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101 on Girmit day

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

IT is a special day for Deogi Nair as Fiji celebrates the 134th anniversary of the arrival of indentured labourers from India.

Mrs Nair, who turns 101 today, hopes to pass on knowledge told to her by her parents — indentured labourers from India — to her grandchildren.

Vellu and Amalu Nair were married in Madras in South India and travelled to Fiji to work under the indenture system. Amalu Nair gave birth to Deogi on May 14, 1912, at Naitonitoni in Navua.

Ms Nair told The Fiji Times that she was 16 years old when she got married to Chingovinda, who was quite older than her.

"I didn't go to school as there was none at that time," she said.

"I don't know how to read and write."

"We lived very near the sea when I got married and everything was very good at that time, as everyone was good to each other.

"But there were a lot of cyclones and floods at that time and I still remember the tsunami that hit Fiji in the early 1950s."

Ms Nair said she was about 19 or 20 years old when her mother died first followed by her father's demise a few years later. Her husband, who also came to Fiji from India under the indenture system, died in 1973 leaving her to look after their seven daughters.

Asked about her long life and her birthday coinciding with Girmit Day, she replied: "It's all through the grace of God and I thank Him for my long life.

"I'm very happy that I was born on the day when the first group of indentured labourers came to Fiji from India."

Ms Nair had cataract surgery on her eyes some years ago and has a clean medical sheet.

She has no medical problem, has good eyesight and hearing, and is fit enough to go for afternoon walks in the neighbourhood.

"I eat whatever is cooked at home. There is no restriction on my sugar and salt intake, and I like tea with milk a lot." In an interview, she started rolling suki (Fiji tobacco) and said it was something she started smoking before her marriage.

"I've never drunk yaqona or alcohol or smoked cigarettes that come in packets.

"The only thing I take is suki and it's something that I started before my marriage. I got the habit from my brothers and I used to hide it from my parents and smoke.

"When I got married, I told my husband that I smoked suki and he can do whatever he wants but I won't leave it," she said with a laugh.

Ms Nair said she had fever once and the doctor asked her if she smoked.

"I told him straight that I smoke suki only after having my meals and whenever I feel like smoking and the doctor said OK," she said.

Her grandson Rakesh Kissun said the family would celebrate the centenarian's birthday in a small way today.

"She will turn 101 years old and it's her right age because my eldest aunt is nearing 85 years," he said.

Ms Nair has seven daughters, 21 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and four great great-grandchildren, all of whom are alive.

"The only thing I want to tell people is to love one another and be good to one another as that's the only way to a lovely future," she said.

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