Speech by Professor Biman Prasad, Leader of the National Federation Party at the launch of “A Musica
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
The book is summarised very well by Mr. Vijendra Kumar, former Editor of the Fiji Times. It is appropriate for me to read that summary.
Sattvik Dass had a burning passion from his earliest childhood days. In this engrossing book, he tells of his journey in pursuit of a dream to study and become an accomplished musician. This magnificent obsession took him to India, the land of his ancestors, on a scholarship to a famous music academy where he mastered the intricacies of Indian music and then learnt at the feet of an eminent guru to play the sitar, an exotic and most complex instrument to master. His story is one of ceaseless struggle, of finding love, of losing a love one, of joy and sorrows and eventual triumph and fulfilment of his childhood dream.
The book is well presented with both short and interesting chapters with stories and details full with passion. From the hills and rivers of Qeleloa and Vuniyasi the author takes a breath-taking journey detailing carefully chosen experiences in the chapters that follow. I note that as a young student Mr. Dass participated in many musicals contests and he proudly talks about Swami Rudranandji and A.D Patel as judges in one of the contests. A.D. Patel who later formed the National Federation Party became its founding leader in 1964. It is interesting that Mr Dass had a close association with Swami Rudranandji through music. Swami ji together with A.D. Patel was at the forefront of the struggle to bring dignity, respect and justice to mainly Indian sugar cane farmers as well as our ordinary people. Therefore, Mr Dass is well versed with the struggles of Mr Patel who was a giant amongst men and most importantly, the founding leader of the National Federation Party which is now 55 years old and the oldest political party in Fiji.
In the ‘land of music’ chapter Mr Dass explains his encounter with musicians and religious leaders from India. It is very interesting to note that unlike other British Colonies where Indian indentured labourers were sent, Fiji was fortunate to experience and benefit from the arrival of many religious and language teachers and musicians. This is probably one of the significant reasons why even today Indian culture, religion and language are very much alive and kicking. The preservation of Hindi as a language has given us a diversity of languages which include I-taukei and English. Unfortunately, for both Hindi and I-taukei, the 2013 Constitution, section 31 (3) says that “Conversational and contemporary iTaukei and Fiji Hindi Languages shall be taught as compulsory subjects in all primary schools”. I am not sure if this means that in future formal Hindi and I-taukei teaching will not be a priority in primary schools. I believe that a non-focus on formal I-taukei and formal Hindi in primary schools will in the long-term destroy the ability of students to read and write both I-taukei and Hindi languages and could lead to language loss. This constitutional provision in my view is an example of an overbearing stench from the 2006 military coup, just as the stench from 3 other coups since May 1987. I see Mr Dass also recalls the political struggles after 1987 and the work of our leaders in the restoration of genuine democracy.
The Dass family has directly or indirectly been associated with politics for more than 50 years. They have been closely associated with our former leaders. I am pleased to note the continuation of this legacy by Mr Dass’s nephew, Bala Dass, who is a stalwart of NFP and the general secretary of Fiji Cane Growers Association for the last 17 years. In fact, Mr Satvik Dass has composed many songs on the life and struggles of our cane farmers and on NFP.
Mr. Sattvik Dass also talks about his Indian roots and how he was able to explore that. Many years after he did that, today we still have large numbers of descendants of Girmitya searching for their roots in India. Off course it is much easier to do that now.
Writing about one’s life journey is not an easy task. Professor Subramani who has been acknowledged by the author for helping him steer the writing of this book, aptly sums of the struggle faced by Mr. Dass. I quote “So behind the song is another story: the struggles to write a book. What started as a simple chronicle of his achievement gradually became a searching account of how an artiste finds his identity and vocation. A Musical Journey is a record of what could have been a grave loss. The journey in the book will surprise and give courage to those who dare walk a different path”. Mr Sattvik Dass remains a living legend. Thousands have gone through him and have made their mark in Hindi music, tabla and other instruments. I highly commend his book and recommend “A Musical Journey” by Savttik Dass to not only those who are interested in music but all those who are interested in the history of Hindi music in Fiji and indeed the History of Fiji.
I thank you all.