By MANPREET KAUR
Satendra Nandan (pictured), born in Fiji and having completed his PhD as the first Fiji-Indian from the Pacific at theAustralian National University, is yet again with a book for his readers. This time however, his scattered stories in a volume is worthy of the writer’s mighty pen and a journey of the mind’s eye. Being a member of the Fiji Parliament from 1982 then moved to Canberra following the coups in the late 1980’s, and the subsequent return to his homeland to give back to Fiji and its people, is a rare grandeur and deepest heartfelt.
Upon receiving an Asia link residency in 1999-2000 provided him with the opportunity to work on a range of India-related projects: a novel set in New Delhi, Canberra and Suva which are a collection of semi-autobiographical pieces titled Indian Fragments; a book on the life and values of Mahatma Gandhi, and the Delhi section of his autobiography, Requiem for a Rainbow: An Indo-Fijian Journey. Nandan’s publications do not limit his talents to poetry, novel, collections of essays, but way beyond.
His publication Sea-shells on the Sea-shore are fragments of memory so magnetic, heart throbbing, poignant, yet soothing to the soul. Such is the writer’s quest within, beyond and yet to be unveiled. As an American writer, Norman Mailer once aptly said that: ‘writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.’ Nandan I believe writes what is worthy of being read. He does not labor for the admiration of the crowd, but finds contentment with a few choice readers who appreciate his work for his brilliance and honesty to share the unwritten, untold tales of the Pacific people.
An honest writer, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we as readers miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors or the heavens without their azure. But, for Nandan’s works surely give us that ease to follow word for word, thought by thought and each event since his stories milieu we are familiar with. His stories in Sea-shells on the Sea-shore make us plunge into the vastness of Fiji’s untold tales.
Flipping through the first few pages of Nandan’s scattered short stories in a volume Sea-shells on the Sea-shore, I am deeply moved by this great writer’s ability to steer the readers to yet another level of Fiji’s pathos, multiple voices and lives of the ordinary gone unnoticed for its sheer simplicity. In his multiple moving tales about Fiji’s sugarcane fields, mouth watering mangoes, a teacher’s story, Nandi River’s solace banks, agonizing departure of Bro, The Woman in the Orchard are just a few glimpse of life in Fiji.
I came to know Nandan as a writer way back in 1995 while reading his two most acclaimed short stories in high school, A Pair of Black Shoes and The Guru. I, too, have been relishing to at least having my first pair of shoes like the main character in the story. Till today I teach my Form Three in school and noticed they cling to each word of Nandan in their favorite self realizing short story. He has irrefutably left an everlasting impression embedded in the readers mind. The power of those simple words, life changing events captivate thirteen-year olds in school. The plainness of the language, the diminutive details of Fiji’s lustrous seas, echoes of the past enthrall the readers of Nandan’s work. Such is the greatness of this Nadi, local writer – more so a diasporic Fiji writer sharing a glimpse of life in Fiji; comparable to none in the world.
Though the seas divide us, lands miles apart, but the songs of bitter times and sweet, ordinary people’s lives, their hardships toiling the land and earning an earnest daily bread is reverberating in Nandan’s stories in Sea-shells on the Sea-shore.
As a scholar of Literature, I feel Sea-shells on the Sea-shore does justice to Nandan’s ten earlier writings. Though both fictional and factions infused with tragedy and comedy heeling the writer’s wounds, Nandan continues to write more. Sitting back browsing through his other works of selected prose, Between the Lines, collected poems The Loneliness of Islands, my mind rushes to our girmitiyas who indisputably would be proud of Satendra Nandan’s sheer honesty to pursue writing. Nandan has made a leap of faith, put pen to paper, devoted hours and hours building a world and after months of hard work and sweat and blood and tears produced a stunning success through Sea-shells on the Sea-shore.
Knowing the tragedy that Nandan has gone through over the years, one may classify him as the hardy soul who rose to the pinnacle of authordom, without felt by a fret culture of coups in Fiji.
However, the current tragedy is the exclusion of self-exploration, imploring the world within. In the height of technological advancement, writing and reading has become a tedious task. Many fail to read, and writing is dying a slow death. Nandan through his books challenges this daunting present reality.
In his narratives, one may clearly see a tale similar to theirs, childhood days spent in rustic villages and a ray of hope to live on despite numerous huddles. Nandan allows his readers to realize the potency of writing, let alone reading can do wonders. The title too is an apt one. The word sea offers a kind of value and validity. As Nandan writes in his article ‘A Sense of Identity’ (1997:57) in Turaga Magazine that the salt of the sea is around us is in the air we breathe. It conjures up at least a million images in our minds.
Our sea then becomes part of the largest ocean in the world with the smallest nations. With his stories like sea-shells scattered on the sea-shore, the idea and ideal within the fictitious characters emulates us in our society, thus, making the most enduring contributions. Just as the sea’s gift of endless humility, Nandan’s stories can not be erased. It rather illuminates us while reading since we sense our shared destiny and inseparable humanity.
More so, a nation fairly imagined becomes too known from the powerful eighteen stories carefully written and closely chosen by Nandan for the people of Fiji and beyond our shores. Nandan felt it necessary that he take up the honorable task of recording the past, lest it be forgotten. If writers do not emerge, our past will be vaguely remembered and the truth distorted. So it becomes vital for a voice to be heard, beating of the wounded heart, recorded down the memory lane for us to appreciate.
Contemplate for a while on this question: What are we without our stories? Nandan is one writer in Fiji who fills the vacuum, gives us a sense of identity. Fiji, Fijian, Indian or Indianness is not what we are. I believe we are words forming sentences as blood in the body. Our lives are shaped by our stories of everyday life. A writer as Nandan with his individual mind creates a collective consciousness in which we may live and grow, with an awareness of a shared distinctiveness.
Thank you Nandan for touching the core of thousands of young souls. He is truly an icon worthy of praise. It is no exaggeration that his works speak volumes and no word matches his contributions to Fiji’s writing. Like sea-shells illuminating the sea-shore, he too enlightens thousands of readers in Fiji and beyond our rippling shores.
With the swash and backwash of a single tide, eighteen refreshing tales of Fiji’s sons, daughters, sweet adolescent lovers, oldies and the gullible can not be erased but be pushed closer to the shore as sea-shells. Indeed earthy!
(Manpreet Kaur is a Lecturer in linguistics at the University of Fiji – Saweni Campus. Views expressed in this article are neither of her employers nor of The Jet newspaper).