Hussein's story

I was an assistant teacher at a school and I hit a girl who I was to marry in a week’s time. We had already bought all the provisions for the wedding. I hit her and she bled. She reported this to her mother who told my elder brother, who came to my school. He called me out and grabbed me by the ears and slapped and kicked me.

Those pupils whom I had favoured were sorry. Those I had persecuted were delighted; they put their heads down and began sniggering. I felt ashamed and quit the school. I went home indignant with my brother whose face I did not wish to see. I told my sister-in-law that good cattle had arrived from Malabar and I wanted money to purchase some. She replied that she did not know how to open the box where the money was kept. But she gave me the keys saying that I could open the box. The box made a ringing sound as I tried to open it, and I was scared. But I opened it and took out two rows of silver money and tied it around my waist.

I came outside the house and went to the sheltered place where the kitchen utensils were washed and where there was the well. I had made a hiding-place under one of the slabs where I used to hide various kinds of things. There I deposited 50 rupees, another 50 rupees I kept in my hand and then I fled to the railway station.

I paid 12 annas and took a train to Madras where my uncle resided. My uncle was an inspector of schools. I did not meet my uncle, but my aunt enquired why I had come there. I replied with a lie that I had come to invite them to the wedding. She answered that they had already been invited, so what was the purpose of my coming. My uncle returned from work after 5pm and enquired about my coming. My aunt replied that I had come to invite them. He, too, retorted that they had already been invited. My aunt responded that since I had no parents alive my brother might have suggested that I should invite them personally.

Meanwhile my brother had begun enquiring about my where-abouts. Soon a call came to my uncle. He told my aunt that I had run away from home after having stolen some money. I heard this from another room. My uncle said nothing to me. Later my aunt told me that I had in fact run away from home.

I fell at my aunt’s feet and said I would not go home or get married. She was willing to let me remain there. She suggested my uncle send a message that they would come to the wedding when the boy returned. In the meantime he let me live there. They had a daughter and they thought they would marry her to me.

From the very early days there was an old woman who used to purchase commodities for my uncle and aunt from the market and return it to their place. I told my aunt that this woman had been cheating them. I asked my aunt to give me the money and I would do her shopping.

I already had some money. She gave me a list of her requirements. Where the old woman had obtained 1 anna worth of meat I bought 3 annas worth. Generally I bought twice the amount she used to. When my aunt saw what I had brought she contended it was more than she had requested. I replied that it was not so, I had bought according to her instructions. In the meantime the old woman arrived and they asked her about the worth of what I had purchased. The old woman was able to give the correct cost of each commodity; she was an old experienced person in these matters and was thus accurate. I denied her estimates. My aunt, believing me, grabbed the old woman by her hair, pushed her outside and closed the door.

I had done the old woman a grave injustice.

Subsequently my uncle gave me a letter to an office and to put it in the office’s post slot. lie added a police man would come and take me upstairs and give me a job. In those days police used to get 25 rupees per month. He recommended 15 for me. I was uncertain. The Police Inspector, a Brahmin, was a school-mate of my uncle.

In the end I dropped the letter in the box and a police constable came to me and asked if I wanted a job. I answered in the negative.

Just then a bearded Muslim came in and asked me whether I would like to go to a magnificent place called Fiji. lie stated that my wages would be 21 1/2 rupees. He enquired if I could read. I said I could and he added that I could then become a school teacher and receive 30 rupees.

Since I had no wish of seeing my brother again I was easily tempted. This man then took me to a recruiting depot. There I gave him a name but not my real name I spent twenty-one days in that depot. We were given coupon tickets each day for our expenses. We surrendered these to the shops and obtained either cash or goods.

On the ship we were like cattle. When it swayed we fell on one another, and our food spilled. Our journey was full of hardship.

Some became ill and died. On board the ship I worked as an interpreter since I knew some Hindi. As I was a Muslim I had learnt Urdu, thus I was able to interpret and received 5 rupees in Nukulau for my efforts. Hence I thought I would certainly get a job in a school, but there was no such thing. Instead I received a hoe and spade when I arrived at an estate in Nadi.

I told the sardar that I had not known these things in India. He replied that he would show me what to do.

Indian sardars were generally worse than European overseers, but my sardar was very good to me. I used to climb up the coconut tree and remain there, he would object, but no more. He died after a year. Sardars should have been like him, kind. In other estates sardars used to wreak havoc whether on males or females. They used to beat people, swindle them, all kinds of persecution used to occur. They used to collaborate with overseers over women. If there was a beautiful woman, the overseer would ask the sardar to send the woman to such and such a place at such and such a time and thesardar complied.

Europeans used to degrade us. We too retaliated. There was a European who came here with a son and had no wife. He played around with Indian women.

There was an Indian who used to assist him and I scolded this man. He told the sahib about my remarks and I became a marked man. I was given a job, digging drains.

I worked for five days finishing at 5pm. Sahibs, sardars, and the water-carriers all colluded against me. Besides the sardar’s wife was the woman involved with the European overseer. At the end of that week I received only 3d in wages. When I enquired about this paltry sum I was told that it was more than my share after the overseer,sardar and water-carrier had been given theirs and that 3d was, in fact, a gift.

That evening my shipmates and I got hold of the sardarresponsible and beat him up. Only my shipmates and I were involved, the other inhabitants of the line kept aloof. But a Muslim chap stealthily stole away and reported to the overseer that sardar Aiyappa was liable to be killed. The overseer loaded a gun and came down. The women of the lines, whom I called mother or sister and who treated me well, took up their hoes. He retreated, pleading to the women not to hit him, moving backwards he landed in a sewer pit. The women then threw shit on him.

The overseer ran away. Afterwards we also released Armogam, another sardar, whom we had locked in his room so he would not get involved. Later the manager asked Armogam what had happened. He stated that the European overseer had fired a shot and it had grazed the lips of one Murgan. The manager informed Farquhar and the overseer concerned was sent back to Sydney. This overseer, apart from his involvement with Indian women, was a good man.

All this happened in 1916.

In those days Hindus and Muslims got on well until the advent of Arya Samaji elements. When Muslims used to sacrifice cattle during Bakra-eid Hindus used to get very offended. A sardar once gathered a gang of Hindus and brought them to the bush where Muslims were slaughtering a cow; only the intervention of a policeman prevented a strife. Hindus used to slaughter pigs, but not in Muslims’ presence.      There were occasions when there was conflict over such issues. We used to meet in various places and read the ‘Koran’ at these religious gatherings Hindus were present.

Similarly Muslims used to go to Hindu katha. There was no conflict when Muslims took Hindu wives and vice-versa, these marriages proved lasting. In the evenings we used to help one another by teaching people to read and write.