Singapore – A Model City/Country!

Classic Singapore

Singapore is a small country. In fact the size of Singapore is almost the same size as the Chennai metropolitan city. What struck us most when we moved to Singapore from the vast land of the US was the tiny size of the country. We lived in Singapore from 1993 to 1996. In the US the residential suburbs were filled with sprawling single storey houses. But Singapore was a vertical city 🙂 The high rise buildings housed the population. Being a small city there is not much to see in Singapore. The main entertainment is shopping. They have amazing shopping malls which carry everything under the Sun. The creativity of the government is revealed in the way that they have turned the Sentosa Island into a top notch entertainment centre like Disney land!

The highways and roads are not broad but the quality and cleanliness of the roads will make you fall in love with that country at first sight. The economy of the country is very much dependent on tourism. Hence the government gives importance to any and all things related to encouraging tourism.

I have read stories of writer Sujatha where he would talk about incidents happening in the year 2512 (or so) in futuristic cities which were very robotic in nature. We saw the shades of such a city in Singapore in those days itself 🙂 I am certain that the government has fine tuned its activities to make life simpler and easier for its citizens than before and the people have everything delivered at their door steps now!

It is a very safe country. A woman could go out alone at 2 am in the night wearing jewels and yet be have no fear for her safety. I speak about this out of experience when I had to go out alone one night out of necessity. In my opinion, fear of severe punishment if caught while committing a crime is the main reason for such good behaviour. Caning is a very common form of punishment along with jail sentences and fines. I have heard that a mere two strikes by cane on the buttocks of those found guilty will be remembered by them with fear for the rest of their lives. When we were there an American teenager was caught and found guilty for painting graffiti on some public property. If the same thing had happened in the US he would have been slapped with a fine and some hours of community service. But in Singapore he was to be caned for this crime. The American family tried their best to take him away from the country before he was caned. I remember Bill Clinton appealing to the Singapore government. But the government did not budge and he received his share of caning as ordered by the court and only then was he allowed out of the country.

Taxi car’s registration numbers, driver’s licence numbers and their mobile phone numbers are all registered with the concerned government departments. So if we lose something in the taxi or if the driver misbehaves we can lodge a complaint and the authorities can easily track them. Hence the taxi drivers also behave nicely towards us. Metre rates are only paid and the balance change duly rendered! The government stipulates the rate per kilometre which is reasonable enough tube accepted by the taxi owners. The night time taxi travel is one and a half times the rate that we normally pay during day time. The drivers are well trained and the city is so well planned that all you have to do when you get into the taxi is to give the address and we will be dropped in the right place. Ninety percent of them speak English and even the remaining ten percent do understand and follow instructions.

We used to have two cars when we were in the US. The three years that we spent there we did not buy a car, due to two reasons. One was that, Singapore had a wonderful public transport system, air-conditioned busses, speeding metros and reasonable rates for a comfortable taxi ride. Trains and busses and taxis were clean and functioned efficiently. The other reason was the exorbitant prices of cars. If the cost of the car was Sing$30,000, there was an additional tax called COE which varied anywhere from Sing$20,000 to Sing$70,000 or so as it was based on a demand and supply model. This was imposed by the government to restrict its people to curtail the purchase of cars and they were able to have a control on the number of cars on the road every year. This COE was also valid only for ten years after which you have to pay again. That way they made sure that old cars were not on the road thus controlling the pollution levels in the atmosphere. The payments for car parking in CBD(business districts, equivalent to down town area in the US) was also very high making it a deterrent to office goers to own a car. If the government wanted to increase the sales of cars they would lower the COE. They ran the country in the same way a CEO would run a company.

My children weren’t very happy over the fact that we did not have a car, especially my son 🙂 The moment we stepped out of our house he will extend his arm to hail a taxi on the road! They both had school van/bus to pick and drop them. It was such a breeze to get admission in schools for them. All we had to do was to submit an application to the education ministry and they allotted the school that was close to our home address. When we were there a shift system was followed. First and third standards had the afternoon shift and second and fourth had the morning shift.

Everything and everybody has to follow a regimen there. The government was a benevolent dictator. It provided its people with all the needed comforts. Their housing board which was called the HDB provided flats at a very reasonable rate to permanent residents and their citizens. A taxi driver and a street vendor would be a house owner in that country. Additional benefits were allotted to citizens of the country. They had the right to buy brand new HDB flats that came into the market and loans at lower interest rates etc, to name a few.

