to be helped with a strong logical and medical plea from her private doctor Rodney Gerona of Sigatoka.
Finally, we were given all clear to migrate to Australia in 1994 so I gave my intentions to resign from my work and moved to Natabua where Saroj was allocated a government quarters (residence). I still worked with the Company until I helped them find a replacement for me. On 31st January 1995, we flew to Brisbane to settle down as permanent residents.
We faced many problems initially but as soon as our home was completed at 95 Church Road in Bellbowrie, we began to feel relieved. All our children were well settled in their respective families except Rohitesh who was still with us. He was a great help to us until we found work for ourselves. Saroj began teaching at Leichart and I became a senior lecturer at the Brisbane Education and Training Centre, a reformatory for students needing rehabilitation.
We began enjoying our new life in Brisbane because of our determination to move ahead with vigour and control.
Saroj completed her Bachelor of Teaching (EC) from QUT, I did a few management, and computer courses at the training centre of the Australian Institute of Management where I was admitted as Fellow.(AIMF) Consequently, we were able to secure good jobs for us. Saroj started working as a Group
hen in 1996 came the big day for Rohitesh who got married to Tania and they moved to live in Sydney. At last, we felt very happy indeed that we were able to complete our parental responsibility with ease and were able to settle all our children in their respective family life. Wherever they were, they kept a very careful care of us and we enjoyed their love and attention very much.
Life in Brisbane kept moving well and we enjoyed our new style of living. Although we had our own worries, we were able to overcome these with careful and strategic planning. We sold our first home in 1999 and with the profit we bought our Bushlark Court home. This move eased a lot of financial pressure from our life.
My work situation became well established. I was confirmed in my appointment and was enjoying good income to support the family so Saroj could take a retirement. She needed to rest after so many years of hard work and dedicated family work. From 2000 she became my fulltime carer and an excellent domestic engineer for the Prasad Family of Bellbowrie.
We decided to reorganise our finances again and sold our Bushlark Court property. With the saving, we bought a piece of land at 76 Ghost Gum Street and built an affordable retirement home there in September 2001. This home turned out to be an ideal one for us because it was out of flood zone and was a lowset home to relax in old age.
We had achieved all our aims and were ready to retire so I took my long service leave in December 2005 and retired with lump sum superannuation to pay off the mortgage that we had on our house. However, Naresh and Harshita met that wish of ours thus leaving our superannuation fund intact to use during our retirement. They paid our mortgage of almost $90K.
Praneeta and Shalendra decided to get married in 2008 in Brisbane and they settled with their children in Moggill. They are a great source of inspiration and assistance to us because they live only two blocks away from us. We are always looking forward to their company with pleasure.
We have been enjoying the income from our pensions from the Australian and Fijian Governments and living a happy life visiting places and people. Our children are our greatest support; they are our valuable assets and we are loved, cared and looked after in all our needs by all of them. This is heavenly pleasure on this earth for us. We thank our children for their support.
Our joy and satisfaction comes from the unconditional love that our eight grand children shower on us and the kindness that our children bestow on us at all times. Nothing gives us more pleasure than to witness that they all are happy, fruitful, and well settled and flourishing in their own homes and living a life that they rightfully deserve. Our daily prayers include our hope and wish for their continued prosperity and welfare.
We now do not worry too much about the past events because God Almighty has given us all we asked for and we are fully content with everything we have. Our retirement is peaceful, enjoyable and harmonious. We wake up every morning, relax and say a few quiet prayers for the continued peace, prosperity and progress of the Prasad Family. Life is moving on smoothly.
Our day finishes with a game or two of scrabble in the harmony of the melodious tunes from various albums of ghazals, bhajans, kirtans and old songs. Listening to various kinds of music has made our life very meaningful so we keep listening and enjoying.
This is heaven on this earth for us. We wish for no more pleasures in our life. We have had it all and the only thing left is to thank everyone for making our life so pleasant and worthy. This we keep doing everyday in our prayers.
I am a proud product of a variety of education, economic, social and political institutions and have been in constant interaction with multiple intelligentsia but my greatest knowledge and all relevant information came from my family members. Whatever I gained in knowledge and skills from them could not have been delivered from any other source.
My wife, Saroj has been my most effective and real mentor. My four children, Praanesh, Praneeta, Harshita and Rohitesh, have given me ideas in abundance, practical hints and useful tools of living. I have learnt many skills of applied economics, investment techniques, frugality and excellent family relationship ideas from my daughter in law Ranitta and my two sons in law Naresh and Shalendra have enriched my total personality, my ability to tolerate things and my response to modern living.
My intelligent response to the future, my vivid realization to deal with the current circumstances and my enhanced feelings of love and affection have all delivered to me by the healthy and meaningful interactions with my eight grand children- Jaya, Meera, Hamish, Jayden, Anjali, Sonali, Elliott and Charlotte. My life would not have been complete without their enthusiastic contribution and participation.
They deserve my hearty appreciation in my total enrichment. We could not wish for any more joy than this. They are all very resourceful and intelligent to keep us enthusiastically interested in their welfare at all times.
We love all our children and grand children so much but are unable to adequately and truly express our internal feelings simply because our vocabulary is limited, our writing style is basic and our feelings are never ending.
This presentation is definitely not complete because there are many links to add and many gaps to fill. These could be done by my respective family members as the time and occasion permit them to do so.
I have done my share to give the reality a beginning but the real pleasure would reign when our children and grandchildren prosper to multiply their respective talents, contributions, participations and prosperity to surpass my very humble living, simple successes and probable prestige.
I would be gone but I know that despite some of my sour displays, I would not be forgotten for my personal duties and contributions in making this family worthy of its name. Although I will not be there to witness all the intriguing future developments, my soul will feel the joy of progress of all our people. I will rest in peace to witness all the enhancements of the Prasad Family.
I am confident that each and every member of this family would contribute to make this a flourishing enterprise and create their own respective financial, social and cultural niche in the community. My each day is a miracle that intoxicates me to want more but I have learnt to be contented. I greet each morning like a new pleasure, new discovery and new chapter of my remaining life. Come what may, I am ready and prepared for it.
We, Saroj and I, after a lot of trials and tribulations, have at last learnt to mind our own business, rest in peace but give our richest blessings to everyone in the family to keep moving ahead with added vigor.
On my own part, I sometime find it very difficult to reconcile some of the real sour events of my life. When I am alone I shed a few tears to wash my sins but I know fully well that they are hurting and making me suffer a lot internally. I do get some consolation and contentment from the belief that our entire life itself is full of various kinds of sufferings, difficulties and problems. We must learn to find our own solutions and overcome all our worries, sorrows and sadness.
I fully understand the thoughts of many people reading this that I resemble that legendary Tom Cat that turned vegetarian after eating so many rats and mice and went to pray at the temple to ask for mercy. I feel that the proverb Nabbe chuha khaye ke billar bhai bhaktin fits my predicaments well but what more can I do? I am only human and to err is human and forgive divine.
If I am given another life I wish to correct some of my sour points to relive a sweeter and more meaningful life. Although each of my days turns out to be a miracle that intoxicates me, I want to experience more so that I can greet every morning like a new pleasure.
I want a rebirth, a resurrection, an extra ordinary sensation so that I can live another life that is a lot more different from the one I already had. Even though I had full contentment, I want to do more, appreciate more and contribute more.
There should be no brooding over any unpleasantness. Life without any qualms and without compromises is possible. Is it possible? I will tell you when I return. I will make it a possibility. I would like to outline three of my last wishes that need to be told so that my family members do the right things after I am no more.
Firstly, I do not own many properties and as such everything that I associated with during my life time and are left behind, they all jointly belong to my family members. Each one is free to take whatever they want and whenever they want.
Secondly, I am a human being and I cried when I was born because I did not know what lay ahead for me. In fact what lay ahead of me has been outlined in the previous pages. Death for me is not to be mourned because it is a rejoicing episode of life that ends all our worries, calamities, difficulties and sufferings. Therefore, it is fitting that upon my death there is no mourning and that I should not be accorded any unnecessary religious customary and traditional rights.
At my funeral a few presentations of truthful words from my children for the people who gather at the Centenary Memorial Gardens and then my last right will be the incineration of my body. Just play or recite the Gayatri mantra one hundred and eight times. The incineration of my body should be the final right for me. That is why it is called Antim Sanskaar or The final Ceremony. I know my aatma or soul which is part and parcel of parmatma or Almighty God will merge with that Supreme Being and I would reach complete salvation.
There should be no customary and traditional ceremonies for me after I am gone. Just celebrate the truth, goodness and beauty of my living. This is the procedure that I would appreciate but if anyone of my children feels that I need more traditional and customary departure then they are free to do so.
Thirdly, I only wish that I am forgiven for all my trespasses, sins, errors and sourness that I inadvertently may have caused to my loved ones during my entire life. I seek the understanding of everyone for my good, bad and ugly deeds, words and thoughts. Lets us all see what tomorrow brings for us. Rejoice my sweetness and forget my sourness.
