Always in his heart

DESPITE how successful we may become in our chosen fields, most of us will have fond memories of our childhood no matter how different it may be from the lives we have now.

That is very true for one of Fiji’s recently recognised sons, Professor Brij Lal, who is now a successful academic who still fondly remembers his humble beginnings growing up surrounded by sugar cane field, at Tuatua in Labasa.

Prof Lal is one of Fiji’s successful academics making waves in Australia and the global academic arena especially when it comes to his chosen specialty.

A few months back, a book titled Bearing Witness was launched at the Australian National University to honour the life of Professor Lal and his great contribution to academia.

Despite his many global academic achievements, he still calls himself a proud kai Macuata which also recently saw one of his short stories Tamarind Tree being published in an Anthology on Indenture published by the Commonwealth Writers Group.

The story highlights the last days of indenture on the Tuatua sugarcane estate in Labasa in which the life on the estate, chaotic and confusing, full of intrigue and plots.

Prof Lal’s grandfather served his indenture on the Tuatua estate and the story was written from fragments of memory passed down by the older generation.

Prof Lal, a trained historian, has been writing creative fiction for some time and among his books is Mr Tulsi’s Store which is about growing up in Tabia, also in Labasa.

Last week in Mauritius, Prof Lal was elected vice president of the Nroute Project. He is also the head of research of the International Scientific Committee on the UNESCO-approved Indentured Labour.

The committee, drawn from scholars around the world, will oversee comparative research on the experience of indenture across the globe. The selection is in recognition of Prof Lal’s reputation as one of the world’s pre-eminent scholars of Indian indenture.

Acknowledging the great work by his fellow academics at the launch of Bearing Witness, Prof Lal showed his deep appreciation for a festschrift which is a special honour in academia, for him.

“To have the respect and affection of your esteemed peers at the end of your career, in my case over 30 years is very special.

“In this case, scholars from around the world; South Africa, Kenya, UK, the US, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands have written warmly about me: that is exhilarating.”

Prof Lal and his wife Dr Padma are, for the moment, living in Australia as they cannot visit the country of their birth.

“My life’s work has not been in vain. I am particularly touched by the memoirs of my graduate students whose lives I have evidently touched.”

He also said it was sad that they did not know when they would be able to visit Fiji.

“We have done no wrong, We have broken no law, we are not criminals.

“All that I have done is stand up for the values of true representative democracy, processes of transparent governance, the rule of law and free, unfettered speech.”

He said despite he not being able to come to Fiji, his ideas and memory would always be his. “The music must play on; the lights must never go out. Fiji will always be in my heart wherever I live.”

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