Indians in Singapore

Once upon a time, there were more Indian than Chinese voters in Singapore. Hard to believe but true.

Indians outnumbered the Chinese when the first general election to the Legislative Council was held in 1948. Only British subjects were eligible to vote. Out of a potential electorate of more than 200,000, only 23,000 registered to vote, and more than 10,000 of them were Indians, recalled CM Turnbull in A History of Modern Singapore, 1819-2005.

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Raffles, Singapore, Calcutta and Bengal

When a young man came to Singapore from Calcutta many years ago, he didn’t know he was following in the footsteps of Sir Stamford Raffles. The one difference: He came by air. Raffles came by sea — on the ship Indiana, with his deputy, Major William Farquhar, on board another vessel, the Ganges.

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North Indian temples in Kolkata and Singapore

A temple in Kolkata

I loved this temple in Kolkata. Quiet, well-maintained, it’s a welcome refuge from the world outside. Located on busy Diamond Harbour Road in Kidderpore, it’s an island of tranquillity. There is complete peace as you walk up the long flight of steps from the gate to the interior of the temple.

I was reminded of the Shree Lakshminarayan Temple at Chander Road in Singapore. It is bigger than the Lakshminarayan Temple and the architecture is different too. While the Lakshminarayan Temple is an ordinary-looking house standing on a quiet lane, this temple with its long flight of steps and high dome is clearly a Hindu religious building.

So why did it remind me of the Singapore temple? Continue reading “North Indian temples in Kolkata and Singapore”

Raffles and his East Indiamen

What a coincidence that India celebrates its independence on August 15 while Singapore’s National Day is August 9. Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, arrived on the island in on 29 January 1819 from Calcutta (now Kolkata) in India. Even the ship he sailed on was named Indiana. I couldn’t find details of the ship but here are pictures of other East Indiamen, as they were called, built in India.

East Indiaman HMS Trincomalee

East Indiaman HMS Trincomalee

This ship, HMS Trincomalee, was built in Bombay (now Mumbai) and launched in 1817. It’s still there in Britain. See this report, which was published with this picture.

Ship built in Calcutta

Ship built in Calcutta

The HMS Hastings was built in Calcutta for the East India Company but was bought by the Royal Navy in 1819. It was sold by the navy in 1886, according to Wikipedia. Continue reading “Raffles and his East Indiamen”

Indira Gandhi and Lee Kuan Yew

Indira_Gandhi1 lee_kuan_yew1

Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is compared to Indira Gandhi by the Indian journalist, Sunanda Datta-Ray, who once worked for The Straits Times.

In his book, Looking East to Look West, exploring India-Singapore relations, based on his interviews with MM Lee, he writes:

Lee and Indira Gandhi shared a brutal commitment to power, an almost brutal pragmatism and a fascination with mystic predictions of the future. Both dominated the scene around them. So much so that though lacking the alliterative resonance of the loyalist chant during the Emergency, 'Indira is India, India is Indira', it might be more accurate to recite 'Kuan Yew is Singapore, Singapore is Kuan Yew'. He is probably the world's only democratically elected leader who can boast, as France's Louis XIV is believed to have done, 'L'etat c'est moi' (I am the state). That, too, has an Indian parallel. It was only half in jest that British newspapers bestowed on Indira Gandhi the 'Empress of India' title invented for Queen Victoria.

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Paul Theroux on Kali and Calcutta

In A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta, Paul Theroux describes an animal sacrifice at the Kali temple in Kalighat. A goat, garlanded with flowers, is led bleating into a walled enclosure to the beat of drums. Once inside, the terrified creature is thrust between two upright stakes and caressed by a barefoot priest, who then hacks off its head to screeches of delight from the crowd.

The narrator, Jerry Delfont, an American travel writer invited to give talks in Calcutta (Kolkata) by the US consulate, is horrified by the spectacle. He is then led inside the temple, which is also frightening:

We shuffled past an inside window where the image of the goddess Kali, gleaming black and brightly marked, stared with orange lozenge eyes from a stack of blossoms and offerings. I was briefly frightened, jostled by the mob in this stifling place of incense and flowers and dishes of money and frantic pilgrims, who were twitching with gestures of devotion and gasping, seeming to eat the air, all of them staring wildly at the furious image.

Theroux is clearly writing as an outsider, who doesn't share the religious sentiments of the Hindus. The scene is nightmarish. Even Hindus may recoil from the animal sacrifice. And was it necessary to give such a lurid description of the image of the goddess?

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Nandan Nilekani: Imagining India

Nandan Nilekani’s book, Imagining India, has been called both exhaustive and exhausting. It is a big book – a clear-eyed look at one of the world’s fastest growing economies where, nevertheless, millions are still poor and illiterate.

For a quick summary by the author himself, watch this video.

Nilekani begins by pointing out India with its huge young workforce will be the only young country in an ageing world and ends by saying why India matters:

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