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The Rediff Special/Tara Shankar Sahay
Events in Fiji put Haryana village in spotlight
The car swerves sharply to the right from the Hissar highway on to a narrow dirt road. You are barely 10km out of Rohtak town, but the body language of the elders perched on rickety charpoys near the entrance tells you they know their tiny hamlet is now in the international spotlight and they will gladly answer any questions.
Welcome to Bahu Jamalpur, ancestral village of Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry.
You wonder how to start up a conversation with the elderly men on the crisis in the distant Pacific island nation when all of them break out into toothy smiles. "Aapka swagat hai, aap zaroor Mahendra Pal ke bare mein poochna chahate honge [Welcome, you must have come to inquire about Mahendra Pal]," says Ram Singh, a cousin of the prime minister who is now being held hostage in Suva.
You relax. These people may be elderly Jats belonging to an obscure (no more!) hamlet in Haryana, but they seem to be seized of current affairs and how!
More surprise. You put your questions in Hindi. Mahavir Chaudhry, the Fijian politician's brother-in-law, answers in fluent English, though in a thick, Haryanvi accent.
"Every man, woman and child is praying for our Mahendra Pal's safety. It is not for nothing that he is prime minister of Fiji. He has guts, gumption and drive, which is why he has reached this position. Our fear is that because of Mahendra Pal's strong-willed nature, he might be subjected to rough treatment by these hoodlums led by George Speight," Chaudhry spits angrily.
Then he calms down and instructs a lad to fetch cold water of which everybody has several glasses in the relentless heat; the mercury has just touched 45 degrees Celsius.
How did a young Haryanvi manage to become the prime minister of a foreign nation?
Chaudhry signals to Ram Singh to speak.
In 1912, the British government wanted strong, young Indians to work in the sugarcane fields. Many aspirants wanted the coveted job, but the British only wanted tough, young men who would not shirk work. Of course, there were various incentives for the job.
The Fijian prime minister's grandfather Shriramnath Singh was selected, much to the surprise of the villagers. He was given a warm send-off.
Shriramnath Singh wrote back from Fiji that though the work was backbreaking, it was well worth the trouble. The food was good, the climate salubrious, and the wages acceptable.
Singh, however, felt lonely. So he married a Fijian girl. The marriage produced two sons and a daughter.
After a few years, the young immigrant began longing for Bahu Jamalpur. His homesickness began telling on his work and his wife advised him to return to his native Indian village. So Shriramnath Singh packed his bags and returned to India with his wife and children.
The story would have ended in oblivion then and there, but fate willed otherwise. Of Singh's two sons -- Krishnagopal and Ramgopal -- the latter wanted to seek fame and fortune in Fiji, so he went back by booking a passage to Suva. That proved to be the decisive turn in the family's history.
Ramgopal slogged day and night so that his dreams could come to fruition. His family prospered and he took great pleasure in seeing that his son Mahendra Pal was not only brilliant in studies, but also had keen business acumen.
Ramgopal's business in Fiji flourished and his political contacts in Fijian society increased. His son Mahendra Pal, meanwhile, cut his 'political teeth' by evincing keen interest in the island nation's politics.
"It is Mahendra Pal's family's acknowledged hard work and standing in Fijian society that enabled him to defeat Sitiveni Rabuka in the election about a year ago," Mahavir Chaudhry points out with a touch of pride.
"What the hell! Indians have prospered in the West Indies and Mauritius, countries where Indians have become prime minister. We have great cricketers in the West Indies of Indian origin -- Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and this young debutante Sarwan who is playing the West Indies-Pakistan Test match. Indian immigrants have done well for themselves by hard work and perseverance. Therefore, thugs like George Speight and company have simply no right to throw out a democratically elected government," he says.
The others on the charpoys gravely nod assent.
Barring a few young men working in the fields, all activity in Bahu Jamalpur has come to a halt as villagers fret and fume, worry and hurry with petitions to the chief minister of Haryana and the prime minister of India to take immediate action to prevent bodily harm to Mahendra Pal and save his government. Madhu and Mukta Chaudhry, Mahendra Pal's nieces, are even marshalling support to urge Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to "attack" Fiji to save their uncle from harm and restore his government.
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