By Malminderjit Singh | SINGAPORE |
As Singapore marks its bicentennial anniversary in 2019, the nation also prepares itself for the opportunity for personal micro stories to emerge. Even though at the national level Singapore finds value in commemorating the two centuries since Sir Stamford Raffles set foot in Singapore, many segments of the society here are using this opportunity to look beyond – in celebrating their personal journeys and stories in Singapore and their family histories.
One such family is the Wasan family – one of the Singapore Sikh community’s eminent and recognised families. The family of the Late Sunder Singh Wasan has published a book on their family history titled ‘Wasans – Our Pride and Joy’, which they launched in March 2019. The impressively researched and compiled 108-page book narrates the journey, achievements, trials and tribulations of three generations of the family from the mid-1800s to 2018.
The Wasan family is no stranger to the Singapore Sikh community landscape. Sunder Singh Wasan, for instance, was a founding member and President of the Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) in 1931. An educator by profession, who first moved from Amritsar to Singapore in 1924, Sunder Singh was also the Chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board (SAB) in 1948. Sunder Singh’s eldest son, Wazir Singh Wasan, followed his father’s footsteps closely and was a part of the same team as his father in founding the SKA where he served as its Secretary. When his father led the SAB, again Wazir Singh, also an educator, was a part of the same team.
In his speech at the launch of the publication, former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh, who is currently Chairman of the Coordinating Council of Sikh Institutions (CCSI), said: “The Wasan family has contributed much to Singapore and the Sikh community here. This book documents their contributions and their journeys. I hope it will inspire current and future generations of Wasans, as well as many other Singaporeans and Sikhs, to do the same.”
Besides community leadership, the Wasans are also a family of well-known and accomplished educators. Besides Sunder Singh and Wazir Singh, the Wasan family have 13 other members who have been in the education profession or continue to do so.
One of Wazir Singh’s students was Singapore’s distinguished intellectual extraordinaire and Ambassador-at-Large Prof Tommy Koh. “Mr Wazir Singh was my form master in Secondary 1 (in Raffles Institution in 1952). I will always be grateful to him because he had the confidence in me and encouraged me to aim high. Wazir Singh was a good teacher in mathematics and a good form master,” an excerpt from Prof Koh, from another publication quoted in the Wasan book, stated. “He taught me to work hard and to enjoy learning. He also taught me the virtues of honesty and compassion. The fact that he is a Sikh and a Punjabi and a good man is fortuitous.”
Indeed, the Wasan family book contains many such interesting facts and anecdotes as well as heartwarming stories. According to the publication’s project team, made up of Surjit Singh, Amarjit Singh and Amarjit Kaur, the book is essentially meant for the generations of the Wasan family to learn of the journeys and stories of their forefathers, “their struggles during and after Partition, the diaspora that followed, and how they created new homes for their families away from India.” “It is a rich tapestry woven together with lots of love and kinship,” they wrote in the book’s Preface.
However, it is much more than a family tome. The detailing of the family’s move from India to Singapore and other parts of the world, the kinship with other migrant families and the importance of Sikhi and education in their lives, will undoubtedly resonate with many other Sikh migrant families as well as inspire them.
As Yale-NUS President and former Nominated Member of Parliament Prof Tan Tai Yong explains, the Wasan book has the potential to have a wider public impact than it is perhaps put out to achieve. “Their heartwarming stories encapsulate the essence of Sikhism, as well as the pioneering spirit and work ethics of a close-knit and successful diaspora family,” Prof Tan, who is closely associated with the Singapore Sikh community, writes in a blurb to the book.
To this end, and a considerable extent, the Wasan publication mirrors the stories of many migrants families, Sikhs or otherwise, to Singapore. It is hopeful that, in this year of reliving memories and histories, that others too will take a leaf out of the Wasan family book to share their own personal and family journeys – as that would make for a rich social tapestry in Singapore.
Surjit joins Singapore’s Presidential Council for Minority Rights (Asia Samachar, 2 April 2015)