It is very common there for both the husband and wife to hold jobs there. Another special feature of that country is the availability of live in maids. They are mainly hired from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan. They have a separate visa. This has its plusses and minuses.

High rise buildings!

The country is devoid of any natural resources. Even water is imported from Malaysia. But the government functions with a superior visualisation of its future needs and makes provisions for every conceivable contingency. It is such a tiny country but it makes military training compulsory to all boys who finish their high school there. They are allowed to continue their college education only after they have completed the three years of mandatory military training. But once you finish that in flying colours, the government provides the students with financial aid to study in their own top universities or even helps them go abroad for their higher studies. But if you do not take up this training you are thrown out of the country. Your PR(equal to American Green Card) is revoked and have to leave the country immediately. If in case you want to visit the country later you may get a visitor’s visa for two weeks at a time. So many Indian parents living there who do not want their sons to under go such training leave the country when their child is in the ninth or tenth standard and move to US or Australia or back to India.

Schools are equally restrictive. There is no room for creativity. Further, they even monitor the weights of the students. They are paranoid about having a future generation which is obese. So such kids are given counselling by doctors to eat less and they are forced to jog several rounds in the school playground before or after class.

My daughter is a very creative and sensitive person. She became stifled by the rules and regulations in school. More so by the racial discrimination that she felt was shown towards the Tamils/Indians by the majority there, the Chinese. Moving from a place where there was enough freedom to a place that was claustrophobic she decided to move to India to live with her grandparents and go to school there.

We had no option but to follow her 🙂 I was quite happy in Singapore during the days that I lived there. But it is highly doubtful if I would have been happy if I had continued to live there and made it my home. I am too averse to interference in personal freedom and thrive only in a unrestricted society.

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple

There are plenty of Hindu Temples in Singapore. Perumaal Kovil and Vatapathra Kaliyamman Kovil on Serangoon Road, the Chettiyar Murugan kovil are quite famous. Thai Poosam is celebrated with so much fan fare and devotion. It is a sight to behold to see the Chinese and the Malay people side by side with the Indian devotees carrying Kavadi and milk pots on that day.

Serangoon Road, Mustafa, Kalyanasundaram mega marts, Komalas restaurant and Little India are all so much part of our Tamil culture that we will really not miss India that much and it is only a four hours flight to Chennai as well. The best part is the three races of Indian, Malay and Chinese do co exist and live in harmony there. The government has to be commended for that.

It is a very peaceful and comfortable life there. But do people have a life there? That is my question!

Co-existing races

“Chennai is the greatest country ever!”

…..a little boy squealed inside the plane as the flight landed in the Chennai airport. I turned and looked at him in astonishment. Here was someone like me! 🙂

Picture by Niyantha

I was born in Pondicherry and brought to Chennai when I was just five months old. I’ve been a Chennai-ite since then.  I was told that I was cranky and a cry baby when I was in Pondy and became all happy and cheerful once I landed in Chennai. I think my adoration for Chennai started even as a baby 🙂 I have visited many cities all over the world and lived in a few for several years. But no place has given me as much happiness as Chennai has!  Mid pleasures and palaces though I may roam, be it ever so humble there is no place like Chennai 😉

My parents used to live in Mylapore, but for some reason took me all the way to Vadapalani temple for my first birthday. The priest somehow immediately assumed it was my birthday and garlanded me, even before my parents could tell him anything. Perhaps it was destiny, as I became an ardent devotee of Vadapalani Murugan from a very young age, and even today I live close to the temple 🙂 I believe in those days there were only stretches of paddy fields all the way from where the present Kodambakkam flyover is to Vadapalani and beyond.  In fact the bridge came much later.

Photo by Keerthi

We moved near Ram Theatre in Kodambakkam shortly after. I am sure that was again through the grace of Lord Muruga as this enabled me to frequently go to the temple on my own even as a young person. I would go to all the nearby shops without any adult accompanying me. I used to be in and out of all my neighbours’ houses having fun playing with kids my age and with those older than me too.