The Gayatri mantra that I intend to be recited at my departure is:
AUM BHOOR BHUWAH SWAHA, TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM BHARGO DEVASAYA DHEEMAHI DHIYO YO NAHA PRACHODAYAT.
We wish to finish this section of our presentation with our universal prayer.
Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life, Remover of pain and sorrow, The Bestower of happiness, Oh! The Creator of the Universe, May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light, May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.
Chapter Twenty- Five
PROGRESS AND DEVELOPMENTS OF THE PRASAD FAMILY
These are my personal reflections. I thank my parents and the Almighty God for allowing me to come into this world over seventy three years ago. I have persisted to continue on and breathe for as long as I can safely do so. I have continued to learn much grace and intelligence each and every day from everyone around me. My greatest learning has come from my family of four intelligent children, four wise additions as sons in law and daughters in law and eight grand children. I thank everyone for making me a person that I represent today.
As I have said on many forums before, no other intellegentia or educational agency has been able to give me such knowledge as I have gathered from my own children and grand children. They have taught me many lessons, showered their greatest love, given me utmost pleasure and pride and at times disliked my dispositions and corrected me. In the process I have been the greatest winner. They should always rejoice to know that I appreciated every bit of their contributions and intervention, good, bad and ugly.
We human beings are subject to a lot of things and one of those aspects is the realization of being right and wrong. This aspect makes us somewhat different from all the other species of animals. We are supposed to be the most intelligent of all living creatures on earth. However, many times we fail to honour this philosophy.
Even if I got it wrong at times I kept trying to make my wrongs to teach me the rights and my rights to show me my wrongs. I have always tried to be the ‘I’ in LIFE where love, freedom and education were my valuable tools of living. This is how I could see the difference between the right and the wrong. Thus I was always able to appreciate each moment of my life that I was given to enjoy.
I have always tried my best to sincerely understand everything and everyone and I know that I am an intellectual person about most matters in life yet deep down I fully know that there is much more to living a healthy, peaceful and enjoyable family life than just intellectually understanding everything and everyone. Everyone is ignorant in some field and I am no exception. Whenever and wherever I notice my ignorance I immediately accepted it as my downfall but I did not stop there and I endeavor to improve my faults.
I have come to comprehend that I do not understand a lot of things that affect us in life. In fact I have come to accept uncertainty. Part of my problem remains that I want to be certain of my uncertainty. This has been the hardest episode of my living. I have not been able to fully understand my purpose in life but I have always tried to do the best I could. In the process I have made many friends as well as created a few enemies. I do not mind this because that is humanity.
I know fully well that I am just passing ‘this way’ this one time and therefore I am certain that any good that I may do or any kindness that I may show to anyone has to be done now and here. So I cannot defer nor neglect this important aim or mission of my living because I may not pass ‘this way’ again. There may not be a second chance so I am determined to make the best of this coming. Consequently, I have decided to preach a gospel that I should try to be compassionate and kind to others and to myself. The question is “How”? Better late than never, I think.
I have often asked myself a very vital question- What are the most sincere and persistent efforts that I would like to make in my own life? I have been searching for a suitable answer to this important question – Who am I and What is my life’s purpose? In fact everyone who finds suitable answers to these questions is able to move ahead with determination and succeeds.
I have put my most persistent effort to this project but have failed many times and felt discouraged. However, the drive within me has been so strong internally that I learnt to get up again and continue to seek and find alternatives. I have come quite far from where I first started this difficult journey but I have a long way to go yet. I may not completely achieve my goal but I am leaving my thoughts for others to complete my mission.
One lesson that I have learnt along the way is that I must love my own self properly first before I can give my love to anyone else. Love is a feeling that is self generative and if one can generate it for oneself than it becomes very easy to give it to others. I wish to love all but I must first start by loving me. Sounds selfish but it has value for human living.
I also learnt that whenever I am doing something that is coming from within, it does not feel like work or task but feels like ‘vacation’. Instead of draining me and making me tired, it simply energizes me. I also found out that it really helped me to be on this path and peaceful journey because I have had support from my great family, friends and my brilliant teachers that have been constantly enriching my life. No man is an island and I do not profess to be one either.
I know that it has been hard to make sincere effort throughout my life to be a servant to everyone and be selfless in my services to my family, friends and the society but while I was trying to achieve my goals, it made me feel good. I must confess that this selfless interest has not come to the top of my deeds and I have been selfishly trying to do things for myself over the last seventy three years. But I have made several efforts to change my route sometimes with success but many times I have failed. I have not given up. I know I can do it. I will do it.
Now I realize that one of the ways I can gain those things is to give to others what I really want. I must find ways to make others feel good around me, help people to find their self confidence and self worth and above all to help people discover their own genius. I feel this is a good path to follow in this world. I will make every effort to go along this road. It is better to be late than never begin on such a worthy destination. So help me God.
My greatest struggle has been to live in this shifted consciousness and not to go back to my old deeds, needs and ways of life. This is the journey that I have been trying to conduct when I wrote “Motivation Towards 2000” and other books and articles of interest for people to read. My short stories and poems speak very loudly for the readers of Hindi language to give them time to tarry a little in their own busy lives and start thinking for themselves. My novel Khamoshi speaks for itself to warn people to be righteous and helpful.
I realize that being ‘other centered’ might never happen but if I can remember to touch people, move them to discover who they are and inspire them to go after their dreams and believe that they are bigger than who they think they are, even once a week consistently, then I would consider myself sincere and purposeful. I am happy that I am doing the things right for a change.
Earlier in life I was doing things for gaining self appreciation, success, prestige and fame etc but the day when I had a shift of focus I have begun doing things differently. It is about giving in many cases. Giving love, compassion, happiness, ideas, advice and ease of doing things to others is now making me happier. I have seen that this shift of paradigm has enabled me to work differently, think of alternatives, remain happy without worrying about what I get in return, gain more pleasure and listen to the needs of others. I feel good and this reflects into my good health.
I now realize the true meaning of what Mahatma Gandhi once said, an ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching. Rather than standing on a pulpit to preach I practice my beliefs. Many of these beliefs have been put in writing in multiple forms and many have been spoken at specific meetings where I was called to speak to the members of Jaycees, Lions, Rotary Clubs and other Youth Groups,
After so many years of hard life I know that there is so much more to us and our experiences than the next news story; the gossip around town, who drives us nuts, what to wear today, what to do, where to shop, where our next vacation is, and all the activities surrounding the almighty dollar by getting ahead-being the best, competing and clawing our way to the top. In short it is so true now that I am much more than my job description. I do not have a set task but change my duty statement according to the wish of my family, my friends and the society at large. This is how it should have been from the beginning but we must see the morn whenever we wake up.
My wife Saroj has been my greatest teacher and has changed me from a wild animal to a peace loving human being but it took her the whole of her life to alter my disposition. Thank you very much my darling. You have done your duty well and displayed your responsibility carefully.
When I peel back all the layers of my unconscious living, I am really able to rediscover my heart and soul. Within my heart and thoughts I full well know what is true and necessary. I do just those things that make me happy. I lead myself to serve others for the higher good. I am ready to connect to my passion, my humble gifts to do my work, to take whatever action, and not be attached to the outcome.
When I am connected to what I know to be the truth about why I am here, I have tapped into the wellspring of boundless energy that is the Universe. I do not worry about the customs and traditions that hinder but I love the ones that give me courage and promote my welfare. I wake up each morning with a definite purpose and a clear vision. I rest in the calm peace that comes with the deepest sense of gratitude. Each encounter, each step, each conversation, each smile is heavenly and holistic. I enjoy my life as it is and not as others want it to be.
I am guided by my Big Self; my words, my thoughts, my feelings and my heart. I express my Spirit which is Universal and connected to each Spirit within each heart, to everything around me, within me, and continue to nurture that with each of my breaths. While I am on this journey of my life, I am experiencing life and all it offers to me. I have been made to know what I am doing.
With this experience comes my deeper understanding of what it is to ‘fail’, or to make a ‘mistake’. I may judge myself or others by my ‘failures’ or by my ‘mistakes’, based on cultural norms and expectations, and when I do this unconsciously I suffer and cause suffering. For me that cannot be what is true spiritually. I ask for forgiveness for all my trespasses.
Each experience can offer Love, and I can live in Love in this effort. The relationship I have with all sentient beings can be the expression of this Love. Full effort is fully living. Being present with the effort is life. Putting down attachment to the outcome of such divine effort is the ultimate in moksha (liberation) and experiencing this deepest joy daily is ananda (bliss). Therein lies my full victory but I do not want to be the winner all the time. My losses and falls have been my greatest teachers.
In conclusion let me categorically state this for my readers. I also feel a certain discomfort with the overly strong morality and rigor. The paradox is that rigor is both very nourishing and also very draining. My enrichments have solidified with these elements of self development.
