Although the quest to discover my ancestral home in India started rather late in my life, the seed for this quest was sawn into my young brain very early in my life in the village of Natabua, situated some ten kilometers from the sugar city of Lautoka in the glorious pacific islands of Fiji. The Rai homestead is located on the banks of the Saru River, which meanders down from the mountaintop behind the Ali homestead and end up in the Pacific Ocean some five kilometers away.
After the end of my aaja (maternal grandfather) Sukhdev’s girmit around 1921, my Dhanus uncle reliably informed me that he settled in Natabua with his wife Gokuldei and their children. My aaja and aaji (maternal grandmother) came to Fiji with their two children, Girdhari and Banwari.
Banwari died soon after their arrival in Fiji, but the girmitya couple had six more children in Fiji. Bans Bahadur was the first-born in Fiji, followed by Dhanus Dhari, Chattar Dhari and Raj Dhari, the youngest of the sons. They also had two daughters who I just know has badki (elder) and chotki (younger) fua (father’s sisters).
Each of my uncles and aunts had an average of eight children each, except Chattar kaka (uncle), who never married and lived with Dhanus uncle all his life. Although he was older then my father Raj, we all called him kaka, a title reserved for the younger brothers of one’s father. This may be because he remained a bachelor all his life. [/one_half][one_half_last]By the time I was born in the second half of the twentieth century much had happened on the Rai homestead created by aaja and aaji more than thirty years ago. For a start both aaja and aaji had passed on after building a solid foundation for their family thousands of miles away from their own homes in India. Very early in my life I heard that they had sold their farmstead, which I was told, included most of Natabua proper. I never got to know why they sold off their land and then bought a smaller portion of it back to resettle. I suspected that the only reason for that was to return to India, but for some unknown reason that obviously did not happen. Consequently they bought back the best part of their former land, which straddled the Saru River and lay adjacent to the former Natabua High School, which lay in its west. Even today I do not know the true reason for this strange event, but I suspect that aaja and aaji were the victims of the British and CSR’s ploy to keep and use the free girmityas in Fiji in their attempts to avoid labour shortages after expiry of the despicable girmit (indenture) system.
Although the founders of the Rai dynasty of Natabua had departed by the time I was born, they had left behind a very large and vibrant family behind them. Born the 48th grandson of Sukhdev and Gokuldei, I was perhaps blessed and unfortunate at the same time. Unfortunate in the sense that I did not have the privilege of ever meeting the founders of the Rai dynasty of Natabua. And blessed in the sense that I was born in the only golden era for Indo-Fijians in Fiji. By that time the Rai homestead as well as the Indian community had built up a solid foundation in Fiji as result of the sacrifices and hard work of the girmityas.