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Intersections: History, Memory, Discipline

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    “A wonderfully rich, insightful and personally touching collection of essays by the Pacific region's most prolific and engaging historian. Brij Lal writes eloquently and poetically about his professional and political journeys, and the many different people and worlds he has encountered on the way. Readers will be inspired by this collective account of a courageous life committed to the achievement of democratic freedom and social justice. What shines through these pages is Lal's love of and commitment to Fiji, from which he has been painfully exiled.” - David Hanlon, Professor of History & Former Director of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa.  “Intersections is a compilation of Brij Lal's essays where academic knowledge combines with life world experience. The voice behind these essays is always courageous and the writing itself indicative of a highly disciplined mind. Read this book with an open mind as Lal explores with sensitivity a country he loves intensely and as he reminisces on the vocation of a scholar. Savour the book's historical insights, enter into its subaltern worlds, debate and challenge its findings, and in that moment of engagement shed a tear for a country which has lost its memory.” - Vijay Mishra, Professor of English, Murdoch University  “Brij Lal is a master craftsman and all his skills are on display in this fascinating work which blends autobiography with social, political and historical analysis to produce a work of impeccable scholarship. Lal emerges as much more than a historian as he reflects on the discipline of History, the changing nature of academic life, the challenges of the Indian diaspora, indenture and his travels. He may be banned from his homeland, but somehow one gets the impression that his influence is alive in Fiji, his adopted Australia and across the world. True to his indentured roots, he is still digging, still writing, and still making history.” - Goolam Vahed, Associate Professor of History, University of KwaZulu-Natal 

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-38-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword What you see is what you get
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Doug Munro

    Brij Lal is what the English would call a ‘scholarship boy,’ one of those lads from the provinces who would not have received a tertiary education but for their fees and allowances being met through the award of a competitive scholarship—in Lal’s case it started with a Canadian Third Country Scholarship, in 1971, to study at the recently-founded University of the South Pacific. Thus did the boy from the back blocks of Labasa, whose parents were unlettered, start on the journey that would lead to a stellar career as a historian of the Pacific Islands and especially of Fiji....

  4. One When It Is Over
    (pp. 1-7)

    Travelling is an occupational hazard of academic life, especially in Australia where the ‘tyranny of distance’ takes its toll more than in most other places. Long plane journeys are a particular problem especially if you travel the crowded cattle class, as most impecunious conference-attending academics invariably do. The drinks trolley should desirably be avoided for good health reasons, you are advised, and there are warnings to be heeded about deep vein thrombosis and the need periodically to wiggle your toes to get the blood flowing. There is so much time to kill on long flights, and flights to and from...

  5. Two Heartbreak Islands (2003)
    (pp. 8-21)

    Fiji is a paradox and a pity. A paradox because this island nation endowed with wonderful natural resources, a talented and multi-ethnic population with an enviable literacy rate, a sophisticated (but now crumbling) public infrastructure where drinkable piped water was once guaranteed, public roads had few potholes, poverty and crime and squatters were visible but contained, hospitals were uncrowded, children went cheerfully to schools, and respect for law and order was assured: this nation is tragically prone to self-inflicted wounds with crippling consequences. One coup is bad enough for any country, but three in thirteen years staggers the imagination. And...

  6. Three Making History, Becoming History
    (pp. 22-38)

    Early in March 1995, when the telephone call came from Mr Jai Ram Reddy, Fiji’s Leader of the Opposition and the long-term leader of the Indo-Fijian community, asking me to be his nominee on the Constitution Review Commission, I was naturally overwhelmed. The appointment was not unexpected: I had been asked several months earlier about my willingness to serve but the enormity of the task ahead dawned on me at that moment. Many friends in Fiji had cautioned me. The review, they said, was a charade, a cynical exercise in public relations by a coup-tainted government eager to refurbish its...

  7. Four While the Gun Is Still Smoking
    (pp. 39-57)

    ‘A lot of history is concealed autobiography,’ the distinguished Australian historian KS Inglis once wrote.¹ That observation rings true to me. So, too, does EH Carr’s contention that every historian is in some sense ‘a social phenomenon, both the product and the conscious and unconscious spokesman of the society to which he belongs.’² And Jim Davidson seems right as well when he says that the ‘initial impetus towards the study of modern history not infrequently derives from the students’ own sense of involvement in his own society.’³ The nature and quality of that engagement, I would argue, shape our understandings...

  8. Five Where Has All The Music Gone?
    (pp. 58-78)

    On 10 October 2010, Fiji will mark the fortieth anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom after ninety six years of colonial rule. What a tumultuous forty years it has been in the ill-fated history of that otherwise richly endowed country: coups and constitutional crises, state-sponsored constitutional engineering, more coups and endless cul-de-sacs. The prospect of stability, peace and prosperity at the time of independence, the sense that Fiji, as a multi-ethnic society, might have a lesson to teach similarly situated countries in the developing world at the end of colonial rule seems like a bad dream now. What...

