I find the narrative Harry built a nation an absolutely reductive one. It fails to take into account the contributions of the other politicians of the time, of the Chinese and Indian coolies and indentured workers and slaves -we called Then piglets – brought to 南洋 on voyages months long. Their shivering bodies huddled together. Doing their best to spread their warmth, but doing just as well to spread diseases. Of the 三水妇女, and the hawkers and the Ah Pos and the Dhobis. Of the Sultans and Temenggong. Of Siamese invaders. Of the Sri Vijayan princes who came before. Of Sang Nila Utama, or as his other title proudly declares — Sri Tri Buana, the Lord of Three Worlds. And of course, how can I forget! The great beast सिंह Singha, who gave its name to our पुर Pura.
Of the betrayal our ancestors felt when the British packed up their bags, and their summer navy. and left us.
The Crown Colony.
The Jewel of the Empire, their Impregnable Fortress.
– for dead. As Yamashita and his soldiers pillaged. Raped. Killed.
Of the needless sacrifice made by the countless Chinese bodies who were bayoneted to death mercilessly, their blood mixing incoherently with the sand and wash of Changi Beach.
Of the burning defiance of boys and girls, who never let their flame be quelled. the 华校生 — 中正及华侨的男子汉与少女侠。 boys and girls. Irrevocably made Men and Women, when they took to the streets of Alexandra and Tiong Bahru.
Consider this, the year is 1955. The universal right to freedom of speech was not even a right.
And yet. And yet.
They spoke out. They revolted. They took part in hunger strikes. Still they were arrested. Still they were bludgeoned to disfigured pulps of bruised purple by the khaki-shorts mata.
And so The Straits Times writes, “So shy, but they turned for battle”.
I think of the stories my Ah Kong used to tell me. He, a Chung Cheng student, watching his friends and schoolmates take to the streets, with banners in their hand, and with rage in their hearts.
How he, but out of cowardice and fear and self-preservation, locked himself and his siblings home. How he pleaded the woman who later became his wife, and bearer of children, and equal, to not leave their kampung, in fear of her life.
If he didn’t do that, would I be here?
writing; articulating; de-constructing my thoughts in a language not my own?
and on the 9th of August, 1965. Singapore is expelled from Malaysia and becomes the only country to date to gain independence unwillingly.
Happy birthday, you. My island, my home. You flawed, complex 55-year-old thing of beauty, you. Happy, happy birthday sayang