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Memories Of Shri Vivekananda
by Professor Satendra Nandan, AUSTRALIA
Professor Satendra Nandan is a former student of Shri Vivekananda High School on the banks of the Nadi river. After his graduation in Delhi, he returned and taught at his alma mater for three years, before joining USP in 1969.
Shri Vivekananda High School was founded in 1949; I studied there in the 1950s. The school was in two corrugated tin-sheds with floors of rough, uneven concrete. There were thin bamboo partitions between the class-rooms. The singing and teaching in one classroom was heard in the other. The school was on the town-bank of the Nadi river : our green and golden days by the river were spent watching boys and girls from the koro across diving into its pristine waters. When the river flooded, the muddy waters flowed into our classrooms, much to our delight; the school was closed for days.
The wooden Nadi Bridge under the swirling waters was a sight to see with uprooted raintrees entangled in it. But we were often helped by young boys from the koro in their boats to cross the flooded river to the other side to attend the school and prepare for the Senior Cambridge examination.
Mr Bhaskaran Iyer was determined to take his class in chemistry, rain or shine, flood or fire. He was one of our wonderful teachers, well-versed in literature and science. He’d joined the school from Madras.
Next to the tin-sheds was a temple with drawings of multi-coloured peacocks, lotus flowers, gods and goddesses standing on a few prostrate demons. Around midday, the worshippers came from the one-street town with sweat-meats on copper plates : laddoos, gulab-jamuns, halwa, jelebis. Some of us were lucky enough to get a handful from very pretty hands.
Attached to the school sheds was a hostel , with concrete floors, on it hard -wooden beds on which slept the hostel boys from Labasa, Tavua, Rakiraki, Sigatoka, Lautoka and Suva had their own secondary schools.
Shri Vivekananda was the first such school created by the remarkable Ramakrishna Mission for the children and grandchildren of indentured Indian workers, small-town shopkeepers, CSR Company’s labourers, and minor luminaries from around the Nadi International Airport.
It was a pioneering institution started by Swami Rudrananda and his companion Mr A D Patel. Both were profoundly political individuals inspired by the freedom movement of India’s struggle for independence. India, though physically distant, was close to Fiji Indians, perhaps more than in any other Indian community of the empires. Free India was a real presence in our lives: we celebrated every festival in the school with music and bhajans, with the speeches of Gandhi and Nehru, although Gandhi was gone before the school began. All the festivals were happy and colourful, full of gaiety and not tragedy—this is quite remarkable when India, one was told, was full of so many sorrows and suffering.
SVHS was, I feel, the jewel in the Nadi Town’s crown. I’ve written about it in some detail in my two books Nadi: Memories of a River and Requiem for a Rainbow. Other schools mushroomed later but none occupied the pioneering position of this school and its Vedantic vision.
Swami Rudrananda was always ready to expound his Vedanta philosophy to rustic Indian kids from many villages and smaller towns of Fiji who were more worried about grazing their cows in the evening sunset and hoeing their vegetable gardens or helping in their parents’ shops. Philosophy didn’t seem to matter much at that time. Nevertheless, Swamiji used to come to the school, harangue us for an endless hour or more and then depart to some other important mission. He seemed to me to be a man of action and words.
My most prominent school mate was Vijendra Kumar, three years senior to me but he was a tall hero for us—the only person to have got a Distinction in English in the Senior Cambridge examination. And it was a truly distinctive achievement when you consider so many bright students fell by the wayside because they failed to get a ‘pass’ in English.
To me now it seems what a blasphemy this was in our education system. Vijendra Kumar was to become the first local editor of the only daily then, The Fiji Times, founded in 1869. For decades the daily had both the monopoly of freedom and power without much responsibility.
The Swami tried to establish The Pacific Review weekly but it never quite took off, albeit it became the training ground for several subsequently prominent journalists of Fiji.
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