  9. Six Chance Hai: On the hustings, 1999 and 2006
    (pp. 79-101)

    It has been a hard day on the campaign trail. We began early to reach the remote, rural sugarcane village of Daku in north Vanua Levu at around ten. The meandering road is a monstrosity, full of boulders and huge potholes as we bump along in a crowded jeep. Nothing much has changed in these parts since I left Labasa thirty years ago: the same sprawling cane fields now slowly creeping up the mountain slopes in the distance, rusting iron roof tops barely visible above the cane top, cows and goats grazing among overgrown grass by the roadside, men on...

  10. Seven Ungiven Speech (2009)
    (pp. 102-109)

    When Mr. Murray McKenzie invited me to address your convention, I told him in all my naiveté that I didn’t know anything about Accountancy. ‘Not many accountants do either,’ he replied. That put my mind at rest. When he said that I should focus my address on the present and the future, I had to tell him that I made my living by predicting the past. He said reassuringly, ‘You will do just fine.’ So here I am, and I thank you for the privilege of being with you today.

    The invitation to speak at this gathering was extended to...

  11. Eight The Road from Laucala Bay
    (pp. 110-126)

    It is a singular honour to be allowed to pay tribute to the late Professor Ron Crocombe. Ron—as he wished, indeed, insisted on being called—walked tall, literally as well as metaphorically, among scholars facilitating and promoting Pacific Studies in the latter half of the 20th century. He was a man of many parts, quite unlike any other, unmatchable in his energy and enthusiasm for things Pacific, the likes of whom I know I shall not see in my own lifetime. Ron went to the University of the South Pacific in 1969 as its Foundation Professor of Pacific Studies,...

  12. Nine Coombs 4240: A Room of My Own
    (pp. 127-138)

    Coombs 4240 has been my ‘place’ for more than two decades. I am talking about Room 4240 in the Coombs Building at The Australian National University.¹ It is my second home. It is where I spend most of my waking hours. It is where all my writing is done. I feel possessive about it. It has long been a silent witness to a large part of my life and work, my thoughts, ambitions, indignations and illusions, my strengths and my frailties. It has seen me laugh and cry, hit the table in frustration when the words have not come, or...

  13. Ten People In-Between
    (pp. 139-155)

    There is a small Indian community in Canberra where I live. It is a replica of Indian communities found in many western countries. It has its temples, mosques, churches; its spice and grocery shops and video outlets, restaurants and takeaway joints. It has its voluntary organisations pursuing a variety of social and cultural objectives. Occasional classes are held to re-acquaint children with the culture of their parents or grandparents. Festivals, such as Diwali and Dasherra, Eid and Prophet Mohammed’s birthday are celebrated with appropriate aplomb. Cultural evenings, of songs and music, form a regular part of the community’s social calendar....

  14. Eleven The Suriname Lecture
    (pp. 156-164)

    I am immensely honoured to be invited to speak on this occasion marking the 135th anniversary of the arrival of Indian people in Suriname. I am pleased for many reasons. This is my first visit to this part of the world [the Netherlands where the lecture was delivered]. In books we read at school many years ago, we saw beautiful pictures of your country, its canals and windmills, the magical tulip gardens and the neatly manicured flat green fields stretching into the distance as far as the eye could see, its great seaports and magnificent churches, its ancient centres of...

  15. Twelve A Hundred Years in a Lifetime
    (pp. 165-185)

    Florida, Utah, Montana, Louisiana, Gladstone, Victoria, Eve, Plato, Jacob. Names of esoteric places and famous people, you might say. That they are. But they are also the names of the first Indian children born in Fiji. They were born not in Rewa or Rakiraki or Raralevu, later to become important centres of Indo-Fijian settlement on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, but on the remote, tiny island of Rabi, on planter John Hill’s estate, the biggest employer of the first batch of Indian indentured labourers to arrive in Fiji. The new migrants were sent there because other European employers who...

  16. Thirteen One Life, Three Worlds
    (pp. 186-200)

    To be an Indian from Fiji is to be a complex bundle of contradictions. It is to be formed and re-formed by a unique mix of social, cultural and historical experiences. Although the Fijian constitution defines us as ‘Indian,’ we are, in fact, marked by a confluence of three quite distinct cultural influences: South Asian, Western and Oceanic. Generalizations in these matters are always risky, but the truth will be obvious to people of my age, the post-world war two generation growing up in Fiji. Our food and our religious and spiritual traditions, our dietary habits and general aesthetic sense...

