arrived in Fiji in 1910. With others we were sent to Lautoka which
we reached on a night when hurricane winds were raging. Our first
night there was spent in the Lautoka mill. There, the next day, we
were separated and distributed to the various plantations.
I went to Koronubu. There the kitchen was some distance from
where the lines were and there was no place for bathing. We had to
use the riverside for washing ourselves. On arrival at Koronubu we
were given our foodstuffs to cook and on the next day the various
tools with which we were going to work.
Those who did their work and
completed their task got their full wages. After finishing our work
we went home, had a wash and a rest. Those who had not completed
their tasks by 4pm sometimes earned only eight pence and some even
four pence for that day. Some worked hard but their hands and feet
became blistered and the next day they could not hold the hoe or the
knife so they stayed home and shed tears. Sardars would ask, ”Is this all you came to do in Fiji?” then
beat these people. I saw sardars
beating people. On such occasions the overseer would turn up and the
sardar would inform him
that the labourer was not doing any work. The overseer would usually
call him a ‘bloody bastard’ and give him three lashes of the
whip. In these circumstances some Indians used to despair and resort
to hanging themselves. This I know very well. But to whom could we
then tell these sad tales? The big and powerful sardars
and the strong and sturdy overseers were all allies. Who would then
listen to us? The overseers made sure that these physically powerful
men were with them. When we were whipped we cried and were sorrowful
but endured it and said nothing to anyone.
They were not very good towards women
either. Women being women they were not always able to finish their
tasks and therefore they were scolded by the overseers. Even when
the task was unfinished we went back by 4 p.m. By the time we had
washed, got our bucket of water, cooked, eaten and cleaned up, it
was about 9pm.
Then next morning again at three
o'clock the water carrier would come calling everybody to wake up
and get ready for work. We were awakened at 3am so that we could be
able to cook and have something for breakfast.
By 4.30am women with children were
expected to take them to their nurse who looked after them during
the day. There was an indentured woman who was the nurse and one
took one's children to her and left them with milk (tinned milk
usually). Whether the children cried or wanted to come with you, you
had to leave him behind and then go back and collect your tools for
work. By 5am at the latest we had to leave the line.
We used to be paid on Friday. We
would go at about 8pm to collect our money. We often left our
children sleeping behind and we were back by about ten o'clock.
From mid-day Saturday and all day Sunday we had a break. Some
people used to sing and dance or read their kathas
and it was in this way that we spent our leisure. We were not
educated and did not have very much knowledge about these rituals
which when performed made us happy. A katha
was usually said by somebody amongst the group who made himself a
pundit and was accepted as such. When the katha
used to take place everybody would sit quietly and listen and then
sweets would be distributed; afterwards everybody would have a meal
before returning to their own lines. The man who heard the katha
provided the meal. Everybody went to hear the katha
whether he was a Hindu or not.
In those days nobody knew who was a
Muslim, a Hindu or a Brahmin or anything else. They were all one.
For Muslims the big thing was the tazia
where everybody made these big edifices and great crowds, gathered.
These were occasions of great celebration. The tazia
was regarded as a Muslim festival even though Hindus participated
fully. Nobody really went and asked the Muslims how they fasted and
when they ate and broke their fast.
But they apparently did keep their
fast and when the festival of Eid
came everybody was involved, everybody ate the vermicelli that they
cooked in their place. It was not a question of religion then.
Everybody regarded one another as brothers who put shoulder to
shoulder together and worked.
In every street there was a small
bazaar. Farmers, usually those who had been indentured labourers
earlier, brought their various vegetables or commodities and sold
them. One could buy everything one needed from these bazaars.