Fiji is still in mourning at the loss of one of their favourite sons last week – Sir Moti Tikaram, the country’s first Ombudsman, former Chief Justice, Supreme Court Judge and sports administrator.
I first heard of Moti Tikaram in 1967. We were living in Ba with Miss Kaveri Nair, an old friend of my husband’s aunt, Miss Kistamma Gaunder. Kaveri Teacher’s brother, Harld Krishnan Nair, used to be the judge in Ba. I was told that he was only the second local judge,
the first being Moti Tikaram.
Soon we found out that we are connected to Kaveri Teacher’s family from India itself. A cousin’s husband had said to me that he had a cousin who went to Fiji but after he died the family lost contact. He wanted me to see if I could locate them. I had said I would but had
thought it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Once I arrived in Fiji in 1966, where everybody seemed to know everybody else, it seemed so simple.
After that initial year in Ba we moved to Lautoka and that was when I first met Moti Tikaram. My husband knew him from his days as a soccer administrator. Tikaram was the President of the Fiji Football Association from 1959 to 1960 when my husband was the secretary of the Nadi Football Association. Tikaram was credited with making the Association multi-racial and initiating moves to have its name changed from Fiji Indian Football Association to Fiji Football Association.
In 1970 he and his wife invited us for a cocktail party they hosted in honour of the world famous singer, Kamhal, who is married to Tikaram’s sister and who was visiting Fiji (Maybe it was his first visit). Since I was new to the place I knew few people but Mrs Tikaram made me feel quite at home. They had invited most in the legal profession and that included Harold Nair and his wife Judith who were by then transferred to Lautoka. They were delighted to see me and we had a pleasant and memorable evening.
After independence Tikaram was made the first Ombudsman of Fiji and they moved to Suva. In 1980, Tikaram was knighted and became Sir Moti Tikaram. Unfortunately he lost his wife in 1981. But his commitment to his children, his daughter Savita and sons, Anil and Sunil continued. I remember meeting Savita and her husband once and feeling an instant affinity on knowing that he is a Menon like me.
Sir Moti Tikaram grew up during the colonial period where Indians met with discrimination at every stage. It must have been very annoying but still he managed to steer clear of controversies. He never took part in politics. Instead he directed his energies to sports.
With great administrators like Sir Moti Tikaram and an outstanding Prime Minister like Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji became the Paradise of the Pacific. Things continued like this till 1987. Even after the political upheavals of 1987 Sir Moti never took part in any controversies. Whatever he did was strictly according to the law. Nobody could ever point a finger at him.
He was not only the President of Fiji Football Association but he was interested in various other sports like lawn tennis, table tennis and chess. He used to come to New Zealand for tennis re-unions and attended the last one in 2010.
I last saw Sir Moti in Auckland when he had come to my daughter’s house to see her father-in-law, Diwakar Rao, an old friend of Sir Moti, who had similar interests in sport, especially Lawn Tennis. They took part in the Association’s re-unions. And I had the last communication from him at the end of 2010 when I sent him a copy of my book on the Fiji Ramakrishna Mission and he sent a hand written note acknowledging receipt and thanking me and wishing us a happy new year.
Sir Moti Tikaram had a long and distinguished career but he led a simple life taking pleasure in the simple things of life like watching a game of soccer or taking part in a tennis re-union with old friends.