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A Great Read from Distant Shores

A Great Read from Distant Shores
Satendra Nandan
July 08
11:00 2017

Dispatches from Distant Shores, eloquently written and extremely readable, is a collection of essays on current affairs by Professor Satendra Nandan.

Professor Nandan is Fiji’s leading writer.

The author considers several important themes such as home, location, relocation, migration, human rights, democracy, refugees, memories of childhood, sufferings of people in literature and life.

The volume was launched in Fiji during the International Conference to Commemorate the Centennial of the Abolition of Indian Indentureship in March.

This book can be an admirable resource for students and educators as it contains information and interpretations of many incidents and events of the past. It successfully extends itself to the study of different time periods in history.

The writer’s knowledge is formidable and his ability to make it accessible to the general reader is commendable.

The readers are taken on a journey where one will experience pain, grief, sufferings and celebrations. Professor Nandan examines this – loss and feelings – from Delhi to Saudi Arabia; from World War I to the current crisis in the Middle East. The book mirrors an understanding and recognition of several contemporary crises.

 

Historical events

Importantly, the author explores historical events. One such event he recalls is the Indian indenture system. He writes: ‘One of the monumental achievements of indenture has been the idea of liberty and human dignity’. With this is associated dislocation, displacement, loss, grief, identity and the notion of home and belonging.

What we ought to commemorate and derive inspiration from the girmit people is their quiet virtues, the poetry of their illiterate suffering, their faith and food, their songs of hope and despair, their steadfast belief that, though they were chained to an oppressive system, they were working towards freedom, sailing from ignorance into a knowledge of the new world.

The book is truly compelling and communicates many thoughts about Fiji at length. The writer is not sure if people are really aware of the beauty of the world – ‘especially the world in Fiji; cyclones and coups, hope and despair, life and death, our own unfinished humanity and relationships by which we’ve survived – often fatefully, sometimes fitfully, occasionally fatally’.

Professor Nandan feels deeply for Fiji, the beauty that it has to offer to the rest of the world despite its human trials and tribulations. His writing includes an affirmation of life. He appreciates the Fijian Government’s initiative to involve school children in the exercise to change the Fijian flag, so that their voices are also heard. He remembers the Fiji Day celebration in Canberra, which he witnessed.

Fiji has always been a home for the author. He fondly recalls the three cities he has lived in: Canberra, Delhi and Suva, which vividly create an analogy of multiple homes, but the chapters, reveal his sentiments, his realisation of home each time he comes back from Canberra. This shows the profound association and awareness the writer has for his country of birth, Fiji, despite now living abroad.

 

What the author shares

The author shares his special feelings for Fiji, his home, his roots. He recollects moments during and after Tropical Cyclone Winston, which he says left him in stasis for days just like the first coup in 1987; however, he fervently states that Fiji will rise and recover. The Fijians have braved coups, the strongest tropical cyclone in the Pacific, but still wear smiles on their faces and are still moving on strongly and as bravely as ever.

The modern world, he says, has been shaped by European migration over centuries, but his notion of home is closely tied to Fiji. He relives his young days while in Swami Vivekananda College and also in Delhi University where he met his beautiful wife, Jyoti.

The flooded Nadi River, school days at Natabua High in Lautoka and Delhi in the days of Pundit Nehru still haunt his memories.

The collection speaks of moments of celebrations. The epic Ramayan, a narrative of exile of Lord Rama, is coupled with the indentured labourers who were brought to Fiji. The writer remembers the many other celebrations of which he has been a part of – Ram Lila, Diwali, Easter.

 

How this book relates to us

We all have friends whom we remember each day and whom we intend to remember for the rest of our lives; these are people who have left a mark on our life. In the same manner, Professor Nandan, through his writing, remembers his friends including one who died in Istanbul.

In addition, myriad current affairs issues mentioned in Dispatches from Distant Shores are inclusive of the battle to safeguard vulnerable nations such as Fiji, from the effects of climate change. He quotes Pope Francis, the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere: ‘Global warming’, he warned, ‘impacts most severely on the poorest of the poor. Its effect on the Pacific islands could be most severe – recent reports show that island communities are already planning to relocate from the most vulnerable island shores’.

Professor Nandan also acknowledges the efforts of the Fijian Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, who has made climate change in the South Pacific his very own concern. In his essay on this critical issue, he also remembers Mahatma Gandhi’s words: ‘There’s enough for the need of everyone but not enough for the greed of even one of us’.

 

Relation to upcoming events

This is in light of the COP23 Climate Change Symposium in Germany later this year resonating a writer’s concern over the catastrophic damages to Mother Nature. And Fiji’s valiant role in creating global awareness to the greatest problem confronting humankind.

The author is a renowned writer and has been an inspiration to many budding writers especially in his homeland. He has always had a passion for reading and writing and has always motivated his students to do the same – read and write.

This book also recognises some great writers like Patrick White, James Joyce, Mahatma Gandhi, Vidia Naipaul, Pandit Nehru, Edward Said, Richard Attenborough and others whose works the author remembers for their many teachings and words of wisdom.

A chapter on writing has been beautifully crafted. He states the importance of English Language, our global means of communication. It is a language widely used to communicate and create. He says ‘writers ought to use this English language as a weapon to create awareness about their people, just as dictators use Western weapons to silence their people’.

 

Diasporic writers

Professor Nandan remembers the diasporic writers whose fate is always painful. ‘The house’, he says, ‘is not the country of one’s birth; it is the garment but not the body of human breath and blood’.

These diasporic writers on most occasions speak about dislocation, identity and loss of a homeland, but as Professor Nandan states, the home is not only where one was born, but also where one resides. Writing gives one an inner hope even when one is writing about despair as all writing finally leads to self-knowledge. Writing itself becomes a home of the mind.

Dispatches from Distant Shores, in a nutshell, expresses the author’s thoughts on his motherland, diaspora, and the multiple identities that one carries through movements either voluntarily or involuntarily. It reveals his proud feelings of Fiji, which he always calls his home.

He writes his feelings of dislocation and displacement, loneliness, growing up in Nadi, and myriad events in the world which have shaped lives, forced people to move, caused loss and grief and enabled others to celebrate.

Contemplate for a while this question: What are we without our stories? Professor Nandan is one writer in Fiji who fills the vacuum, gives us a sense of identity. Fiji, Fijian, Indian or Indianness is not what we are. I believe we are words forming sentences as blood in the body. Our lives are shaped by our stories of everyday life and relationships.

Professor Nandan with his individual mind creates a collective consciousness in which we may live and grow, with an awareness of a shared uniqueness and common humanity.

Thank you Professor Nandan for touching the core of thousands of young souls. He is truly an icon worthy of praise. It is no exaggeration that his works speak volumes and no words can match his contributions to Fiji’s writing.

 

The book’s connection

Like Dispatches from Distant Shores meeting at one point in time, his writings too connect the many unconnected souls and broken hearts, thus, enlightening thousands of readers in Fiji and beyond our rippling shores.

We, at the University, are using his texts in the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. All of Nandan’s works have survived time. His writings are timeless because they deal with life as lived.

A prolific writer, Satendra Nandan’s, fourth book of essays, is a gift to us all.

Dispatches from Distant Shores does justice to his being a contemporary artist of the Pacific, from Fiji.

Feedback: maraia.vula@fijisun.com.fj

 

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