Friday, December 10, 2010


What prompted me today to write about my days in Singapore, after nearly 15 years, is one mail I got from Helen Tan whom I got to know as my son’s friend. Yes, she was introduced to me as Raja’s friend and colleague.  
Helen and her husband

A very pleasant attractive lady with a smiling face, I liked her very much from the very beginning. She was always the first to wish me on my birthday - even today she is the first - ever since we knew each other. While I was in Singapore I usually got a bouquet of flowers with a beautiful gift signed Helen and Veronica - another colleague and friend of my son. Even after fifteen years of my leaving Singapore we exchange greetings on birthdays regularly, and mail one another once in a while. Six years back on my way back to Madras from U.S. with Raji and Muthu we made a halt at Singapore. Helen came over to meet me and took me out to dinner. Helen’s husband and Veronica joined us and it was an unforgettable evening for me.

At Saint John's Island - the singapore skyline can be seen from here.
      Raja started working in Singapore soon after my husband’s death. Once he got settled I too joined him and was with him for a major part of his stay there. This transfer of place and lifestyle was an antidote for me. Everything was new to me. I was fascinated by the people, their life style, the very clean roads, the shopping centres, the food courts - well, by everything I saw. I was shown around the whole city in the first few weeks by Raja, -  the Bird park, the zoo, the Botanical Gardens  Sentosa Island, Saint John’s Island where I got a chance to get near the waves and paddle for some time,  Teka Market on Serangoon Road,  and the British Council library. 

I was also tutored to travel by bus and taxis by Raja. Once he was satisfied that I was well-tutored and knew the ropes well, the running of the house was entirely left in my hands with enough cash, a Bus pass and the British Council cards.  He also provided me with walking shoes and a track suit. He encouraged me to wear them and go for walks.

For the first few days I was very self conscious wearing the pants and tops. Here I must add that I wore only sarees ever since I was fourteen years old. I felt odd and unsure of myself for the first few days. Gradually I got used to that outfit and the morning walks were something I started looking forward to. On my way back home after the walk I did the shopping for our daily needs like milk bread and vegetables. This shop was run by a Chinese couple. They did know a little bit of English, but I was a zero in Chinese, still we were able to communicate with each other. Raja was in Singapore two months ago. He told me that he dropped into the same shop as he was passing by. The shopkeeper recognized Raja and enquired about me also. I felt glad when I heard that. I always feel happy when I do my shopping in individual shops rather than in departmental stores and supermarkets. There is always the personal touch such as ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ I truly belong to, and believe in old customs like these.

Raja was working with The New Paper, an afternoon paper brought out by the Straits Times group. So his working hours were from five in the morning to one in the afternoon. Raja had his day filled with his own  activities like playing tennis, going to pubs in the evenings to listen to  music  and dining out with friends.  But once every week he took me out for lunches and dinners and introduced me to Mexican and  Mediterranean,Chinese and  also Singapore delights. As days went by I became very confident in doing things on my own—taking a cab to Serangoon Road to shop for vegetables and provisions, travelling by bus to the British Council library to pick up books and C.Ds. I lost all my inhibitions and started enjoying my life in this new place.

One woman selling coconut - grated on the spot - always gave us odd looks when once in a while Raja came with me to do the shopping.  I did not understand why. The mystery was solved when my grandson came along with me once to Serangoon Road.  The coconut seller seeing Sriram, with me instead of Raja was awestruck at first, then asked pointing to Sriram, “New boyfriend?” I could not control my laughter when I told her that  he was my grandson and I also informed her that the gent who came with me  the other  times  was my son.

Once in a while Raja brought home his friends from office either for breakfast (nine to nine-thirty am break for food)or  for dinner. I enjoyed cooking different dishes for them. I am sure they too relished my preparations. Many of Raja’s friends from India and other places used to stay with us when in Singapore or spend their free time at our place. Soon they befriended me too. I enjoyed playing Scrabble with them:I doubt if they enjoyed the game as much as I did for they found it rather difficult to beat me!

 While in Singapore I was exposed to new entertainments also, about which I had only read. Raja took me to concerts of  Ray Charles , to an opera and a Russian Ballet, all my firsts and I enjoyed them to the full. We made a trip to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, where we stayed for two days with one of Raja’s friends and did visit some famous places like the Batu caves, a famous Chinese Temple and the Botanical Gardens. From there we went to Penang - a beautiful island where we stayed for another two days in a beach-front hotel named Rasa Sayang. Though I have read about people sunning themselves with minimum clothes, I saw them for the first time here.

On the first evening while we were having our dinner our waiter brought one of the exhibits there, a Pallankuhzi  to our table asking me whether I knew what it was. Well, I told him it was a game played with either very tiny seashells or Manchadi and had to explain how it was played. That was one indoor game I used to play with my grandmother and mother when they had the time to relax. I remember I have played this game with my children too.

Another experience was riding on a cycle rickshaw, or trishaws as they are called there. The funny part of these trishaws was that the seat for the passengers was in the front while the rickshaw man would be behind us, pedalling the cycle. He pedalled so fast I felt we might fall on the road any minute.

Another place that got my attention was a street with a lot of shops selling grinding stones of both varieties like the ammi kozhavi (for grinding masalas and coconut and the other the attukal for grinding rice and dal for the dosai iddili dough.

Singapore holds a festive look with various types of decorations and illuminations during Diwali (Deepawali as they like to call it), the Ramzan month (which they Hari Raya) and the Christmas and New Year  periods. I was seeing this type of illuminations for the first time and I was totally flabbergasted .Thai poosam, a temple festival dedicated to Lord Murugan, is celebrated in this land on a very grand scale with every believer whether Indian or Malay or Chinese taking part in the procession of devotees  carrying Kavadis  and Palkudams .

I was totally captivated with whatever I came across in this city. And I feel I am at a loss of words to write more.

Mr. and Mrs.Narayanan
One family I befriended while there is the Narayanans. They were Raja’s upstairs neighbours.  From the very start Rani (Mrs. Narayanan) made it her responsibility to take care of me when Raja was out at work or with friends. Rani and Anu, eldest of her three daughters, and me became close friends and are in touch with each other now also. 
Anu and her family

I never thought that one could make friends after sixty and maintain that friendship for years. That way I am blessed for I have a good circle of friends who make me think that life at eighty is also worth living!!  



Viji said...

I posted this link on Face Book Ma , saying
Reading my mother's blog on her days in Singapore is like watching a film in slow motion with all the characters coming alive each one there to portray a particular role that makes the telling complete

Asha said...

Lovely description, Maiji aunty.
I visualised your stay through out the post. Your children are lucky in that you were very adaptable and not rigid. This is a boon for them.

We have to re-write the saying ' life begins at 40' as life begins at 60 after reading your post. Expect more stories of yore from you.

Gauri Gharpure said...

How do you remember so much? you have detailed all the names of places so well too.. a beautiful memoir, as always. I am now reading about the game you have linked.

Kamini said...

This was an enchanting read, Maiji.
We should play a game of Scrabble the next time we meet.

travelmuse said...

Very interesting to read about how you got adapted to Singapore life.

Meenakshi said...


Ashok said...

I was in Singapore on a family holiday in June 2009 and stayed at a hotel on Orchard Road (prettiest road i've ever seen). My most unforgettable moment during my stay in this amazing country was on the first day when i went to a McDonalds outlet for lunch and was attended to by a lady in her 70s at the counter..i believe the Govt. there encourages everyone to work. I guess thats the reason for Singapore's success story..Discipline & Fitness.