FIJI BLOG 1
When the dusky Melanesian airhostess of Fiji Air with a flower in her kinki hair greeted me with a “Bula Vinaka”, as I entered the gleaming Airbus from Hong Kong to Nadi (pronounced “nandi”), I realized that my encounter with Fiji after a gap of 25 years had begun. The international airline of Fiji is no more Air Pacific and the Boeing 747, which used to fly between Sydney and Nadi has been discarded. The Fiji experience began right in Hong Kong in the new Airbus with its Fijian interior and legendary hospitality. The full flight, with Chinese, Fijian and Indian passengers arrived smoothly in Nadi right on time after a ten-hour flight. The morning here felt like the middle of the night for me because of the time dfference.
Nadi international airport, which used to look like a minor railway station in India in my time, is a truly modern facility today. Pradeep Singh, the last Fiji Indian to see me off in 1989, (He accompanied me to Sydney on my flight out) was the first to receive me today, together with Damen Gownder, one of my hosts. We drove to the Tanoa International Hotel of Y.P.Reddy (Travelodge during my time) where the Reddy children, Kamini, Kalpana and Rohit met me over coffee. Pradeep drove me to neighboring Lautoka, golfer Vijay Singh’s hometown, where Reddy has the Waterfront Hotel, one of my favourite haunts in the late eighties. YP received me at his hotel, where my stay has been arranged for tonight.
Looking around in the Nadi-Lautoka area, one can see greater prosperity and growth. More buildings have come up, but the skyline has not changed and there is plenty of greenery around and the blue sea, stretching endlessly. I am told that the Indian community has dwindled to about 30% of the population, but those who have remained are happier and wealthier. One consequence of the exodus of the Indians is that the sugar cane production has become less than half. The British had brought Indians here more than a hundred and fifty years ago as the Fijians could not manage the sugar cane plantations. There will be elections under the new constitution in September this year, first time on a common roll, without racial quotas.
My walk on the waterfront took longer than expected as I walked away from the hotel rather than towards it. The midtown Loutoka appeared unchanged with more Indian shops than before. I passed by the Sikh Temple, where I made a speech in 1989, which led to my departure from Fiji. I thought that I made an unprovocative speech, but it was considered incendiary by the military Government in the situation at that time. The Sikh Temple has been rebuilt with spontaneous contributions from the Sikhs around the world.
A dinner hosted by Y.P.Reddy tonight had many leaders from the Indian community, with whom I had worked, notably Jairam Reddy, known as the Gandhi of Fiji. We reminisced over the events of 25 years ago and hoped that things would be better for Fiji after the elections.
Fiji looks absolutely peaceful and it is difficult to imagine that such a pleasant country could have so many political and social problems.