Fijilusional!

No, there is no such word in the OED. But I just fancied using it to briefly narrate my experience of living and working in Fiji.

I have stayed for most part of my life in India. My notions, beliefs, actions and interpretations are, therefore, largely governed by my Indian roots and things in and of India that have shaped my thinking during my formative years.

When I came to Fiji from Australia, I was presented with a double culture-shock. Why do I call it a “double” culture-shock? It shocked me in two very different ways.

First, my stay in Australia before I traveled to Fiji kept me in developed socio-economic neighbourhoods where scenes of poverty or shanties were seldom seen.Perhaps not even once. The flight journey from Queensland to Suva was 4 hours. But on either sides of this 4 hour flight lay two different worlds – with vastly different climatic, cultural and socio-economic conditions. On my way from Nausori Airport to my apartment in Suva, I witnessed a completely different world.Not of poverty but of a socio-economic condition that was below that of Australia. Until then, I’d have usually only seen such scenes after a long haul flight to India. But after this Pacific hop from Queensland to Suva , I was not jet-lagged,had energy left in me with my eyes wide-open while inside in the taxi and yet laid out in front of my eyes was a completely different landscape.

Second, the Indo-Fijian people in Fiji. These are people who were brought by the British from India to Fiji as indentured labourers to work on Sugarcane farms. They look like any average Indian with a medium-to-dark complexion thanks to the abundance of sun here. They speak Hindi: a very different dialect of Hindi. To me it sounds like a cross between Hindi with a “UP-Bhaiyya” accent and Bengali. The UP-Bhaiyya factor could possibly be due to the fact that the first generation of Indians who sailed to Fiji were from Northern India. I introduce the Bengali factor because the sound of Fijian Hindi is very sweet, much like Bengali that is music to the ears! But to my utter-surprise and delusion, I couldn’t confront with the fact that Indo-Fijians hardly know much about India.

It is this second culture-shock that has left me delusional about Fiji, well Indians in Fiji to be specific – Fijilusional!

Fiji Stamp
I’d not be surprised at all when I get thrown these questions below from a foreigner – Occident, Orient, Strayan, Hispanic or Asians other than the ones from India.

– “Are all of you Indians rich?”
– ” Oh, so you are saying you have more than one state in India?”
– “Where is Bombay? Is it the capital of India”

But what if this foreigner looks Indian and asks you the questions as above in Hindi? A Fijilusional moment for me.
I wear a dumb-look for a moment before I accept that fact that they are not Indians, although they look like one of us.

Another thing that bowls me over is this. You have definitely dealt with vegetable sellers in markets in India. As a default preference, you will deal with them in a local language but never English! But at Suva Municipal markets, I have English speaking , UP-Bhaiyya-looking bhajiwalas speaking in impeccable English drawing my attention towards their produces!
Another Fijilusional moment.

I am sure it is the same with other countries – such as the West Indies islands – where people of Indian Origin had migrated long time ago.

Fiji is a beautiful place. The indigenous Fijians are extremely hospitable and fun-loving people. I think God had some happy people with the kindest of proprieties and he put them all on a group of 300 islands which later united to form Fiji islands!

The Accordion player – Jimmy McGuinness

Sometimes certain strangers make a mark on our minds even without us having any conversation with them. Their appearance, their behaviour, talent and a myriad of other things about them may attract us to them and make us their secret admirers.

For the past few weeks, during our evening strolls by Brisbane River, Shobha and I have been observing an old, petit man playing the accordion and filling the pleasant smelling air of Brisbane with unadulterated romance. The melodious sound emanating from his accordian drew my attention sharply towards him every time I spotted him. I stood by him each time for a few seconds and appreciated his music and dropped a dollar or two into his flat cap laid on the ground. I mentioned to Shobha how much I liked him playing and how I wished to just put up a chair in front of him,close my eyes and get absorbed in the pure magic of romantic music he composed.

We saw him three times in the past three weeks: twice by the river side, and once on Edward street. There was one thing I noticed about passers-by. As they went past him, they turned towards him, smiled and walked away with a smile. Some nodded their heads while looking at him in appreciation of his music. I felt happy that he is able to see that his music was being appreciated.

Today, we saw him again by the riverside. And I admitted to Shobha that I wished to speak to him or atleast have a pic clicked with him. I dropped a dollar into his flat cap again and we sat on a platform right in front of him and watched him play the music, with the splendid Story Bridge to his back. Shobha broke into a conversation with him.

We learned his name was Jimmy McGuinness.A 65 year old Kiwi pensioner, Jimmy took to playing the accordion when he was eight. He mentioned that he has played in Wellington, Brisbane and also Ireland. Shobha found Jimmy very cute. And why not? He indeed looked cute. Down is his picture. I feel Jimmy’s distinct style of dressing is just right for the instrument he plays.Jimmy carried a small suitcase with him which contained few laminated newpapers cuttings with his picture besides other things. He was excited to show us the newspapers cuttings from New Zealand. They were nicely laminated and showed Jimmy McGuninness playing the accordion on a variety of occassions, one of which I vidly remember was Valentine’s day.

Jimmy McGuinness – making magic with his Accordian

Jimmy told us that he will leave for New Zealand after a couple of days and that he won’t be back until next year. I thanked God for letting me talk to Jimmy just before he was about to leave Australia. I did not know he was going to leave before we spoke. We had seen him three times before and each time I had hoped to see him again. We met for the fourth time today. We talked. And all this happened just before he was leaving. It feels special indeed that I did not miss the chance to talk to him lest I would have been left assuming that something happened to him if I wouldn’t have spotted him again on the streets of Brisbane.

With Jimmy McGuinness – last one before we meet again
Shobha with Jimmy

We shook hands with each other as we took his leave.It started raining slightly.Jimmy said, ‘This will pass away soon’. The rain indeed stopped soon. So did the moments of conversation with the ‘accordion player’.

An evening with Antoine on Spring hill

Antoine had invited me and my wife to dinner. This turned out to be one of the best evenings spent so far in Brisbane.

Everything was very fine about this evening. Antoine’s warm and cordial company was matched very well by his simple but delicious pasta and Greek salad with a glass of Vina Rosa. Antoine remarked that he did not cook very often and so he asked us whether we liked the food. I rated him a 10 on 10 and Shobha wanted to give him an 11! He found it flattering and felt that we were just being good and courteous guests. Then I did something which in my opinion is always the best expression of appreciating  good tasting food. I got up and took a second helping – almost as much in quantity as in the first serve. He was overwhelmed and felt happy.  Considering that he spends most evenings by himself ( because his family lives in Sydney ), this was indeed a happy evening for him in our company.

Antoine setting the table
Auto-click! Guten Apetit!

The dinner concluded with Vanilla ice-cream on Apple pie and a cup of hot, black Dilmah.

We then sat in his balcony and chatted for a while before Shobha and I took his leave. One of the finest evenings, truly.

The Story bridge looked splendid – with blue diamond like lights – on our way back home. The way back home was noisy! Three reasons for this – One: today concludes the Brisbane festival which had started on September 3,Two: This is a Saturday night, Three – And this is important – Tomorrow is ‘National Sleep in’ day in Australia in support of people afflicted with mitochondrial disease ( who have no choice about being bed ridden ). God bless them all and give them strength.

Cheerio.