The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn


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There is no question of his flying in under false colours.

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In fact, Lal cannot abide people in any walk of life, and especially public figures, who say one thing and then do another, or who are models of unprincipled inconsistency and consistent only in adherence to their own self-interest. Many of the pieces in the present book bear witness to Lal s role as a participant historian, which has a long pedigree in Pacific Islands historiography.

He needs to engage with his subject matter to get his hands dirty and he mounts a spirited defence of his position in this book. Of course there are various levels of participation in the events that one writes about and Lal s deepest immersion was being appointed one of the three members of the Reeves Commission to review the Fiji Constitution. For the most part, however, Lal has been a close observer of the political scene in Fiji but at the edges of action.

Although I suspect he would feel uneasy at being labelled a public intellectual, that is what he is: he has recognised expertise and an acknowledged reputation or cultural authority , he is willing to express his views in a variety of media, and he has a constituency. But speaking truth to power can be a dangerous thing and Lal has been exiled from the country of his birth and where he hoped to retire or at least he sets foot inside Fiji at his physical peril.

There have been other setbacks, not least the abrogation of the Fiji Constitution which he helped to create, and further coups. He does not dwell on any sense of personal disappointment, real though it is, and instead is more concerned about the overall situation in Fiji and the absence of any light at the end of the tunnel. More than once he has said to me, regarding his research on Fiji, that it is so painful to visit the past, and a ix. At least he does not feel the sense of irretrievable waste that has beset Jai Ram Reddy, whose biography he has written: I gave up thirty years of my life for nothing, [he said to Lal], with a palpable trace of disappointment and hurt in his voice.

All that sacrifice: what for? That is not to say that Lal is upbeat about Fiji s future. He is under no illusions that there will be future coups in Fiji long after I am gone. All I can do is to say my piece and state where I stand. Lal is also disappointed at the lack of a widespread reading culture in Fiji, as will be evident from the latter pages of this book. Life for him would be insupportable without books.

He is also aghast at slovenliness of written expression, not least amongst fellow academics.

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The present book, in both matter and manner, is one person s attempt to lead by example and to show that serious writing can be read to be enjoyed just as Oskar Spate often said in a slightly different context, You don t have to be solemn to be serious. In an essay not published in this book, Lal presented his credo that both History and how it is written and practised really matters: I belong to a tradition and a generation which does not regard a few lines of mangled English as fine poetry.

Grammatically incorrect English that passes for modish prose is, for me, an exercise in language abuse.

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And great poetry often provides deeper insights into the human condition than post-modern theory Let us not reject out of hand the humane, intellectually liberal and morally engaged discipline of our founding ancestors. Let us engage in the intelligent language of ordinary discourse. Let s continue to search for tangible, verifiable and knowable truths with passion and imagination.

Let us once again proclaim the fundamental truth that History matters. Let us not reject out of hand the possibility that something can be retrieved from the repeated failures of Fiji s postcolonial past.


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There is still a remote hope that the clouds might clear. So neither should we reject out of hand, however faint the possibility, that postindependence Fiji may yet be able to forge a just multi-racial society, a viable x. The spirit that pervades Brij Lal s Intersections offers indirect but instructive insight as to how these objectives might be achieved and for that reason repays careful attention.

I don t want to find myself sighing and frightened, Or full of argument.

- Giriraj Kishore Pehla Girmitiya

I don t want to end up simply having visited this world. Mary Oliver, When Death Comes 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 Australia are invariably long. A movie or two may be taken in, but mostly I read. Just as often I write. For that, all I need is a pad and a pen. I still do most of my creative and even lecture writing in longhand, a legacy no doubt of my prehistoric educational background and a Luddite s lurking trepidation about technology. People of my generation have become remnants in their own time though we cheerfully live with the certainty that today s jaunty avan garde folk will in the fullness of time also become footnotes in other peoples texts.

Many pieces collected here were conceived and written on long-distance flights to and from Australia to far-flung corners of the globe: Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Americas.


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  8. Of varying length, written in different moods for different audiences and sometimes for no audience at all , 1. They are about people and places I have encountered actually or vicariously, about events which provoked a particular response in me, about topics and themes I had to have a word on, and about my unease with developments and digressions in my own area of academic specialisation.

    Sometimes writing things down is nothing more than an act of resistance against the ravages of failing memory. We all daily struggle with a range of emotions but seldom contemplate them in any serious way. The moment passes and the memory fades, replaced the next day by another thought, another emotion. More often now than before, I have a strong urge to commit the lived experience to paper, to shore up the fragments against the lengthening shadow, if nothing else.

    Nothing I have thought about or experienced or observed is really real until it acquires concrete shape in the form of words. Words are the tools I use to structure thought and clarify emotion. Writing gives concreteness and form to reality, helps to clasp the net over the butterfly, as EL Doctorow puts it.

    Reading and writing has been an integral part of my life for the better part of three decades. Reading is second nature to me, writing much less so.

    Writing for me is a way of thinking more deeply about experience. It is a skill I have learned over time. It has not been easy, and many gaps remain. We came late to the English language. Its intricate structures and nuances were beyond easy comprehension, and the rules of grammar were elusive, as they still are. There were other hurdles as well. I do not come from a social or historical background grounded in intellectual pursuit. My grandparents were indentured labourers girmitiyas who had come to Fiji in early 20th century, and my parents were struggling cane growers in rural Vanua Levu, living on the outer edges of encroaching poverty.

    I vividly recall the acute pain embarrassment I felt when I was once asked to do an exercise from a New Zealand textbook requiring me to ask my parents which two books they had most enjoyed reading and why, and then to tell the class what I had learnt about these books. My parents were non-literate, both in English and in their own native language.

    People of my generation growing up in rural Fiji in the post-war years often came from impoverished families scratching a meagre living from small cane or rice farms. There were no books in our homes, except some religious texts which were invariably more revered than actually read. There was no way of knowing about the world beyond the village horizon.

    School texts helped, but education had an instrumentalist intent to get us out of the predicament that had so blighted the life of our parents growing up in the shadow of indenture. Schooling in Fiji s late colonial period was not about enlarging the mind or encouraging exploration and discovery. The emphasis was squarely on learning, rote learning, 2. The lucky ones might find a career in the lower rungs of the colonial bureaucracy, no more.

    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn
    The Girmitiya Saga- A fiction based on Gandhi’s South African Sojourn

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