Summer vacations used to be so much fun! We kids used to gather together in the street and make “kootanchoru”. We made a stove with three bricks, collected twigs from under the trees and cooked rice in an earthern pot. Mixing a little buttermilk with the hot cooked rice, we ate it to our heart’s content to the accompaniment of five paise pickle packets. No chef from any five Star Hotel could whip up something more delicious than that 🙂

We used to stage plays as well. Once we staged a play about Kovalan and Kannagi. I donned the role of Kannagi (I was 7 years old). The guy who directed the play was probably fifteen years or so. He used to efficiently manage us kids, make us learn our lines and conduct rehearsals during the hot summer afternoons. When I found out that his son was my son’s classmate in Padma Seshadri, it was such a happy coincidence.

My brother was younger to me by five years. He used to take part in every game of the season with full zest. He was good in carrom, “goli”, “pambaram”, an expert in flying kites and of course our national game cricket! There would always be a gang of boys in our home sharing the loot of mangoes plucked from neighbours’ trees or running in the streets to get hold of a loose “bana kathadi”. I am pleased to say that I am still in touch with his friends.

I did my schooling and my college in Kodambakkam. Going to movies was as great form of entertainment then as it is today. I have seen so many movies with friends especially in the Sathyam Theater. We learnt Hindi by watching the same Hindi movie repeatedly.  Standing in queue eagerly waiting for our turn to purchase tickets was fun by itself 🙂

I have a very strong belief in God. This helped me through tough times when my family encountered many problems when I was quite young.  I owe my strength of mind to Vadapalani Murugan. We have no control over many things in life. But a strong belief in God helps you tide over the difficult times with courage. My prayers are always conversations with God. I learnt a lot of my life’s lessons at an early age. I should say that this was indeed a blessing. I became a very responsible person, capable of judging people and situations. Patience and perseverance were the other by-products 🙂

When I moved to the US, I really missed my temple and my Murugan. But He is so compassionate that He showed me where He was housed In San Francisco as Palaniswamy. It was a small but beautiful temple. Life was great in the US. Lots of friends, a lovely place with all the comforts one could ask for, no interference from in-laws… yet I missed Chennai 🙂

Then we moved to Singapore.  It was the best of both worlds, the confluence of the east and the west. Every thing was available in Singapore that was in the US, and we could even afford hired help, and the temples there made you feel at home. But still it was not Chennai 🙂 There were too many rules and regulations and the government interfered in the private lives of their residents. They even monitored the weights of the school children and took action to make sure that they did not become obese. Above all one did not even have the freedom of throwing a single piece of garbage on to the street 🙂 At the first opportunity we moved back to Chennai. We owe a big thanks to our daughter for hastening our return.  She was just 9 years old, and told me and my husband that if we decided to move out of the US, we should not have chosen a place where we were again a minority. She in fact moved to Chennai first, even without us. All we had to do was to follow her!

People of Chennai are like the jack fruit. They may sound disrespectful when they speak but have a heart of gold in welcoming others into their fold. The medical facilities available in Chennai are unparallelled. Public transportation is great. Compared to other metro cities, Chennai is definitely an affordable place to live.

Photo by Niyantha

I love the Marina beach. Soon after the tsunami the sea was rough for quite some time. Now it is back to normal. Marina beach is such an integral part of any Chennai-ite’s life! The sea breeze and the salt water is sure to wipe away the restlessness of one’s mind. All that is needed is a single visit to the sandy beach.

My friends! They are the secret to my youthfullness and vitality 🙂 We owe it to Chennai for our frequent getogethers and interactions. We used to live in different places but all of us now live in Chennai. Now as a group we travel to different places together starting from Chennai!

It is not surprising for one to love the city one is born and brought up in. But it is really a joy and an honour that my husband, who was brought up in Bangalore, loves Chennai the same way I do 🙂

“Chennai is the greatest country ever!”

…இதை ஒரு சிறுவன் சென்னையில் விமானம் தரை இறங்கும் போது கூவினான். அதிர்ந்து திரும்பி நோக்கினேன். என்னைப் போல் ஒருவனா? 🙂

Photo taken by Niyantha

நான் பிறந்து பாண்டிச்சேரியில். எனக்கு ஐந்து மாதம் இருக்கும்போது சென்னைக்கு வந்தேன், அதிலிருந்து சென்னை வாசம் தான். பாண்டிச்சேரியில் இருந்தபொழுது எப்பொழுதும் அழுது கொண்டே இருந்தேனாம், சென்னை வந்த பிறகு அழுகை நின்று விட்டதாம். ஐந்து மாதம் முதலே நான் சென்னையை நேசிக்க ஆரம்பித்து விட்டேன் 🙂 எததனையோ ஊர்களுக்குச் சென்றுள்ளேன், பல வருடங்கள் அங்கே வசித்தும் உள்ளேன், ஆனால் சென்னை தரும் ஆனந்தம் வேறு எந்த ஊரும் எனக்குத் தந்ததில்லை!

