EIGHTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD Ram Chandra vividly remembers the day Fiji became independent.
At the time, the then 46-year-old taxidriver said celebrations erupted in the Sugar City as schoolchildren waved flags, government officials donned their best attire and crowds converged on the city to usher in a new era in Fiji's history.
Mr Chandra said although the sight of children waving flags and government workers in their best bula wear brought back memories of the past, a lot had changed since 1970.
"The main celebration was held at Albert Park in Suva," he recollected.
"But we had our own celebration here in Lautoka and I remember it being a very special occasion.
"Schoolchildren and government officials and a lot of people from Lautoka came out to celebrate that day.
"And while we may have progressed as a nation, I can say life has become harder compared to when I first came to Lautoka as an 11-year-old boy."
Mr Chandra said he was paid four pounds as a bus driver "and with only one pound I could buy about a week's ration of food".
"Back then, with seven shillings I could buy about 20 kilograms of rice.
"But as time moved on, it just became harder, especially for bus and taxi drivers.
"I remember Churchill Park used to be just cane fields and at one point there was a Lautoka Town and a Namoli Town.
"Back then most buildings in Lautoka were just wooden structures. None of it was the concrete buildings you see here today. I don't know if people in Lautoka know that the Golden Shower Tree in Elizabeth Square was planted by the Queen Mother during her first visit to Fiji."
The 89-year-old was a bus driver for Lautoka General Transport and Pacific Transport before establishing his own taxi business.