| Malay Mail | Malaysia | 16 Feb 2016 | Asia Samachar |
By Ian Pereira
Sardar Santa Singh was Selangor’s leading busman of the 1960s and 70s — a visionary manager who pioneered a new generation of one-person operated buses between Setapak and Kuala Lumpur.
Coming in as manager of Len Seng Bus Company, Santa injected new thinking into the organisation showing signs of atrophy. He was an energetic and refreshing addition to the Len Seng Board, bringing a gutsy enthusiasm, practical knowledge and a willingness to change.
SEE ALSO: Santa Singh Gill (1929-2015), Setapak
A tall distinctive figure under his neatly pressed turban, Santa believed in leading his transport staff from the front. This he did with distinction in a career in transportation spanning 35 years until he died in Setapak on Dec 17, aged 86.
It was here that he helped hundreds of young men secure employment as drivers and conductors for a fleet of 127 buses the company operated in its heyday. This was the era before computerisation, when much control involved many man hours for smooth running of the public transport service.
But given Santa’s natural ability to extract the best from his subordinates, the company kept a record pace. He continued to excel in the role until he became general manager assuming considerable responsibilities for the onerous task of operating the company.
His fluency in speaking Cantonese kept him comfortable on the Len Seng Board whose members were all Chinese. He also spoke Tamil, Hindi, English, Punjabi, Bahasa Malaysia and Japanese.
The roles earned him the Ahli Mangku Negara and Pingat Jasa Kebaktian from the Sultan of Selangor.
Santa’s father was from a Zamindaar (land owning family) from a village neighbouring one of the five high thrones of the Sikh religion, Damdama Sahib in Punjab. Following the death of his grandparents his father Karam came to Malaya in 1925, starting out as a watchman at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.
Karam was an enterprising man, buying and selling land, cattle and buffaloes and selling cow’s milk. He even ran a successful bullock cart transport company.
Santa and his younger brother Sardara helped manage the family business. This included the cutting and collecting of grass for their cows from jungles deep behind Zoo Negara which they rolled into bundles and strapped on to the carrier rack of their bicycles. Many times they were chased by wild boars and elephants. Encounters with snakes and the distant roar of tigers were of no comfort either.
Born on Oct 3, 1929 in Kuala Lumpur, Santa did most of his schooling at St John’s Institution atop Bukit Nanas.
He excelled in sports throughout his schooldays, representing the Saints at hockey, football, basketball and swimming besides being an active Rover scout. He left St John’s with a Senior Cambridge Certificate.
At basketball he joined the sons of Tan Sri Low Yat in playing on the front court at their ancestral family mansion near the Setapak police station. It was unusual to see a turbaned Sikh play basketball, especially back in those days.
In addition, he served on several sport associations. Santa’s interest in games never wavered in his advancing years when he watched much of the action on television.
Some time in his late 20s came a man who was struggling to pay back a loan borrowed from his family. He instead offered the family the use of his taxi until the funds
Santa drove the taxi on Kuala Lumpur roads by day and in the nights he provided transport for British soldiers from the camp to the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes canteen where beer cost a pittance. This he did till 11pm.
This was satisfying for a man who was happy to get a small return on a sure investment than play for high stakes. It was also in keeping with a career his father mapped out for him, as by now his father had bought shares in the Len Seng Bus Company which was growing in stature and success.
Finding himself without a job following the withdrawal of the British in peace time, Santa took to managing the bus company.
His varied lifestyle, however, did not distract him from life’s realities. Though only 16, Santa took time to wed Manjit Kaur, two years his junior from Bentong, Pahang in an arranged marriage. However, it was only after he turned 19 that he brought Manjit to join him in Kuala Lumpur.
They raised five children — girls Dr Muninder, Harjinder and Ranjit, and boys Sukdev and Harvinder — all professionals in their own calling. Sukdev, a pilot, served Malaysia Airlines for 30 over years and Harvinder, an electrical engineer, was Malaysia’s Technology Entrepreneur of the Year 2008.
Politics also held his interest when he served the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) Setapak as an exco member and many times as its president, making him a man greatly appreciated by the communities of Setapak and Gombak.
He continued to serve MIC well into his 70s when he was still invited for their meetings. He was also a longtime juvenile court councillor.
His penchant for public speaking made him the livewire at family celebrations helping to bring events to life with his humour and personality.
Santa will be remembered for his ability to deal equally with whomever he encountered, maintaining many friendships from his
He was predeceased by his wife of 62 years in 2011. He is survived by his children and grandchildren Harkiren, Hargobind, Parveen, Michael, Sonia, Tripert, Tepasya, Tirath and Jyot Saroop.
Santa will be remembered for his ability to deal equally with whomever he encountered, maintaining many friendships from his early years.
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