Not ready to give up – Prasad’s will to survive

Surendra Prasad with wife Bijma Wati at their residence in Sabeto, Nadi. Picture: SHIRAZ KASIM

Surendra Prasad has a tendency of always rising above challenges.

He still displays the same zest as he did when he was young. Raised in a big family consisting six sisters and three brothers, Mr Prasad took a leadership role in his early teenage years.

“I was born in Masimasi, Sabeto and the family was living in three separate bure my father had constructed, the 67-year-old said.

“We didn’t have the luxury of any public utility and were using kerosene lamps while water was fetched from a well. We were fortunate enough to be surrounded by a river so water was never a problem, except in extreme drought weather conditions.”

Mr Prasad said it was tough for the whole family when he lost his dad at the age of 38.

“My dad owned a truck and used to cart sugar cane to the Lautoka Mill. He didn’t cultivate sugar cane at all, although we had eight acres of land.

“We were only commercial vegetable farmers because during that time sugarcane farming didn’t commence in our area. We didn’t have a contract to cultivate sugar cane.

“I was in Form 3 at Sabeto College when dad died at the Lautoka Hospital. It was a huge shock for the entire family because we were so young and from there on we had to rely on my elder brother since he had completed his secondary school education.

“I left school and decided to assist my elder brothers and mum on our farm. Life was tough, but no one complained. We used to plant vegetables and sold it within the community and on Saturdays at the Lautoka Municipal Market.

“My elder brother bought a piece of land in Lautoka and relocated there. The second eldest went to Suva for work so I was the only male member left behind in the family.

“I received a sugarcane farming contract and began work juggling farm work expenses and saving for my younger sister’s wedding from the proceeds of vegetable and sugarcane farming.

“The corrugated iron and timber three-bedroom house which my late father built was completely blown away in 1985 when Hurricane Eric struck Fiji. We lived in a tent for nearly a year before I rebuilt our new house.”

He said the biggest challenge in his life was when he was faced with an issue of land renewal in 1996.

“I managed to clear all my debts with the bank and had $2000 as savings in my bank account. Seven days later I received a notice that my land lease had expired under the existing Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act, which had replaced the previous Native Land Trust Act.

“The scenario four years later literally blew me away. I was given only 45 minutes in 2000 to vacate my house by nine members of the mataqali who owned the land.

“Despite paying $5000 a couple of years earlier I was forced to leave with all those years of blood, sweat and tears I endured .

“There was no law at that time because of the 2000 coup. The neighbours offered help and we moved with whatever we could at the time. I had to leave behind my house, poultry farm and some white goods. I was shoved to the road, it was crazy.

“It was a horror to start of the millennium like that, however, every harsh reality had its lessons and I learnt mine.”

Mr Prasad started to rent at a couple of places for the next three years before finally purchasing a home in Sabeto where he currently resides.

“I had a heavy goods driver’s licence and I got employed at Foodhall Supermarket as a truck driver. I used to work long hours, just to earn enough. I was married and had three small boys. My mum was staying with me before she died.

“Life has many lessons, great and small, however, it’s upon us as individuals on how best to adapt to each situation fearlessly, which makes us unique in our own ways.”

Now a retiree surviving on a monthly pension of $100 Prasad faces another challenge.

He is now fighting to have the title of the house he bought in Sabeto transferred in his name.

“I hope something can be done about it.”

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