Editor’s note

Last Christmas, 89-year-old Parbhu Nathoo, along with his almost same aged wife Devi Nathoo, overviewed their 21 descendants spanning four generations and reflected on their family’s seven decades of life in New Zealand

This Christmas, Jack and Devi, married 73 years, and now enduring a health-related, heart-wrenching separation, with both docked in two different homes in Auckland – a separation that in Jack’s own words- appears like an eternity.

“It’s more like an eternity,” Jack who remains at the family home, said.

Thiers’s is a story of indomitable human spirit, courage, ambitions, hard-work, aspirations, enduring pain, overcoming challenges, the satisfaction of a fulfilled migrant-life.

The Indian Weekender teams-up with a local Auckland based writer Bill Harrison, who in his own words always remains on the hunt for such inspirational stories, to write, uncover, and present to the world, to bring out the story of probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving Kiwi-Indian settler in this country.

This story is a tribute to the enterprising and enduring spirit of our Kiwi-Indian migrant community who, if not having sailed like Jack and Devi in 1946, but definitely embarks upon an uncharted territory to create a better life for themselves and their future generations. 

Beginning the Pacific journey…

Friends and family confirm 'hard reality' is Parbhu Nathoo's life code.

Few would credit imagination as the silent partner to this once-wordless teen's seven decades life as a postwar Kiwi-Indian.

Having sailed from Bombay to firstly-Singapore in 1946, the then 17-year-old and newly-wed was fresh from his family farm in Karadi, Gujarat.

Lying on his bed and envisaging the Pacific venture into which parents Manga and Sukhi had raised $170 sponsorship, the-then labourer recalled: “Thankfully I was fearless, mainly as I lacked the capacity to foresee the challenges ahead.”

Forward Friendly

Now nearly 90, the great-grandfather relives his Kiwi immersion: “It was like I was switching between two lives every few minutes but people seemed to come from nowhere to offer help.”

Always a self-driven extrovert, Parbhu (Jack) was to fully retire from petrol proprietorship when aged 80.

The business is continued by the son, Ronnie and wife Nanette along with their son, Anil.

Jack is valued as a father figure among one of the first families from their homeland to operate a BP service station NZ franchise.

The ship-bonding between the three fellow boat-migrants

Jack had left the Indian shores along with Rama and Ranchod - two fellows of similar enterprising attitude - and with whom he shared a deflected-journey, first to Singapore, then to Australia and eventually to Wellington. The memories of those two fellow travellers are still clear in Jack’s minds when Bill Harrison, first spoke to him in his North Shore-based home.

January 2010 finds Jack and Devi sharing a moment at the 70th birthday of family friend, ‘Janette’, at beachside Orewa (Image: Supplied)

To cherish those memories, almost seven decades after, especially when the life of one of those two was tragically cut-short, (Ranchod passed away in a tragic accident barely couple of years after finally landing in New Zealand) is indeed a remarkable reflection of Jack’s kindness.

“We were disappointed with Singapore as our first-intended new settlement,” Jack recalled.

Within five days the trio was smuggled aboard by the friendly Indian crew of Curfu - an English hospital ship bound for Darwin, Australia. Innocently wearing street clothes instead of crew uniform, the three were outed as stowaways while socializing among patients and paid-passengers.

“We were handled like such gentlemen,” recalls Jack.

Rama’s gift of $23.27c

Reaching Sydney, the lads became Sydney Council street-sweepers for 25c per day. “Enough for little bread and butter...”

Within four days Jack, Rama and Ranchod had sourced the NZ-bound vessel MV Wanganella.

Even now, Jack's voice softens in recalling Rama's gift of $23.27c, meaning all three could sail from Sydney Harbour. 

If it was not for Rama’s generosity, then possibly Jack’s Kiwi-odyssey would not have unfolded as it eventually did, or at least the trio would not have experienced the journey together.

Real Settlement begins...

Five days later the novice travellers berthed in Wellington where each sensed the upcoming breeze of his own destiny. Cheerfully they parted company with at least two to briefly reunite years later. Unfortunately, Ranchod passed away six years later in 1952 following a tragic accident when aged in his early 20s. Rama lived a full life and died in 1984.

Jack credits Indian- culture for his welcome by Nana' the central city fruitier.

Within a month of bedding-down on his host's floorboard-laid mattress, Jack was fronting 5 a.m. starts as a harbourside maintenance hand. Any spare time, devoted to practising the dictionary.