In reading and understanding my reflections one has to remember that all our bodies are made differently and are very sensitive and respectful to behave differently at different times, in varied situations and changing circumstances. I have done exactly that throughout my life and have either suffered or enjoyed as a consequence. Therefore, I am responsible for all my actions.
We also need to realize that we come from different conditioning and many varieties of socio-cultural-economic backgrounds over our evolutionary cycle. Hence, it might be beautiful to feel inspired by someone else’s love and integrity in life, but at the same time one should be very very aware that one is not "trying to become like someone else." Everyone has own individuality and this must be preserved at all cost. If I have been able to pass this important message to my loved ones I am truly blessed.
For there is nothing more nourishing than being TRUE to our own truth and nothing more draining than trying to ape someone. The greatest violence on us is idealism. To live around "I should do this" or "I should be like that!" is difficult but some individuals can perform to meet these challenges whereas others fail to live up to that expectation. I am not sure if I had done this successfully. I am subject to judgments by my family.
I am trying to reform myself to serve better for my family and friends and do better than what I was able to do previously, so I need assistance and maybe positive criticism so that I CAN. I have presented my views on the deterioration of Hinduism and have demanded that there should be change to meet the newer generation of followers. I have reviewed our religious literature and have shown that many people are blind followers in this world of logic and better comprehension.
I will continue to press on regardless for the needed changes in the modern society but anyone who has a different view has the right to agree to disagree with my philosophies. I have no qualms with that because that is what we term as the freedom of thought and speech.
Complete contentment is divine and most satisfying. Complete contentment even gives great happiness. Of course, complete contentment brings glory to the enlightened. It is a great feeling. It is self fulfilling. When a person is contented then nothing else matters for that individual. I have indeed reached that satisfying point in my life where I am fully satisfied with everything that I have got, all that I have been able to achieve and whatever has been given to me. I need no more. I want nothing else. I have no additional wish. All that I have is enough for me.
I have lived happily by celebrating my 72nd birthday and Saroj and I have been wishing to be together for 50 good years. I feel that my youth and ebullience are still with me and I enjoy my health, wealth and general wellbeing. I have learnt to let go and my being over-protectiveness for my family has gradually disappeared. I let everyone enjoy life as they wish in their own way. There was, there is and there will be no interference from me in their family lives. All my children are responsible adults and so they are free to move ahead as they like it.
Having loved and enjoyed the company of my entire family for such a long period of time, I would like to express my personal feelings and candid opinion about each and every member of the Prasad Family to enable them to understand my reactions even better. I will not lose anything by doing this but would definitely gain a lot of personal satisfaction in doing this. So let me make these expressions.
These feelings have been with me always but have emerged with a definite motive after I lost my most valuable treasure of my entire life, my beloved wife, Saroj. Her sudden loss has not only made me sad and lonely but it has awoken me to many realities of living my life without her. She was not only a needed inspiration for all of us but an angel to see us move in the right direction. I am now a ship without a rudder in a deep rough ocean and there is no anchor in sight.
When our first son Praanesh was born on 6th March, 1965 we took a solemn pledge to ensure that his and all our future children should get our best care and attention as well as our unconditional love for their maximum and total development. In doing so the first thing I did was to throw away my dirty habit of smoking by flicking the last cigarette butt in the Navua river because that was having a detrimental effect on my health. I am very glad I did that.
We are glad that we managed to fulfill our parental duties and responsibilities very well. We are indeed happy that all our children and their respective family members are living a full and respectful lives. We thank God for giving us this honored opportunity and proud privilege to raise and care for them as best as we could.
Our first born, Praanesh, has many exceptional qualities that are unmatched and immensely admirable. I cannot categorically say that he is the chip of the old block because his mother was largely responsible for his upbringing. I just assisted in the process of his growing up. What I am proud of today is that he, together with his faithful wife Ranitta, has become a truly family man fully dedicated to the proper and adequate development of his two pretty daughters Jaya and Meera. Our personal pride enlarges many folds in witnessing the solid and firm support that our dedicated daughter-in-law provides him towards achieving the progress and prosperity of the family.
As the eldest children of the family they have shown us that they can always act as great role models for others. They have given us tremendous joy and pride in fulfilling all their responsibilities with complete dedication and rationalistic conduct. This is definitely a truly forward-looking attitude and an ideal presentation of personal commitment for the welfare of the Prasad Family. They have been instrumental in developing a family life that has created an enviable economic, academic and social environment in a home that is full of fun and serious endeavors at all times.
I have had some differences with him but all the disagreements were on matters of principle for the better development of family relationship.
Jaya, their elder daughter, our eldest grandchild, is the jewel in the crown of the Prasad Family. She is adorable, intelligent, and admirable and is fast developing into a person of finest personal qualities. Her expression of love and care for us is so tender that whenever she is amidst us, it makes us feel younger and resemble her age to forget all our discomforts of old age. This is her charm and her loving association with us gives us new life. We sincerely pray and hope that with these pleasant attributes she keeps us young in heart and develops a special niche in the future for everyone to keep loving and respecting her.
Meera too has many qualities of her dedicated parents and is fast developing into a determined and confident personality. She always presents herself admirably and has a very deep and sincere attachment with us. Her love and affection for us are always very sweet indeed and her tender loving care and attention makes us feel very comfortable in her company. She is definitely very enthusiastic about all her accomplishments and leisure activities and that is the main reason for her own personal style of living. She is diligent, dexterous and exceptionally thoughtful in all her dispositions.
It is very difficult to find another Meera when we experience her feeling towards us. We have very high hopes for her and pray that she too transforms herself into an exceptional student with the help, mentoring and guidance of all her family members. One day when we are gone we are confident that she will shine like the brightest star in the busy sky of challenging activities that no one has ever witnessed before.
These aspects of the energetic Prasad Family have given us so much comfort, love, affection, care and understanding that even at our most difficult times we begin to feel exhilarated and free from all the discomforts and ailments of old age. May God bless them to achieve even greater success and joy. We are confident that Praanesh will lead our Prasad Family the way we have wanted it to be.
When Praneeta was born on 30th June 1967, we felt that our life was completely blessed and totally resurrected because we began to see success after success come and knock at our door. We were extremely fortunate in many ways and so we put in all our efforts to ensure that Praneeta too grew up with Praanesh in the best possible environment with proper care of the loving parents. All the little efforts we put in for her growing up she has paid us back in heaps of love, affection and attention for us. We have always adored her ways, her progress and her total personality.
Despite a few discomforts in her early family life she has been blessed with the love and enjoyable company of Shalendra Ram who has been a very considerate and comforting partner for her and her two children, Hamish and Jayden.
Hamish Nikhil Prasad is my adorable grandchild because of his astute personality and disposition. He is as valuable as the other grand children of ours and one day he would make us all very proud of his achievements. Our richest blessings are with him for his continuous success.
Jayden Nitish Prasad is no less in value and love. His disadvantage in one form brings many advantages for us all. We love him immensely for what he is and what he does so beautifully. One of the greatest things that he has taught us is the art and value of perseverance, patience and persistence. He has made us believe that life goes on regardless of any difficulty that confronts us at times.
Our admiration for Shalendra kept increasing by witnessing the care and attention he gave to Praneeta and her sons. Shalendra’s understanding and empathy for Jayden have really won our hearts totally and we know that the kind of tolerance, sincere dedication and great general well being he has in mind for his new family are worthy phenomenon and great contribution to making the family a happy setup.
Praneeta and Shalendra are our loving saviors in times of our joy, our discomforts and our good as well as bad times. They have shown us that we are very important part of their life for their happiness and this mutual feeling has made us a lot more proud than what we experience normally. Both of them with their children Grace, Harrison, Hamish and Jayden have given us a feeling of security that has definitely helped us to prolong our life because we have been receiving their needed attention. We bless them for all their assistance and care.
Praneeta has many of my personality traits and qualities and conducts herself like me in a lot of respects. She is my image and I am proud of this fact. She has the potential to achieve miracles, has talents to fight for her rights, has strength to command respect, has good control over her family and above all has the sense and sensibility to go on living cautiously and carefully despite a few difficulties that came to her because of the unforeseen situations and predicaments. These are the aspects that I admire and treasure in my daughter and I know fully well that this is her winning streak for all her future challenging times. When I am gone I know that I will have one more of my personalities that will live and prosper as I did in my life.
Saroj and I were very happy with our two children and were enjoying our enchanting family life but we wanted much more and so we planned to have another daughter. We prayed to Goddess Luxmi to grant us our wish and we were very pleased when our second daughter and the third child, Harshita was born on 29th September 1968. Harshita’s birth came at a time when we needed the blessings of the Goddess Luxmi the most. She brought us better health, wealth and many other forms of prosperity. It was at this time when a generous village friend of ours offered his freehold land to us on credit buy.
We started building our first home in Lami and our life kept getting better in more than one way. Our professional status was enhanced, more funds started coming home and we were awarded scholarships to further improve our family life and living style. So Harshita was a real blessing for us. She was an excellent company to our two existing children and a great addition in the family for us. There were lots of joy and enjoyment in our home while she was growing up. We had high hopes for her and she rightfully provided us with real valuable returns.
