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Remembering a Country, Remembering a Friend

by Chandra Wati Narayan

Fiji is a beautiful island though it has changed quite a lot over the years.  One of the national languages is Fiji Hindi. The food is delicious and fresh. I remember churaiya bhaji, saro bhaji, mango and coconut too. 

There was black-eyed bean curry and lots of other beans! So much farming went on with items such as sugarcane, rice, wheat, corn and potatoes.  There were many different types of pumpkin. In the countryside people made their own ghee. 

There were beautiful flowers on the island and lots of mandirs. people would collect fresh flowers for the puja. People liked doing katha in their homes.  There were grand weddings that went on for three to four days.  

In 1958 I was in the hospital to give birth to my daughter Sashi. In the bed next door was Sharda Wati who gave birth to her daughter Sarita. I remember the window was very low and Sharda Wati’s bed was near to the window.  Sharda’s mother brought her food and passed it through the window!  She would bring also being her ovaltine and clean scarves.  Both of us had normal births despite Sharda worrying that she may need a caesarean (a worry in Fiji in those times).  Eventually I went home with my baby, but I wondered how the other lady, Sharda, was? As the island was a small place where people knew each other, I asked around.

In the area Lalli Maharaj was an influential and important figure. I remembered that Sharda was his grand-daughter and so I asked around for Lalli Maharaj’s grand-daughter. News came round that Sharda Wati had given birth to a daughter and returned home.

In 1962 my husband Satya Narayan lived on Picardy Hill in Belvedere, Kent. Sharda Wati had moved to England and lived in the same area with her mother and family. My husband would visit Sharda’s home and have meals with the family. He did not know that once upon a time Sharda and I had been in hospital together. When my three children and I came over to England, we were invited to Sharda’s home for dinner. It wasn’t until I returned home from dinner that I realised I knew my host! Sharda Wati had been my hospital bed mate! 

After this we would meet regularly when dropping the children off at school and we continued our friendship for 60 years until Sharda passed away in 2020. 

I remember life in Fiji fondly and I have lots of pleasant memories. I still live in Kent and there is hardly a day that I do not think of Sharda Wati and remember her.

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