Friday, May 15, 2015

Pundit Devakar Prasad: A tribute to an Unsung Hero and an outstanding Community Leader

Pundit Devakar Prasad: A tribute to an Unsung Hero and an outstanding Community Leader

Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the smoke from 13th day hawan ritual of Pundit Devakar Prasad drifted out and settled down, the accolades this humble human being received from all quarters make you question: If he was so great, why did he not get recommended for Pravasi Bharatiya Award or any or Indian Awards, lurking around in every corner and cranny? Interesting question. And more interesting answer: The radar of so called Indian elite and “kingmakers” who decide on such awards, and masquerade as Indian Community leaders, miss the  reach to such selfless Indo-Fijian (Fiji Indian) community workers who operate at ground level, with grassroots people. It is beyond their elitist reach.

PUNDIT DEVAKAR PRASAD - so long, Punditji. You are gone, but not forgotten. You have left a legacy of volunteering, unselfish and, altruistic services to the community, for others to emulate. You were farewelled by a huge crowd of wellwishers at Annes Funeral Home in Wiri, Auckland on 23 April, 2015.

Pundit Devakar Prasad has been virtually an unknown who rarely featured in Indian media. He is no member of the rich and famous cocktail circuits of Indian elite. Neither is he somebody who seeks publicity or association with influential people or politicians to seek any personal benefit or glory. He is a simple community-oriented, private person who believes in doing good deeds for the community without expectation of any awards or any form of personal gain. He never sought glory by holding to coat-tails of any politician. It is for this reason such awards sound hollow, redundant and meaningless, only to serve the so-called “kingmakers”.

This is because the community itself bestows rightful awards and honour on deserving individuals. No awards are needed for those who are the brightest star, the sun - Devakar.



As the casket was carried inside Ann’s Funeral Home and Onsite Cremations at Wiri, Manukau, Auckland, on 23 April, 2015, a great phenomenon took place. The all familiar theme of National Quiz bugle, which was provided through courtesy of Radio Fiji, floated into the overflowing funeral hall. It was very fitting and appropriate, as this was the funeral of Fiji’s first Radio Quiz Master, Devakar Prasad.  He suddenly left us on Sunday 19 April, 2015 and was emotionally farewelled in Auckland.

In Toga, Nausori some 78 (Now 81) years ago, the last son was born to Shiv Kumar and Maharaji, who already had five other children. The son, was very appropriately named Devakar. It means the brightest Star of the universe-the sun and source of energy. And that is what this Devakar rose out to be - a shining brightest star with a very melodious and golden voice that was synonymous to radio in Fiji.

He joined Fiji Broadcasting Commission sometime in 1956 when radio was in its embryonic stage in Fiji.  He had a very impressive career and activity history: retired Deputy General Manager – Radio Fiji with 35 years of Radio journalism career, Deputy Speaker – Fiji Parliament, General Secretary – Shri Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, (largest Hindu organisation in Fiji) and Member of the Order of Fiji – Award equivalent to MBE, and Ambassador for Universal Peace Federation.

Devakar Prasad - the original Quiz Master of Fiji Broadcasting Commission's (FBC's)  extremely popular National Quiz programme that beat all other radio production for audience listenership. Fiji Girmit Foundation of NZ decided to name its Girmit Quiz as Pundit Devakar Prasad Memorial Girmit Quiz, This quiz was held  at the 2015 commemoration on 17 May, 2015 in Auckland where his daughter, Neelima Chand from Brisbane was the Quiz Mistress. Teams were named according to sugar mills in Fiji- Ba/Penang, Lautoka, Labasa and Rewa. 

While in Radio Fiji, he initiated and produced some landmark and historic programmes. The most notable one was Hindi programme of 1960s, Aap Kitna Jaante hai (how much do you know?) which went on to become a national programme in coming decades and became the most listened -to radio programme in Fiji’s history – The National Quiz, (Na kila kila mada) which was broadcast in all 3 languages via cross-over, and Devakar Prasad was the original and founding Quiz Master. Apart from that he was instrumental in organising first faag sammelan and recording, producing and presenting Mehfil, (local singings) Ateet Ki Awaaz (a journey down the memory lane), Kisano Ka Karikarm, (farmers programme) Adbhut Duniya, (strange, but true), among others.  Yours truly, author Thakur Ranjit Singh was fortunate to sing duet with his cousin, Satendra Singh(now in Calgary for "Mehfil". It was from film Goa..."Do Diwaane Dil ke..." It was recorded by Punditji in 1965 at DAV College, Ba Fiji. What a destiny...little knowing that half a century later I would be penning his obituary.

When he migrated to New Zealand in 2003, he never sat still. Punditji touched many people in many different walks of life. This as a preacher, as a friend and grog-mate (he loved his grog and stories that go with it), as a respected community leader in organising religious, social and cultural events, as an expert judge in musical and singing events, as a Ramayan parcharak (narrator), delivering his discourse and lessons with relevance and reality to us, rather than some abstract religious, meaningless and superfluous nonsensical theories. He was very friendly and approachable person, used as a sounding board by those needing guidance and mentoring. He has been a respectable Indo-Fijian Qase Levu – a celebrated, wise elder.

