Opinion

Perhaps Most Balanced Writer In Fiji These Days: Leading Author Praises Fiji Sun Editor’s Analysis

Nemani Delaibatiki’s piece dealt with the celebration-commemoration of the Indenture adventure in Fiji which began around May 14, 1879. And the first coup by the colonel on May 14, 1987, exactly 108 years after the arrival of the Girmityas.
24 May 2020 14:45
Perhaps Most Balanced Writer In Fiji These Days: Leading Author Praises Fiji Sun Editor’s Analysis
From left to right: Satendra Nadan and Nemani Delaibatiki.

Last week, on 14 May, I was touched by my piece appearing just below a short, thoughtful article written by Nemani Delaibatiki on the 141st anniversary of the arrival of the first shipload of Indian indentured labourers in a sailing ship named Leonidas.

By then Fiji was a British colony and the Indians were the dark British subjects in a darker age of the White Australia policy.

Mr Delabatiki writes with clarity and courage, with a genuine empathy for others. He is perhaps a most balanced journalist in Fiji these days and possess an intimate knowledge of Fijian politics, especially with the indigenous. His lucid analysis of a complex situation is to be applauded.

I read his pieces with interest. I’ve met him briefly only once.

I hope his pieces are selected and put between the covers of a book titled Between the Lines–or perhaps since I’ve used that title for one of my rather bulky bundle of essays, Nemani’s could be called Behind the Lines!

His knowledge is deep and his sources of inside information seem reliable and individuals seem to trust him. He writes with a sense of responsibility.

I’ve read many of his political pieces written with insight and integrity of a good journalist with a humane decency often displayed in the journalistic writings of George Orwell who gave us two masterpieces: Animal Farm and 1984.

Both these books I taught at USP and they echoed in the coups of 1987. Suddenly our lives became an imitation of the fiction.

I was moved when both our pictures and pieces were put on the same page: page 2 of the Fiji Sun (May 14th edition).

Screenshot 2020-05-24 at 2.40.19 PM

May 14 anniversaries

Nemani’s piece dealt with the celebration-commemoration of the Indenture adventure in Fiji which began around May 14, 1879. And the first coup by the colonel on May 14, 1987, exactly 108 years after the arrival of the Girmityas.

The Hindus regard 108 as their lucky number. It’s too early to tell in the Fijian context, although I’ve heard the sordid coups of 1987 described as ‘a fortunate piece of misfortune’.

While I do get several comments on my articles written specifically for the Fiji Sun readers, one particular comment made me think a little. Why do, the writer asked, I always bring in some forgotten fragment of old historical personages or passages from the subcontinent?

It’s a valid question.

There are obvious reasons: my four indentured grandparents were born in India and brought to Fiji around the 1890s. My parents and six siblings were born in Nadi and several are cremated on Wailoaloa Beach. None of them ever visited India.

Fiji gave us breath and bones and a deepening sense of island freedom and living together. Slowly a river people became a sea people.

As a teenager, I went to Delhi on a scholarship and spent four years as a student in Delhi University, fell in love, and married a most loving woman. Our two children were born there. Love for a country often depends on a single person.

I worked in a newspaper in New Delhi and taught at two public schools; Delhi and Doon.

If I write an occasional piece for newspapers or magazines, it’s because The Statesman in Delhi gave me some training in reporting and sub-editing on my first salaried job.

I’ve some of my dearest friends in Delhi. Most importantly for me it’s India which gave me a scholarship at a time when few were given to descendants of the Girmit people. That generosity is ingrained in my spirit.

Since then several members of my family, who studied in India, have become doctors and other professionals in Fiji and Australasia.

My monthly stipend then was worth not more than the price of a cup of coffee and a slice of cake today in Canberra. But tertiary education was free.

Delhi briefly was the centre of the non-aligned world. One met so many visiting leaders of the world: Kwame Nkrumah from Africa, Dwight Eisenhower from the USA and others from Europe and South America, including the British Queen.

Foreign students were especially welcomed by Pundit Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and President Radhakrishnan, a former professor of Philosophy at Oxford and the then Chancellor of Delhi University.

We were regularly invited to these official functions where drinks flowed like the waters of the Jamuna river.

But the most important thing the Indian experience gave me was the idea of a free people. Once you’ve struggled for freedom for almost a century against the most powerful empire in the world, from 1857 to 1947, your idea of freedom is one of; from fear set free.

The ultimate cost of that freedom was great and millions paid with their lives and land.

And there was a veil of a Great Silence cast over the Indian mind after the furies of Partition.

It is the remnants of those battles which have continued to surface in modern India. We’ve witnessed quite a few in recent times. They seem to me so unnecessary and unworthy of perhaps the oldest multicultural civilisation in the world.

Until COVID-19 struck like a coup on our global face. And fundamentalisms of many sinister colours and creeds have gone underground.

But the Indian polity is important to our well-being. Not only that India is the largest democracy in the world and has the second largest population of the world, but, more importantly, the Indian diaspora now has a presence in the most important centres of our global community.

Indian diaspora

There are countries that a small nation like Fiji in the vast Pacific is deeply connected to, unlike any other South Pacific island nation.

Besides the region, the connections with the United Kingdom has been crucial in the development of Fiji since before the Deed of Cession in 1874.

Then the arrival of Indian indentured labourers in May, 1879. There’s Australia and its commercial interests in Fiji and beyond. And of course, New Zealand one of our finest nations of the region where many studied and so many found a home there after 1987.

So in my mind Fiji, England, India, Australia, and New Zealand co-exist.

Today so many of our people live in these countries, and some even as far as Canada and the USA.

It’s all very well to have relations with other countries like Malaysia and China but our spiritual, cultural, educational values and bonds, and political home really are those five countries like the five fingers of my right hand.

It’s for these reasons, among others, that in my brief articles that I bring in some illuminations of my experience of India. It’s part of my deepest inheritance: a primary colour in the rainbow of life and living.

For me it’s not an area of darkness, as described by Vidia Naipaul (1932-2018), the grandson of Indentured labourers from Trinidad and the 2001 Nobel laureate in Literature .

He was writing his first Indian book when I was in Delhi – An Area of Darkness, India: A wounded Civilization, India: A Million Mutinies Now, are three of the most readable critical analyses of India by an ‘outsider’.

But Naipaul was never an outsider. He cared for India profoundly and finally married a woman from the subcontinent, a journalist, after the death of his English wife, Pat.

So to return to my ardent admirer’s question: Why do I bring in India in my writing?

Well, as Sir Edmund Hilary said to a reporter’s query: Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?

‘Because it’s there,’ was his quiet reply.

India has been in my consciousness from my childhood like blood in the body invisible, but real.

Australia where I live now is washed by the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

And with the history we share in this chain of our national being and future well-being, it is better for us to understand Fiji in her shared histories with these countries for their cultural and human ties.

From the world of our grandfathers to the world of our grandchildren.

Economic ties can be very fragile: as Australia is experiencing with China, or the USA with several countries the world over.

One man can destroy in one coup what all our ancestors built over generations.

Or as Nemani said: it is the right of the descendants and others who came in the wake of the indenture to be called FIJIANS.

Indeed it is their birthright.

This is the new consciousness awakened by the tragic coups of ’87 : a people of great resilience, goodness and peace of which Mr Nemani Delaibatiki wrote.

I was glad to read it: we’re on the same page.

And pleased to see his portrait looked brighter than mine.

The young have their future in front of them; the old see their shadows lengthening in the CORVIDous setting sun.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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