I come from
two different worlds, both not of my own. The first is a land of lingering
memories, of tropical sunsets and palm tree beaches. The other is here. A
country with a history of two different cultures, one native and one foreign,
like me, yet in other ways, not like me at all. This "here" is full of
cities and traffic, a modernised society, yet there are farmlands and
countryside, vast and beautiful. But I have never been to my one true home, and
sometimes, when I feel like an outsider, I yearn for my home; I yearn for a sense
of belonging. Home; a land clothed in thousands of years of ancient religion,
rich in spices and incense, and home to many magnificent temples. The land where
east meets west, a nation independent of it's once binding hold from another.
Why have I not been to this beautiful place? Why have I never been home?
Cameras flashed and presents were brought out from their hiding places. And then the singing …
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…"
The sound trailed off as I turned my attention toward my surroundings. My cousin Raneet was sitting beside me. He was turning eight and I had three less candles on my cake. The sun was bursting through the window, filling the room with a warm summer glow. Through the window, I could just see the tops of three coconut trees, gently swaying in the cool breeze, as if dancing to the music, which was slowly filling up the room. The music of adults chattering and party tunes, quietly emerging from an aging stereo. Claps were given as rewards for our candles being blown out. The candles being extinguished, as if to signal the end of an era, and the beginning of a new, more doubtful one. I didn't know it then, maybe I did, but I was too young to remember. In one week's time, on November 15, I would be leaving my home in Suva to go to a foreign and scary place. Leaving my sanctuary to venture out into the open, an uninviting place, which would prove to be very different from the home I knew and loved. I didn't even understand why we had to move at all. As far as I was concerned, my world was like the pretty pictures I drew in Kindergarten. The sun was bright and shed its light on everything. Trees grew tall with rich green leaves and the people drove their cars and were forever happy smiling everywhere they went. But I was wrong, very wrong. There were those who didn't have smiles like everyone else, but I didn't know it at the time. All I heard were words when grandparents, uncles, aunties and my parents spoke. There would be words I'd hear over and over again;
But I never knew what they meant, though
"Ginger" I yelled with delight as I saw my dog running into my room. He jumped onto me and we rolled across the floor together.
"Rajeev, stop that!" exclaimed my mother as she entered my room with a large box. The box was soon full of my clothes and a few toys.
"I've left some toys for you to play with, but you have to put them in our room, on the bed tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay" I said with a lost look on my face.
"We have to move, I know you don't understand, but you'll get used to it."
"Do we have to leave Ginger?"
"Yes, I'm sorry. It's just that it's too hard to take an animal into a foreign country. I am going to miss him too, I'm sorry."
I didn't reply and continued to play with Ginger and my toys. I remember crying when the time to give Ginger up drew closer. He was my first pet and I really loved him. That day we gave Ginger to an American family living in Fiji. A few years later we learnt that Ginger ran onto the road and was killed.
"This is your captain speaking. We have to burn off some fuel, so we will be making a few rounds of the airport before we land in Suva."
It had been a long day. A two hour delay at Nadi airport, the half an hour into our flight we had to turn back to Nadi, and then they sent us to Suva, were the technicians were. I was only five, I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that there was a whole lot a waiting and nothing happening. My father turned towards my mum.
"I'm really getting annoyed at all these delays. It's as if they don't want us to reach New Zealand."
Maybe they did or maybe New Zealand didn't want us, we were torn between two different worlds, and I had no say in the matter, I was just along for the ride.
"Mum?" I tugged on my mother's arm. I yawned. "What's happening?"
"Nothing son, don't worry. Why don't you talk to Amit, you could play a game together or watch some TV."
I gazed at the airplane TV above my head, but all I saw was man wearing a suit at a desk talking, which hardly caused any interest in me. I turned to the seat next to me, but my brother was already asleep. I yawned again. My eyes were beginning to become heavy, as the day trod on. I tried to imagine what this strange new world would be like, but it was very hard, I had only ever known one home, and all I could see were dusty roads and palm trees. Another yawn.
"Rajeev," called one of my parents, I remember hearing it vaguely, but not responding. The call came again, but soon stopped when they realise they wouldn't get an answer.
Five hours later we were in our new world, New Zealand. We stayed for a month or two with friends that my Dad had made back in his days as a diplomat. My Dad got a job at the ministry of education, and later became Manager of Human Resources. We got our own home, my brother and I went to school, made friends, lost friends and made new friends. Things went pretty well. This new place was turning out pretty good for all of us, we were fitting in; or were we. I don't mean people hated us or anything like that, its just things just didn't feel right at times.
Anyway we've been here for around eleven years now, my last birthday cake had sixteen candles on it. It's raining again, as I sit watching the rain fall on our front lawn. Through the rain I can see the memories of my home of far away, like the glistening of sunlight as it hits each individual droplet of water. Where's the man I used to call "Phantom" who used to live behind my grandparents home and give me sweets when I visited? Where are the beaches with all the little red crabs biting at my ankles? Where's my grandfather's fish tank with all the colourful fish? Where's my uncle's supermarket, "Bajpai's"? And what about the dairy down the road where I used to buy "Transformer" chocolates? None of that's here, only me and my family and these memories. It turned out well though. Hardly any of my family remains in Fiji, they've all gone to distant countries, like Canada, USA or Australia. No more roots in my home of long ago.
Just another day in this foreign, no, in my new home, if it can be called new now, after all these years. And yet I feel as if I have never truly been home. The rain is coming harder now, pelting down on the concrete and wood and steel and glass. I feel at home now, as if I truly belong, but there is still something missing, always something missing. I still remember the bottles in the drive; collecting the rainwater; raindrops beading down the sides of each bottle; fresh rainwater, life giving water, slowly filling each one up; but; I don't see them anymore. No, not anymore.
This story is based on the actual events of my own life. Although some may find it hard to believe, as I was only five years old at the time, the many memories that I have written about are all true; I still remember them and they are a vivid part of my childhood memories. I was born in Suva, Fiji on 12th November 1982 and permanently migrated to New Zealand on November 15 1987. Since then I have managed to visit many of my relatives who I have never or not seen in a long time, as they live so far away in countries like Canada and Australia.
Interesting Note: This story was published in the New Zealand Listener on February 26 2000. Many thanks to the editors and staff of the Listener for publishing my story.