Letter from India: Gatka

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. In the interest of clarity, although I wrote most of this letter when in India, I am actually clicking “Publish” when in S Africa, where I am visiting my wife for a few days.

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A continuation of Letter from India: Philosophies

Buses

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By the time Kirit and I reach Punjab, buses have broken our backs. Unable to secure a seat on any northbound train, we board a series of overnight buses—Pondicherry to Hyderabad; Hyderabad to Nagpur; Nagpur to Indore; Indore to Jaipur; Jaipur to Chandigarh; and, finally, Chandigarh to Amritsar—collectively taking more than 50 hours over some 3000km, greater than the distance from Hong Kong to Singapore, or Houston to San Francisco.

In Indore we break our journey for a few days, visiting my Nani’s house every day for home cooking. Then, as if to compensate for those comforts, our karma delivers the bus from hell. We have two “upper sleepers” on a “Non-AC bus” to Jaipur. This doesn’t sound too shabby, but when we board we find a dirty, old interior. The faux leather plastic on my bed’s “headrest” is completely worn, exposing the spongy foam beneath. Every time I lift my head up, I find little bits of black foam clinging lovingly to my hair. The bed itself is sandy. That is partly its steady state, and partly my doing, as I keep my soiled slippers up there with me, rather than down below on the even filthier bus floor, where they might get trampled on by even filthier slippers.

Across the aisle, on a double-sleeper on the other side of the bus, are my travel companions: an elderly man and his white terrier, “Kutta”, literally dog in Hindi. Kutta is actually quite cute, but he annoys me by barking sporadically and also because I’m envious of his royal diet: burfi, which I look at longingly, every time the man places one delicately in Kutta’s mouth. Kutta’s bark isn’t the only aural pain. At every available opportunity our bus driver blares his irritating horn, which in India can range from the multi-layered melodious to the fart-like. The racket is worse than anything those post-South Africa 2010 Vuvuzuela nuts conjured. I regret booking a sleeper in the front of the bus.

Continue reading “Letter from India: Gatka”

Cheeky Harry cartoon from Malaysia, 1983

Dear friends, given the recent hullabaloo over the arrest of a Singaporean cartoonist, and the fact that it’s Labour Day, I thought I might share a somewhat naughty cartoon that pokes fun of Lee Kuan Yew’s handling of workers (Pekerja), the opposition (Pembangkang), minority cultures (Kaum minoriti) and Chinese education (Pendidikan Cina).

This is the front cover of the Feb 1983 issue of a now defunct Malaysian bilingual monthly publication, Nadi Insan. This hangs on the “Press Freedom Wall” in Malaysiakini‘s KL office.

No disrespect to the old man; but I always find it interesting to see depictions of Malaysia and Singapore (and our leaders) by the other side.

Nadi Insan

I have so many questions about this cartoon: Did LKY do something particularly nasty in late 1982 to provoke this cover? What exactly does the caricature represent? It seems like he’s wearing a sumo outfit, but with the face and fangs of one of those scary Indonesian monsters. Comments, thoughts much appreciated. Continue reading “Cheeky Harry cartoon from Malaysia, 1983”

Floating on a Malayan Breeze: US book tour, April 2013

Dear friends, as I enter my last two weeks Book Coverat The Economist Group, am getting increasingly nostalgic. I’ve had a wonderful seven years here, the longest I’ve spent at any institution–so feel like I’m losing a small part of me.

Thankfully, as part of my transition to full-time writing, I’ve got a great trip to the US to look forward to. Am very happy that this book tour has come together, partly because the US remains the most important market for English-language writing. Exciting!

For all of you based in the US, I’d love to see you sometime, perhaps at one of these events. For those based elsewhere, if you have any friends in these cities who might be interested in Malaya or my writing, please do share this page with them. Tell them to come support a Malayan author 🙂 Continue reading “Floating on a Malayan Breeze: US book tour, April 2013”

Reimagining the Singapore Armed Forces and National Service

(This is a continuation of “Singapore’s outdated national security policies”)

Fighting the real enemy: Reimagining the Singapore Armed Forces

Why does Singapore Singapore Armed Forcesstill need such a large standing Armed Forces? If we accept the argument that Singapore’s security threats have evolved over the years—and no longer includes “potentially hostile Muslim neighbours”—then our country needs to adapt, and prepare itself for today’s threats, not yesteryear’s. Continue reading “Reimagining the Singapore Armed Forces and National Service”

Singapore’s outdated national security policies

Synopsis

Singapore’s national security policies aresingapore_flag outdated and in dire need of revision. These policies are heavily influenced by the paranoias of the 1960s, when a vulnerability fetish gave rise to a siege mentality amongst Singaporean leaders that persists today. But Singapore’s main security threats now are not other states but non-state actors, specifically pirates and terrorists. Continue reading “Singapore’s outdated national security policies”

Malaysia Star’s review of Floating on a Malayan Breeze

Dear friends, The Star wrote a couple of pieces about the book in today’s papers. First is a straight up book review written by Neil Khor, a friend of mine, who is a social historian and senior fellow at Think City, which manages the George Town Grants Programme. You can read Neil’s review here. The Star also published an interview that Rouwen Lim, a reporter … Continue reading Malaysia Star’s review of Floating on a Malayan Breeze

Singapore’s population policies: Book extract in the New Straits Times, Nov 5th 2012

Ahead of my book launch in KL this Saturday, Malaysia’s New Straits Times (NST) has published an excerpt from my book, Floating on a Malayan Breeze, today. Over the past few weeks, NUS Press, one of my co-publishers, and I had been lobbying the Malaysian media channels, trying to get them to feature us. Last week, NST confirmed the passage they would like to run. … Continue reading Singapore’s population policies: Book extract in the New Straits Times, Nov 5th 2012

Op-ed in Malaysiakini today: Peaceful revolutions in Malaysia and Singapore

Below is an Op-ed I published in Malaysiakini today. Steven Gan, one of the founders of Malaysiakini, has become a friend over the years. He is one of the interviewees in my book, Floating on a Malayan Breeze, in the section where I discuss Malaya’s changing media landscape (pp. 98-102).

For Malaysiakini subscribers, do access the Op-ed directly on their site here.

For others, you can read it here:

The peaceful revolutions in Malaysia and Singapore Continue reading “Op-ed in Malaysiakini today: Peaceful revolutions in Malaysia and Singapore”