Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The house on the hill - Naidu Mansion

Sigatoka - Fiji: ITS pointed roofs, multiple stories and crossed veranda windows command a prolonged glance from passers-by. And 20 years after its construction near the entry to Valley Rd, the picturesque abode continues to be a local landmark, and a symbol of the wealth garnered from the fertile plains of the famous Salad Bowl.

IN this scenic little community of rugby enthusiasts and tourists, the Naidu Mansion is "that building,", the famous structure that represents its town in postcard photographs and tourist brochures.

Even with the close proximity of the imposingly, neighboring Hare Krishna temple, the house still holds its own candle for admirers.

As occupant Hinal Naidu explained, this was a family home that once housed the families of three brothers, following the success of their parents' business operations.

"Our generation in Fiji began when the girmits were brought here," she said.

"My father's grandparents were Rangaiya and Narsamma Naidu, who were from Andhra Pradesh the south of India."

Hinal's father is renowned businessman Bala Naidu, who was one of Latchmaiya Naidu and Armogam's eight children, migrants to the Western Division from the garden island.

Early Years

More commonly-known as BL Naidu, Latchmaiya moved to Sigatoka about 70 years ago from Taveuni, and today his family continue to reside and operate business here.

"My dad's parents were married in Taveuni and shifted to the Sigatoka valley," Hinal explained of her grandparents' initial venture to the Coral Coast.

At the time, rail transport was still used as a commute for passengers, and not just cane.

The old Sigatoka Bridge, which now ends in a mangled wreck midway to the other side of the river from town, was earlier built by the Colonial Sugar Refinery in 1913.

The endless rail network that stretched towards Lautoka was later also used as a mode of transport between Sigatoka and Ba.

An increasingly growing population around the mainly CSR community established at Cuvu and Lawaqa led to Sigatoka finally being incepted as a township in 1936, with Latchmaiya and Armogam arriving barely ten years later.

"They arrived in Sigatoka and then began their own farm of vegetables, root crops, potatoes and livestock.

"They farmed large quantities of vegetables and root crops and distributed these locally to the Central and Western divisions.

"Soon after, they opened a small shop at their residence along Valley Rd."

BL Naidu & Sons Ltd

It wasn't long before Latchmaiya began to import potatoes, onions and garlic from overseas, to also distribute around the country.

At the time, such commodities weren't easily available on local grocery shelves and being business savvy, he cleverly capitalised on this void.

"This is how he gradually developed his own path to success, and his wife and eight children were his source of support," Hinal added.

Latchmaiya had three daughters and five sons, with Hinal's father being the sixth in this line of children and the fourth son.

"They shifted to Sigatoka Town in the year 1972 and opened a supermarket named, B.L Naidu and Sons Ltd and/Naidu's Supermarket near the town end."

Hinal's father, Bala Naidu continues to operate B.L Naidu and Sons Ltd, importing and exporting various products.

The family resided at an apartment located above the supermarket.

Latchmaiya's three daughters were all eventually married and in 1990, he passed away.

"Three of his sons shifted to town, where they built their new home and in 1997, Armogam and her sons, along with their wives and children, shifted to the new house."

It was an ambitious fete that has provided a lasting legacy of their family's imprints.

Set against the lush hills atop the town's central business district, the house — which took several years to build — certainly stands apart for the unusual architecture it boasts within the township.

To its left, the glistening river snakes its way towards the beautiful coast line, with the bountiful plantations of the valley farmland beyond.

And as many below could certainly imagine, a panoramic view to match the prestige.

Parting Ways

"In 2002 Armogam passed away and in later years, the brothers decided to part ways."

Several migrated oversees, though BL Naidu remained in Sigatoka, where he has found his forte as one of its most successful businessmen.

Hinal added that in 2004, the house and company were handed over to her father, who has continually made strides to expand the company brand.

She noted her father has carried on operations by continuing business with many other established companies and wholesale throughout Viti Levu.

Hinal is the eldest of his four children and is herself involved in the family business as a support service for BL Naidu and Sons Ltd at Solevu, Sigatoka.

"He feels privileged to be running his father's name on his own and hopes for the best in future."

And as she noted, aspirations to see their town grow further also continue.

"My father is currently focused on using his Sigatoka Town property — which stretches from Meenoo's to Courts, MH Supermarket and Prouds — for a mall in the near future that would create more employment in Sigatoka and boost the economy."

Certainly, the shared passion for seeing the town prosper was propelled by their early settlement in the area.

Bala Naidu's parents had moved across to Viti Levu and began a new life in Sigatoka, where they also started their family.

"B.L Naidu's children and his grandchildren have been living in Sigatoka since birth and thus, these two respective generations have been here for years now," Hinal said.

Bala Naidu's older brother, Surya Narayan owns a commercial building that is rented out in the thriving CBD, and a younger brother runs a supermarket in Christchurch, New Zealand, while other siblings have forayed into their own businesses in Australia, the US and other parts of the world.

Communal Pride

Aside from his own properties in Sigatoka Town, Bala Naidu's investments have expanded to Suva and Lautoka, though his pride is shared with the achievements of other notable business houses.

"The family is also proud of achievements such as the department and handicraft stores that other companies such as Tappoo and Jack's have created and which attract tourists.

"These also include companies such as Sigatoka River Safari, which have pulled in many visitors to Sigatoka. We are proud of such achievements because they promote economic growth."

Being one of the town's oldest families, and from the bird's-eye view of their palatial home on the hill, the family has witnessed the town's development through thick and thin.

These have included natural disasters, public celebrations and events that have shaped the growing CBD along the riverbank below.

"Overall there have been many changes in the town's landscape in these years. Some of the noticeable changes have been the construction of the Melrose Bridge, Lawaqa Park, the road heading from Sigatoka Town to Valley Rd, the municipal market and not forgetting the development of business buildings."

According to the Sigatoka Town Council, Sigatoka consists of 127 hectares on both sides of the river bank, with the potential to grow, and remains the key urban base for the people of Nadroga and Navosa.

And with its surrounding tourism properties, sand dunes and national wildlife park, the town is strewn with history and perseveration that only add to its charm.

"For our family, these changes indicate a healthy and growing Sigatoka Town and that inspires our company to do more investments here.

"We feel that it would be a privilege to get more opportunities to invest in the growth of our hometown," Hinal added.
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