I remember the days
Ashneel J Prasad, New Zealand
It’s been almost 46 years now but I remember it like it was yesterday. Standing in the big Tilak Hall, when the Master of Ceremony spoke (or rather yelled) into the microphone saying: “All rise! Put your right hand on top of your heart and all together sing the National Anthem in 3, 2 , 1!” Some yawned, some grumbled for being hungry, and after a full three minutes later, we would start singing out of sync. And then suddenly, the battle erupts - whose side can sing the loudest.
The voice rises, taking a peak - “The land of freedom, hope and glory…” and finally ending together in sync and in emotion “God bless Fiji!” That’s the power of one’s own country’s National Anthem. Don’t lie, while you were reading that, you too must have sung along the tune of our anthem. It’s been almost 46 years. The national anthem has being recited repeatedly to perfection before the flag raising ceremony. The masi (printed tapa) all-ready to gift had never been used, the smell of “lovo” coming from all over the country (Those who had picked it up, yes I was using the Titanic reference). And then the clock chimed 10am. And from that moment onwards - 10am, Octobe 10, 1970 - Fiji changed forever. It became an Independent country. Independent. It feels even weird writing that word. Independent of what?
Fiji’s national language is still English. Fiji’s judiciary and parliamentary system is still British, Fiji’s money currency system is still American. The Union Jack is still on our flag. Independent of what? Ahhh, maybe independent to do four coups in 46 years? Maybe that they couldn’t do in the colonial days. Not that I’m blaming, but it wasn’t until almost 43 years after the Independence, Fijian’s of Indian descent were properly given the national title of ‘Fijian’. Oh wait a minute, that means I wasn’t a Fijian all throughout my primary and secondary schooling days? Well, then today I can say, I’m a Fijian. I’m a Fijian. And I’m a Fijian.
Forty six years this year, then in four years, we’ll hit the golden century. Amidst all this, today, I must again put my heart’s pain in words. All throughout my life I lead my life with a stigma and dilemma of what if. What if my forefather’s hadn’t come to Fiji? How different would my life be? Maybe I shouldn’t say this but I will. I hope the Fijian Government do demand Britain’s government in making a formal apology to Fijians of Indian descent. More than 140 years has passed now before they brought our forefathers to Fiji cunningly, lying to them and then forgot all about them.
That I can forgive, but I can’t forgive that hundreds also died on the journey given that they didn’t have enough food, medicine or water on board to sustain everyone’s living. Leonidas arrived in Fiji on May 14, 1879 and only after 134 years later, we could be classified as Fijians today? An apology is long overdue. Nevertheless, good or bad, Fiji is my home. I’m happy with those potholes, those chokichoki’s, those fun-flavers, those bongo’s, those kerekere’s, those bhuja’s, those beaches, those riff-raff’s with taxi drivers, those walk homes from school. I wish everyone in this world one day truly experience the Fiji way. We may look different from the outside, but our heart is in the right place. We might not have enough money to see a movie at the theaters, but we do make sure that our neighbours house does have food. We might have all the worries in the world, but there will always be a smile on our face while giving direction to a stranger. We might have sleepless nights worrying about our finances, but we will happy wide awake at 4am in the morning to see Fiji’s rugby game on television, and we might not have the world’s luxurious malls or gaming centres but we’re happy with our tyres and billibillis’. When I was in school, I used to tell everyone that one day I will become Fiji’s Prime Minister. Maybe one day I will. Till then I love my Fiji and I’m proud of my Fiji.