Harshita made us even more proud and honoured when she began to achieve greater excellence in school, public speaking and her general social life. Our joy became even greater when she got married to Naresh Patel and they together gave us two pretty grand children, Anjali and Sonali. We adore them tremendously and treasure their love, respect and care for us. Naresh has been our greatest source of inspiration and exhilarations for all our family matters. We are willingly given everything that we need without even indicating it because he has been able to read us like an open book. We could not have got a better friend, a more dedicated family member and an ideal son in law than what Naresh has been for us.
Both Harshita and Naresh have been very frank and candid in their opinions, dealings and relationship with us and we have felt totally at ease in their home and company. Whenever they visit us or whenever we visit them we are amidst our own and get so much warmth and tenderness that we feel a lot more energized and healthier. A lot of our pains and problems escape and we experience a better living. They do not only open their hearts and minds for us but their wallets are always open for our needs.
Anjali and Sonali have continuously provided us immense love, joy and respect. This makes us feel heavenly and always creates an atmosphere of hope for our old age and our future. We yearn to live longer to keep getting their tender loving care and kind attention because we know that as they grow older they will mature into such lovely part of our family to relate to us even more cordially and soothingly. Their achievements, intelligence and general conduct are so effective that we feel like living forever to witness their future success. Like all our grand children they have made us so proud that we love to share their company at all times.
When we were in Nakaulevu Saroj and I were reading a novel titled Godaan by our favorite writer Premchand who among other things conveyed a message and a theme of pairs, couples and twos in life. We were a perfect couple, Saroj and I. We had two adorable daughters, Neeta and Shita but at that time we did not have two sons, Nenne and Rohit. We could not live our life with one eye or one leg or one arm so we decided to have another son. Our inner self prompted us to pray to Lord Shiva to grant us our next wish. We were quite certain that our next child was going to be a boy. We proceeded with the plan, our effort, our wish and our need.
This sacred process gave us our second son Rohitesh on 29th September 1971 when we were enjoying the peak of our prosperity and prestige and his coming at this opportune time made us accelerate our efforts even further. From a teacher I became a head teacher, from an ordinary member I got elected to the position of International Relations’ Officer of the Union, editor of their professional journals and the evaluator of all teachers’ future remuneration and terms of working conditions. Respect and responsibilities increased in the community and we began to sail very comfortably in the smooth sea of progress and prosperity.
However, Saroj despite being a very successful teacher became a full time mother to our four children because I got busy doing extra community service and instead of looking after the needs and wants of our children and my family I was serving the demands of others and trotting the globe. My frequent trips from Moscow to the Panama City; from Tokyo to Ottawa; from Hongkong to Paris; from Auckland to Singapore and from New York to Delhi gave me very little time to spend with my family. Saroj was my saviour and I am indebted to her for her contributions and participations in laying the firm foundation of the Prasad Family.
Now I feel so guilty of my lack of participation in the process of raising my children when Saroj needed me most, that I sometimes sit in a corner of our home and curse myself for this unforeseen neglect. Saroj with the assistance of her parents and other family members continued to render that valuable service of parenting and motherhood. I owe an apology to all my children and to Saroj for this obvious neglect and diversion in the initial development and growing up of my children.
Luckily for Rohitesh, Saroj had the support of our other three children to ensure that proper nourishment, growth, development and socialization took place. She did not let this temporary setback affect the proper development of our children in any way. I am proud of this fact and while in my excessive community involvements I got richer in my experiences my family suffered temporarily. However, what I could give them afterwards as a result of my enrichment cannot be measured in simple terms. So despite the regret there is an element of pleasure in my misdeeds.
Rohitesh, together with the other of our three children went on to become the best people of our world in all respects. We are truly proud of all of them. Praanesh survived a severe fall from the railing of our Laucala Beach home while doing his physical exercise; Praneeta suffered a fractured arm at school and later my wrath for lying; Harshita choked with a one shilling coin stuck in her throat when she was four and Rohitesh having seen the wrath of 1972 floods in Nakaulevu almost lost his life in a car accident in Edinburgh Drive in Suva.
All these drastic and accidental episodes and events made us get a lot closer to our children to provide them even greater love and care. We were blessed with the power of our prayers to Almighty God who kept putting His helping hands over our heads for our safety and prosperity. We thank the Lord Vishnu for protecting us.
When our other three had left us for their respective educational pursuits, Rohitesh remained with us as our care taker until he too got married to Tania and then they moved to live in Sydney. We were left alone to mind our own business but still had the support and assistance of all our children from time to time as and when we needed them. We let them go and achieve in their own way and today they have shown us that life has some very awkward moments.
Our birds flew away from the nest and we were glad to let them go free because we belived that it was through this means that they will find their rightful place in the modern world. They did not only need that freedom but they had the right to get it.
Rohitesh and Tania worked hard to establish their little world and produced two gorgeous children of their own, Elliott and Charlotte. Initially they met a lot of success together but the tide of their fortune turned sour when Rohitesh had difficulty in his endeavors to salvage his business. When the going was good Rohitesh was admired for his achievements but when his temporary setback came he gradually saw some raised eyebrows and withdrawal of support and cooperation from many of his friends, family members and colleagues. We could not leave him to suffer in silence so we tried to help as best as we could through our advice, suggestions and some financial assistance.
Our admiration for his efforts to get up and go again and keep persevering increased because he fought those adversities his own way and tried to find workable solutions to many of his financial, social and cultural problems. We could not leave our baby to fight his battle alone. We rallied behind him as much as we could but he had the tenacity to move on. We offended some of our loved ones by doing this but we had no choice.
One thing bothered us most and that was that when he needed help and support the most, when he required counseling and advice for his comedy of errors, when he wanted comfort for his growing financial and social pains and when he looked round for solutions to get out of his misery then he found very few people who came to his aid. We had no choice but to come to his rescue in a little way by providing him the necessary love, care and empathy that he needed most at that time. In this humble process we did not lose anything but gained his extra love and faith in us. Others could have done a little more than what they did by standing aside and watching him fall then his recovery would not have been so painful.
Another thing we admire most in his family. It is the total love and commitment of Rohitesh for his two lovely children. It is for the love, welfare and comfort of the children that he has survived the little storm in the tea cup. Our love and confidence in his abilities to deal with his difficulties in his own way has made us very proud and satisfied. With the needed assistance and advice of Praanesh and Ranitta, Praneeta and Shalendra and Naresh and Harshita he has managed to overcome a lot of his short lived problems and difficulties. This is the essence of the Prasad Family and it has given us great hope for the future of our children.
Rohitesh has been our youngest and he has tried his best, sometimes in vain, to learn from his mistakes and failures. On the other hand some of the things he did were admirable as well and as we have always been optimistic in our approach, we looked at the brighter side of his personality and gave our support. He found it hard to reconcile that success for him was sometimes temporary. This turned out to be very distasteful for him but such downfalls are inevitable to anyone at anytime. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, hence his suffering but he has seen a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
Unfortunately it takes longer for some people to come out of their tunnel of difficulties and self made problems if they do not get the right ingredients and people to support them. We are mindful that when he does manage to overcome all these he will become tougher and more durable to develop a steel syndrome that is often needed in the current competitive commercial and industrial world. We are confident that a new dawn will be visible soon where he would be able to move ahead with even greater care, realization and caution to ensure steady success.
We are different from many other people and we should be because that is our individuality. We would have the same admiration and concern for all our children in similar predicaments and would go out of our way to assist them regardless of their faults, mistakes and downfalls because they are our own and we love them tremendously. There would be no ifs and buts. There would be no question of wait and see. There would be no elements of doubts when our own are involved. We just rally behind them to give them whatever solace we can irrespective of any management slips.
We knew all along that Tania had some hidden agenda despite showing us that she was a great wife, a supportive business partner, a good mother and an overall support for Rohitesh. We saw the differences coming and were also mindful of the fact that time and forgiveness is the greatest healers of all our troubles. We hoped that sooner than later Rohitesh would emerge as successful as our other children. Tania and Rohitesh would together overcome and rebuild their temporary broken economic, social and general infrastructures. Then their great family bond would certainly move to unimaginative heights from where they would be able to clearly view the differences for their two lovely children.
But this hope of ours was shattered and they parted ways and separated. After residing with us for a while Rohitesh secured a job in Kuala Lumpur in February 2013. He began to work harder to make up for a lot of blunders he faced in his life. Within a year he became the Chief Executive Officer of ihrnet.com and was enjoying his life with a partner that he developed a good relationship with in Malaysia. Winnie Tam and Rohitesh and living a good life.
Some of these, caused a lot of mental and physical damage to my wife Saroj who suffered her first heart attack in July 2012 and was hospitalized for a month. She never recovered from this unbearable shock. Then after some nine months of disabilities and suffering she lost her battle with her life on 14th March 2013 and was finally laid to rest on 16th March, 2013.
