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Opinion, Opinion

Opportunities For Fiji Open Up With A Secure Identity

Opportunities For Fiji Open Up With  A Secure Identity
Satendra Nandan
January 14
14:45 2018

Satendra Nandan is Fiji’s leading writer. His sixth volume of poems, Gandhianjali, will  be published on May 15, 2018. His two books, Across the Seven Seas and Dispatches From Distant Shores, were published in May 2017.

My grandparents, both maternal and paternal, were born in the 19th century. I don’t know their dates of birth; they must have travelled in sailing ships to ‘Phiji’  at the turn of that imperial century when the sun shone brightly on the British Empire and declined to set. They left their Left Thumb Mark on a piece of paper and a lot more on the land that gave them a new life.

And where the sun rose first every morning.

Both my parents were born in Nadi district on the island of Viti Levu. My father never travelled outside this island. This is the only world he knew though he must have talked to his father about the ‘mulk’ from which his father had come.

I always saw my grandparents as old people, aged by the sun and the rain and the labour of living.

My six siblings, four brothers and two sisters, were all born in Nadi. Today a brother is in Melbourne, another in Hamilton, and a sister in Auckland. My two older siblings are dead. Their children are married to people from diverse cultural backgrounds, including Pacific Islanders.

I got married in Delhi from the home of a Sikh family. Two of my children were born in New Delhi; one in CWM Hospital, Suva. All my four grandchildren were born in Canberra. The designer of this capital city, Walter Burley Griffin, is buried in Lucknow, not far from the obscure villages from which my grandparents must have walked barefoot to a nondescript railway station towards Calcutta, though their knowledge of history was little and geography less.

I’ve travelled into this landscape, not to search for my roots, but to sit and imagine what my grandparents as children must have seen while grazing their cows or goats, or playing gullidanda by a stream that flowed into the Ganges or simply dozing under a mango tree after eating stolen mangoes from nearby orchards owned by some zamindar who dominated their life and determined their fate.

My small world has been shaped, changed more radically in the past 60 years than the land of my grandparents in the past 6,000 years.

The world changes – from a village in Uttar Pardesh (UP) to the South Seas via Calcutta was such a long journey. One can only vaguely, partially imagine the dark waters crossed by the sailing ships. You can write about it but the reality is always larger than an imagined epic or lyric.

All literature cannot contain the truth of a single life.

These thoughts come to my mind as last year, by incredible coincidence ,Girmit Day, Mothers Day and the Colonel’s Coup Day all fell on May 14.

Such a fateful day in the month of May.

It makes you think–three different experiences: there’s of course nothing more beautiful than a Mother’s Day – memories abound. You’re closest to your mother–you can never be that close again to anyone, no matter how hard you try. No leather chair can replicate the warmth of a mother’s breath or the beatings of her heart’s affections.

The Girmit Day has its own richness and poignancy of a people, in my opinion the most extraordinary epic to have come out of the Indian subcontinent known for its epical grandeur.  It became part of many parts beyond the waves  of the Indian Ocean and the waters of the Ganges. And only last year we commemorated the centennial abolition of the British Indian Indenture.

But perhaps the most defining day for many of us is the First Fijian Coup on May 14, 1987: A day in May in the life of a nation: its permanent sense of betrayal, its killing of innocence on an island in the South Seas until May 14.

Call it an eclipse; call it an earthquake. It darkened many lives; it shook every tree, shredded so many lives.

To put these days together may appear a bit of sacrilegious thinking but together, I feel, they make a potent and protean point.

And the point is: how life-experiences shape our multiple identities in a modern nation, scarred by sorrows and joys with the remnants of the past and how we put our lives together as individuals, families, institutions, communities and nations. No country or people has not been touched by the dark and unpredictable forces of history and man’s inhumanity to man.

Even England has suddenly discovered it needs its independence day and its national identity, so Brexit becomes a fatal choice. The USA has woken up to the fact that the Chinese are far more economically powerful, with a population four times its size; and militarily China will, unlike the Soviet Union, become a mighty force despite that comedian supreme leader of North Korea. The sabre-rattling will continue.

Democratic India seeks its sense of identity in the cobwebs of its mythical past when it had barely one tenth of its present population. Today the teeming millions are demanding a way of life more in need of their daily demands. And there’s a profoundly backward looking attitude developing in a developing nation.

The UK, the USA and India are important for democracy and the plural freedoms of our world. Britain as part of Europe had prevented wars for 70 years after the two world wars within three decades on that Dark Continent.

History has not intervened more drastically in the past seventy years, although we’ve had dramatic close shaves a few times.

Most people in our world have had some taste of freedom. Many are still struggling to achieve this.

The individuals, institutions, and the values which underpin some of our modern flawed structures are still the best we’ve been able to create.

Four  hundred years ago, there was no USA; 350 years ago there wasn’t a United Kingdom that is threatening to unravel itself; and there was no nation called India where a mercantile company was slowly encroaching and building an empire–the first global empire of globalisation. Within 100 years India became the jewel in the imperial crown.

The population of the world then was barely one billion. We now have 7.5 billion mouths to feed and shelter, educate and employ.

All these forces, if one is aware, shape one’s identity.

In that sense girmit, mothers’ day and the colonel’s coup all have contributed to the shaping and making of our thought-escape.

Fiji is a small country–but it contains within it the seeds of some interesting ideas.

The most important of these is our ideas of a nation.

For once, I feel, we’ve been given that opportunity. The ship has been turned and the wreck avoided.

Much will depend on the faith and good sense of our citizens, and let’s face it this time ‘citizenship’ has a genuine ring about it in Fiji’s current constitution which gives both equality and responsibility to each one. It’s a great gift to a people.

And ‘Fiji for Fijians’ now has a very special meaning in the Fijian archipelago and numerous hearts.

It has not eradicated all the ills in our social and political landscapes but it shows immense opportunities for the present generation and opens new ways and possibilities both for the living and the unborn.

It also gives a sacred sense of honour restored to those who are the dead or have left our shores.

It’s up to a people either to look back on the past thirty years over which few, if any, had any control, or to see the next thirty years in which they can shape and form. And create a nation to be proud of.

Their new and meaningful identities as citizens of a small but deeply significant nation in the largest ocean of the world.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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