Thursday, May 31, 2018

But enough about my book

The son of indentured labourers, he grows up in the sweet labyrinths of sugarcane fields. At the end of the day, when he bows before Hanuman, beads of sticky sweat fall from his brow onto the unflinching monkey god.

Sometimes his father lets him into the men's hut, lets him listen to a visiting sadhu, a man whose ribs remind him of his teacher's rattan cane, chant verses from the Ramayana. The holy man's Sanskrit floats above the boy, like the clouds of ganja smoke his father exhales. The other men talk about a lost homeland, a place of elephants and temples and dust and riots.

Outside his village and its school, the boy says little.

To the Melanesians and sahibs of the island, Telugu and Hindi are secrets, sets of code and passwords that aliens use to set prices at their shops, or plot insurrection in their fields.

The boy studies. His exercise book is a plantation; he cultivates the white pages, until his pencil reopens the blisters that a machete handle made in the canefield. He wins a scholarship to India, to a university. He imagines he is flying back in time, to meet his young father, to stop the adolescent fool before he steps onto the boat, before he steams into slavery.

The plane lands in Madras. The young man wants to sprint through customs. In the queue by the taxi rank, in the monsoonal rain, he greets a stranger, a tall man with a sodden felt hat.

The stranger scowls, then takes pity on the young man. He explains:

You are speaking Hindi; we don't speak Hindi in Tamil Nadu. Hindi is an alien language. Even in the north they would not like your Hindi. It sounds very strange, very wrong.

'I am from Fiji' the young man replies. 'I have come home.' But he knows now that he will never get home.

In my excitement, I have been fusing, confusing, several stories in Stolen Worlds, a collection of Fijiindian memoirs edited by Kavita Nandan and published in 2005.

Stories of exile, of fever-dreams of a homeland, of impossible attempts to return 'home': Pakeha should understand.


Blogger Richard said...

Looks interesting Scott.

11:10 pm  
Blogger Liz Clark said...

Thanks Scott your research is immensely important. I've recently found two burials at Hakaru cemetery of two men listed as 'Kanaka' (Melanesian) both were gumdigging and both alone. I'm digging deep because I want to know more.

2:59 pm  

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