OPINON: SORRY – A Small Word Opens A Bigger World

Professor Satendra Nandan’s new book, BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, was published in July and launched in Germany. Among his works are the highly acclaimed novel The Wounded Sea and Requiem for a
16 Sep 2015 13:09
OPINON: SORRY – A Small Word Opens A Bigger World
Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama at the Nasinu Secondary School 35th Anniversary. Photo: Rama

Professor Satendra Nandan’s new book, BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, was published in July and launched in Germany. Among his works are the highly acclaimed novel The Wounded Sea and Requiem for a Rainbow. He’s currently working on a travelogue — his first journey from Nadi to NewDelhi.

Last week a journalist friend of mine sent me an edited version of Prime Minister Voreqe Bainmarama’s speech delivered last month at the Fiji Day Celebrations in Canada.
It contains some of the most moving words and sentiments I’ve read in a long time. Certainly no-one, with power, in Fiji has ever spoken in that tone to a people of Fijian origin, either in Fiji or outside.

That the elected prime minister chose to say those sensitive and uplifting words in Canada must have meant a lot to those “migrants” who were wounded by the three unnecessary and racist coups—two in 1987; one in 2000.
These were shameful and abominable acts of betrayal of a nation’s trust and a people’s faith in Fiji: A loathsome lust for power with cruel and casual brutality.
One can scarcely forget the frenzied madness of a well-fed army and the privileged patriarchal minority of Fiji. Of course since then we’ve had the Colonel’s apologies; the Christian transformations of several religious protagonists who spear-headed the onslaught on the innocence of Fiji and her may children.

Saying SORRY
It has taken an elected Prime Minister, with a military background, to feel the depth of the national tragedy and personal pain and to express his sorrow and share the grief of those who were so shabbily treated by some their countrymen including a few women.
Saying ‘Sorry’ is to share their sorrows, their grief and to heal their inner wounds of the spirit, and restore a psychic wholeness to the damaged national consciousness. And also to make us see that the past may have been terrible, but the future need not repeat that ugliness.
Our generation has suffered but it need not be the psychic inheritance of our grandchildren.
Prime Minister Bainimarama has done this, I believe, with sincerity and moving dignity which only a prime mister of a country can give to a nation, to bind the wounds and restore belief in the inherent goodness of a people and a place.
I’m reminded of Mr Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Aboriginal people in the Federal Parliament in February 2008.

He apologised to the Aboriginal people for the “laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on our fellow Australians.”
Mr Rudd went on to say “SORRY” to the Stolen Generations. He passionately appealed to the citizens of Australia—indigenous, settlers, migrants—to right the wrongs of the past and write the nation’s new narratives together. Together we’re stronger. It was Prime Minister Rudd’s finest hour.
Before that Paul Keating had paved the way with his Redfern Speech in on 10 December 1992.
Keating paved the way for the historic Mabo judgement when he asked: ’What’s a first-rate social democracy?—It’s a test of our self-knowledge, that Australia’s contemporary identity cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia. We’ve to imagine this afresh.’

