A new century, a foreign island to call home and two young lives. And out of this union sprang many new lives, bringing forth a few fantastic adventures …
🇮🇳 My father was born a Hindu native of Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India in 1884. Twenty-one years later, as an *indentured servant of the British Empire, he sailed out of Calcutta on an English steamer towards a southern Pacific paradise.
While on board the ship coming to Fiji Tappoo from India, as one might imagine, a lot of time was spent on the open sea. Relationships were forged and in some cases an acquaintance became a friend. Some of those friends became like family and ofttimes trust accompanied these new relations, especially after disembarking in a new land; most likely these are the only friends one has to start over with.
Coordinates: 18.1416°S 178.4419°E
It was 1905 when he first arrived in the Fiji Islands, then a Crown colony and seated deep in the South Pacific on the International Dateline. My Hindu mother was born in 1903 into a very loving home, there in Fiji. ♥ My parents married in 1920.
After my father’s indentured service to the Crown was up, and as a good means of support, my father began to purchase tobacco leaves wholesale from the farmers in the Vunidawa district of Viti Levu, Fiji. The land there being especially fertile supported dairy farms as well.
When my father sold the tobacco leaves it was in either the bulk or rope form. In the latter instance he’d cut off and sell just what the customer wanted. This lucrative business brought to my father one of the main distributorships of tobacco in all of Suva.
This is how he made his small fortune and began raising his family. My father had purchased land in Toorak, which is approximately a 15-20 minute drive just southwest out of Suva proper.
There came a point in time when some of these shipmates who traveled from India with my father, convinced him to sign some documents (a thumbprint sufficed as a legal signature) which caused the forfeit of his property straight into their hands. Lacking in proper education, my father didn’t quite understand business dealings and such; he was a decent, kind-hearted and simple man.
My father was told that in return they’d be able to produce better profits for him than what his land was worth currently. This of course was not their true intention, an un-truth was told; he was being tricked out of his property ownership. They filled his head with exaggerated tales of profits for all to share in, if they were to bring in developers.
While this reality is a truth in doing, there was only selfish motivation; they knew they were taking his property legally if not most certain, unfairly. Over a course of time my father had prepared to build a nice big family home on his land. What neither of my parents realized is this land was no longer theirs.
My father had always given my mother his earnings cash every night because well, she was the bank! And he loved her very much. She ran all management of the household; the family finances and he wanted her to have whatever she desired.
Naturally that created quite a stash of cash. It didn’t take long before my mother’s kind and generous nature was common knowledge outside the household. She was eventually taken great advantage of as well.
Mainly the people doing the taking were some of the household helpers already employed by my mother. The workers would at first ask only for a shilling or two for their labors -and my mother always gave each one a little extra- then gradually build up to great wage expectancies, insisting on much more when finished.
They spoke of school fees that couldn’t be paid, or there was not enough food in the house or their children needed clothes and such. Others in the house felt it was a play upon her sympathies. She gave to them nonetheless. It became obvious over a period of time, there were those simply taking advantage of her kindness. I’m thinking some of these people are legitimately in need -but at every turn?
I was born on an Easter Sunday morning. It was the 14th of April in 1935.
The location of my home was known as 1 mile, Suva, as it was exactly one mile from Suva’s town center. Previously it was known as Old Golf Link due to its former incarnation as a golf course established by the ruling British of the times.
My mother’s father aka my nana, migrated to Fiji from Surinam, a Dutch Colony on the northeastern coast of South America; he was just a little boy when he arrived with his family. His father came to Surinam from North India in the latter part of the 19th century.
My nana built this house and with his 2nd wife, resided there as well. We had other family members living in this home; my mother’s two brothers and their wives but no cousins yet. In fact most of the family was born there, ending in 1951. Families were quite united in the days of old.
By the time of my arrival into this family’s life, my parents had already a son and daughter. My elder brother was born in 1922 and my elder sister was born in 1928 -both were born on the same day- how does one do that?!
I recall being told that my nana and his wife lovingly nicknamed me meethaiLal (sweet [as in candy] red). As my daughter tells me now, “Oh dad, if they only knew you would grow up to be garamLal! (red-hot!)”
Speaking of red it reminds me of this little boy’s treasure. My nana had given to me a little red ball about the size of my head, for Christmas. I absolutely loved that ball more than any other plaything I had. I played with it all the time; I felt it was my very good friend. You know it really made me happy.
Then one fateful day as I was playing with my ball it made its way into our fresh water supply of the local well. It’s the kind of well that you’d see in old movies. Oh how I cried, realizing I couldn’t get it out. 💔 I thought my best friend was lost forever.
I felt so sad, I couldn’t stop crying and I wouldn’t even eat my dinner that evening. Finally I just went to sleep. My nana came home and asked for me. He was told that I didn’t eat and I wouldn’t stop crying. No one knew why I was so sad and I didn’t want to tell on myself.
My nana came to me and waking me gently, asked me what was wrong. I hesitated to tell him because I was scared that I’d get into trouble. After he assured me it was all right to tell him, I sadly described as best I could how my ball had gone down into that hole in the ground, out in the yard.
I’m sure he was amused by the slight smile on his face and he offered me his hand, inviting me to go outside with him. We were going to reassess the situation. He was definitely amused! He laughed a hearty laugh as he sent the water bucket down into the well to fish out my ball.
My world was perfect once again! And not only that, a point was made to cover up the well. Only the adults could now remove this cover as needed. Thank God it wasn’t due to a child having fallen into the well to get the right thing done.
I was either 4 or 5 years of age when my nana passed away. There was an empty spot in the house, in my heart. I missed him very, very much.
* indenture [noun historical] a contract by which a person agreed to work for a set period for a landowner in a British colony in exchange for passage to the colony. > See FREE Oxford Dictionary of English -app ++ On the Crown’s ticket, my siblings and I (at a future date) were granted free passage to visit our father’s homeland.
I do hope you have enjoyed the launch into this very interesting saga based on true events. It is a continuing adventure brought forth by some very precious memories of a beloved, now senior, gentleman. I pray for his continued participation which has been filled with much laughter and a few tears for balance: always a fresh recollection as though it were only yesterday.
Thank you for your indulgence. Do return next week, Sunday evening about 8P pst for a fresh infusion of some Blue Masala!