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Nand Kisor Chetty (25-12-1944 to 29-10-2013)


Nand Kisor Chetty (25-12-1944 to 29-10-2013)

(former Deputy Government Statistician, Fiji Bureau of Statistics)

 I am honored to speak today, as a very close friend of Kisor for the last forty years.

I first met Kisor when I joined the Fiji Bureau of Statistics in 1972,  as my first job after graduation from Otago University, and although I moved on to USP soon after, we hung together ever since.

What Epeli Waqavonovono (Government Statistician) said about the sharpness of Kisor’s mind, is no exaggeration.  Some of our friends who speak later will no doubt also speak about that.

In a way, Kisor’s aversion for pundits and priests is a bit of a pity because he has denied them a very good job today, somewhat at odds with his usual concern for employment creation.

When priests and pundits give their sermons at funerals, they often go totally overboard, because often, the deceased person does not deserve the accolades at all, but we all respect the dictum “speak no ill of the dead”.

But those of us who have known Kisor very well, also know that we can pull many passages out of the Bible, the Gita, the Ramayan, which apply so appropriately to Kisor as a genuinely “good” person, always the Samaritan in need.

Ancient wisdom reminds us that we can know a person not just by their deeds and their thoughts, but also by their family, their friends, and we would all add today in the age of widespread environmental degradation, we can also judge people by their relationship with nature and all creation.

When my friendship first started with Kisor in 1972, we would end up most evenings after our post-work stints at Union Club, at his home in 9 Miles Nasinu.

There I came in contact with his entire family- Aaji of course, but also his sisters Manju and Anjie who would rustle up food for the miscreants at midnight. There would always be one of the brothers- Krishna, Rajendra, Ravendra, Narendra- tinkering around with old junks and converting them into gleaming works of art.

Kisor was somebody whose family illustrates what kind of person he was- whether he influenced them or they influenced him is a moot point, I suspect both processes were at work, with Kisor or “Anna” being the trend-setter in his family.

You can look at how his siblings have developed over the years, all with remarkable stories to tell about what they have achieved in their individual lives- coming from a poor family in Nasinu, and rising to the heights that they have today, all over the world.

Kisor could not be Kisor without Seona

Of course, Kisor could not be Kisor, without Seona Smiles, his partner for forty years, and mother of his two boisterous daughters, Tara and Kiran.

Kisor would not have been able to create his generous and expansive universe without the help of the equally accommodating Seona, who also welcomed all and sundry that Kisor dragged in, at all hours of the day and night, ensuring that the food and drink kept flowing, cleaning up the house after all the partying and carousing.

Unlike other Suva memsahibs, Seona also delighted in driving Kisor’s beaten up land-rovers, putting up with derelicts lying in the driveway for years on end while Kisor searched for non-available parts or went chasing after mechanics who ran off with the money before the job was done.

At Kisor’s whims, Seona was also quite happy to bundle two young daughters into the land-rover and belt down the highway towards Deuba or Natadola or Anand’s farm in Tailevu, consuming the edible wildlife wherever they could.   Seona had no difficulty in accompanying Kisor, recently circumnavigating Australia in a beat up car.

A at Deuba 20 yrs ago

For Kisor to be Kisor, he needed a Seona in his life, and she has always been there for him, patiently putting up with his occasional cantankerous moods.

Daughters he was proud of

From his frequent interest in the sons of his friends, I suspected that Kisor may well have initially hankered after a son “to carry on his illustrious name” or rather, share in his carousing.  But later in his life, he grudgingly recognized that his two daughters were worth more than any sons.

Indeed Kisor was silently quite proud of their endeavors and their successes in life, despite being burdened by their imaginary roles as “Hope of the Side” and “Cuddles the Thug”, fertile fuel for their mother’s literary adventures involving Deepest Darkest Flagstaff, with the central character often being Kisor’s mother careening around town, having learnt to drive in her seventies.

His friends

B Diwali at Tanoa St 1You can judge people by the friends they cultivate and Kisor’s  friendships knew no boundaries; he did not tolerate fools too gladly, but he accommodated them all. To be with Kisor was to came into contact with his wide group of friends, of all shades and colors, of all ethnic groups.