“I learnt mainly by listening, there were no formal lessons. As each new word came along I practised it, treasured it.”

Proudly, Jack noted himself as among NZ's then-300 Indian population, 130 of whom were Wellington-based. After three months harbourside, this lifetime car and sports enthusiast became a general worker with Todd Motors, Porirua.

After eighteen months of first arriving in New Zealand, and mindful of Devi, his new wife awaiting call-out from Gujarat, Jack bought his own fruit shop in Waipukerau, Hawkes Bay.

“It was $600 which I'd borrowed and saved. You must already IMAGINE yourself successful, and decide you'll fix any problems as they come along.”

The pair reunited in 1949, with Devi having sailed out alone and Jack having achieved three years overall ‘investment’ in their immersion. Proving nurturing support, Devi took responsibility for the banking and clerical records related to their subsequent homes and enterprises. The two were 'betrothed in advance' at age five by both sets of well-meaning parents. They had met only on brief occasions prior to marriage.

Four generations of Nathoo settlement celebrate the first birthday of their newest infant, Shaam. From left: Ronnie, Anil nursing Shaam, and Jack, pioneering patriarch (Image: Supplied)

Jack surmised

“Devi took a few months to settle but when newcomers commit to staying, they set goals and keep looking forward.” By year's end 1950, Jack and Devi were parents to Ronnie, now aged 68 and with an extensive retailing background.

The Early 1950s

Devi was celebrated as the region's only resident Indian woman, though her spouse half-joked “that fruit shop had us working like donkeys just to earn a basic living!”

1956

The family moved to Taupo with its then-1800 populace, buying water in $4-apportioned carry tanks. The Nathoo's settled into a 'new' fruit shop which soon became a general store, later earning itself the area's first New World franchise.

1969

A partnership with three fellow investors in the on-site development of Suncourt, a 16-outlet retail Mecca embracing the Nathoo's grocery.

The 1970s

The Nathoos departed on 36,000-mile motoring expo in Africa and Europe.

Touring 29 countries in their American Chevrolet, driving was shared between Jack and then-teenaged daughter Bharti. Born in 1962, she is the youngest, following Indira, Vanita and Ronnie. “The trip and others later were unbelievable,” relived Jack. “Race and background of every style right there in front of us.”

Among a reunion of friends, Devi proudly wears a Gold Medal from the World Hockey League Tournament played in Fiji, 2014.  Having won the medal in the role of mid-fielder was grandson Anil (Image: Supplied)

1982

Relocation to opportunity-laden Auckland with its scope for marrying their offspring within their culture.

Jack and Devi bought four houses to accommodate the now-13 descendants. Their main enterprise continues as the re-named BP 2go Motor Centre, 50 Northcote Road, with its credo including forceful marketing combining creative management.

1992   

Aged early 60s, Jack underwent heart surgery though somehow continues defying its seven-year use-by date.

These Days

Among Jack and Devi's son and three daughters is a variety of awards based within community, commerce, and industry. The early 1990s saw Ronnie's wife Nanette became the first lady officer within the Auckland Indian Association (Currently Chair, Law and Order). Nanette's other volunteering spans New Zealand Indian Central Association, crime prevention, Pasifika counsel, Hospice, Rotary club initiative and advocacy of positive ageing. 

These commitments led to her being honoured Queen’s Service Medal 90th Honours List.

Jack and Devi Nathoo's daughter-in-law Nanette Nathoo (Image: Facebook)

Reflections…

Rama’s gifting of Jack’s $23.27c boat passage, now blended into a self-renewing legacy of the Nathoo dual-cultured family tree. 

Jack and Devi overview 21 descendants, among the youngest descendent being Shaam (2), son of grandson Anil.

Devi is nine days older than Jack, though less mobile and in her third year within life care. Having encouraged young family through every national living skill, Devi herself retained the language and costume of traditional India, almost an in-house ambassador.

Yet the Nathoo's on-rolling ‘brand’ will always be nestled within the heartiness of three young venturers and their 1946 one way ticket into a western world of which they knew nothing.

For the Two Seniors

Today’s health-related separation is a rip-tear in their 73-year fabric. The 15-minute inter-urban car ride separating them, somehow now greater than the 12,628 kilometres between Gujarat, India and Auckland, NZ.

Parbhu Jack almost whispers “This is our greatest challenge ever. When Devi passes on, I'll likely pass also....”