The late Mr Ram Dayal Nakched, my grandfather, arrived in Fiji on May 7th, 1915 as an indentured labourer on board the SS Mutlah 1. Prior to his departure, he was approached by a local recruiter in February of the same year and offered casual work with good pay. Hailing from the village of Govindpur in the Uttar Pradesh district of Rai Bareli, his caste was Ahir and his family was involved in the dairy business. During that period, times were incredibly challenging, particularly during the summer months, as there was a scarcity of grazing pastures. The group of young men, around 19 years of age, registered for emigration in Salon and were transported to Calcutta before boarding the ship on April 3rd, 1915. He was registered labourer number 53656.

The journey lasted about a month, during which many passengers fell sick due to the cramped quarters on the ship. For many, it was their first time experiencing or seeing the sea. The Medical Superintendent worked tirelessly to ensure everyone’s well-being, and to pass the time, the men were given rocks to rub together. The ship journey broke down the strong caste system, and new friendships were forged among the passengers. My grandfather forged a deep friendship with a friend on the ship, which ultimately led to them both marrying girls from the same family. Upon arrival in Fiji, the passengers were paraded before potential owners, and my grandfather was fortunate to be picked by the Medical Superintendent of Makogai Island. The island used to house a leper colony owned by the colonial government of Fiji and had restricted entry as the disease was very contagious. He worked in the hospital’s kitchen, cooking for the superintendent and managing the poultry farm.

After his five-year contract expired, my grandfather was persuaded to work as a cook for the Levuka Public School Hostel on Ovalau. The school was a prestigious educational institute that attracted children of the higher class in the country’s hierarchy. After retiring as the school’s cook, my grandfather settled in Waitovu, where he sold suki in town at the Vallabh store. He had many acquaintances with senior civil servants and government ministers, whom he cooked for during their time at Levuka Public School.

My grandfather often recounted a heartwarming tale of two brothers who lived in the Levuka Public School Hostel, where he worked as a cook. The portion of dinner served to them was never enough. Under the cover of the night, they would sneak into my grandfather’s quarters to enjoy the surplus food he had smuggled from the kitchen. This clandestine gathering became a regular occurrence, strengthening their bond. Little did he know that years later, one of those brothers would rise to become a government minister. What shocked many was the minister’s endearing gesture of paying a courtesy visit to the old man during his trips to Levuka.

During his retirement, my grandfather shared many stories about his past with his family. He would tell us these stories every evening under the light of the tabu cagi (kerosene lamp). He was a vegetarian who did not consume kava or any sort of liquor, but he occasionally smoked suki. He walked two miles to town every morning and returned in the afternoon, despite the availability of public transport. Despite being happy in Fiji, my grandfather was in a perturbed state when his letters to his family in India began to return to him in the late 1960s, and no further communication was established. My grandfather was blessed with two sons and two daughters, although he experienced the tragic loss of his wife at an early stage. He passed away peacefully, after a short illness, at the age of 95 years in 1985.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Mr Satish Narayan Nakched for generously sharing his grandfather’s remarkable story with us. Mr. Nakched is a dedicated long-serving volunteer at the Suva Branch and also serves as a lecturer at the Fiji National University. His unwavering commitment to volunteerism extends to his entire family, as they actively contribute to making a positive impact in their community. Notably, Mr Nakched’s daughter, Sonika Narayan, is a valued member of the Fiji Red Cross Youth Commission, exemplifying the spirit of service and compassion. Their collective efforts inspire us all to embrace the power of volunteering and work towards creating a better world.

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