Change is inevitable and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whirlwind stopover yesterday signs for a change of things to come in Fiji. Actually more of an ultimatum. For us to either leap forward and catch up with the global race or be forever left behind. And we Fijians don’t handle changes or ultimatums too well. We had just started coming to terms with our new national identity. We almost had made peace with the 2014 election results. We nearly had it all buried away…
I wish Modi hadn’t come. For the sake of Fijians of Indian descent, I wish he hadn’t come. For the sake of my personal sanity, I wish he hadn’t come. His 12-hour stopover hovered painfully over the scars that has taken us almost 120 years to hide and we still fail miserably at it. It was deeply unsettling to watch Indians leaping over one another after yesterday’s public welcome ceremony to shake Modi’s hands. Yes I understand the celebrity dynamics but for many it was about something more. This ‘something more‘, I possibly cannot put into English words but someone posted her sentiments on a popular social media forum and it cuts pretty close, “… As i watched the guard of honor given to him, my heart became overwhelmed and tears ran down by cheeks. The way a girl gets married and settles with a new identify at a new place likewise I felt the father has come home to visit his children who flew from his home to settle in another new home. strange never felt for a second that i will get so overwhelmed”. Retorts of ‘well go back to where you came from‘ quickly escalated to much nastier exchanges. And most of the racial outbursts in our country today, are not out of anger but in hurt. Hurt of still not being able to understand each other despite finally having a common national identity. Hurt that Fiji Indians looked up to Modi in admiration reserved for one’s own PM!
Truth is, the Indo-Fijians are still confused.
In my late teens and early 20’s when I used to live in Sydney, I hated to be associated with anything remotely Indian. I was a Fijian and I made sure people knew that. But as I approached my 30’s, I slowly began to embrace my Indian side. I fell in love with the sensuality of a sari, I started reading the Hindu texts and appreciating yoga being more than a western fad. I spent 2 months traveling solo from Kashmir to Kanyakumari last year and have madly fallen in love with India.
But it wasn’t till I moved to Istanbul where I realized who I truly was. It was in the innocence of a language when I came face-to-face with the biggest truth about my past. My Turkish students were curious about how someone who looked like from Hindistan, was from Fiji. And in between translations, Çihad asked me, “Teacher, what is slave?”
In my 29 years of existence till then, no one had ever used the word slave. It was always Indentured Laborers. Aaja always referred to us as farmers from India. Mrs. Cama, my class four social science teacher had made it sound like one big journey from India to Fiji to cut cane and a choice to remain back. There were no stories of hardships or torture or racial segregation or women abuse or slavery. African Americans were slaves, Bangladeshi’s were slaves, Nelson Mandela and all that was slavery, not us.
Truth is difficult. Coming to terms that I’m a 4th generation descendant of a slave is difficult especially when you’re halfway into your lifetime. Shame, stigma, the immense pain and perhaps the need to forget, stopped the Indo-Fijians to pass this history down their generations. Mine certainly haven’t.
The past is not letting go. What happens in the past, doesn’t really remain there. No it walks behind you. Breathing on your neck. Pulling you to remain with it. Till you turn around, look it in the eye and tell it, it’s over. And Fijians of Indian descent need to do that. We’ve been so focused in forgetting about our past, grinding our bones to rebuilt new homes, fighting for an equal identity, same rights and indulging in multiracialism that we completely forgot our heritage. And our closure on it.
Our painful, slave history needs to confronted to seek closure. It needs to be told in full account in schools, in history books, in-their-face to our children. And not just Indo-Fijian kids but indigenous kids as well. So they know and we know, the pain, (not just the Leonidas story), Fiji has gone through to be here today. And perhaps sharing our hardships and pain (not just our ownerships and achievements) will help bridge that gaps of ‘ours’ and ‘you go back’.
And while PM Modi brought with him, lots of money and visa-on-arrival (yayy!), he didn’t bring closure to the Fiji Indians. While we’ll still import the dhal, the kumkum and oh-so-important for my moksha, pre-packed Ganga Jal…our world will always be here. And for their own sake, Fijians of Indian Descent need to make peace with our past because that can’t be imported from India.
Disclaimer: All views expressed are my own. No racial discrimination is intended. Do not copy or publish without prior consent.