Why always Indians?

Anti-Indian sentiment is rising in Singapore; opaque data fuels it; Singaporeans deserve transparency and inclusive public discourse.

“Oh no, we don’t mean you! We like Singapore Indians. It is the India Indians who are the problem.”
I have long heard some form of this and it always makes me a bit uneasy.

“India Indians”, for those unversed in the intricacies of ethnicity here, is our colloquialism for newer Indian migrants, to differentiate them from “Singapore Indians” like myself, born and brought up here.

Of course it’s a spectrum. I always joke with my mum, who moved here from Calcutta in 1974, that she is stuck somewhere between the two. (My dad is a third-gen Malayan, whose family moved here from Selangor in the 1950s.)

Yet that statement makes me uneasy largely because I can empathise with my fellow Singaporeans. There are many seemingly legitimate grievances here that have not been given a fair hearing.

Continue reading “Why always Indians?”

Happy Birthday, Singapore

singapore_flag

Dear friends, I published an essay about Singaporean nationalism and patriotism on Mothership.sg, one of Singapore’s newer alternative news sites. Incidentally, I sit on the advisory board of Project Fisher-men, a social enterprise that owns Mothership.

Click here to read it on Mothership.

Alternatively, it is reproduced here:

Every year in the days leading up to August 9th, a maelstrom of emotions swirls deep within me. I am never quite sure how to react to Singapore’s National Day.

“But why are you singing Stand up for Singapore?” asks my Chinese Peranakan wife, who is indifferent towards the patriotism, but wholly enthusiastic about the day off. It’s subconscious, I say, a reaction to hearing the catchy tune somewhere in July, the month of cheesy patriotic jingles in Singapore.

My fundamental problem with National Day has nothing to do with Singapore per se. Rather, I am generally skeptical about nationalism and patriotism, and their expressions anywhere in the world. Nationalism’s slippery slope to fascism — from Adolf and Idi to Perkasa — seems to far outweigh any benefits.

I prefer to exist, naively, in an idealistic parallel universe where borders are fluid and the oneness of humanity is cherished. With ethnicity, religion and culture already dividing the peoples of the world, why cloak ourselves with another layer of differentiation?

There are also particular, localised reasons for my ambivalence. And it is, indeed, ambivalence, not just doubt, because National Day has first always made me warm and fuzzy inside.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Singapore”

Last letter from India: Manipur

Note: This is an on-the-road blog post. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin.

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A continuation of Letter from India: Gatka

The first time I hear about Manipur is when I am doing my preliminary research into Indian martial arts, and something called “Thang-Ta”, which doesn’t sound very Indian at all, shows up. Subsequently, as I travel across India, different martial arts gurus insist that I must visit Manipur to see one of the country’s finest martial arts.

Having never been there, my perceptions of India’s Northeast are superficial. I believe it is a region of hill stations, tea plantations, and a thousand separatists; but beyond that I know little. If you look at a map of South Asia, you will see that the long journey of nationalism and statehood has left India with this chunk of territory, the Northeast, connected to the rest by an extremely narrow passage, which almost looks like India’s little pinky, holding on desperately (see map). Continue reading “Last letter from India: Manipur”

Letter from India: Trivandrum

Note: This is an on-the-road blog post. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin.

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As soon as I board the plane in Changi, I regret not having bought duty-free booze. Half the Malayali men around me are carrying sealed plastic bags full of whisky and beer. “Don’t bother with Changi, just buy my Heineken beer in Trivandrum airport,” was the message Babu Uncle delivered, in his desire to minimise my beer-carrying time. “Buy as many as they will sell you. Remember, Heineken.” Sure enough, when I get to Trivandrum’s DFS shop, they have only Anchor.

Food and drink is one way to delineate the two sides of my Indian heritage. My maternal relatives, Hindu Marwaris from Rajasthan, are vegetarians who don’t drink and generally lead austere lives. My paternal relatives, Christian Malayalis from Kerala, are prone to imbibe every delight known to man. I like to joke that when I visit Kerala, my uncles won’t let me into their cars until I’ve handed over the Johnnie Black and Dunhill. The next morning, the seven cans of Anchor are still sitting on the backseat of his car. Continue reading “Letter from India: Trivandrum”

Extract from Floating on a Malayan Breeze: The Straits Times, Oct 13th 2012

Dear friends, for those who missed the extract in The Straits Times this past weekend, click on the image below. Or, if you’d rather just read the extract right here, here it is. From pages 173-76 of the book: Your first instinct, when approaching the back of a truck while riding downhill, is to slam on the brakes, ratchet down the speed, and play it … Continue reading Extract from Floating on a Malayan Breeze: The Straits Times, Oct 13th 2012

Chinese/Malay/Indian

‘Malaysia: Death of a Democracy’, John Slimming I’m only just getting into this book about the May 1969 racial riots, apparently it’s banned in Malaysia…written, in 1969, by this Englishman …anyways, there are lots of fascinating little passages, here’s one: In 1950, during the Korean war, the demand for natural rubber caused a boom on the world markets; rubber prices soared. They rose to more … Continue reading Chinese/Malay/Indian