As Kisor’s friends Isikeli Raicebe and Bai would testify (as also would have the late Kavekini Navuso), Kisor was truly a “Fijian” well before some others dictatorially thought of imposing that generic term on all Fiji citizens.   Kisor never thought twice about rolling up to Fijian friends’ funerals, with a pig or two, and his generosity did not need a kerekere.

Kisor could always be expected to provide a hospitable home for any friends in need, and for some, safe abodes while on the run from some authority or other.  He kept in touch with them, to whichever country they returned to, dispersed throughout the world. Occasionally, he made a point of visiting them at their homes.

C Diwali at Tanoa St 2Kisor (and Seona) brought together at Tanoa Street all kinds of people- academics of all sorts, civil servants, his old Bureau statistician friends, demographers, poets, unionists, corporate types and his golfing buddies.

His Diwali parties were legendary with a truly multiracial multicultural mix of people, food, songs, and more than generous spirits flowing, somewhat at odds with the usual Diwali spirits.

Kisor cultivated  friends with sharp minds, from all walks of life, and in all the fields of literature, economics, statistics or science, and with all of them Kisor thoroughly enjoyed having intelligent discourses , often more than a match for the experts in their fields.

His generous deeds

One can know Kisor by his deeds.  He was an incredibly generous person, He  could never refuse anyone- he was generous with his time and his money, and in his younger days, also with his energy.

D Diwali at Tanoa St 3His generosity could be irritating extent at times.  You would be sitting there at the golf club with your group of four friends, each taking turns at shouting the round, and Kisor would suddenly decide to shout the neighboring group as well,  someone there would reciprocate, and in no time at all,  you would end up shouting twenty people instead of four.

Pundits and priests like to preach sermons about not being attached to money or wealth, and warn “from dust you have come and to dust you shall return” and “no one ties their wealth to their chest when they are going up in smoke”. Kisor was one who genuinely believed in the spirit of these sermons.

He did not at all care for accumulation of wealth or worldly things.  As the photos being shown at this cremation indicate,  he never wore fancy clothes, or shoes or jewelry. His house and cars were always basic, caring not for scratches, bumps or dilapidation.

He spent money on companionship, as he genuinely believed that strengthening friendships was far more important than accumulating wealth.  And truly, from dust he came and to dust he shall return, with no regrets on the way.  I do not know of too many people who genuinely put into practice the sermons that priests and pundits like to perpetually give us.

A deep thinker

One judges people by their thoughts, and Kisor’s thoughts were profound. One would not believe that this short scruffy pot-bellied person periodically getting drunk at the Fiji Golf Club, would be capable of deep philosophical conversations about any subject under the sun.  He was incredibly well read in literature as his poet friend will no doubt elaborate.

Tata Club

In the last years of his life, I was astonished at his newly found passion for his South Indian cultural identity deriving from his father’s side.  All his life, Kisor has been a battler for the under-dog, for those without privilege.  He freshly discovered and began articulating his anger at the discrimination by North Indians against South Indians.  He talked about it, he investigated it, not just in Fiji but also in India to which traveled to discover his cultural roots, often coming back with new perspectives on the idiosyncrasies of Indo-Fijian behavior, both political leaders and the common person.

If he had expressed some of his radical views in the papers, there would have been ten thousand people jumping on him:  our people do not like to have their favorite prejudices  and hobby horses disturbed by radicals like Kisor.

E Kisor and Seona protesting the Deuba Wall

Even thought he had retired as a statistician, his statistical mind kept boiling over and he would frequently call his statistician friends home for food and drink, in order to give them exhortations about the right thing to do with their statistics gathering, analysis and publications.

In the company of USP academics, Kisor would always insist on academic excellence, in the genuine sense.  He would look around at all his friends and ask them, what was the best that this person could do in his life at this point in time, even in the most difficult of situations.

After the military coup of 2006, some of his friends readily joined in supporting the military government’s efforts, in a variety of roles, while other friends did not.  Kisor had no difficulty encouraging some of his friends to do as much as they could, whether as a vice chancellor of a new university, or board members of this or that, encouraging them to do the creative things he thought they were capable of.  He would monitor their performance, and he had no hesitation in pulling them up if they began to stray from facts or logic.

