Thursday, July 6, 2017

DAV Reunion 2017: A Salute to our Visionary Girmitiyas - the Indentured Labourers to Fiji.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

There are over 100 secondary schools in Fiji, and only a handful minority have done a school reunion. And they mostly comprise of high decile (higher income of parents, upper class, brighter lots) from Suva Grammar, Xavier College and few other high profile schools. But a salute to a rural low decile school for poorer students with poor school results, rejected by others. Yes, former students of DAV College, Ba, Fiji have been able to do this - and internationally. Indeed, this feat is a salute to Girmitiyas. They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times.

This can also be said of third and fourth generation Girmitiya children as they gathered in Auckland for another reunion –an international one. The first one was in Burnaby (Vancouver) Canada in 2015, and this one was in Auckland on 13 May, 2017. (And the next one will be in Ba, Fiji in 2019)

The night of 13 May, 2017 at Skipton Hall in Mangere, South Auckland was a complete different atmosphere. The hall had seen so many wedding, log geet, bhajan competitions, Ram Lila, Ramayan Sammelan, Girmit Remembrance, but this night was different. Talking about Girmit Remembrance, yes, it was a night to meet long departed friends, school mates, like in the legend of Krishna-Sudama. And indeed it was a salute to Girmitiyas, who ensured their off-springs had education facilities which the British colonisers did not provide for children of Girmitiyas, to keep them enslaved in cane farms. But we salute Arya Samaj, Muslim league, Sangam, Sanatan, Khalsa and so on, as our Girmitiyas of different faiths had vision for their children and invested in education.

THE NIGHT OF DAV STUDENTS, TAKING AN INTERNATIONAL FLAVOUR: 2015 in Vancouver, Canada, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand, 2019 to be in Ba/Lautoka-Fiji, 2021 - Brisbane, Australia (proposed)
That was the vision which saw so many former students from an Arya Samaj run school to meet and honour those pioneers who ensured we came out of slavery. Surya Deep Singh, son of Late Jaswant Singh who was a DAV School Manager for many years was a fitting person to give tribute to those with a vision. Earlier, President Thakur Ranjit Singh welcomed all to the event, especially those from overseas and out of Auckland. We had former students from USA, (Sacramento), Canada (Vancouver, Kitimat), Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane), Wellington and of course, Fiji. The former students saluted DAV College, Ba, which catered for students from poorer rural farming area with poorer results and turned them into responsible citizens. This was echoed by Raymond Raj, who attended from the farthest place in Kitimat, BC, Canada, who said that anybody could make cream into butter, but we salute DAV College which took butter-milk (maatha) and at times ‘Phata doodh” (bitter-milk) and turned it into butter. It was evident during DAV reunion night.

It was not only a night for speeches, dance drink and food. It was also a night where tribute was paid to those teachers and students who have passed away. An emotion-packed tribute video presentation was shown as a tribute to those DAV family who have left us. It brought tears into eyes of many present there, especially those whose loved ones had passed away.

Former principal, Mahendra Pratap, posthumously recognised and awarded.
Former Principal, Ajai Singh, also posthumously recognised and awarded. Another former Principal, Shri Manna Narayan was also recognised.
It was also a night to recognise and present posthumous awards to families of great DAVians who have passed away. The award was an "an acknowledgement, recognition and appreciation of contributions made towards enhancing the name of D.A.V. through personal contributions and excelling in being an honour to our school." Former principals, Mahendra Pratap, Ajai Singh and Shri Manna Narayan were recognised and Babu Ram Mohan, Bimal Chand Maharaj and Deo Mani were students who were recognised.

The night was not only for students, but also teachers who were respected, honoured and called on stage. Former teacher and now a Hindu priest in Brisbane, Master Sanat Kumar Pandey, spoke for the teachers, and spoke about the pride they see in seeing their plants giving out fruits of success.

THE NIGHT FOR STUDENTS AND ALSO FOR TEACHERS: DAV Teachers were also recognised, appreciated and respected in this night for the former students. Pictured are some of the teachers present in the Reunion night.
Apart from giving out posthumous awards, former students with outstanding contributions were also recognised. These were given to Rajneel Prasad Singh for academic excellence in school, Tarun Bala for excellence in sports (soccer), Raymond Ramendra Raj for inspiration and community services, Surya Deep Singh for leadership, Rajendra Prasad for literary excellence, Gaffar Ahmed for leadership, politics and community services and Sadasivan Naicker for exemplary community leadership and volunteering spirit. Details of both categories of these awards, respective citations and photos are on Facebook page of “D.A.V. College, Ba, Fiji Reunion.”

