Grandmother, short-story writer, gardener, gentle soul. Born Jan. 12, 1935, in Labasa, Fiji, died April 22, 2013, in North Vancouver of heart failure, aged 78.
Born in a tiny village in Fiji, the only child of a former indentured labourer, Krishna often marvelled at the detours of life that took her from that village to Auckland, NZ, in the late 1960s, back to Fiji, and then to North Vancouver in 1975.
No more improbable than her journey was that of her father, Tribhuwan Dutt Maharaj. His history is dimmer. It is believed that he came from Uttar Pradesh in northern India – but it is known that at the age of 12 he ran away from home to seek his fortune on what he thought would be a grand adventure. Little did he know he had been tricked into servitude to British masters.
Five years of back-breaking bonded labour on sugar plantations in Fiji left him with few kind words for the English. But he emerged with the determination to forge a new life. He refused passage back to India, not wanting to face his family without having realized his fortune.
He struggled at first, but credited the birth of Krishna, his only child and his good-luck charm, with a change in his fortunes that saw him eventually running two thriving general stores and owning several properties – including a sugar plantation.
He instilled in Krishna the value of education. Unusually for that time, she was sent away to boarding school. Later, after her arranged marriage to schoolteacher Rishi Deo Sharma, her father gifted her a two-storey brick house in the Fijian capital of Suva. Later, with a growing family, Krishna adapted to a peripatetic lifestyle – to various postings throughout Fiji when Rishi took a job with the government.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Fiji was an idyllic British colony, but the winds of change – an emerging call for independence – had begun to stir, and with them a growing concern about the future of the Indian community, the descendents of indentured labourers – British subjects in name, but lacking substantive rights in reality.
And so it was that in 1975, Krishna, her husband and six young children left a comfortable middle-class life in Fiji to start anew in Canada. In doing so she joined the pantheon of classic immigrant stories of sacrifice and hard work in search of a better future for her children.
For a person who had never worked outside the home, Canada was a new experience. Krishna and Rishi worked various jobs – sometimes two jobs at a time – just to pay the bills before becoming established.
In 1996, within a year of his retirement, Rishi was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died shortly after. Krishna withdrew into a shell. But with the encouragement of her family she emerged stronger and discovered a talent for gardening. She took great pride in it, and just a week before suffering a heart attack she had a plan in place for spring planting. Of her other talents (her short stories were published in Hindi-language papers) she rarely spoke.
Not one for ostentation, she rarely mentioned the successes of her children – among them a university professor, a doctor and a Cambridge and Oxford-educated scholar – or her grandchildren, who include a schoolteacher and an Ivy League-educated lawyer.
What of her garden, now awash with spring flowers? It blooms, as does Krishna’s legacy.
Parnesh Sharma is Krishna’s son.