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Aaji (Suhodra Chetty) (21 April 1928- 23 February 2011)


[While politicians keep talking about the need for multiracial harmony and rarely do so in their own everyday lives, our ordinary citizens of all ethnic groups practice them daily in their lives. Once such grand old lady was Suhodra Chetty (of Tanoa Street, Flagstaff, Suva). I was privileged to be asked to speak at her funeral.]

Aaji Sohodra Chetty was born on the same day and month as a queen the other side of the world

In colonial days she may well have quietly enjoyed, like me, the annual 21 gun salute.

But wherever she made her green flowered homes, in Nasinu, Raisara, Denison or Tanoa

Aaji royally opened her house to all her family and their friends.

I remember forty years ago, crashing the Nasinu home at all hours of the day and night

We friends of Kishor or Krishna were always welcomed with food and drink

By the ever hospitable Aaji, and the shy smiles of  Manju and Anji.

While Raven, Naren, Rajen and Bob, transformed old junks.

Aaji bravely raised her offspring in the secure backwater nest in Nasinu

Strong enough to fly off on stormy winds to different corners of the globe

No doubt their tales are today mirrored by others from every backwater of Fiji

But the achievements of Aaji’s brood are no less a testimony to a loving Super Mum from Nasinu.

I see Aaji in the lives of all her children:

Kisor, Krishna, Rajen, Raven, Munni, Manju, Anji, and Naren who sadly went before.

Aaji who herself once bravely crossed a great divide in matrimony

Lived to see her own children cross bigger divides, and much more,

With tremulous heart as any mother, but gently accepting all, like few others.

I see Aaji in the lives of grandchildren she loved with no conditions attached

Tara Jyoti, Kiran, Roshni, Ravi, Owen, Arti, Rajeev, Rohaan, Niraj, Siddhartha, Amaal, Daniel, Madeleine, Anji and Priya

Their bold and adventurous lives are testament not just to their mums and dads

But, like their rainbow names, are also odes of light to the Aaji they loved.

Aaji’s homes were centres of many intersecting circles in a Venn diagram

Aaji’s had her own circle of Bureta Street ladies dispensing charity, but she also welcomed

Kishor’s wandering souls from Statistics, USP, Union Club and the Golf Club;

Krishna and Annette’s cocktail of friends and family from the world of computers and the town

Seona’s sedate senior ladies and friends of letters, words and leisure

And yet later, Tara, Kiran, and Roshni with another era of raucous friends.

Aaji’s home and tribe welcomed a kaleidoscopic world of colours, races, religions and bent

Indians North and South, Fijians from Naitasiri and Bau, pale Aussies Kiwis Poms and Dutch,

All mixing freely with fruit salads and exotic others defying description.

Aaji tolerated belligerent economists, statisticians, corporate types, feminists, cartoonists and poets.

She was no pontiff, but Aaji’s world was perhaps the way Fiji should be.

Aaji lives on in the hearts and minds of Fiji, immortalized by Seona in printed word

The nation has chuckled at Captain Blight, Cuddles the Thug and Hope of the Side

Being lorded over by queen Aaji, in Deepest Darkest Flagstaff.

But our world also knows that under the gaze and goodwill of Aaji and her tribe

Deepest Darkest Flagstaff  was anything but dark especially during Diwali

Lit up, as always, by the lights, food, company, music and song

And the ever abundant good spirits not enjoyed by the other Krishna and Ram.

Aaji was a personalized number plate, but without the ego of the others we see

The Aaji number plate, whizzing around Suva, was a defiant challenge

That unschooled grandmothers in their sixties and seventies could still learn to drive a car.

The Aaji number plate gave the message  “yes, we can” and she did.

Yes, in the last years of her life, Aaji grew a bit weary of it all and she did retreat a bit,

As the old often do, into the comfort of ancient beliefs, perhaps strange to some

But good lives are not mere days to be judged, by the laws, scales and mores of others

Good lives, like Aaji’s eight decades and more, are to be enjoyed and rejoiced in.

An era may be passing, and another starting, but it will be pretty much the same as Aaji’s, I suspect.

Two days ago, trudging up the driveway, my eyes looked up, as usual, for Aaji’s welcoming smile

Two days ago, when visitors came in condolence, Manju ran, as usual, to call Aaji to greet them

Two days ago, when Kiran brought home her clothes to wear at the funeral

She ran inside to show them first, as usual, to Aaji.

But Aaji was not there.

Aaji will soon be gone in body.

But her spirit will live on in the hearts, minds and lives, of her family and friends.

Wadan and the many friends of Sohodra

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