Fun and Games and a leader bereft

My own words will have to wait. First a sneak peek into my Twitter timeline and my Google Reader.

“India kicks off Commonwealth Games (Beijing Olympics these are not),” quipped the Christian Science Monitor, tickled by the shambolic preparations and wowed by the opening ceremony.

“Despite the national pride at stake, the Indian media vacillated between investigative outrage and irreverent humor about the whole thing,” said the report. “Modern India has massive contradictions, but a winning ability to navigate them openly. In this respect, rival China with its slick Beijing Olympics is far behind.”

The Beijing opening ceremony was flawless, but the Indians had more fun, said another report.

Fun it certainly was, from the short video clips I managed to watch on the web in Singapore. Twitter chirped with wry good humour, as in the plaintive tweet, “Dekha doon”, posted by someone who wanted to see the whole shebang on the internet.

Fun – Indians certainly know how to let their hair down. It shows every time they start doing the bhangra and extends through the funny bone through the quips they tweet.

Good humour and tolerance saved the day when the Allahabad High Court gave its ruling on  Ayodhya.

There I was all keyed up at my computer desk, listening to the BBC, when no sooner than the judgment was read out, Twitter chirped with merry tweets making fun of the court case. It was all clean good fun, snappy little wisecracks about Daniels come to judgment, divvying up the land among all the litigants.

That was what I wanted to write about – the good humour and the tolerance – until tragedy marred the weekend. After an evening curled up with a whodunit and listening to the BBC, I booted up my computer for a little chat when I saw the news. “Mrs Lee Kuan Yew dies at age 89,” reported Channel NewsAsia.

I was shocked. She had been bedridden for two years, unable to speak, after a series of strokes. But it was her husband, Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who was in hospital with a chest infection after a fall last week. It was his health that was causing concern.

He had seen it coming, though. The New York Times published an interview with him shortly before his 87th birthday, on September 16, where he spoke about his impending loss.

“How do I comfort myself?” he asked. “Well, I say, ‘Life is just like that.’ ”

“What is next, I do not know,” he said. “Nobody has ever come back.”

An agnostic, he said: “I try to busy myself, but from time to time, in idle moments, my mind goes back to the happy days we were up and about together.” They met at school, studied law at Cambridge University, graduated with First Class Honours, and got secretly married in 1947.

“She understands when I talk to her, which I do every night,” he told The New York Times. “She keeps awake for me; I tell her about my day’s work, read her favourite poems.” He read to her books by Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling and Lewis Carroll as well as the sonnets of Shakespeare.

He was in mourning at her wake on Monday.

His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, flew back from Brussels, where he had gone for meetings with European leaders. He has known tragedy, too. His first wife, Dr Wong Ming Yang, died of a heart attack in 1982 and he himself needed chemotherapy for lymphoma in 1992. He has been married since 1985 to Ms Ho Ching, chief executive officer of the Singapore state investment firm Temasek Holdings, which has a stake in ICICI Bank and Bharti Airtel.

MM Lee has made no secret of how much his wife meant to him. It even led to a diplomatic row with America shortly after Singapore became independent. He recalled the incident in his autobiography, From Third World to First.

In late August 1965, his wife required surgery. Her gynaecologist, Dr Benjamin Sheares, who later became Singapore’s president, recommended an American specialist. The American, however, refused to come to Singapore and suggested Mrs Lee should see him in Switzerland instead, where he had other engagements. MM Lee then vainly sought the help of the US government. Finally, his wife was treated by a British specialist suggested by Dr Sheares.

MM Lee berated the Americans. He wrote in his memoirs:

“I was angry and under stress. In a television interview with foreign correspondents a few days later, I fired a broadside at the Americans. I expressed my unhappiness that the US government had not been able to help in persuading an American medical specialist to come to Singapore to treat someone dear to me. Then I disclosed publicly for the first time the story of how, four years earlier (in 1961), a CIA officer had tried to bribe an officer of our Special Branch (our internal intelligence agency)…”

The row ended soon. In 1966, Americans fighting in Vietnam began coming to Singapore for rest and recreation. But, by then, he had already shown how he felt about his wife and family.

Now, as Singapore mourns for Mrs Lee, one wonders what he is thinking. After more than 60 years of marriage, he will no longer be reading poems at her bedside.

Will he pick up a book of verse again and read Robert Burns? The poem, John Anderson, My Jo, describes what it’s like growing old together:

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.




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