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Bengalis in 1920s Singapore

I am glad that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the Global Indian Diaspora Conference this morning. His presence there while Singapore officially went into recession underlines the deepening ties between the two countries.

India too is caught in the economic turmoil.  Indian banks from tomorrow will be allowed to keep just 7.5 percent cash in hand, down from 9 percent. It’s the steepest cut in the cash reserve ratio in India since 2001, reports Bloomberg, releasing 600 billion rupees ($12.2 billion) into the financial system.

But this post is about what the Prime Minister said at the conference. The full speech can be read here. I only wish to draw attention to this remark he made:

Many early Indians started out here as humble labourers and plantation workers, but succeeding generations have made their mark in government, business and the professions.

That is only part of the story, passing over details like this: Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore with soldiers from India. But anyone can learn that from a history book.

What’s more interesting to me is this Singapore scene painted by Somerset Maugham in his short story, P & O. It appeared in his collection of short stories, The Casuarina Tree, published in 1926. He mentions “sleek and prosperous” Bengalis. Where did they go? Maugham captures the buzz, but it’s a totally different Singapore: