I was sixteen when I came to Fiji. I was unmarried and an orphan; my parents had died in some epidemic. In India I had made a living out of grazing cattle and getting food and a place to stay but no money in. return. I lived a life which was not one of great hardship except when there was sickness about. I used to get sores but there were no doctors there to provide treatment.
I came to Fiji because I was lured. I met a man who asked me if I was looking for work. I answered in the affirmative and he told me that I would have to go by train from place to place carting and unloading goods. When I was offered the job I did not go back to tell anybody, I accepted it. I had nothing, neither money nor kinsmen.
I travelled a day and a night before arriving in Calcutta. There were a lot of people at the depot there; men, women and even children. I stayed there for a week and was examined medically. All one did at the depot was to eat and stay in one’s own place. Blankets were provided for sleeping. There persons of all castes ate and mixed together, unlike in the village where people of different castes ate separately. I was told the distance from Calcutta to Fiji. wanted work and I would have come had I been accurately informed that it was a month’s journey by sea. I was also told that I would get twelve annasa day.
There were around 200 migrants on my ship. I had quite a good trip and did not bet sick. On board we were required to scrub the ship each day. I was busy for about half an hour performing this chore. Some people sang and danced.
Once we reached Fiji I was sent to Cuvu via Lautoka. In Cuvu we were given our work tools. I was set the task of cutting grass, a chain long and a chain wide. In this work of weeding we often pulled out the grass and our hand- used to get cut. If we did not finish our task our money was not paid because we had not completed our work. We also had to dig drains: for this purpose we were paired off, one new and one old hand. The old hand with me refused to show me how to dig drains. The sardar told me that I had made a mess. My shipmate, who made a similar blunder, was given a thrashing by the overseer.
Sardars used to give the task. If we did not complete them thesardars used to give us a rough time. If one could not do one ‘s work, then one got a beating. I was beaten by sardars but never was I able to beat up one of them. I do not recollect anyone on my estate hitting a sardar or an overseer.
There was a South Indian with us. He used to do a lot of singing and dancing but he was not able to work and he used to get a terrible beating from the overseer. So he took off into the bush and hanged himself. I know of two persons who committed suicide because they could not do the work and were regularly beaten by the overseer.
The sardars used to wake us up at 2am. At 3am we had to line up and go to our task. One had to fill up one’s billy-can with food and pick up one’s tools and then move out. They gave us a very rough time in those days.
We used to think of home. But what was the purpose of it. Home was so far away and if we wanted to go we could not because we had no money. I saved no money during my indenture. Besides, in any case I had nobody in India, so for me there was no place or person to return to.
I once stayed in hospital because I had a sore on my leg. I was well treated there. The doctor there suffered hardship sometimes. He often used his own money to feed people.
During week-ends I used to visit time-expired migrants living in the neighbourhood. There were a lot of Indians nearby who were devoted cultivators. And I used to spend a lot of time at my friend’s place. I used to spend all day there and then return in the afternoon to my room. The ‘free’ were very good to us; they used to give us milk, yoghurt and food, in return we used to help these people a little with their work.
When we first saw Fijians we called them junglees. Some of the Indian indentured labourers from the early times used to regard them as such.
We used to get a holiday for Holi but not for Diwali. Those who knew how to read and write sometimes taught us to do likewise.
Hindus and Muslims got on well. They did not fight. There was no conflict over Muslims slaughtering cows. Each person ate his own food. We went to each other’s place and were not concerned about any religious taboos.
Once I was urinating outside the toilet, the overseer,, apparently, caught me in the act through his binoculars from his bungalow. He came down to the stables and called me out. Then he locked me in a room and asked why I had urinated outside and not in the toilet; he then beat me by kicking me all over the place. This is how we suffered during the indenture period.