Elliott is the future flag bearer of the Prasad Family and our heritage builder. He is as adorable as he is in his disposition and intelligence. He is bright, brilliant and brave and has the tenacity to meet any future challenges. He is cool and collected in his character and general presentation. His power of dealing with adversities and his willingness to participate and contribute are all admirable and praiseworthy. He has a long way to go to make things happen for him and his family. His love for us, his parents and his sister Charlotte are undeniably magnanimous. We hope that his mother gives him the support he needs.
Charlotte, the queen of the family is an angel in her own right. She has the ability to bring total joy for all of us and she would be one of our best ambassadors of love, peace and wisdom. She remains one of the best among our eight wonderful wonders of the Prasad Family. Charlotte would be our deep concern even if we are gone. We know that for her we would be always the same aja and aji coming home to visit her from Brisbane.
We love all our children and grand children so much but are unable to adequately express our true feelings simply because our vocabulary is limited. We know that our children and grand children fully understand our internal and external feelings and emotions.
Praanesh and Ranitta together with their lovely daughters Jaya and Meera have shown us that they are the firm foundation builders of the family. They have been our greatest pillars of support in many ways. We ask for no more from them.
Praneeta and Shalendra together with their children have been the builders of our confidence and hope. We are privileged to have their support and assistance whenever we need them. They do not only fully understand our needs and wants but they are always prepared to provide us strength for our existence.
Naresh and Harshita have given us the gift of our life time and made our old age comfortable. They have made us happy by making us free from all encumbrances so that our retirement is fully functional and conducted smoothly. We know that Anjali and Sonali have always given us their total love and displayed great respect for our living.
Rohitesh should be no exception in his kind thoughts and deeds for us. He has been instrumental in keeping us in the world of comfort and happiness by keeping in touch with us and looking after our welfare. His children have been great inspiration for us.
Each and every loving and kind words and wishes that have come to us from our children and grand children for all the social, religious and communal events in the form of gifts, cards and letters are displayed in a powerpoint presentation on our desktop computer in a file that is entitled “From Our Children and Grand Children”.
We make an effort to review these every now and then as slide show to give us the needed comfort and joy. This file is our greatest asset for our learning, our personal happiness and internal harmony. We thank all our children and grand children for their kind thoughts, valuable words and worthy deeds for us.
However, this presentation came to its end when my wife passed away because I felt that I should not continue it alone. This was a joint effort and cannot be done without the support of my Saroj.
This is the beginning of much better things to come for the Prasad Family of Bellbowrie. Each member in turn could develop his/her own future story whenever they feel like or whenever they can.
The next episode is the contribution of Saroj who has spilled her heart out to tell her side of the story in her reflections I titled “The Golden Lotus”.
Saroj has named her piece differently because of various reasons. She called it “The Shriveled Lotus” but whatever it is called it is still the most beautiful lotus I have seen.
On Thursday 14th March 2013 at about 10 in the morning I had to make a very important decision of my life and that was to ask the doctors at the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital to switch off the life support of my beloved wife Saroj who had suffered a massive heart attack in my arms in our bedroom at 76 Ghost Gum Street Bellbowrie after her early morning shower around 7.00 in the morning.
The difficult memories of that Tuesday 12th March 2013 are very hard to forget when I held Saroj in my arms and called 000 to get the support of the ambulance that turned up within 10 minutes of the call with eight medical personnel. They tried to revive her and took her to the hospital. Saroj did not gain consciousness but suffered two other attacks at the hospital and she was put in the Intensive Care Unit on life support.
My almost 55 years of life partner and my soul mate was gone within 30 minutes of turning off of the life support. I was devastated and lost my most precious treasure and to tolerate this sad loss was very difficult and unbearable. I was shattered and my heart had almost stopped beating but I had to go on because Saroj had asked me to conduct the last very simple rites for her without the unnecessary traditional ceremonies.
She was finally farewelled on Saturday 16th March at the Centenary Memorial Gardens amidst a large gathering of mourners from 11 am with the antim sanskaar conducted by Pundita Usha Rao at 1pm. I conducted a 108 Gayatri mantra Hawan as per her request at home when I could accept the hard fact that her soul had merged with the Almighty.
Since that dreadful Saturday 16th March 2013 I have hardly slept well and have been madly thinking of all the ways of bringing myself to senses and peace. However, Saroj.s deep and unconditional love made me get her soul live with me forever and I began to communicate with her as usual. I made several DVD on her life and uploaded them on You Tube. These gave me a lot of peace and soothed my bleeding heart.
One thing that my Saroj longed for was to celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary in style and for this we had booked a week of holiday in Denarau but alas that has remained an unfulfilled feeling of ours because she departed from this world nine months earlier.
My four children and their respective families gave me a lot of support to sustain my suffering and sorrow and I am truly thankful for all these genuine efforts to keep me afloat and go on with my life.
My only brother and his family from LA in USA asked me to visit them for a month in May to heal my sorrows, adjust and cool my future living and I am very appreciative of all their effort as well.
My poetic contributions for Saroj are on You Tube and can be seen by typing my name Ram Lakhan Prasad in the address bar. All videos will appear there and can be easily clicked to view. These poetic creativities have given me a lot of peace and have strengthened my wish to go on with my life even though it is becoming more and more difficult and unbearable as the days go by.
After she was gone I found the personal reflections of Saroj. Some were on a file in a folder in my laptop and others were hand written in her black notebook. The whole reflections are presented unedited as addendum to The Pretty Lotus. They explain a lot about this great human being, this devoted wife, this loving mother, this precious grandmother and this faithful friend. As I said in my eulogy that even if I made all the trees of the world into my pen and all the sky into paper and the sea into ink I will not be able to adequately express the true value and sentiments of this great angel of the Prasad Family. -
Ram Lakhan Prasad
Reflections Of Saroj Prasad-The Golden Lotus.
THE GOLDEN ‘LOTUS’
Saroj Kumari Prasad (Nee Sharma)
I came into this world on the 15th day of August. It was a Thursday in the year 1940 and the World War II was still on, though we felt nothing about it in our part of the country. August is one of the cooler months in Fiji and my mum told me that I was born at 2 o’clock in the morning at my Nani’s house.
The village mid-wife, despite being a very skilled lady, was a bit slow in boiling water on the primus stove for mum to have a warm bath. So mum was shivering for a while until a warm bath was ready.
Being the first born meant a great delight for my parents. Because my parents lived in an extended family style with my grandmother, a big sixth day celebration was planned for me. My nani invited everyone from the neighbourhood and also relatives from afar. The party went on for two days and the women still had the energy to sing and dance and there was plenty to eat.
My Dad named me Saroj Kumari Devi. Later in life when I was able to understand that names had meanings, I asked Dad why he chose to call me Saroj. He explained to me that being an avid reader of the Holy Book Ramayan he learnt that Saroj meant the Lotus flower. He further explained that the Lotus flower was Goddess Lakshmi’s abode. It therefore had a holy and revered inclination. After reading my narrative you may decide to accept me as a silky lotus, silent lotus or a silvery lotus but I will remain a simple golden lotus.
Having reached adulthood I discovered that Saroj was not a common name. It has become quite precious to me. I further realized that the Lotus grows in swamps and in murky waters but comes out in bloom without a speck of dirt on it. It rises above all dirt. That aspect of the flower has always given me a degree of pride.
The account or happenings of the first six years of my growing up have been told to me by my parents, grandparents, relatives and neighbours. Numerous events took place in this time span. My younger brother, Pramod was born on 6th February 1943 while we still lived with my nani at Nasinu. This residence was convenient because Dad worked at the Court House in the Government Buildings in Suva and could easily ride his bicycle to and from work. He earned five pounds a week as his salary and could not afford to travel from far. To live in Nasinu and travel to Suva was much closer to his work than living in Wainibokasi with his parents.
Six weeks after Pramod’s birth Dad was transferred to Labasa to work as a Court Clerk there. Domestic Air Services were not available in those days, however, a government boat used to ferry cargo as well as passengers to the outer islands. A year after that we were transferred to a smaller island called Taveuni. It was whilst here I am told that my second brother Vinod was born. All this while I was the only lucky girl in the family and perhaps got used to getting much attention.
During our stay in Taveuni my Aaja (Dad’s Dad) died at quite a young age. He had had a surgery at Wainibokasi Hospital and developed complications with it. Unfortunately my Dad could not come to the funeral because there was no plane flights and the government inter-island boat had just left. There was no means of chartering any boat. That had been a great regret for my Dad throughout his life.
Ultimately it was time for my father to move closer to town on the main island because I was ready to go to school. In October 1946 Dad was moved to Suva where he would be told of his new posting later. It was then that my first childhood photo was taken with the black beads round my neck. These black beads were in turn worn by my three children until they were washed away in the Nakaulevu floods thus depriving Rohitesh of this privilege.
