The good old days – Growing up in the hidden paradise

Mr Lingam with extended family members in the Hidden Paradise. Picture: SUPPLIED

Talk about Savusavu and life in a paradise comes to mind. Savusavu is our Tourism Town hidden in the beautiful paradise of the “Friendly North”.

Today, it is bustling with a lot of commercial activities, and many changes have taken place.

The town has become quite modernised compared with what we had in our days, as school students in the ’90s.

From an early start, we were taught to share whatever little we had and to take care of each other.

Hence, the idea of sharing and caring has culminated in me forming a group so that the needy and desperate families, who are suffering at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, could be assisted.

So far we have been successful in assisting 330 families and the following HART homes – Korovou (Newtown), Nakasi, Makoi, Narere and Nasole.

Thus, 330 families with $50 food packs have been assisted with rations that would last for about two weeks.

Our donors have been generous and after completing phase six successfully, we ventured into phase seven with assistance from donors: the Prasad family in Auckland – Kamni, Dipesh, Nirmala, Santa, Pritesh, Kihana and Kiash; Mitika Kumar (Auckland); Shakuntla Lall (US); Hinal and Hemant Kumar (Nadawa); Dinesh and Priya Prasad (Suva); Vikash Narayan (FNU lecturer); Pravin and Purnima Kapoor and the staff members of Arya Samaj Primary School (Suva); Jai Prasad (Radio Sargam); Ashvi and Sudesh Wilson (Australia); Praneeta Devi and Rajnil Chand (NZ); Rajnesh Lal (Savusavu); Jotika Chand (US); Ravina Kumar (Australia);X and Mohammed Shazil (NZ).

Phase seven, which was carried out on Wednesday, was all about distributing 35 packs to the residents of Nakasi HART.

I’m indeed grateful to coverage that was provided by The Fiji Times (Jale Daucakacaka, Rakesh Kumar, Wanshika Kumar, Rama and Jovesa Naisua), FBC TV (Indra Michael Singh, Apenisa Waqairadovu, Metuisela Fifita and Abdullah Shah) and Fiji One (Eparama Warua, Bose Vavataga and Mikaele Tunidau).

The coverage relayed our story to our donors and this attracted their financial assistance.

I salute the power of the media in making our seven phases a success. In addition, support from the Savusavu community (businesses and my former students from Savusavu Secondary School) was tremendous.

Therefore, the spirit of sharing and caring is very much alive in the Hidden Paradise.

Our upbringing in Savusavu was based on family values.

Although our parents and elders were strict, we enjoyed life and the quality family time that we had with each other.

Since we had little distraction from social media and technology, we focused our time in doing worthwhile activities like sports, swimming and gardening.

Mum used to bake, and we had afternoon tea near the seaside.

The late Babu was known for making delicious chicken fried rice and he attracted a lot of customers, including my family to his restaurant.

We did not have the pleasure that today’s generation has, but we made use of every resource that we had – books, our school library, our teachers and The Fiji Times which was the print mode that was available and sold in supermarkets for 50 cents.

We looked forward to Monday’s publication as it contained all the stories from the weekend’s sporting activities.

The Fiji Times updated us on international and local news on football and rugby and since information was limited, as we did not have access to internet, we made good use of whatever we had.

I give credit to my parents, elders and teachers for who I am today.

Being raised in a family headed by teachers is never easy. My dad and mom, who were teachers and disciplinarians, brought us up in Savusavu with a heavy hand. I was born in Vunilagi – a copra estate.

My dad was the head teacher of Vunilagi Primary School. It was a two-hour drive to the town and there was no electricity. We relied on kerosene lamp, but life was full of  fun. We looked forward to visitors from Savusavu Town for they brought sweets, bread and butter and they told us stories from Bollywood movies that they had access to. We listened to those stories with amazement and delight.

In 1990, dad was transferred to Khemendra Bhartiya School, much closer to my paternal grandparents place in Naveria. While we lived in the school quarters, weekends were spent with my extended family and this was the time I loved the most.

We shared stories with our uncles and aunties, and we played football and cards.

As children, we were adventurous. We played football. We took part in swimming. We played marble. We played “hide and seek”. We played “cross ladder” and “police and robbers” games. We were super fit. We did classroom duties without complaining. We treated school like a temple –– a place where we fulfilled our quench and hunger for education.

We respected school rules and regulations.

Learning was enjoyed. We picked up rubbish. We cleaned the toilets. We made agricultural gardens. No one complained – not even our parents. My grandfather was the head of our extended family and we had so much respect for him. As students, we did  not know much about our rights, but we were taught to be responsible and law abiding.

Anyone could discipline you at any point in time, so we had to be on our toes at all times. We had meals and quality family time together. Tuesday and Friday nights were set aside for religious activities reciting
the Ramayan.

We took part in religious activities – Ram Leela at Khemendra Bhartiya School. We watched movies only on Saturday night, as the rest of the days were supposed to be spent with our books. Competition was very tough, and we competed for prizes when we had the annual prize-giving ceremony at the end of the year before we went for the eight weeks holidays.

The holidays meant holiday jobs to help our families prepare for the next academic  year. My uncle Dr Govinda Lingam, who was a lecturer at Lautoka Teachers College,  visited the family during the eight weeks break and we looked forward to his visit.

However, we were saddened when he returned to the “Sugar City”. In school, we had a lot of respect for each other. Our teachers beat us, and this was part of our school life, but we had so much respect and love for them, knowing that what they were doing was for our own good. We dared talk back to our teachers and obeyed their instructions.

We looked forward to teachers and children’s day and other religious occasions (Diwali, Holi, Easter and Eid) in school, as we had an opportunity to get together and celebrate. We looked forward to birthday celebrations as it meant another family gathering.

Every child’s birthday was celebrated. My mother, the late Pushpa Wati Lingam, loved baking and she took the honour of baking our birthday cakes, making sure to decorate the cakes with smarties and ‘hundreds and thousands’.

Scout was part of school life, and we looked forward to long weekends as football league and Bhartiya tournaments took place at Narains Park. Teams from Korovesi, Buca, Wairekaba, Daku, Naqere, Vunikoka and Buca competed against the ‘decorated’ Santos team which had stars in their team.

The Savusavu football team honoured the residents of Savusavu with some memorable IDC wins.

Christmas and New Year meant that the entire family would gather and there would be much fun, laughter and celebration.

Today, as I reflect on the chapter of my life, I’m glad that I went through the hard way, as it has taught me to be tough. I treat my elders and teachers with a lot of love and respect, for I owe them my life.

When I’m in Savusavu, I feel so blessed to be in my motherland and when I leave the place, I return with fond memories and colourful pictures for my album.

Savusavu has taught me so much, and I’m grateful I have my family members in Naveria who accord me the same love and respect that I accord them.

We all look forward to our family reunions in Savusavu

As I close this chapter of my story, I have tears in my eyes — a re-collect memories from the good old days in Savusavu!

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