Our neighbours
It’s a great irony that in our largest neighbor, the two prime ministers were concerned with what a forceful settler culture had done to the indigenous people in barely 200 years; while in the Fijian context the Prime Pinister of Fiji was apologising for what the powerful and privileged segments of the indigenous community had done to the defenseless immigrants who were brought to the islands to serve Fiji with whatever they and their ancestors possessed. Colonialism’s vicious cycle had come full circle.
I think it takes men and women of great character, courage, and empathy to speak about the sorrows of Others with genuine and heart-felt grief.
The Other is, after all, your brother. It means our capacity to imagine the Other and enlarge our heart’s humanity.
This is not easy.I’ve only recently spent several weeks in three countries: Singapore , Germany and India. Each has attempted to heal its wounds of history and, to large extent, they have succeeded.
Singapore was not an easy country in its conception; the Holocaust of Germany remains a most heinous human evil of all time; the brutal vivisection of India was the greatest imperial crime of the largest empire.
And yet when you travel to these countries and spend a few days with a few families, you get to understand how a nation’s citizens, with vision, grit and grace, can illuminate the darkest corners of their history by writing, talking, creating art, making films, in their daily actions and conversations, in their media and classrooms, in their personal relationships, in their parliaments. But ,above all, their capacity to say sorry for individual acts of unkindness by their ancestors and national acts of criminality.
There’s always the possibility of redemptive words and actions and our ability to live in truth.
Saying Sorry is an act of searching for the truth: Who does not know the truth is simply a fool.
Yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a criminal. That quest is vital for our survival.
Reading Bainimarama’s speech to the Fijian Canadians is to sense the depth of his understanding of the suffering of a people who knew no other home except where they were born: Fiji.
The Prime Minister talks of ‘suffering, ‘lost hope’, ‘abandoned homes’, ‘the most shameful episode in our nation’s history’, ‘the anguish and despair’, ‘the Fijian family torn apart’, ‘leaving loved ones and friends behind’.
But he also salutes ‘the Fijian spirit’ that can triumph over any adversity. ‘Today,’ he said, ‘I welcome you back in the Fijian family. To help build a new Fiji: To fulfill its promise. Its destiny.’ One’s family can be across a street, across a river or across an ocean.
No-one, I know, has spoken thus from the seat of power in Fiji. The lost years may yet be recovered for some with ‘yalo loloma.’ He challenges the citizens of Fiji to redefine the national word ‘Fijian’ and give it a definition, meaning, value, identity, depth, substance and a deepening reality that grows out of the soil, sand, waters and reaches towards the sun through our soul across many rainbows for many generations.

World as a bridge
The world is a bridge: do not build a house on it but use it to cross over to the other side, said an ancient king. And these crossings between island seas or seven seas like all our ancestors are our most creative journeys. In speaking to people whose umbilical cord is buried in Fiji, the Prime Minister of Fiji, I think, was making the most profound appeal for healing the wounds of more than coups. There’s no future, he knew, without forgiveness.
We know the most healing blood flows from the Cross at Calvary. It’s a powerful image and symbol in many cultures, big and small.
I do not know about you but I’m essentially a sentimental fellow who grew up on the banks of the Nadi River singing Hindi film songs and reciting poetry and playing my flute under a single pandanus tree on a bare, brown hill and watching the melancholy beauty of the sinking sun in Nadi Bay.
Yet I know we survive by our sentiments. And the sentiment that’s expressed in the single word SORRY is, to me, most meaningful.
It includes both suffering, forgiveness and has a transcendent quality of lifting us to another level of reality where we recognise the dignity of our neighbor as part of our inalienable selfhood.
The wounds we inflict on every island and continent, and on each other, is part of our humanity. Increasingly we question the very idea of history: is it really one constituted by the winners with guns or a field tilled by the losers. In the fields things grow.
The fields of human regeneration are large and fertile. Many nations, peoples, institutions and individuals have tendered apologies and extended their hands of friendship for reconciliation. Writing and righting the wrongs is part of the process, and trauma can be transformed into acts of deepest creativity and a loving quality.
It leads to renewal, not revenge and retribution. Only then the dead can rest in peace, and the living truly live their lives. In the next generation or so, the coups will become distant memories for many; one by one the lights are going out who were the real victims and with them may disappear these hurts of history, not done by outsiders but by those who were closest to our lives.
One electoral defeat degraded all our values of human decency and an ethical democracy. For the perpetrators God was their first recruit; truth the first casualty.
Prime Minister Bainimarama doesn’t invoke divine intervention: he places the responsibility squarely on our shoulders: he’s a politician of some conviction, underpinned by a trinity of refreshing ideas for Fiji: of justice and equality. And changing the direction of Fiji’s future. So
Let the healing fountains start
In the depths of our healing heart
Let the wounded surgeon ply the steel:
Beneath the bleeding hands we may feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art.
That, I think, is what the word SORRY means to me. It’s a small word but it opens a larger world, bigger than any ocean.
Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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