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”

Indians in Singapore

The proportion of Indians in Singapore has increased to pre-independence levels. The 353,000-strong community makes up 9.2 per cent of the population, according to the Singapore Department of Statistics.

We are referring to the 3.73 million resident population, comprising Singaporeans and permanent residents, and not the 4.99 million total population, which includes foreigners. Continue reading “Indians in Singapore”

Back in Singapore

As the plane broke through the cloud cover, the pilot announced we were approaching Singapore. A lush green land stretched below us — and then came the sea. We had been flying over Malaysia.

The view was glorious. The sea, wide and deep, dotted with little islands, offshore platforms, ships cutting a wake through the waters. Lower and lower we dropped until the first Singapore building came into view — a low, red-roofed building almost hugging the edge of the island. There was little traffic on the road as the plane came down on the runway at Changi. There was a reassuring thud as the landing wheels touched the ground of my beloved Singapore.

It felt good to be back — and the satisfaction lasted all the way through the smooth immigration clearance, the speedy baggage arrival and the taxi ride home. The taxi, needless to say, had been waiting at the stand and the driver kindly helped me with the luggage.

Familiar sights and sounds now surround me. I love Singapore.

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.

Continue reading “Indira Gandhi and Lee Kuan Yew”

Kipling, race and religion

Kipling
Kipling
The uproar in Singapore against Pastor Rony Tan, who was questioned by the authorities and had to apologize for mocking the religious beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists, reminds me of the controversy surrounding a famous writer.

Rudyard Kipling was born in Mumbai, in the JJ School of Art, where his father was the dean. The bungalow is being restored and will be turned into a museum, but it will feature paintings by local artists instead of showcasing Kipling memorabilia. Local officials frowned on plans to include a Kipling room because he is seen as an imperialist, reported the Telegraph. Young Indian students interviewed by the BBC World Service, however, said they were proud he was born there.

I heard it on the BBC arts programme Strand on the day the Straits Times reported the pastor had been questioned by the authorities. You can still hear it here.

Kipling also glorified Christianity at the expense of other religions. He wrote the poem, The White Man’s Burden, and about “lesser breeds without the law”. Racism is blatant in that line from his poem, Recessional.

And yet it is a surprisingly poignant poem. Written in 1897, during Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, it reflects on the decline and fall of empires and is a prayer to God to spare the British and forgive any sins of vainglory:

Continue reading “Kipling, race and religion”

Two poems about Singapore

One poem leads to another. Reading Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai, and co-edited by Enoch Ng, Isa Kamari, and Seetha Lakshmi at the public library, I wanted to read more poems about Singapore.

And, as luck would have it, I came across another anthology, this one co-edited by Alvin Pang, whose poem, Merlign, I particularly liked among all the poems about the Merlion. This anthology is called Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia, edited by Alvin Pang and John Kinsella. I immediately liked two of the poems: Bumboat Cruise on the Singapore River by Miriam Wei Wei Lo and They Say by Kirpal Singh.

Singapore_river_esplanade_s
I couldn’t borrow either of the books, so I photocopied these poems. And since I couldn’t find these poems on the internet, here they are, so I can read them again.

Why are poems so hard to find on the Net? There should be a few by every poet so we may want to read more of their works.

Here’s more about Kirpal Singh and Miriam Wei Wei Lo (here and here).

Continue reading “Two poems about Singapore”

A book of poems about the Merlion

Merlion_small At the pubic library, I came across a book of poems entirely about the Merlion, the lion-headed, fish-tailed icon of Singapore. The book is called Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems. It's edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai, and co-edited by Enoch Ng, Isa Kamari, and Seetha Lakshmi. It was published by Singapore's National Arts Council this year.

The poem I liked best was Merlign, by Alvin Pang. I have no idea why it's called Merlign nor did I understand all the references. But I loved the first two verses and the last five or six. The whole poem can be read here. I will just take the liberty to quote the opening and the ending.

Continue reading “A book of poems about the Merlion”