என் முதல் பிறந்த நாள் அன்று மைலாப்பூரில் வசித்து வந்த என் பெற்றோர்கள் என்னை வடபழனி கோவிலுக்குக் கூட்டிச் சென்றதே ஒரு அதிசயம் தான். அங்கே நுழைவாயிலிலேயே ஒரு குருக்கள், என்ன? குழந்தைக்குப் பிறந்தநாளா என்றபடி என் பெயருக்கு அர்ச்சனை செய்து கழுத்தில் மாலையும் போட்டு முருகனை எனக்கு இஷ்ட தெய்வமாக்கி விட்டார். அப்பொழுது எல்லாம் கோடம்பாக்க மேம்பாலம் கிடையாது, ட்ரஸ்டுபுரம் தொடங்கி வடபழனி முதலான இடங்களைச் சுற்றி வயல் வெளியாக இருக்கும் என்று என் அம்மா சொல்லக் கேள்வி.

Photo taken by Keerthi

வெகு விரைவில் முருகன் என் பெற்றோர்களை ராம் தியேட்டர் அருகில் வீடு கட்டிக் கொண்டு வரச் செய்துவிட்டார். சிறுமியாக இருக்கும் பொழுதே நான் தனியாக நடந்து வடபழனி கோவிலுக்குச் செல்வது வழக்கம். சிறிதும் அச்சமில்லாமல் கடைகளுக்கும் கோவிலுக்கும் தனியாகப் போய் வருவேன். என் தெருவில் இருக்கும் அனைவர் வீட்டுக்கும் சென்று விளையாடுவேன்.

எங்கள் தெருவில் இருக்கும் சிறுவர் சிறுமிகள் எல்லாரும் சேர்ந்து கோடை விடுமுறையில் கூட்டாஞ்சோறு செய்து விளையாடுவோம். மூன்று செங்கல் வைத்து சுள்ளிகள் பொறுக்கி தீ வைத்து மண் பானையில் சோறு பொங்கி அந்தக் கஞ்சியோடு மோரும் சேர்த்து ஐந்து பைசா ஊறுகாய் பொட்டலம் வாங்கி சுடச் சுட சாப்பிட்ட அந்த சோற்றின் சுவை எந்த ஐந்து நட்சத்திர உணவகத்தின் மிகப் பெரிய சமையல் கலைஞர் செய்வதற்கு ஈடாகாது 🙂

மேலும் நாங்கள் எல்லோரும் சேர்ந்து நாடகங்களும் அரங்கேற்றுவோம். அதில் ஒருமுறை கோவலன் கண்ணகி நாடகம் போட்டோம். அதில் நான் கோப்பெருந்தேவி வேடமிட்டு நடித்தேன். (ஏழு வயது தான் 🙂 ) இயக்குநர் அண்ணாவுக்கு பதினைந்து வயது இருக்கும். நண்டு சிண்டுகளை வைத்து சண்டைகளை விலக்கி வருடா வருடம் ரொம்பத் திறமையாக நாடகம் போடுவார். அவரின் மகன் பின்னாளில் பத்மா சேஷாத்ரி பள்ளியில் என் மகனுக்கு வகுப்புத் தோழனாக இருந்தது எனக்குத் தெரிய வந்த பொழுது மிகவும் மகிழ்ச்சியாக இருந்தது.

என் தம்பி என்னைவிட ஐந்து வயது இளையவன். அவன் கோலி, பம்பரம், காத்தாடி, கிரிக்கெட் என்று எந்த விளையாட்டையும் விட்டு வைத்ததில்லை. சீசனுக்குத் தகுந்த விளையாட்டில் ஈடுபட்டிருப்பான். மரம் ஏறி மாங்காய் பறிப்பது, பாணா காத்தாடியை பிடிப்பதற்காகத் தெருவில் கண் மண் தெரியாமல் ஓடுவது, என்று அவனுடைய நண்பர்கள் கூட்டம் ஒன்று எப்பொழுதும் வீட்டில் இருக்கும். இன்றும் அவர்களுடன் தொடர்பில் உள்ளேன்.