I was old enough to remember events from then onwards. We packed our household belongings and were driven to the jetty at Waiyevo from where we were made to board the bigger boat which brought us to Suva. I was a six year old and was fascinated by the many buildings, good roads, several vehicles and the street lights etc.
In Suva we stayed with Mum’s brother and his wife’s family. Dad was on leave then and would start work after ten weeks at Vunidawa Court House. This was another very rural dairy farming area. Before going to Vunidawa, Dad went down to the nearest and the only girls boarding school, run by the Methodist Mission Church. He arranged for me to stay at my uncle’s place and walk to Dudley House School every day. The school was in the next street to where I was to live. My school started when my family left for Vunidawa.
In January 1947 I started my first primary class at the Dudley House School. There were no preparatory or kindergartens then. Ishuratnam Caleb was my Class One teacher. She liked me so much that she called me My Pussy Cat. I would not have liked that nickname now but back then it gave me a closeness to her.
Roshni Ram from my neighbourhood also started her school in class one with me. We became good friends and always walked to school together. If one of us was late, the other would wait till we both were ready to move on. Roshni is now married to Dr Brahma Nand Singh and they live in Los Angeles in the USA. My other close friend was Gyan Pushpa, who got married to Mahend Singh and they now live in Auckland, NZ.
Though there was no proper study atmosphere or apt environment at my uncle’s place I did well at school. I used to go to my family with nani during the school holidays. My proper educational development was my Dad’s number one priority. He was my mentor on educational matters because he had done well during his school days.
It so happened that in 1951 when I was in class five, my Dad came to Suva on one of his normal administrative trips. By now he was stationed at Naitonitoni Court House in Navua and he had to stay over night with us. He had the sad encounter of witnessing my uncle’s regular habit of coming home punch drunk and causing a furor and unnecessary argument with his wife and mother. Since my Dad was a tee-totaller, for him this situation was unacceptable, wild and unwarranted. He saw how everyone was disturbed and therefore he did not want me to stay there any longer.
My Dad immediately made his plans and the following day went to my school with me. He met with the Principal Miss Griffiths and applied for a place for me in the boarding house. The Principal agreed and gave my Dad the required forms to complete. This gave me an entry into the boarding life. This was my second big move away from home only at an early age of eleven.
For a dreamy little girl growing up in an indifferent environment that lacked absolutely nothing, created a peaceful atmosphere to continue her studies. I was the youngest boarder and with the help and guidance of the senior girls like Sushila and Savitri, I gradually learnt to do my own washing, ironing and the other routines of the boarding life. The eight years of being in the hostel was like everything else in my life. It was nothing new because I did all the chores required of me and studied as well. Our life was often compartmentalized with studies and hostel duties.
There were no ladies’ hairdressers or beauty salons in the fifties to learn the art of grooming so I would simply part my coconut oiled hair in the middle and braided two plaits which were firmly secured at the bottom ends with the yellow or white ribbons. This was fashionable in those days.
Whenever I went out from the hostel on educational trips or social visits to family members I was required to wear a white veil called odhani. This was the hostel rule for everyone going out.
As time passed and I grew older I appreciated the hostel culture. I feel that what I am today is what had been instilled in me in the hostel. The manner, the etiquette, honesty, chastity, industriousness, obedience and the rest of human conduct were part of my personal acquisition.
My formative years of young and tender age and then into adolescence were all spent at the boarding house run by the missionaries. I held various posts of responsibilities and carried them out with pride and dignity. Consequently, Dudley has a special place in my heart. The many friends I made then are still as loyal and close to me as faithful friends should behave. They all kept on visiting me later on in life.
Despite the nomadic life I have had, I salute my Dad for honoring my educational development and providing me with opportunities to be at a prestigious girls’ school in that era. Every person tries to live up to his/her father’s expectations, so without my Dad’s deep interest in my education my life would have been impossible and all my opportunities entirely foreclosed.
For years in my school days I could not wane my popularity. I had a special place in the minds of my teachers. It is their gracious and valuable assistance and guidance that have molded my life to what I am now. Miss Griffiths, Miss Campbell, Miss Furnivall and Miss Mishra are only a few to name. From an early age the instructions I received both at home and at school were to love, serve, respect and obey my elders.
Graduating from high school I went to the Nasinu Teachers’ Training College in 1959. My father suggested that I should go and get trained as a teacher because Pramod and I had just finished our Form six education together. This was his suggestion because since he was the sole income earner for our family he could not afford to send both of us for further studies overseas. With my Second Division Senior Cambridge qualification entry into teacher training institution was a certainty.
The studies at tertiary institutions was quite different from our secondary school activities. Firstly, it was co-educational and then the students were treated as adults who were to do tasks and other activities at their own discretion. We were also given a meager sum of one pound and twenty five shillings as pocket expenses for a month. It was at this College that I had the opportunity to meet Ram Lakhan, who became my life partner.
My first year at the College was spent in academic pursuits but during the second year I was voted in by the students as a Member of the Students’ Council and became their Vice President. I was the first Indian female student to hold that lucrative leadership role. During my second year at the College Ram Lakhan was already teaching in Labasa. We kept our communication alive by means of letters and phone calls.
I must mention about my other siblings at this time. Pramod, having completed his High School at Natabua, had gone to Victoria University in Wellington NZ for further studies. Vinod was at St Thomas High School in Lautoka. Surekha went to Dudley and Mirdula and Mala attended Mahatma Gandhi Memorial School in Samabula. Arvind and Naveen did part of their studies in Lautoka and then completed the rest of their studies in Suva. Bipin studied in Suva.
Wherever they are today they have all prospered in their respective professions and family life. Whenever possible all my brothers have helped my family in every way they could; be it a birthdays, weddings or studies of our family members.
As a child I was very happy. Both my grand mothers, maternal as well as paternal, loved me to the extent that they almost spoilt me. I would get things from them first and all the other cousins would receive them later. The grandmotherly love increased in its limits year after year as I grew older and also because I had left home and moved into the hostels.
My Aaji, Dad’s mother, missed me more because I only met her during school holidays. These long absences from home made them grow fonder of me. My Nani, visited me every weekend at the hostel because she lived in Toorak which is where my school was located.
I have special memories of my Aaji and Nani at the time of their respective passing away. I was eighteen years old, a first year student at the Teachers’ College in 1959 when one Saturday morning my father came to take me for the weekend to his elder brother’s house in Samabula. At that time my family lived in Lautoka because Dad was an administrator at Lautoka Court House. I was surprised to see him at the college but later he told me that his mum was in a coma and I needed to visit her.
Upon arrival I found her to be quite frail looking. Her sunken eyes were closed however, she was still breathing but rather weakly. She lay still on the bed with the odour of death around her. The sunlight coming through the window brought some life into the room. I sat next to her and very tenderly touched her hands and face. I talked in a whisper almost in her ear, telling her that I had come to see her. I asked her to open her eyes and look at me once but this was to no avail. It is beyond my belief of what happened next. My aunt Hannah was standing next to me when Aaji took her final deep breadth and was gone to her eternal rest. To my surprise everyone present there said that Aaji’s soul was waiting for me. Regrettably, I had not spoken to her for a month or two before her death because I was away at the College.
My Naani’s passing away was quite coincidental to that of my Aaji. The only difference was that Naani stayed with me everyday when my children were little and even later when they were grown ups, she often visited us regularly. She lived for over twenty five years after my Aaji’s death. Similarly at the time of her death my Naani wanted to see me at the CWM hospital in Suva where she was admitted. Although I had visited her already, my family travelled with me from Ba to be by her bedside. To reciprocate the great love Naani had for me I was by her side till her death and conducted some of the last rites after she was gone.
My story was becoming rather chatty and I was unable to keep any order of events. I was completely carried away reminiscing the passing away of my grand mothers but let me now take you back to 1960, a turning point of my life. For a second year student at the College there was a greater demand on academic work as well as many additional responsibilities and duties of a leader in the making. Despite these taxing tasks I had done well in all my examinations. For my graduation I received the Excellence Award from the Principal . In addition to a certificate and a prize I was awarded an additional increment in my salary. It resulted in my getting three hundred and sixty pounds annually which gave me a lead of twenty pounds from other students.
As a primary school teacher I taught at Vunimono Islamic School for the first two years because my Dad was now stationed in his home town of Nausori. Since the post office and the court house were housed in the same building, Dad used to check on my mails as well. He knew that I would receive letters from Lakhan who was still in Labasa. Whenever he found out that I had received a letter from Lakhan, he wanted to find out if we were genuine and sincere in our relationship or we were just like some young people fooling around.
In my third year of my teaching we moved to our family base in Nabua because now serious plans of my wedding were on the drawing board. At this stage Lakhan’s parents also visited our place to reciprocate my parents’ earlier visit to Sabeto. These visitations were just courtesy calls of two families trying to get united in matrimony.
Dreams enrich our lives by evoking our deepest emotions and exposing our secret desires and feelings. My story is a phenomenon. It begins as ‘A simple girl from the east meets a boy from the west, falls in love and gets married and then this love blossoms into a perfect couple’.
