Debi Singh tells his story

I lived with my wife and mother in India. One day I decided to visit my aunt in Basvelli. My mother gave me some money to buy some sweets for my cousins. So I left the place and came to the bazaar of Basvelli. I went to the sweet-seller and bought sweets; I ate some and had a drink of water from the well. There was a man sitting very close to it. After drinking, as I moved towards the other side, the man approached me. He enquired whether I wanted a job. I said I would be interested but only after I had returned from visiting my aunt. He said this was not possible because someone else might take the job by that stage. He continued to press me but I continued to take the line that I would be interested after having visited my aunt and on my return would give the answer. There was a depot nearby.  He persuaded me to go to it first.

There were men there who were sitting around playing cards. They were keen to take me into their company. At the depot there was a Muslim who read from a paper that if we went for five years and came back we would have to pay our own fares, but after ten years government would send us back on a free return passage.

I then opened the sweets that I had originally intended for my cousins. Those present were very happy and we all shared them. While I was there somebody came from the owner of the place with foodstuff for me, telling me it was for me to cook and eat. I was given utensils as well. The Muslim chap kept saying that we would all go and work in the same place, and according to the paper he had, there was plenty of money available so that after seven years, we could pay our own fares back.  He suggested we should all shake hands because we would all be together.

Those there told me that Fiji was an island. They did not say how far it was from my home. I did not ash either. When we went before the magistrate he asked what I wanted. I told him that I was going to Fiji to work. He asked how many of us there were. I said I had a wife and mother as well. The magistrate asked how could I, as the only man in the family, go off and work in this far-off island. But I insisted that I must go. He said that I would recognise the value of his advice only after I had gone to Fiji. Since I pressed him he registered me. I was 26 at that stage but when it came to registering the two persons taking down my age noted 20 for me. Apart from the magistrate everyone thought T ought -to go and by that stage I had made up my mind firmly to do so.

When we got to the depot in Calcutta we all ate together irrespective of religion. We got clothes and blankets when we were about to board the ship to come to Fiji. The journey by ship was quite pleasant. Living conditions were adequate and food was reasonable. There was nothing wrong with the biscuits, we enjoyed them even though they were very hard. When the ship tossed people yelled and shouted. There was nothing to do on board except sit and pass time. Those who got into trouble were given a brush to clean the ship.

During indenture Muslims sometimes did not eat meat killed by Hindus but Muslims ate with Hindus. They all used to live like one big family. Muslims did not get involved with throwing paint in the Holi festival but they went to the Ramayan readings. They had their own Koran reading to which they invited Hindus.       During their Eid festivals Muslims took the view that nobody invited anyone and all were welcome to come and eat at their place.   At Muslim weddings Hindus and Muslims all ate together.

During indenture I met a cousin of mine who had come here before me. He then wrote to his father about me. My uncle, in his reply, asked him to inform me that my mother had gone with her brother and. that my wife had been taken away by her father and that my home was all closed. I suggested to my cousin that we ought to go back to India. But he always kept postponing it for the following year.  So we remained here.