Former Teacher, Bal Ram, presenting DAV Recognition Award to Gaffar Ahmed, former Fiji Parliamentarian, for  leadership, politics and community services. 
This was a meeting of students from 1953 to 1990 and later years and hence included people of all ages – going up to seventy and others younger in their 40s. To ensure that all grouping got enough times to have their say, they were divided in four categories: 1980 to later years, 1975 to1980, 1970 to 1975 and 1953 to 1969. Students came on stage and were able to walk down memory lane, and tell some funny stories and memories of their class mates.

A very sumptuous meal was served, and people enjoyed themselves to their heart’s content with free alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and, of course, no Fiji function is complete without unlimited supply of grog. As the President, your truly, Thakur Ranjit Singh was blessed with the knowledge, teachings and guidance that our DAV teachers gave to former students. That produced a well-oiled organising committee for DAV Reunion. Mahendra Singh as Secretary, Muni Ratnam Krishna as Treasurer, and the headquarters/secretariat and management support provided by Purshottam Krishna. His accounting office at Puhinui Road was our meeting place. We also were blessed with expertise of Bikal Tahal, Sanit Lal, Tarun Bala, Chandrika Prasad and most important, our women-brigade - Naari Shakti. They were Sneh Lata Pratap, Manjula Prasad and Meena Khan. We also had support of volunteers, Ashok Kumar (two of them) and a former DAV teacher, Navtej Singh.

THE EXECUTIVES: From left-Thakur Ranjit Singh (President), Tarun Bala, Bikal Tahal, Snel Lata Pratap, Manjula Prasad, Sanit Lal, Meena Khan, Purshottam Krishna, Mahendra Singh (Secretary), Chandrika Prasad
What this DAV Reunion in Auckland proved, apart from our other talents, is that DAV really provides exemplary all-rounded education which not only taught us how to earn a living, but also, HOW TO LIVE. Former students of very different years and ages could get together and organise an event that many thought was not possible. When we started, we were very apprehensive about the interest and support we would get. But by final date, we had to halt ticket sales because we had a “house-full” situation. And it has developed so much interest in DAV that I have received numerous requests for people to join our site: “DAV COLLEGE, BA, FIJI, REUNION”, and still continuing

A MEMORABLE EVENT: Different groups got together to click-on the memories they will cherish for the rest of their life.
Please read on, I have not finished. What stole the show was the last item from the class of 1973. The DAV couples from DAV Lovers Hall of Fame, Sadasivan and Sarita Naicker, Thakur Ranjit and Shashi Kala Singh, and Sant Lal Sharma (with spouse) took the stage for a joint-dance on the evergreen Dilip Kumar-Vaijayanti Mala haunting number. “Ure jab jab julfein teri…” from film Naya Daur of 1957 when many were not even born or were babies. It prompted dancing and all were cheering the trio couple. And with that began the dancing portion of the night where people took the dance floor and danced the remainder of the night away. And it turned out into a memorable night.

Indeed, those who missed, are kicking themselves, and thanks to photographer, Meenal Pratap, the photos are on Facebook and has been talk of the town. Bigger and greater event is planned for 2019 in home ground in Fiji, which is planned to stretch for 3 days. 

Some of the big-guns: From left-Sant Sharma (Vancouver), Sadasivan Naicker (Suva), Raymond Raj (Kitimat, Canada), Surya Deep Singh (Melbourne), Pundit Sanat Pandey (Brisbane) and Thakur Ranjit Singh (Auckland).

As our tribute video showed, life is unpredictable - but the show has to go on. And very appropriately, our theme was: Suno, jiyo, muskurao, khush raho-Kal ho na ho. And, as our theme says - listen, live, smile, be happy, as there may be no tomorrow. Sing and dance today - tomorrow another loved one may leave us…. 

And with this to inspire us, we look forward to the next biennial (once every 2 years) mother of all reunions in Fiji in the weekend of 20 July, 2019.

We again salute the Girmitiya who were ordinary people who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times. And one extra-ordinary thing they did was to have vision to provide us education in schools like DAV –and that gave us a memory to relish. See you in 2019.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is the President of DAV College, Ba, Fiji Ex-Students Association, Auckland which organised the 2017 reunion. He is a journalist and media commentator and runs his blog site, FIJI PUNDIT.]