This is the story of my life. Having attended a solely girls’ Christian school, being supervised by missionary teachers and having being taught all etiquette of sound and obedient living which also reinforced the character building learnt and consolidated from home, I met Ram Lakhan at the Teachers’ College and fell in love with him. Maybe in life you have a factor in the unexpected and you accept it that things just happen. Our friends had been surprised because we both loved each other without dating, verbally revealing our details and making any wild promises, yet four years after our first encounter we were married.
Nineteenth January 1964 . It was a great day for us when our wedding took place. It was a Sunday and was like any other day. The heat rose and rose, dust gathered and all activities struggled with time and rush. The events of that day are still fresh in my memory as the morning dew on the rose bud.
Night came, the procession (baraat) arrived. Everyone gathered at the entrance of our home to welcome the bus load of visitors from Nadi. As the ceremony proceeded I was called to garland my groom with the taped music of Raja Ki Ayegi Baraat in the background.
My waiting exhaustion banished by the spark of hope that my love had come to marry me. When I garlanded him I thought he looked very handsome in his traditional Indian wedding suit called the Jodha Jama. At that auspicious hour we sat down next to each other in the mandap. During the Kanya Daan ceremony I felt his hand on mine and in a trance I realized this was the beginning of the life ordained for me.
The following day after the pain of my parents’ parting from me and also their parental duties successfully completed I embarked on the journey to my new home. I kept looking out of the window of the car at the passing greenery. My husband was in front at the wheel and my grand mother was sitting next to me. Quite oblivious to where I was going and what to expect upon arrival, I continued on the long and dusty road to Sabeto.
By nightfall I arrived at my new home, new family members, new environment, partially new culture and above all I had inherited a new name. This no longer was a dream. It was a reality. I was reminded in my thoughts that life was supposed to bring joy and you never know which way life was going to take you. I felt excited that finally I was with my Lakhan and this was the only way my conscience allowed me to reconcile. I realized for the first time that I was married and that everything was quite strange. There were so many relatives and they were in a world complete unto themselves.
Thoughts of my parents, home, my siblings and my friends flooded my dreams but I held on with faith and trust to make my marriage a success. I contained my sadness quite effectively and knew that my childhood had ended. It was a new beginning and a new chapter in my life. It was my love that that I was going to work for and it should work magic.
I knew that accommodation and acceptance were attitudes that kept families together and the things you cannot change you accept gracefully and cheerfully as God given blessings. What I needed at this stage was a composed mind. If I had bad intentions then the results could be disastrous.
Getting used to daily living in a new and rural place was not very easy however, I tried my best to get all the daily chores done. I had not drawn water from a well and the well at Lakhan’s place was more than sixty feet deep. You could only use a small bucket to draw water out and three or four of these small bucket would fill a normal bucket. Later this larger bucket was to be carried to the kitchen which was about a chain away from the well. The wood stove posed another difficulty for me. I had not cooked on such a stove and eventually I developed hay fever because of the heavy smoke at times.
Subtley, with a resolute mind I laboured through the obstacles being convinced that it was the love and affection of my husband that had brought me to Sabeto. During these difficult times I got to see a very tender side of my husband. He tried his best to make my living with his extended family as comfortable as possible. In marriage despite the background one has to be understanding of togetherness for it to work.
Working too and from school on the gravel road was another difficulty but then we owned a car from August so much of this problem was solved. Before marriage I used to dream of how my mother in law would love me and in return I would do the same. This remained a dream for me. Whenever mum in law became angry and lost her patience I behaved like a rabbit quite startled by a hunter. Mum in law despite having several daughters found it difficult to accept me as one of them.
Situations and circumstances were becoming strenuous while living in an extended family. There were many eyes quick to detect my weaknesses and many more quicker to attack me with their foregone conclusions. I continued trying my best despite the frequent negative responses. My internal wounds were ‘bleeding’ by persistent hurting comments. I gave my karma a gloomy thought. The struggle to keep silent kept me going. I knew that silence in itself is a subversive activity, however, the love for my husband was a bridge over the great divide. The pure mind and feelings of my heart helped me progress.
There came a time when the joints in the extended family became visible. Daily living was herding more towards anger, resentment and frustration than happiness, joy and celebration. Desperation does strange things. We finally applied for a transfer to another district school. It was better to move out of bitterness and animosity than to live and make things worse. Since I was pregnant with my first child I needed peace and happiness.
Lo and behold, our request was granted and we were transferred to Nakaulevu Indian School in Navua. No matter what happens, 1964 will remain the most memorable year of my life. In 1965 we started the new school year at Nakaulevu. Compared to the weather in Nadi this was a more wet and rainy area. People here were more rice and dairy farmers and timber millers. Life was quite comfortable even though luxuries such as electricity and piped water were not available.
Any relationship can be beautiful if you nurture it. We were free from various family complexes which were essential ingredients for peaceful living. We as a young couple tried to assert our wisdom to solve any problems that occurred and in times of difficulty we did not loose heart. Lakhan had a mass potential and possibilities to lead our family life.
Praanesh, our first child was born on Saturday the 6th of March, 1965. He was a seven pounds seven ounce baby and very cute looking. He was born at the Morrison Maternity Unit in Suva and was delivered by Dr D J Lancaster after a long and painful labour of sixteen hours. Though I was a first time mum, looking after Praanesh once I had taken him home to Nakaulevu was not difficult because I had spent five weeks with my mother at Nabua. I was fortunate to have auntie Mrs Lila SN Hari Prasad as my neighbour on the school premises. Her children were all grown up so Praanesh became the baby of their family too.
Praneeta was born two years after on Thursday the 30th June,1967 while we were living in Nabua. She was also delivered by the same obstetrician Dr DJ Lancaster at the same maternity unit. Her birth weight was eight pounds two ounces and she too looked pretty and as cute as Praanesh. The day I was discharged from the hospital my aunt (Dadi) from Wainibokasi and she stayed the night to help me because my mum lived in Lautoka at that time.
Harshita and Rohitesh, the cutest of the four, were born on the same date but three years apart. Their birthdays are on 29th September of 1968 and 1971 respectively. While Harshita was eight pounds and eight ounces baby,
Compared to the rest of my children, Rohitesh was an under weight baby of six pounds and five ounces. He was also delivered by Dr DJ Lancaster at the same maternity unit as our previous children.
Having my four children, I lived every moment with pride and happiness. Lakhan was always there for me to take me for my check ups and always by my side when the children were born. It is quite amazing how he was ever ready with a name for my new born. Afterwards he told me that he had planned to have all our four children’s names with eight letters in them, I found it quite remarkable that he had such beautiful names as Praanesh, the treasured one, Praneeta, the complete and perfect one, Harshita, the happy and the bubbly one and Rohitesh, the blood and rainbow of the family.
Since we were both working parents, our family could only function with the much needed support of a maid and some older family member. I got my Naani to stay much of the time with us because our maids, Daya and Tara respectively were both young and inexperienced in early child rearing. My Naani was a guide for them. My parents were my immediate saviours whenever I needed them in looking after my children.
As a young man Lakhan’s interest was much in working for the Teachers’ Union as their publicity and international relations officer. During times of union general meetings and conferences, and when his union journals were being printed I virtually acted as a single mother. I was a mother beleaguered by a full time job, four small children and all domestic activities. There were times when I would not be so optimistic and think whether all women were destined to be teachers and hard working. Since I was a teacher, other professions did not come to my mind.
Along side the stress and commotion was always a pacifying thought that in marriage sacrifice was important more from the wife. I was capable of delivering small doses of happiness. This happiness encouraged me to thus change my inability I had to ability. Often when I used to manage things alone at home, time became a sparse commodity. I would focus on one thing, ’when would he come home? ‘. The children missed him too and I did not want them to go to bed without meeting him for the day. They did this quite often. I often saw him late at night.
Our good times have been very beautiful. We have enjoyed many happy holidays since our marriage. First and foremost we went to Levuka, the old capital of Fiji. This, we counted as our honeymoon trip. The Royal Hotel was our venue of joy. We had gone to Levuka whilst we still lived in Sabeto. It did not please everyone because there was much house and farm work to be done during school holidays. These we missed doing otherwise.
Lakhan also took me to Labasa to make me meet his friends and relatives he had made during his first teaching assignment there. Though I was not feeling very well having being discharged a few days earlier I enjoyed the trip. People in Labasa took great care of us and were extremely hospitable. Some of those social relatives became our frequent visitors when we lived in Suva.
We have travelled longer distances since then and I find it hard to count the number of cities and countries my husband has taken me to. We have also used all modes of transport for these journeys. It is a pity that we have not seen as much of Australia as we have seen the rest of the world.
While recalling all my trips with my Lakhan I have special memories of our world trip. It was our first world tour. Praanesh, Praneeta, Harshita and Rohitesh were in Nabua with my parents. We had planned to visit people and places. I was quite excited about the trip but disturbances and despair later on had a strong effect on it. Our first stop was in Edmonton in Canada and our second stop took us to Toronto. Surekha and family were excited to have us. It was during December and there was lots of eating, drinking and merry making.