During an email debate between some friends over an article I had written on Fiji’s religious intolerance, Kisor, on the circulation list, had the last word  “I am wiser for the kind of ideas our learned folks are throwing about for the survival/advancement of our people.  There were facts, reason and logic but what caught my eye was initial vitriol that negates all that.  God help Indians when their leaders use a totalitarian regime to further their petty interests.  I think this coup has been like all others….”

It bothered Kisor intensely if his friends, whether economists, physicists or poets, did not fulfill their academic potential.  He would irritate me no end perpetually reminding me to publish a long gestating book, long gestating because  it was on a totally international topic unconnected to Fiji, and hence kept giving way to what always appeared to be far more important local issues.  Hopefully one day I can drink a toast to Kisor when that happens.

A greenie

Tara and Kiran talked about Kisor’s immense love of nature. Whatever he might say about not believing in god and religion, Kisor was totally at one with the environment and nature, and all creation. He was a greenie and an environmentalist long before it became popular in Fiji.

He hated it when trees were cut down unnecessarily. He wanted to plant trees.  SCC still does not know who planted some of the trees along the Nasese seawall and in front of the old Pony Club.  Kisor  went to the trouble of planting a few trees there in the dead of night, adding to our coastal greenery, while others are hacking them down in the name of development.

I hope people here can come back to the house.  Some months ago I was fortunate enough to record a video of him and Seona expressing their disgust at the ugly wall that recently sprang up around Deuba beach.

F Cremation Service

Kisor talks about the wall reducing access to the poor people of Suva and surrounds, for whom the Deuba beach was the only such outlet for their week-end picnics.    He also talks about his decades of snorkeling at Deuba where he would see schools of little fish becoming bigger by the week until they went off on their spawning journeys- all at risk now because of the so-called developments by investors.

His love of music

The next song we will sing is one he would have identified with- El Condor Pasa (also sung by Simon and Garfunkel) with people preferring forests rather than streets, the earth beneath their feet rather than streets; and also about sailing away.

G Cremation Service

Kisor’s family will remember how he came home one day from a few beers with his friends at the Yacht Club, and went off sailing the next day, crewing on a boat to Vanuatu, and eventually ending up in Darwin.

I won’t say too much more as we also have two of his other very close friends, Sudesh Mishra and Satendra Prasad speaking soon.

Ravindra Pillay and group

Kisor also loved music, including the songs we are singing here today in his memory. At the house we will also be screening Kisor’s famous Bakula song which all his friends will remember, whenever he was in the right mood and occasion.

His fortitude

Let me end by relating a rather poignant story reflecting Kisor’s practical application of simple statistics.  After he was diagnosed with cancer, he told me a year ago, while we were having a beer at the Lighthouse, that the average life expectancy for prostrate cancer patients was only 18 months, and the probability distribution was such that a half of the affected population would die before eighteen months, and a half live somewhat beyond 18 months.

In his usual gruff and humorous way, he said “given my lifestyle, I am sure to die before the 18 months are up.  I am just going through all this chemotherapy crap just to please my family.”

H Final resting place at Nasinu

That was the kind of person Kisor was, without any self-pity, facing the end with his usual courage.

Yet despite his awareness of the impending end, he still acted as if there would be no end. In his last few weeks, he got Kiran to bid successfully at a Land Rover auction in Australia, while getting me to order an extra cooking wood-stove from China, when he found out that I was importing some for experiments.

But his end came somewhat faster than we all expected, with his departure leaving a deep vacuum in the lives of his family and friends, we will all have difficulty filling.

Thank you all for coming and celebrating Kisor’s life with us.

Please sing the next song with us- El Condo Pasa which includes the words:

 “…I would rather be a forest than a street
I would rather feel the earth beneath my feet…
Away, I would rather sail away,
like a swan that’s here and gone.. ”

Songs at Kisor’s funeral cremation:

                     Let it be

                    El Condor Pasa

                    Pareshaa raat

                   Hum aur tum the saathi

Rest in peace, our friend.

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  1. Gone too soon | Fiji Pensioners

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