By Suresh Nair | SINGAPORE |
TAKE a bow, Inderjit Singh Dhaliwal, Sarvindar Singh Chopra, Malminderjit Singh and Satinder Singh for the special roles behind the inaugural Singapore Indians Hall of Fame (IHFS) awards to salute the icon Indian personalities at the exclusive Singapore Recreation Club over the weekend.
The “Sikh power” quartet pulled the delicate strings to ensure that the IHFS awards, the first of its kind in Singapore, timely recognise the achievements of many of the pioneering and contemporary heroes who have contributed to the success of Singapore by excelling in multiple fields from politics, arts and sciences, community service, women empowerment, philanthropy, medicine, sports, just to name a few.
The iconic honourees included former presidents C.V. Devan Nair (1981-1985) and S.R. Nathan (1999-2011). Both the late Nair and Nathan were Malaysian-born. Nair from Malacca in 1923 and Nathan in Muar, Johore, in July 1924.
Former Member of Parliament (MP) and serial entrepreneur Inderjit Singh, 59, who hails from Punjab, as Chairman of Panel of Advisers (IHFS) noted that the pats-on-the-back come during the bicentenary celebrations of Singapore, where the multi-racial people contributed to the “success of Singapore, not just from the post-independence days but also the last 200 years or so.” He said: “The Indian community indeed played an important part in helping build the Singapore of today.”
The IHFS was set up last year to recognise the contributions of Singaporeans of Indian origin, to nation-building. He says: “It is an opportune time, for the Indian community, to take stock of our collective contributions to Singapore’s success and to build up our history so that future generations of Singaporeans will remember the contributions of their forefathers.”
In the pinnacles of Olympics sports, few ever come close to Kesavan Soon, who retired career-wise as a Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). He rightly says that the experience in an Olympic Games – the pinnacle in any sportsman’s career – as a track and field athlete, was a “breathtaking journey”.
He says candidly: “On hindsight, I can never ever be like a (swimmer) Joseph Schooling, 64 years later (who won the 100m butterfly at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games), simply because if you’re not prepared for the world’s ultimate sporting stage, it can well be more pressure than pleasure. What matters is the inevitable mind-bending pressure before the performance of your life.”
He adds that like retired teacher Kunalan and the majority of the Singapore-based icon athletes, whatever the sport, an “Olympic debut means close to an early lifetime of training – full of innumerable repetitions, practice sessions, and sacrifices – finally paying off”. He recounts: “There comes a point not long into every Olympics when hope and reality start to divide. It’s sometimes the part you don’t always see on television, or read about here, when the Olympics become less about the faster, higher, stronger, and more about holding back the tears.”
Kunalan, who competed against Malaysia’s “Flying Doctor” Dr Mani Jegathesan in the 1960s to be Asia’s “Fastest Man”, says: “Multiple questions crackle my head over the blood, sweat and tears of Singaporeans who have worked and trained and only a few of us ever come away from the Olympics with all we’ve been dreaming for.
“God only knows what it must be like for the older generation of athletes. For every Lloyd Valberg (London Games, 1948), Tang Pui Wah (Helsinki, 1952), Mary Klass, Janet Jesudason and Tan Eng Yoon (Melbourne, 1956), Tan Howe Liang (Rome, 1960), Ang Peng Siong (Los Angeles, 1984) and Joseph Schooling (Rio de Janeiro, 2016), there are countless others who come away with nothing at all.”
For the record, Kunalan’s legendary track and field feat of 20 regional medals – four golds, nine silver and seven bronzes – will be heroically acknowledged as he was the face of Singapore sports in the formative years of Singapore’s independence. Poignantly, he was named Singapore National Olympic Council’s (SNOC) Sportsman of the Year, consecutively in 1968 and 1969.
Also decorated for sports, was former Selangor-born Dr A. Vijiaratnam, who outstandingly represented Singapore in four sports, namely hockey, cricket, football and rugby during the years from 1946-1956. He passed away in February 2016, at 94 years, not without excelling even in academics as Singapore’s first Asian engineer and a top civil servant and the first pro-chancellor of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Three-time SEA (South-East Asia) Games medallist Sarvindar Singh Chopra, who represented Singapore at athletics, weightlifting and judo, saluted the IHFS recipients as he was one of the key figures behind-the-scenes as he sat on the founding IHFS management council.
