103-year-old adds flavour to convention

IT is the largest gathering of South Indians in the country every year.

Every Easter weekend, South Indians from different corners of the country and overseas converge at one place for their annual convention.

This year, the Then India Sanmarga Ikya (TISI) Sangam held its 88th annual convention in Suva, with the theme “2015 — Sangam Year for the Elderly”.

Formed in 1926, the organisation represents the descendants of South Indians who arrived in Fiji under the indenture system between 1903 and 1916.

With this year’s convention theme focused on the elderly, the TISI Sangam had only one thing to tell its members — respect your elders.

Today, we take a look at the convention which ended yesterday and also talk to TISI Sangam’s national president Sadasivan Naicker about the organisation.

DEOGI Nair was not feeling well for a few days.

She was unaware that the Then India Sanmarga Ikya (TISI) Sangam had invited her as a special guest for the opening of its 88th annual convention in Suva on Friday.

Her grandson Rakesh Kissun relayed this message to her last Wednesday and she got up from bed with a bit brighter look on her face.

She agreed to travel from her home at Naitonitoni in Navua to the ANZ Stadium for the convention opening despite not feeling well.

The 103-year-old’s reaction to the invitation message did not surprise her family members because they know she is a “strong Sangam” at heart.

According to the organisation, they do not have any South Indian in their records who is older than Ms Nair, who turns 103 on May 14.

With her birthday falling on the same day as the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India to Fiji, it is something special for her.

Despite her age and a bit of fever, Ms Nair was able to stay for the duration of the opening ceremony and also met several people.

Among those who met her were some Cabinet ministers.

Ms Nair was full of smiles as she mingled with people present at the convention opening, obviously happy because of how she was treated.

“I felt very happy. I have attended Sangam conventions in the past and I was not feeling well this time around but when I heard they wanted me there this year, I thought of going,” she said.

“They gave me a lot of respect and even people who came and met me showed a lot of love and respect for me.”

TISI Sangam national president Sadasivan Naicker said it was good to have an elderly South Indian such as Ms Nair present at the event.

“Considering that this year’s convention had the theme ‘Sangam Year for the Elderly’, her presence added more flavour to the event,” he said.

The four-day convention culminated last evening with the final of the Then India Valibar (TIV) Sangam’s inter-district championship.

During the convention, the TISI Sangam held its annual general meeting and discussed several issues and projects to undertake.

It runs 22 primary schools, five secondary schools and a nursing college in the country.

Mr Naicker said this year being the Sangam Year for the Elderly, the organisation was working on building a retirement home soon.

“We have drawn up plans for the retirement home that will be built on Sangam land in Nawai, Nadi and we are talking to our counterparts overseas,” he said.

“The home will be open to everyone, including our people who are currently living abroad. The estimated cost of this project is between $10 and $15million.

“After we made the announcement at the convention over the weekend to construct a retirement home, we are getting overwhelming support from Sangam members overseas.

“They say it’s the best project that someone has undertaken in Fiji so far.”

Mr Naicker said the organisation had appointed its legal adviser and Lautoka lawyer, Shailend Krishna as chairman of the committee that was looking after the project.

He said other committee members would be appointed at the organisation’s central council meeting at a later date.

“We are also planning to build a dormitory for student nurses at the Sangam College of Nursing in Labasa and we are looking to start this project this year.

“The Asian Development Bank approved $3.8million for this project in 2005 but it withdrew the grant after the coup in 2006.

“But we will still continue to pursue right projects and seek funding assistance from AusAID, JICA, EU and the Government.”

Mr Naicker said the organisation would also soon commence with the construction of the Sangam complex in Nadi.

He said the initial cost of the complex, which would be behind the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple, was $4.5million.

“We are working on the same plan that was drawn up and approved earlier and we should start work in two or three months.

“The building will have seven shops, four quarters for the temple priests, hall, dining hall, kitchen for temple and an office, which can be used as the Sangam head office later.”

Mr Naicker also said the organisation had 1100 acres of freehold land at Madhuvani in Rakiraki and 300 acres at Savusavu in Nadi, which it would now utilise.

“We have a lot of land with very less revenue coming in and we are now going to look at better returns so that the money can be used in our planned projects.

“Some land has been leased out and we want to lease out other land that is lying idle. We won’t sell the land because it was bought by our forefathers and we can’t sell it too because of the new laws.

“Also, all our 22 primary schools, five secondary schools and the nursing college are doing well and the grant given to schools by the Government is very much appreciated.

“There is a four-classroom project in the pipeline for Lovu Sangam Primary School and an auditorium for the Nadi Sangam College and primary school, costing about $1.2 million.”

Mr Naicker said overall, the 88th convention was a success and the theme was taken well by Sangam members in Fiji and from overseas.

He said the message to Sangam members was to look after the elders well, as some elderly people were not looked after.

“People, especially the youths, should respect your elders because you will grow old too one day. If you don’t respect your elders now, then you may not get that respect too when you grow old,” said Mr Naicker.

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