Monday, August 13, 2007


Elizabeth Alice Mahabir is an independent woman who sticks by her principles.
She is one of 10 residents of Pearce Home, on Butt Street, in central Suva.
She has seen the capital city evolve from the 1920s.
Her parents were originally from India and came to Fiji during the Girmit era.
Her father was a businessman and her mother a housewife.
Ms Mahabir is an introvert who seldom discusses herself with others.
That's why her willingness to grant an interview proved quite a surprise to everyone at the home, although it took some cajoling to have photographs taken.
Her father was one of the first businessmen in Suva during the 1900s and she lived through the many changes Suva has experienced.
"Suva during the 1920s and 1930s was an old looking town like any other old looking town," she said.
"It was in the 1930s that the town really started to develop.
"All the shops were wooden except MHs, which was concrete.
"Now the look of the town has advanced and grown."
Born and brought up in Toorak, she spent most of her life there.
She went to Saint Anne's Primary School but could not go any further because there simply was nowhere for her to go. "There was no secondary schools at our time so after I finished my primary school, I stayed at home to help my mother," she said.
Her dream career, however, was to become a nurse but this remained a dream as she could not make it a reality because her father died.
"I love nursing and wanted to be a nurse," Ms Mahabir said.
"At that time we had plenty volunteers going to New Zealand for training and I wanted to go to but my father had died and I did not want to create a hassle for anyone to pay for my fees, boarding expenses or anything.
"So I just stayed home and nursed my family members when they got sick."
She was only eight years old when her father died and is the youngest in a family of two boys and three girls.
Now, 89, Ms Mahabir is the only survivor of her family.
She does not have many relatives in Fiji and wishes to live on her own.
She has been living at the Pearce Home since 1987 and says that is where she belongs. She used to run a tuck shop at Saint Anne's Primary School before settling at Pearce Home.
Ms Mahabir comes from a strong Catholic background, saying she had devoted her life to God.
She is single and does not believe in pairing up with someone.
"I never got married. I mean what is in marriage that people go for," she said.
"I used to meet my friends on the street and ask them how everything is and they all have the same story that they have been divorced from their partners and were not coping well.
"I don't want to live a life like that but I am happy on my own. "I believe in being independent and I don't want to rely on anybody.
"I made a vow never to get married after my father's death because I did not want anyone to look after me.
"I am quite capable of that on my own."
She does not believe in mixing around and communicates only with people she is comfortable with.
Ms Mahabir was brought up in a strict family, saying she was grateful to her family for having looked after her so well.
"My family was very strict and my father only allowed us to speak to the people who regularly came to our place," she said.
"We were not allowed to speak to boys.
"After my father's death, several boys came to our place for marriage but the answer was no."
Although she is an Indian, Ms Mahabir can not speak Hindustani fluently but speaks fluent Fijian, saying no one can beat her in that.
"I am more fluent in Fijian and English than in Hindi. It is hard for me to pronounce and understand the Hindi vowels and I am bad at it," she said.
"When I was a child, my mother used to get wild on me for not being good at my language and saying what kind of Indian I am.
"I am glad my father supported me there and told my mother to leave me alone if I was not good at the language. Now if you say something in Hindi, I will understand it but I won't be able to reply instantly. But I tell you, no one here can catch me in Fijian. When I speak they think I am a Fijian woman," she said with pride.
In addition, she knows a little Samoan.
She will be turning 90 next month and is proud of being in good health.
"I am the only one alive out of all my brothers and sisters. I have no major sickness doctors say. I just have some pain in my leg and I used to donate blood about five years ago.
The doctors could not believe I had healthy blood at that age. It is what I eat. I don't drink, I don't smoke but I look after myself," she said.
She has no regrets in life, saying Pearce Home is where she will spend the remaining years of her life and sees it as her true home.
Ms Mahabir believes that people should not be pushed into something in they are not interested in.
"Don't push for something you know you can't have and try and be happy with what you have," she said.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online