Love and life of Uttra Gurdayal

Uttra (fifth from right) with friends and family following her award. Picture: SUPPLIED

THE sunlight ray of the dawning sun escaped through the door of Uttra Gurdayal’s corrugated iron home as she gets ready to read an old Sanskrit book.

The smell of food cooking on the open fire and burnt sugar cane wafts in from their farm at Batinikama just outside of Labasa Town, in Vanua Levu. It’s these small details that often linger in her mind whenever she thinks of ‘home’.

“There is something magical in listening to Sanskrit chanting. Even if you don’t understand what is being said, there is a sense of mysticism and beauty due to the meter, intonation and placement of the syllables,” she shares.

“My father didn’t even go to school but he taught me Sanskrit,” she added.

Sanskrit is a language of ancient India with a history going back about 3500 years.

It is the predominant language of most works of Hindu philosophy as well as some of the principal texts of Buddhism and Jainism.

It is this history coupled with her early memories that inspired Uttra to devote her time to advance the use of the Hindi language in Fiji. After more than 30 years as a school teacher, the retiree now devotes her time as a full-time Hindi writer and a volunteer.

“My teaching career saw me travel across Fiji to teach in schools of various calibre, size, ethnic dominance and distinctive cultures and after I retired, I started to develop my passion for creative writing of short poems and stories.”

Her early work was published in a weekly Hindi newspaper and broadcast over the radio. She also contributed a number of stories to the Shanti Dut, Fiji’s oldest national Hindi newspaper.

Within a short time frame, Uttra started writing award-winning radio-plays and short stories for Fiji Broadcasting Corporations’ leading Hindi radio station, Radio Fiji Two.

She also contributed stories to Pravhashi Sansaar, an international diaspora magazine in India, which was launched in Suva during the International Ramayana Conference in 2016. She is the author of two published books: Mahak (Ma-hek), contemporary creative non-fiction based on the Girmit era that lasted in Fiji for 37 years pre-independent.

The book draws on various lingering questions that many young Fijians of Indian descent encounter in their attempt to make sense of tales about the lives of their great-great-grandparents from British India.

Her second book, Falsafa Pyar Ka (Philosophy of Love) is a compilation of 19 contemporary creative short stories in Hindi.

She embraced common themes such as life’s values, principles such as good deeds, faith, love, will power, courage and integrity as well as topical issues such as climate change in these stories.

Apart from creative writing, she holds a meeting with fellow writers and poets at her home where they hope to revive the Hindi language through short stories and avid discussions.

“I believe we that we should not lose our identity and culture,” she said.

“We have to maintain it and revive it among the young.”

Uttra is expected to release her next book Jeene Ki Tamana very soon. Uttra takes a keen interest in community service to advocate on and advance the use of Hindi in the Fijian communities. She serves as Secretary to the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Suva Chapter.

She is also the coordinator of Creative Writing for Hindi Writers’ Forum. She is a Volunteer Member of Fiji Sevashram Sangh as well as a Member of Anglican Women’s’ Association where she led the mobilisation of different faith group leaders to participate in a Stop Violence against Women campaign, the first of its kind.

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