  17. Fourteen Primary Texts
    (pp. 201-207)

    ‘Mr Joe builds a house.’ That is the first sentence from the Caribbean Readers Introductory Book One. It is also the first text in English that I ever read or, rather, recited in chorus in grade one at age seven in Tabia Sanatan Dharam Primary School. Mr Joe, a black farmer in neat white shirt and long pants and a light hat, had gathered on his farm an unforgettable array of characters: Miss Tibs the Cat, Mr Dan the Dog, Mr Grumps the Goat, Master Willy the Pig, Mrs Cuddy the Cow, Miss Peg the Donkey, Mother Hen and Percy...

  18. Fifteen Blurred Lines
    (pp. 208-219)

    Reshmi, my cousin, was always the feisty one in the family. A ‘tomboy,’ she was rebellious and a risk-taker. Uncle and auntie worried about her. ‘Why can’t you be more like Geeta,’ they would say, much to my embarrassment. Truth is, I wanted to be a free spirit like Reshmi. Arre pyari laadli beti, Reshmi would reproach me playfully, the dearly loved one, ‘why don’t we switch sides. Then you can be their Sati Savitri, the irreproachable one, and I will be left alone.’ But nothing came, or could come, between us. Reshmi has remained my best friend.

    After Vatuwaqa...

  19. Sixteen Frequent Flyers
    (pp. 220-230)

    One by one they all went, selling their dream houses on Vale Levu Street in Tamavua’s fashionable Namadi Heights. Once the pride of the most desired suburb of Suva, the place now looked deserted, unkempt, full of household rubbish on the side of streets and stray dogs wandering aimlessly looking for food. Soon after 1987, Ram and his wife Sashi had migrated to Vancouver, Anish and Chitra left for Auckland and Ravi and Vikashni for Canberra. ‘This trickle will turn to a torrent, you just wait, Bro’, Ram had said to me one day. And he was right too. It...

  20. Seventeen Waituri To Nelspruit and Other Places in Between
    (pp. 231-263)

    Waituri. The name is unfamiliar to me. It is, in fact, an Indo-Fijian settlement in the flat, damp, water-logged Nausori hinterland a short distance from the local airport. From the late 19th to about the middle of the 20th century, it was a sugar cane growing area, one among several on the Rewa delta and among the first to be settled by Indian indentured workers. When cane production was abandoned due to the perennially wet weather and low sugar content, Waituri became a rice settlement in the late 1950s. But that phase too came to an end, in the 1980s...

  21. Eighteen Sairusi, Tom, Mr Bechu Prasad, Sir Paul Reeves
    (pp. 264-278)

    Sairusi Nabogibogi. The name will mean little to the present generation of Fijians. But to those of us marching lock, stock and barrel into niggling middle age, the name was synonymous with violence, terror and unspeakable criminality. It was fearsome enough to send unruly children into blanket-wrapped silence in the menacing darkness of their thatched houses. Sairusi was a man of many parts: a charismatic criminal, a serial prison escapist, a proto-Fijian nationalist fiercely opposed to colonial rule and European dominance, a self-confessed admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, a fiction writer of talent, a self-proclaimed messiah...

  22. Nineteen Caught in the Web
    (pp. 279-286)

    Visit the fijilive website of 20 and 21 August 2008 and you will find the following animated and often acrimonious posts on me. One says that ‘Dr Brij Lal is a man of the past. He is no longer relevant. He is one person who should be blamed for giving Fiji a lousy Constitution which is race-based.’ Another says that ‘Brij Lal was an architect of a constitution that has made a mockery of Fiji legal rights. Brij Lal is a scholar who is still in a colonial country. Can he live in Fiji under this Constitution? No. He is...

  23. Twenty From the Sideline: An Interview with Vilsoni Hereniko
    (pp. 287-302)
    Vilsoni Hereniko and BL

    VH: How long have you been here at the ANU (Australian National University) and why are you here instead of Fiji?

    BL: I’ve been here since 1990. Before that, I was at the University of Hawaii (UH). I left Fiji in 1983. The reason why I am at ANU and not at the University of Hawaii has nothing to do with professional satisfaction, because UH was intellectually stimulating, with wonderful colleagues, especially at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies. But I came here in 1990 to write a book [Broken Waves: A history of the Fiji Islands in the 20th...

  24. Twenty One Speaking To Power
    (pp. 303-306)

    I was at home in Suva Point when our security guard came up the stairs to tell me that some people outside the gate were looking for me. As I approached them, I realised they were un-uniformed soldiers, ten of them in two twin cabs. One of them, a young man in green floral shirt and sulu, came forward and said politely that I would have to go to the barracks to be interrogated.

    Padma, who had by now joined me, intervened: ‘Interrogated?’

    ‘No, ma’am.’ the young man replied, correcting himself, feeling slightly embarrassed, I thought, uneasy. ‘Interviewed.’ At the...

  25. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 307-308)
  26. Notes
    (pp. 309-320)
  27. About the Author
    (pp. 321-322)