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Opinion, Opinion

SEASON’S GREETINGS: HOW GREEN IS MY VILLAGE

SEASON’S GREETINGS: HOW GREEN IS MY VILLAGE
Professor Satendra Nandan (right) with Fiji Sun journalist Sheldon Chanel at the launch of the Internationa Civil Society Week on December 4, 2017
December 22
10:00 2017

Suddenly last month I received an invitation from London to attend the CIVICUS conference being held in Fiji at University of the South Pacific (USP).

The invitation had come from the Commonwealth Foundation to cel­ebrate a few Commonwealth writers from the 52 countries associated with that august body.

I was delighted for several reasons: visiting Fiji is always a joy, not as a tourist but a member of both a fam­ily and a national-multicultural com­munity.

Besides, Commonwealth Literature, which I studied at Leeds, has enriched my life immeasurably.

Both Fiji, the place of my birth, and USP, a dynamic symbol of higher edu­cation, and literary encounters, have been at the heart of my being and be­coming — to be born in the islands and to discover the larger South Pacific through an institution has been my enduring education for almost fifty years.

Reading and writing, of course, be­come the blood and breath of a crea­tive life of words.

In between one has known both a country’s agonies and ecstasies–its sense of alienation and redemptive restoration and resilience after many a storm of many forces of nature and human fate.

But the human spirit heals in subtle ways with small memories and mer­cies. And you begin to hear the still sad music of humanity in the land­scapes of your innocence and igno­rance.

So I accepted the invitation to come to Fiji to read one of my poems se­lected to be published in an anthology from London University and give a talk.

Jyoti and I packed our bags and ar­rived in Nadi on December 1.

I spent three days in Nadi before moving to Suva for a working week with around 700 delegates from over 100 countries for the CIVICUS meet­ing–my first such encounter with ac­tivists involved in a variety of civic concerns, climate change being most urgent for the region.

Love for Nadi, childhood memories

Fiji, of course, has championed the cause of climatic awareness with de­termination and vision: a small coun­try with the mighty heart of the ocean around it.

Needless to say Nadi , as a place, thrills me more than any other. I like the name — in Hindi it is a river.

Even the word ‘Indian’ derives its or­igins from a river’s name–and I’ve al­ways felt how much we’re like rivers, streams and rivulets–forever flowing towards that infinitely vast, indivis­ible ocean.

There’s only one sea, one sky and one earth–they constitute our com­mon home. They shape our uncom­mon and unfinished humanity.

I’m not one for identity of rooted trees in a single landscape. Human be­ings have feet–they move. Movement is in our DNA.

It’s on bare feet that my grandpar­ents had moved from their land-locked villages lost in the medieval mists of time on to a little road that brought them to the South Sea islands.

Yes, indeed the longest journeys be­gin with your first step on your naked feet. Always and everywhere for eve­ryone. That alone should be our deep­est bondage of a shared and endless destiny.

So we landed at Nadi airport at noon–the flight left Sydney at 7am. From Sydney to Nadi is one of the most turbulence-free flights. The service on Fiji Airways is exemplary both in courtesy and generosity.

I spent two nights on the dwelling place I was born in, now past the bibli­cal span. Jyoti had made that journey exactly 50 years ago from New Delhi.

I’ve made many an exciting, ex­hilarating and, at times, an exhaust­ing journey but the memories of my childhood days, spent in two villages, one by the river and one across it, re­main with a pristine beauty and fresh­ness.

I’d left my birthplace in my teens. And whenever I return, my heart and spirit fills with special affections for the place, the people, many no more, and for my extended family, remnants of which remain in the landscapes of my childhood, much to my delight.

But more than anything, it’s the lu­minescent green of the fields that touch my mind–the green grass keeps singing as the blue waves keep danc­ing and breaking on the shores of Nadi Bay.

Above the greenery of sugarcane fields, the palm trees sway in the rain-trees; and a little beyond in the blue haze the forests over black rocks , sil­ver streams streak over jagged moun­tain slopes after the rains on the Sa­beto mountains.

And the lapidary Sleeping Giant is ever in its slumber blissfully.

It had rained heavily the day before. But on the day of our arrival the sun shone brilliantly giving the green a lu­minosity of growth, of life humming.

It is this that I experienced in Nadi for three days.

Things were growing. Houses were being built. Where my father had his fragile, flammable bures and cor­rugated lean-tos was now a concrete building with air-conditioners.

My late brother’s son was helping his son to build a house bigger than any I had seen in the vicinity of the village.

It made me feel happy to know that the new generation had enough faith to build not only bigger houses but a better, fairer Fiji.

With their stubborn resistance, they have neutralised the gossipy negativ­ity of racists and communalists.

The visit gave me a good feeling. There was peace in the landscape and the people I met and shared a meal or two all seemed full of a new hope for Fiji.

I was glad I’d accepted the invitation to the rather large and varied confer­ence of civic bodies that do so much to alleviate suffering and bring renewed hope in the hearts of many who de­serve a better life.

Learning from poets

At my second secondary school, my English teacher from New Zea­land had given me a poem to read ti­tled ‘Tintern Abbey’. It’s by William Wordsworth, 1770-1850.

No -one who has read it can ever see a landscape without the prism of this most haunting of poems.

The poet returns to the banks of Riv­er Wye in the Lake District and revis­its a dilapidated abbey.

What once to him was merely a land­scape now becomes a most meaning­ful, healing power after all the suf­fering he has experienced in his own life and witnessed it as a human be­ing growing in a very revolutionary world.

I doubt if a more beautiful and sad­der poem has ever been written in the English language after the French Revolution.

The poet describes several stages in the growth of his sensibility and the landscape is suffused with the human stains of his personal and political sorrows.

Young Wordsworth was caught in the brutality of the French Revolution: a love, and a separation from his belov­ed. At the time of the Revolution, he’d written:

‘Bliss was in that dawn to be alive but to be young was heaven.’

But soon disillusionment, dejection and despair set in and he began to un­derstand what man had done to man.

The French Revolution had broken faith and become brutal where Liber­ty, Equality and Fraternity came un­der the steely blades of the guillotine.

It’s in Nature that the poet seeks the powers that heal his hurt heart.

The green fields I beheld across the Nadi river brought back memories of my childhood and youth. Much is gone forever, as it must.

Such is Life.

But for all the loss and nostalgia

… nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward , springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Lines I remembered from another of my teacher’s favourite poem titled ‘God’s Grandeur’.

In 1987, on Christmas Eve, I had left Nadi in Air Pacific with a kind of death on my mind.

This Christmas Eve I felt a renewed sense of life as I boarded the flight in Fiji Airways.

And began scribbling the last poem for my book Gandhianjali, titled ‘Prashant-Shantih’: Pacific Peace.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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