He says: “Kesavan and Kunalan were among the pioneering legends who contributed to making Singapore a great regional sporting nation. I’d say that the awards are a timely celebration of the achievers who have made, or are making, an impact on our nation – the boundary breakers and record holders, the risk-takers and change-makers, the role models and the standard setters.”
Sarvindar, the Deputy President of IHFS Management Council, salutes that for sportsmen the “Olympics mania, in a nutshell, is all about overcoming life’s obstacles and adversities.” He adds: “It’s about how you touch people and every day, they’ll remember what motivated them to run in the world’s highest platform, once in a lifetime, and to come home and be a Singaporean Olympian for the rest of their lives.”
The other prominent individuals, to name a few, nominated included Naraina Pillai, the first Indian to set foot on Singapore soil together with Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, former Deputy Prime Minister and Senior Minister S. Rajaratnam, former Minister Balaji Sadasivan and the late Presidents C.V. Devan Nair and S.R. Nathan along with many other writers, social workers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, performing artistes, politicians, doctors, lawyers, sports personalities and military and police officers.
Significantly in Singapore, as Sarvindar Chopra pointed out, meritocracy always takes precedence over other considerations. And many deserving Indians have been appointed to the highest offices including the Presidency, Deputy Prime Minister, Senior Minister, Chief Justice, Justices, Attorney General, Diplomats, Members of Parliament and many others.
“The continued success of this fair-minded multi-racial approach boils down to fair and sound policies implemented by the successive governments led by Founder Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, former PM Goh Chok Tong and the incumbent Lee Hsien Loong,” says Sarvindar.
Thumbs-up to Sikh pioneers like Kartar Singh Dalamnangal from a small village in north-western Punjab, whose selfless gentleman attributes stood out in the service of others. The moniker he earned as jarabanwala (the stocking man) instantly conjures the image of his humble all-white attire, complete of course with the knee-high socks, which was essentially the uniform of a British Admiral.
CHARITY WITH BIG HEART
The Dalamnangal family shared that the success in the form of wealth Kartar had achieved personally “was never as important to him as the good that he could do with it.”
Kartar Singh Thakral was also hailed as among the titan Sikhs for his iconic hand in the business fraternity. From a small business outlet dealing with wholesale textile trading in the corner of High Street, the family expanded to 25 countries and now runs a diversified portfolio of businesses. In 1995, Kartar was awarded the “Businessman of the Year” award and Thakral Brothers ranked the “Top Private Company” in Singapore in the first-ever “Enterprise 50 List” by Andersen Consulting and The Business Times.
Jamit Singh was singled out for achievements in labour as he was the “flaming torch” behind port workers in colonial Singapore against the Singapore Harbour Board and gamely won concessions for thousands of people he campaigned for.
As an elite sports administrator, S.S. Dhillon, born in Lumut, Perak in 1931 (which makes him close to 90 years!) was inducted for his rousing sporting attributes as he was the longest-serving Secretary-General of the SNOC (1971-1996) and the organising secretary for three regional games – the 1973 SEAP Games, the 1983 SEA Games and the 1993 SEA Games – when Singapore played host over three decades.
Professor Kernail Singh Sandhu was saluted for academia achievement as he was the Director of the Institute of South-East Asian Studies (ISEAS) in 1972 and he raised it to be the leading hub for inter-disciplinary research for the Asean region over two decades of leadership. By 1992, it had global researchers with 40 percent coming from South-East Asia.
As Inderjit Singh, who outstandingly served as Ang Mo Kio GRC Member of Parliament from 1996 to 2015, says: “The Sikhs rank as a small yet significant constituent in their multiple contributions to Singapore’s prolific development and, deservingly so, must be acknowledged for their blood, sweat and tears in nation-building.”
Suresh Nair, an award-winning Singapore journalist, has covered regional sports for over four decades. He feels the IHFS awards is a perfect recognition for Singapore Sikh celebrities, too, rightly so in the current Bicentenary celebrations of Singapore.
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