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'Chaotic' in India

Mereseini Marau
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BEING in the national capital of the world's largest democracy, one will meet other Fijians who come as tourists, work and education purposes or for medical treatment. They come and they do in numbers. And for most I've met, one of the first things they ask is "how far is it to the Taj Mahal".

Others ask "where's a good place to shop". Being here for nearly three years now, I know the answers are on my finger tips.

So accurate is the information they receive, some even suggested I charge a tour-guiding fee. But because of my scholarship condition and passion for travelling, that's a no-no. Going to that place again and again is sufficient. I will share with you stories of a few of the many Fijians I met this year.

Mereoni Talei Qareqare has had many friends of Indian origin while growing up in Nakama outside Labasa Town. It was the same when they moved to New Zealand 13 years ago. Her fascination for Mother India has been there for as long as she can remember.

So when her best friend, who is from New Delhi, told her she would be coming home for a wedding, she grabbed the opportunity.

I met up with Mereoni after my cousin Damanu, who is married to her elder brother Samu in the United Kingdom introduced us.

Despite being in New Zealand for more than a decade, she still speaks our Labasa dialect. Meeting her was great since we spoke our own dialect.

"In high school I had a list of places I would love to visit and India was one of the top four," she said while we were having dinner at Select City Mall in Saket. "My fascination of India is primarily about their food and their spice, and the colours of their dress. I love that. "

Her first few days in Delhi were very challenging.

"Delhi hit all my senses at once. I was constantly on the phone to my mum and family saying I wanted to go back home."

Mereoni believes the chaos and disturbing scenes really got to her.

"It was very sad to see people and families living on the street with nothing but tarpaulin as shelter on the sides of the road and in multitudes," she said.

She recalled when she was in Dwarka, a suburb near Indira Gandhi International Airport and saw people living on the streets using a vacant plot as their toilet.

"Every morning I would see them using the plot as the lavatory and then about an hour later a couple of kids would come with scrap bags looking for any scrap they can find and sell.

"Au sa loloma saraga and I couldn't eat or sleep, niu dau vakasama taka tu ga." (I felt sorry for them and couldn't eat or sleep when I thought about them.)

As days go by and with constant encouragement from her family, she began to accept the reality of life in India.

She then attended a true Indian wedding, something she'll never forget. The late night celebrations went on for days with the women donning beautiful silk sari and the delicious Indian dishes were exactly what she needed to lift her spirits.

"Going to a friend's wedding was very uplifting and had a great celebratory vibe about it that I just loved."

From then on, Mereoni's experience took an upward turn and she enjoyed every minute of it.

She went to the Golden Temple in Punjab and also made time to watch the national hockey teams play in the World League Round 2 in New Delhi.

Just like any other first-timer to India, the highlight of her trip was seeing the Taj Mahal describing the moment as a "euphoric".

In Agra, she walked for about a kilometre from where the bus stopped to the entrance of the Taj Mahal in the pouring rain. It didn't drench her spirit or stop her from stepping inside this magnificent building, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and symbolises the love a man had for his wife.

"Because it was raining, most people didn't get off, but I've come this far, there was no way I was going to turn back, so I walked.

"When I laid eyes on the Taj Mahal, I just looked at it for quite sometime trying to absorb it.

"I think sometimes we don't realise just how magnificent some monuments are until we physically see it.

"By far it topped the Pantheon and Colosseum for me."

As she left India to start her life in Australia, she described her trip to India as really interesting though there were many facets she couldn't understand.

"The experience really taught me no two places in the world are the same.

"Sometimes a country can move you and make you so uncomfortable that you feel like shrinking away from it and for me at first India was like that.

"When I came, if some one would ask me what was India like, I instantly would be like, 'it's chaotic'. But after five weeks, I would say the country is resilient. Even the people who lived on the streets or under the bridges have a purpose, they made their money and they lived their lives."

And that is something she took away when she left for the Land Down Under.

* Mereseini Marau is a former The Fiji Times journalist studying in India.

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