We travelled through Scotland, England, France, Dubai, India, Singapore and Australia and reached home in eight weeks. Very hectic but we learnt a lot of new things and these enriched our life.
Like Lakhan’s sweet and sour memories, I also made a few blunders due to my ignorance and at times they were too severe to suffer. At least it became a bliss for me in the long run. I promised to myself that I was never going to even attempt to make any errors of judgment in my life and I have kept to that understanding with me. Had I not taken such a step, things would have been quite different for my family today.
When I was little girl I had received two straps of the belt on my palms from my Dad for being rude to Mum. Never ever had I been physically assaulted since then.
There have been countless exciting and joyous occasions in our married life but the ugly and nasty taste of a few encounters over-power all others. I am given to understand that the ‘lotus’ my Dad had cherished with my name just shriveled and then found it hard to bloom with its normal brilliance. However, I have tried to remain that golden lotus with all my rightful endeavours.
I am always careful not to make another mistake of any nature because my husband’s anger surpasses every other feeling. I have formed an earnest habit of not repeating actions that he had stopped me from doing. To keep a relationship going, we should ignore the dark side i.e. weaknesses of a person but accept and appreciate the beautiful aspects. Tranquility hide in sad places and when found needs to be treasured.
I may not do justice to my writing without mentioning the good and the bad aspects but this is a summarized version of almost fifty years of our life. I am only able to relate some occurrences that have a marked imprint in my life but there were numerous others that have made our life full of fun and joy.
Despite by nature I am more persevering, patient, approachable and honest it had been hard work, commitment and understanding to tackle obstacles in life and sometimes things just happen. I always looked at life as having so many unexpected factors and accepted them with a little disappointment. While tackling the unexpected I experienced that the level of its intensity would only lead to disaster. With every such encounter I ended up apologizing and bringing about normality in the house. This was my nature.
In terms of compatibility of temperament Lakhan and I have been on opposite poles. His temper has always been fiery and wielded an enormous amount of fear in the family. I have, as a rule, pulled myself together and resolved to see the end. I knew deep down in him there was the element of forgiveness and love. On occasions it took him days to come to terms but when he did he was the best there was.
You cannot go through life being scared or fearing. My conscience always allowed me to reconcile because I was optimistic. I knew that everything was my choice and I could not blame anyone else or bring anyone in it. One has to accept that life is such. Obstacles in life are unavoidable. What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are but how you deal with incompatibility.
I have often experienced emotional anguish and have found out that it is worse than physical suffering. While going through some great or unpleasant experiences I have learnt that life does not punish you, it teaches you. We must let go our fear and resentment and clutch on to hope and trust.
As the children grew up and started leaving home to study and settle abroad, our life style had changed enormously. Lakhan retired from Education and joined a business firm as their HR executive and I was transferred to Lautoka Teachers’ College as Senior Lecturer in English. This was quite a difficult time for my husband because the work with the company was very demanding. It meant that life for me was more solitary than ever before.
The task of teaching, setting and supervising national examinations, doing personal further studies, attending to various family matters and working extra hours for extra income would all be too numerous to write in detail. It can only be taken for granted that without embarking on the first step we would not have reached the top. Everyone goes through various steps in their lives to achieve their desired goals.
Eventually as life progressed Praanesh, Praneeta and Harshita got married and we were left with Rohitesh. The older three children got married in Australia when we were still in Fiji. So their respective marriages were held at Amma’s place in St Lucia when we came from Fiji to organize everything. All our family and friends in Australia assisted and did their uttermost in making the wedding preparations and functions a success.
Praanesh’s wedding had to take place from Naveen and Monica’s residence in Jindalee because it was quite recent that Pitaji had died so it was not appropriate to celebrate it at his residence. Praanesh celebrated his 21st birthday from Naveen’s place too while Praneeta and Harshita came to Fiji for theirs. Vimla and Pramod organized the 21st birthday celebration for Rohitesh.
Today life in Australia is quite comfortable. The children and their families are all quite successful in whatever enterprises they have pursued. Our grand children are all extremely beautiful and intelligent as their names suggest. Jaya, Meera, Hamish, Jayden, Anjali, Sonali, Elliott and Charlotte and also we have Grace and Harrison.
I have endured so much in life and my only regret is that I have not looked after myself well. I have always served others before myself and in doing so have had some unforgettable experiences. Regrettably my very own have over-looked everything. What I found remarkable was that all my sacrifices and kindness in turn have classified me as a thief. I have been accused of stealing $30,000 of my mother in law’s money. This accusation is written in black and white prints in the Judgment document of the High Court of Fiji when the last and final but fraudulent Will of my mother in law was contested in the court of law by my husband’s sisters living in Fiji.
I have felt quite helpless and lonely with this accusation. I have comforted myself by saying, “God forgive them for they know not what they are doing. God, open their eyes and make them realize their sins and if it is thy will put some sense into their heads.”
Poverty is a hideous thing and maybe my accusers were suffering themselves. It is their sense of frustration, inadequacy, injustice and even unworthiness that has brought out this weakness and bitterness in them. With this low and gutter-like intension they may have thought that the Court of Law would fight to get them some money. Wealth or money is acquired by honest means and not dishonestly.
I have regained courage from the verse I have posted on the door of my fridge. It faces me while I am cooking. In summary it says that any race is not won by the strongest and the fastest player but by the one who tries and thinks he can. I keep saying to myself ‘I Can’ no matter how difficult the situation is. I also believe in the policy of doing unto others what I would have them do unto me.
At every difficult turn when I begin to harbor doubts about the paths I have chosen in my marriage I am immediately reminded of the love that binds Lakhan and me together. I feel it is greater than any misunderstanding that would drive us apart. As we have aged, I see one of the flaws to be a chronic restlessness on my part. I feel as if I am losing my sense of security.
On the other hand I regret for such a feeling. I sit and watch my husband, who also suffers from various aches and pains, does much of the house work for me. He is the only one who understands my sufferings and cares for me. I pray to God to give me the courage to understand these things as they happen. I also pray to God to stir in my conscience the values and ideals of appreciation. I am quite mindful of the magnitude of sacrifice my husband is making for me. My life would be impossible without him and all my opportunities entirely foreclosed. With all his effort he is able to make me travel far and wide.
I have tried my best to relate only a few striking or obvious stories of my seventy-one years of life. God willing I would live to experience more in life or otherwise if my unsound health does not permit I would take leave from everyone. However, I want to be around to wear the beautiful charm pendant my husband has given me for my 71st birthday which is on 15th August, 2011.
Life has been a myriad of rise and fall. It was during the good and happy times that I felt a woman of the world. The world that was with the air of all my desires. I felt one with my beloved, one with all that mattered most in life. During these beautiful times I longed to be the sips of water he drank and the morsels of food that he swallowed. I wanted to be his life and everything and I am sure he must have felt the same.
The times when life was harsh and unreal, nothing else mattered. It looked as if the sun has not risen and there was just darkness everywhere. I felt my very existence was futile. Loneliness is an unpleasant feeling in which a person experiences a strong sense of emptiness and solitude. There was hardly a thing I wished for besides death but then naturally the thought of my children and the grandchildren encouraged me to struggle and move on regardless. I have triumphed.
Praanesh and Ranitta, Praneeta and Shalendra, Harshita and Naresh and Rohitesh, you are the ‘oars’ to paddle Taji through life once I am no more. Lord Byron said, “Treasure the love you receive above all, it will survive long after your good health has vanished”.
It is quite appropriately true that though my health is troublesome it is all your love that helps me moving along. Once I am gone I have my funeral insurance plan with Zurich. You may do what you would all like to because I cannot wish for anything more. I did what I thought was the best for my in-laws. That was my obligation. I do not expect any obligation from you all for my final rights.
When my time comes and I am gone you all must ensure that there is only one final farewell ceremony at the crematorium and no unnecessary religious functions after that because I know that they all are a real waste of time, effort, resources, money and substance. So come home after my final journey and celebrate whatever good memories you all have of me.
Since I participated in the early interventions of my Jayden I have just one request for Praneeta and that is, to properly explain to Jayden that Naani is dead when I am gone.
I know for certain that after my July 2012 heart attack I have only few months of borrowed time. Although my doctors, Dr Narendra Kewal and Dr M Heiner as well as my husband are not coming out with all the truth about my deteriorating health I have only a few more days to be with you all. I will try to spend these days to the best of my way.
I better conclude here because after becoming too emotional I can keep writing. I will quote my favourite verse that has been resting on my shelf for almost fifty years.
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.
There is a plaque on my bedroom wall that reads “To My Beloved” I want it to be interred with my bones. This was the greatest gift my husband could give me and I would like to take and cherish it.
I love you all and thank you for everything.
Saroj, Amma, Aaji and Naani.