Last week was perhaps the longest and most physically and emotionally draining week of my life. Not since 2004 when my beloved father, Benjamin Bhagwan, my close friend Tui Ravai and Fiji's (and the Pacific's) greatest statesman, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara died within weeks of each other. Last Friday I buried my uncle, Narendra Bhagwan, who loved me like the son he never had, and the following day I buried my mentor and close friend Alipate Mateitoga, who was the older brother I never had.
My uncle Narendra, worked in Morris Hedstrom for close to forty years, rising through the ranks to become the first local General Manager/CEO of the company. At the time of his death he was the acting Operations Manager of the Methodist Church's Trust Holdings, a member of the Church's Standing Committee and had served as Chief Steward of the Indian Division. One of the tributes given at his funeral was by the Hon. Pita Nacuva, former minister for Health and ousted Speaker of the House of Representatives former student of the then Suva Methodist Boys School and Lelean Memorial School. Mr. Nacuva spoke of the legacy of honesty, discipline and service instilled in him during his school years, by Narendra's father (my grandfather), the late Master J.S. Bhagwan.
In contrast, my brother Alipate (I call him brother because he was the only person outside my immediate family to call my mother, “mum” and not be reprimanded with a steely glare) was still in his prime at fifty-two. Even after his funeral and burial, many of his family and friends are still in shock. “Pate” as he was known by family, friends and colleagues had worked at Cable and Wireless (FINTEL) and Radio Fiji and was one of the few who were in William Parkinson's core team when FM96 was started. He was part of Australian Channel Nine's original “Fiji TV” team before the 1987 coup scuttled plans for the early introduction of television in Fiji. He joined the Hans Seidel Foundation based at 56 Domain Road which was to become the Fiji National Video Centre and is now the Ministry of Information's Film and Television Unit, where for many years he was the Prinicipal Information Officer and the driving force behind the Dateline Fiji, Voqa Ni Davui and Sitara programmes. Many of Fiji's television camera operators, producers and editors were inducted into the industry by Pate, who at the time of his death was the Acting Director of Information. A musician and recording engineer in his own right, Pate is also missed by the Fiji music industry as well as the JICA Alumni where he had served as its president for four years.
Like Pate, my uncle Naren had many acquaintances, but chose his friends carefully. It is only those closest to them who will really know what our country has lost through the passing away of these two sons of Fiji. Their compassion and genuine love and understanding for others was not advertised, known only by those who experienced it and those who chose to see it. Their humility was often taken advantage of as was their dedication to service, by those who view kindness as a weakness.
As I sat at home, with my eyes puffy from tears shed, and tried to express my thoughts, I found a story that may serve as an example of on the legacy of service and humility left behind by these two gentle men:
A few years ago a group of salesmen went to a sales convention in another town.
They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night's dinner. In their rush, with tickets and briefcases, one of these salesmen inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples.
Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane in time for their nearly-missed boarding.
All but one!
He paused, took a deep breath, got in touch with his feelings, and experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand had been overturned.
He told his friends to go on without him, waved good-bye, told one of them to call his wife when they arrived at their home destination and explain his taking a later flight. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were all over the terminal floor.
He was glad he did. The 16-year-old girl was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her; no one stopping and no one to care for her plight.
The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped organize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket.
When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, 'Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?' She nodded through her tears. He continued on with, 'I hope we didn't spoil your day too badly.'
As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, 'Mister.....' He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued,
'Are you Jesus?'
He stopped in mid-stride, and he wondered. Then slowly he made his way to catch the later flight with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: 'Are you Jesus?' Do people mistake you for Jesus? That's our destiny, is it not? To be so much like Jesus that people cannot tell the difference as we live and interact with a world that is blind to His love, life and grace.
If we claim to know Him, we should live, walk and act as He would. Knowing Him is more than simply quoting Scripture and going to church. It's actually living the Word as life unfolds day to day.
You are the apple of His eye even though we, too, have been bruised by a fall. He stopped what He was doing and picked up you and me on a hill called Calvary and paid in full for our damaged fruit.
May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace.