Money can’t buy me love, sang the Beatles. Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) could also be singing a similar tune after the general election yesterday.
I am reminded of the Miliband brothers, Indira Gandhi’s daughters-in-law and the Mughals as Singapore goes to the polls after the biggest pump priming exercise in the island’s history. The general election on July 10 will be notable for another reason. There’s not a single Indian on the list of new candidates fielded by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). All the 27 new PAP candidates are either Chinese or Malays. Indians currently hold key positions in the Cabinet, but when they retire, who will take their place?
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.
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.
Even the heavens wept, with the rain coming down on Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral. That couldn’t prevent people from pouring out on the streets to pay their respects to the departed leader. “Lee Kuan Yew! Lew Kuan Yew!” the crowd chanted in thunderous ovation to the founder of the nation. Vindication or nostalgia, it had to be one or the other that surged forth in this vast outpouring of affection.
It’s the end of an era in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew died at 3.18 am today at the Singapore General Hospital, where he had been warded for severe pneumonia for more than a month. He was 91.
Singapore sure knows how to party. The spectacular National Day parade at Marina Bay yesterday dazzled the eyes, warmed the heart and unfolded like a Hollywood blockbuster that had elements of Disney, Star Wars and Broadway musicals spliced together to lay on the mother of all shows.
Back in Singapore after a long time, I have been humming The Green, Green Grass of Home. The difference is the song is about a man in a prison who is dreaming of home while here I am in my beloved Singapore. And just in time for National Day, a celebration I didn’t want to miss. It feels so good watching the red-and-white flags draped on buildings and fluttering on roadsides.
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?
We saw Singapore’s senior minister of state for transport and finance, Josephine Teo, today. She came and shook hands with us.
My wife and I were sitting at the Bishan Park this evening. We watched families gather outside the McDonald’s restaurant. Little children held colourful lanterns in the dark.
Suddenly, we saw a woman accompanied by a few men draw near. They were walking past us towards the restaurant when a man said something to the woman. She turned back and came up to us with the men.
Of course, we recognized her as she extended her hand to my wife.
And there we were shaking hands with Ms Teo!
It was only for a moment, but it felt good, shaking hands with a minister. She was there for the lantern festival. She had no airs about her but looked chic and beautiful. The men with her were dressed informally. They did not look like a ministerial entourage at all.
My wife was in a sari. I wish I had the presence of mind to take a picture with my phone.
My wife had spoken to her a few days ago at another event.
I was not there. But I had shaken hands with Ms Teo at a hawker stall during the Chinese New Year. She was distributing oranges then. I got one, too.
We liked the grace and practised ease with which she shook our hands today. She did not stay to chat with us, but we appreciate her handshake. It was nice of her, reaching out and sparing us a moment. How many people do that?
As my wife said, we can’t even imagine a minister walking about and reaching out to people like that in India. They travel in motorcades, with heavy security and a large entourage.
It’s different in Singapore. May it always be like this.