Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pratap Chand’s Footprints: An insight into post-Girmit life in Fiji

Pratap Chand’s Footprints: An insight into post-Girmit life in Fiji

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Pratap Chand’s "A Fijian Memoir - Footprints of a Girmitiya’s Grandson": Book launch in Auckland, New Zealand on 15 September, 2013.

When the sound of Indian drums, hudda and Tassa, drifted into the jam-packed Milton Hall in Mangere East in Auckland, one could be mistaken that they were in Fiji. Had it not been for the cool spring air, and overhead noisy jet planes lining up to land at nearby Auckland Airport, it would have been mistaken for an event in Tavua, or Ba, or even Labasa.

Gusts led into the reception hall on accompanyment of hudda and tassa

Honestly, if one were present in the Auckland book launch A Fijian Memoir - Footprints of a Girmitiya’s Grandson, one would honestly feel they were at home, back in Fiji.

The hall was filled with family members, friends, former trade unionists and a contingent of former Fiji teachers. Grand entry was made with the accompaniment of drums and tassa, when the Chief Guest, former Parliamentarian Master Shiu Charan, the author Pratap Chand and Fiji Teachers Association of NZ President Satya Swami made entry into the hall. It was a moving entry, a nostalgic feeling reminding us of those good days in Fiji. When these three gentlemen, with former Deputy Speaker and Labour MP Giyannendra Prasad took the head table, it was such a reassuring sight for the migrant Fijian community to cherish their leaders.
The distinguished leaders: from left, the author, PRATAP CHAND, the Chief Guest who launched the book, MASTER SHIU CHARAN,  over-view  of the book by GIYANNEDRA PRASAD, and President of Fiji Teachers in NZ, which hosted the launch, SATYA SWAMI

The Chief Guest, Master Shiu Charan, former trade unionist and former NFP parliamentarian, considered it an honour and auspicious occasion to launch a book authored by a close friend, akin to a younger brother... “It is auspicious in that our presence is to commemorate Brother Pratap Chand’s fulfilment of a dream—he has authored a book titled A Fijian Memoir—Footprints of a Girmityas Grandson,” Shiu said. He recommended people to read the book because “….  Pratap has expressed his sentiments with gusto and a sense of fellow feeling…” which will leave the reader no choice but to identify himself somewhere in the web of things, as events and incidents explained are what most rural third generation Indo-Fijians have been through in growing up in Fiji.
Chief Guest, Master Shiu Charan, launching the book: " I now have pleasure and pride in launching Brother Pratap Chand's book- A Fijian Memoir -Footprints of a Girmitiya's Grandson".
The decision to write the book was well explained by a Shakespearean play that Satendra Singh, our literature teacher and the then Principal of DAV College, Ba, explained in 1973. It is the same DAV College that Pratap attended in 1960s with another author and former Ba Town Clerk, Rajendra Prasad, who wrote “Tears in Paradise-Sacrifices and suffering of Indians.”  A literature lesson from Shakespeare’s As You Like It explains that adversity, troubles and difficulties bring out the best in people. That is what Pratap went through, who, while nursing the sickness of his wife, commenced writing, which now has culminated in this expression of what the new generation of Indo-Fijians went through as they grew up in Fiji.
The author, a jovial PRATAP CHAND: " Perhaps my village people may have high levels of cyanide because of the cyanide-affected fish they got in abundance when Emperor Mines released cyanide into Yalandro River."
In his presentation, Chand revealed two principal objectives in writing the book. The first was to document “the growing up process and the struggle of the third generation Indo- Fijians”, their education, struggles, trials, tribulations and life in village, a path that many of us have treaded. The other reason was to encourage and inspire others to write and tell their stories. And from what he says, some friends are already sharpening their pencils, or hunting for their keyboards to tell their tales.

Chand feels that Fiji needs an explosion where people are prepared to write and tell their stories which would inspire the present and future generations. He warns that his stories are in no way to be considered to be historical accounts, as they are written from recollection of memories. “I recount a village growing up process with games and activities which have been taken over by technological and urban forces. I record these as legacies of the past which may provide the current generation a
glimpse of life that existed not so long ago,” he said. His revelation about release of poisonous cyanide into Yaladro River by Emperor Gold Mining Company is a snapshot of how multinationals have poisoned the world. He jokingly, in fact factually quipped that perhaps people of Tavua may have high level of cyanide because of the disoriented and almost-dying fish they collected from the river for food. Indeed some of the accounts of what he wrote would be eye-opener for children of third generation Indo-Fijians, growing up in Auckland, London, Sacramento, Vancouver and Sydney.

Part of the large audience

In a very inspiring presentation by Giyannendra Prasad, Solicitor, former Labour Parliamentarian, Deputy Speaker of Fiji Parliament and a close friend of Pratap Chand, he urged Fijians to read more. He briefly presented an overview of the book, touched on the growing up process of Pratap, childhood, education, Teachers College, employment, marriage, scholarship, Lecturer at Nasinu Teachers College (NTC) where he met Shiu Charan and exposure to unionism that commenced there. He later touched on contributions of teachers and unions to form Labour Party, Chand’s role as Minister of Education, and how an opportunity to improve Fiji was lost to the events of 2000 (Speight coup). He brought some lighter moments by describing how we used to make “cars” out of Capstan or Champion tobacco tins and pretended we were driving cars. Anecdotes of Holi, Diwali, borrowing from neighbours, subsistence farming and small village incidents, coupled with patches of Fiji Hindi, created humour and laughter.
GIYANNENDRA PRASAD, who did an overview and short-review of the book: " Adversity brings the best in people, as it did in Pratap Chandra, who has completed a book that he commenced writing in difficult times."
Giyannedra, on a more serious note, echoed those Shakespearean thoughts on difficult and testing times. “It is at times of crisis and challenge, not at times of comfort and convenience, that test of human character and strength are exposed. It is those times that brought the best in Pratap,” and has resulted in this book.

Indeed, what Giyannedra said is so factual and evident, and his impromptu thoughts (no written or prepared speech) on Pratap are a reflection of his immense wisdom, knowledge, decorum, demeanour and eloquence. I was fortunate to capture these thoughts on a digital recorder and transcribe it for our readers…”His many sacrifices, utter devotion to his ailing wife...The dignity which he maintained both during illness and eventual loss, is profoundly touching and indeed rare and truly inspiring. It is strongly recommended reading…In reading the book, it will be a great celebration of life of a remarkable and great friend, Pratap Chand, “Giyannedra concluded.

Part of the audience

Indeed it was a great presentation by all the speakers, and the occasion blessed Pratap Chand’s achievement with huge presence of so many friends, family and well-wishes from Fiji. It is now upon us to get a bout of that déjà vu or nostalgic feeling by reading the book and going back to the good stress-free old days in Fiji that for many of us, only remains a dream. For others, it is a bundle (gathri) of memories, “Yaadein” which we unwrap from time to time in moments of sadness and despair, to get some comforts from days gone by, when we hum… Koi lauta de mere bite huye din... (Somebody please, hand me back my gone by days.)

Happy reading, and tell us your tales as well.

[Note from FIJI PUNDIT and Thakur Ranjit Singh: This is NOT a book review, but news and pictorial journalistic presentation of the launch of the book. The book review will be done at a later stage on this Blogsite, FIJI PUNDIT, which tells you what other media ignore.]

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