Pundit Devakar Prasad, (extreme left) the Qase Levu or a wise elder from the community , seen here participating in Ministry of Social Development/ Police / Auckland Council and Waitakere Indian Association joint workshop on Family Violence at Kelston Community Centre, Auckland in June, 2012. He always volunteered his services for community well-being.
The Shiv Temple and community centre in Manurewa, Auckland held its inauguration in 2004 when Devakar was Master of Ceremonies of this international event where Hindus from around the world converged for this big solemn religious occasion. In 2005 he joined Apna 990 Hindi Radio Station in Auckland as a trainer, mentor to young announcers and convenor and producer of programmes raising awareness about religion and culture to people. The “Jaagran” or awakening programme was geared at reviving of good values in people.

He also worked across other radio stations like Radio Tarana and Humm FM Radio Station in Auckland in producing specialist programmes with relevance to history, arts and Indian culture. With his nearly four decades of audio journalism experience, he remained a useful sounding board and trainer to new-born radio stations in Auckland. Unlike some radio stations which run on cut-throat competition with slogan of “exclusivity”, he always promoted goodwill among media organisations

In 2012, his expertise was called in to commemorate Girmit Remembrance Day organised by Waitakere Indian Association to mark the arrival of first Indian Indentured labourers to Fiji. In 2013, when the support for Girmit was withdrawn, he joined with community leaders from Fiji Indian Community in formation of a new body, Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand, which was geared at reconnecting, reclaiming and restoring Indo- Fijian history. He was the founding President and a founding Trustee of the Foundation, which was gearing to have its third annual commemoration on 17 May, 2015 in Auckland, when he passed away before that. A very successful commemoration were held in 2013 and 2014. The latter year saw a renowned Fiji Historian, Professor Brij Lal from Australian National University in Canberra as the Chief Guest.

Punditji, seen here with Executives of Fiji Girmit Foundation of NZ during 2014  Girmit Commemoration with Chief Guest, Professor Brij Lal at Skipton Hall, Auckland. Seen here (from left) are Master Shiu Charan, Pundit Devakar Prasad (President), Padma Lal, Professor Brij Lal, Rajendra Prasad, Krishal Naidu (Treasurer), Thakur Ranjit Singh  (Secretary) and Pundit Ram Kumar Sewak (Programme Director)

As a Trustee of Girmit Foundation and author of “Tears in Paradise” Rajendra Prasad, wrote in Fiji Sun: “This year, he had taken upon himself to highlight the sinking of ship Syria on Nasilai reef on May 11, 1884. He had made extensive preparations to present a moving tribute to those who lost their lives, including the Naselai villagers who risked their lives to rescue others.” With his untimely farewell, the Girmit Day he so tirelessly planned for on May 17, 2015 went ahead as a fitting tribute to a visionary leader.

2015 saw the Fijian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, gracing the occasion as the Chief Guest and revival of Devakar’s 1970s National Quiz legacy, continued by his eldest daughter, Neelima Chand of Brisbane. It has been appropriately named as Pundit Devakar Prasad Memorial Girmit Quiz.

Never to sit still, he was again snapped by Shri Ram Mandir Charitable Trust in 2012 when they decided to commence a temple and community centre project in Brick Street, Henderson, Auckland. He came on board as a volunteer consultant and has been the backbone of this $6m project ever since. This dream is now turning into reality, with the scheduled opening in June 2015. Much success of that project is attributed to the expertise, management and administrative capability of Devakar

As a scholar in media and a media commentator, I noted hollowness of various Indian and media awards which seemed to be given to those who benefited the media, advertisers or elite influential individuals. In response to that frustration, I had posted on Facebook photos of two inseparable volunteering community leader friends: Pundit Devakar Prasad and Master Shiu Charan, and challenged the movers and shakers to get real and recognise unpaid and unsung heroes in the Indo-Fijian community. I complained that ironically some awards have been given to people who are already paid and remunerated for doing their job. Great are those unsung heroes providing free service to the community.

Two inseparable friends, and Unsung Heroes of Indo-Fijian Community, Master Shiu Charan (left) and Punditji, who despite their selfless service to the community as volunteers, were never considered or recognized by multitudes of Indian awards lurking around us. However, they need no awards,as they never expect any awards and glory in their service to the community. They are aptly crowned as Unsung Community Heroes by the Community. That is more the reason, why many awards from faceless judges sound hollow.

I believe, in response to that, one media had put a new award of Kiwi Indian Unsung Hero of the year.  I found it fitting to nominate Punditji. I submitted this, among others: “He is virtually an unknown who rarely feature in Indian media. He is no member of the rich and famous cocktail circuit. Neither is he somebody who seeks publicity or association with influential people or politicians to seek any personal benefit or glory. He is a simple community-oriented, private person who believes in doing good deeds for the community without expectation of any awards or any form of personal gain.”

Now, Punditji is no longer around to receive the award even if it was given to a very deserving person. But perhaps the media could redeem my criticism by posthumously granting the inaugural Kiwi Indian Unsung Hero of the Year Award to a very deserving Indo-Fijian who never sought such award in the selfless voluntary service to community-and humanity.[Such award was never even considered, let alone given]

Who cares for such awards from faceless judges? The Indo-Fijian (Fiji Indian) community has judged you: 


PUNDIT DEVAKAR PRASAD - THE UNSUNG HERO OF INDO-FIJIAN COMMUNITY. FIJI PUNDIT  blog salutes a great selfless community leader who has left very big shoes to fill.
 [About the Author; Thakur Ranjit Singh apart from operating FIJI PUNDIT blog, is a Media Commentator, Founding Trustee and Secretary of Fiji Girmit Foundation - New Zealand, and worked closely with Pundit Devakar Prasad in planning and organizing past Girmit Remembrance Days in Auckland. This is fitting salute to a great mentor]


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