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Turnings: Fiji Factions

Brij V Lal
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Through Dr Lal’s refreshingly clear and powerful prose and sharply observed stories, we enter the inner world of Indo-Fijian feeling and aspiration. One universal that emerges with particular clarity in the Indo-Fijian experience is the ceaseless struggle to find community in a changing world, balancing the beauty of ritual and tradition against the transcendent value of education and modern rationality. The volume poses the question of how people draw upon historical memory and immediate circumstances to create a social world, and how that world can be shared with others in multicultural society. The answer seems to lie somewhere between history and poetry, as in Dr Lal’s ‘factions.’ - Andrew Arno University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-91-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [viii]-[viii])
  3. 1 The Road to Mr Tulsi’s Store
    (pp. 1-12)

    For a child growing up in postwar Fiji, an ambition to become a scholar or writer of any kind was certain to invite ridicule, derision, sarcasm, pity, disbelief, enough to be told to have your head examined. Everything — culture, history, politics, a raw, uncertain life on the outer fringes of poverty — everything pointed to the utter futility of pursuing that pointless ambition. Colonial Fiji had no place for thinkers and writers and dreamers. The country needed useful, pliant cogs for the colonial bureaucratic wheel, not half-baked babus who might ask tricky questions and create mischief. We were also taught from...

  4. 2 The Dux of Nasinu
    (pp. 13-34)

    The death notice in the local daily read: ‘Mr Kali Charan, 1935–1995. Teacher, Brother, Uncle to Many. Passed Away Peacefully. Sadly Missed By All. Cremation will take place at the Vatuwaqa Crematorium at 2 pm on Saturday.’ The name rang a bell; the studio photograph in the notice confirmed it. A tall, fine-featured man, dark, bald, steady, penetrating eyes, in suit and tie. He was briefly the head master of Tabia Sanatan Dharam School in the mid-1960s but had reportedly left under a cloud.

    About a hundred people turned up at the crematorium amidst warm drizzling Suva rain. Most...

  5. 3 Marriage
    (pp. 35-52)

    Bhola and his wife Sukhraji were resting on the verandah of their lean-to house one hot afternoon when Nanka, their neighbour, dropped by.‘Ram Ram bhai,’he said to Bhola, greetings, as he parked himself on a wooden crate. Sukhraji dashed to the kitchen to make tea as Bhola and Nanka engaged in small talk about village affairs. When Sukhraji returned with three enamel cups of red tea, Nanka turned towards her and asked, ‘Can I say somethingBhauji?’‘Yes,Babu.’Sukhraji never called village men by their name, always called themBabuorBadkau,husband’s younger and older brother...

  6. 4 Masterji
    (pp. 53-70)

    Six o’clock in the evening is a special time in every Indo-Fijian home. The clattering noise of cooking from the kitchen and the shriek and laughter of children at play cease abruptly as the entire family gathers around the radio set. The bell announcing the death notice rings three times. Then the voice intones sombrely:‘Dukh ke saath suchit kiya jaata hai ki ... ’It is with regret that we announce the death of ... The notice, the last of the day, is often long. When it ends, the volume is turned down and normal conversation resumes. Children scatter,...

  7. 5 Across the Fence
    (pp. 71-94)

    A new man has moved in across the fence. He walks past our shop every morning for his daily walk. Then around eight or so, he gets into his new four-wheel drive Toyota and goes to work. I presume it is to work. He is always immaculately dressed, in suit and white long sleeved shirt, wearing stylish green glasses. He must be either a lawyer or a doctor. Twice a week, he picks up a loaf of bread from our shop on his way back from his walk. There is just a barely perceptible hint of a smile as he...

  8. 6 A Gap in the Hedge
    (pp. 95-122)

    Ram, my best friend, is unwell. High blood pressure, failing kidneys and rampant diabetes, have all taken their toll on his health. ‘Not long to go, Bhai,’ he said to me the other day, managing a characteristically resigned smile. He is living by himself, alone, in a one bedroom rented apartment in Bureta Street, a working class suburb of Suva. I visit him most evenings, have a bowl of grog, and talk long into the night about the old days. Both he and I know that the end is near, which makes each visit all the more poignant. As Ram...

  9. 7 In Mr Tom’s Country
    (pp. 123-150)

    I seldom visit Tabia now, the village of my birth and childhood. The place is a labyrinth of haunting memories of happier, more innocent times better left untouched. But on the rare occasion I do, I always make an effort to see Arjun Kaka. Now in his late seventies, he is the only one in the village who has a direct connection to my father’s generation, the last link to a fading past. He knows my interest in history and we talk endlessly about past events and people at every opportunity. Kaka is illiterate and a vegetarian and teetotaller. Everyone...

  10. 8 A Change of Seasons
    (pp. 151-172)

    Aap kab aawaa,the boy asked, when did you come? He meant, ‘How long have you been waiting.’ Tall and dark, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, he was a car wash boy at the Laucala BP Station. I used to go there every second weekend to have my car washed and polished, tyre pressure checked, oil changed. The boy, Vinay, was a new recruit at the gas station. He looked startled, almost frightened. If I had been waiting long and his boss found out, he would be fired, perhaps slapped around the ears for slacking off, being negligent. He looked at...

  11. 9 An Australian Fusion
    (pp. 173-196)

    ‘Please Uncle, talk to Dad. You are the only one he will listen to.’ Rani, my niece, sounded desperate. ‘See you at the Black Pepper for lunch, Beta.’

    Such calls are a regular part of my life. As the eldest male in the extended family in Australia, a community elder, I am contacted once a week or so about all kinds of favours: help with visa applications, advice about bonds for intending family migrants, scholarships for children, hostel accommodation. It’s an obligation.

    Ramesh, Rani’s father, was my cousin from Labasa. He is from the wealthier branch of the extended family....

  12. 10 One Life, Three Worlds
    (pp. 197-222)

    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...

  13. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 223-224)
    Brij V Lal