என் பள்ளி கல்லூரி அனைத்தும் கோடம்பாக்கமே. விடுமுறை நாட்களில் நண்பர்களுடன் நான் நிறையத் திரைப்படங்கள் பார்த்துள்ளேன். அதுவும் சத்தியம் திரை அரங்கம் வந்தப் புதிதில் வரிசையில் நின்று டிக்கெட் வாங்கி அத்தனை இந்திப் படங்களையும் ஒரு முறைக்குப் பலமுறைப் பார்த்து இந்திக் கற்றுக் கொண்டோம் 🙂

எனக்குத் தெய்வ பக்தி மிக அதிகம். குடும்பத்தில் பல கஷ்டங்கள் வந்த போதும் என் தீவிர பக்தி எனக்கு உறுதுணையாக இருந்தது. அதற்கு என் வடபழனி முருகனே காரணம். நடப்பது நடந்தே தீரும். ஆனால் அதைத் தாங்கிக் கொள்ள ஒரு துணிச்சல் கடவுள் நம்பிக்கையால் கிடைக்கிறது. என் பிரார்த்தனைகள் என்றுமே இறைவனிடம் பேசுவது தான். பல வாழ்க்கைப் பாடங்களை நான் இளமையிலேயே கற்க வேண்டிய சூழ்நிலை ஏற்பட்டது. ஆனால் அதனால் பல நன்மைகளே! இளமையிலேயே பொறுப்புணர்ச்சி அதிகம் ஏற்பட்டு விட்டது. பொறுமையும், பிரச்சனைகளை  சீர் தூக்கிப் பார்க்கும் குணமும் படிப்பினையாக வந்தது.

அமெரிக்கா சென்ற புதிதில் என் வடபழனி முருகனை காணாமல் நான் மிகவும் வருந்தினேன். ஆனால் என் முருகன் கருணை உள்ளவன். நாங்கள் வாழ்ந்த பகுதியிலும் ஒரு பழநிஸ்வாமியை காண்பித்துக் கொடுத்தான். நல்ல கோயில். நண்பர்கள் வட்டம் பெரிது. அனைத்து வசதிகளும் உள்ள ஊர். புகுந்த வீட்டினர் தொல்லை இல்லை. ஆயினும் சென்னை வாழ்க்கைக்காக ஏங்கினேன் என்பது தான் உண்மை!.

பின்பு சிங்கப்பூர் வந்தோம். ஆஹா என்ன ஒரு சொர்க்க லோகம் என்று தான் முதலில் தோன்றியது. கிழக்கும் மேற்கும் இணையும் இடம்! அநேகக் கோயில்கள், அனைத்து வசதிகள், வீட்டு வேலைக்கு உதவி செய்ய ஆட்களை நியமித்துக் கொள்ளலாம். ஆனால் சென்னை போல வருமா? 🙂 ஏகச் சட்ட திட்டங்கள். குழந்தைகள் இன்ன எடையில் தான் இருக்க வேண்டும் என்பது வரை அரசாங்கத்தின் அதீத கண்காணிப்பு! ஒரு குப்பையை தெருவில் போட முடியாது. என்ன வாழ்க்கை? சந்தர்ப்பம் கிடைத்த உடன் சென்னைக்கு ஒடி வந்து விட்டோம். அதற்கு பெரும் நன்றியை என் மகளுக்குத் தான் சொல்லியாக வேண்டும். அவள் தான், நீ அமெரிக்காவை விட்டுக் கிளம்பினால் நாம் இன்னொரு ஊரிலும் சிறுபான்மையினராக இருக்கும் இடத்தையா தேர்ந்தேடுப்பாய்? நான் போகிறேன் சென்னைக்கு என்று கிளம்பி விட்டாள். அவளை நாங்கள் பின் தொடர்ந்தோம்.

சென்னை மக்கள் பழகுவதற்கு பலாப்பழம் போன்றவர்கள். பேச்சு கொஞ்சம் மரியாதை இல்லாதது போல இருக்கும் ஆனால் எல்லோரையும் வரவேற்று அரவணைக்கும் பண்பு உண்டு. இங்குள்ள மருத்துவ உதவிப் போல வேறு எங்கும் கிடையாது. நல்ல போக்குவரத்து வசதிகள். அமைதியான சூழல். மற்ற பெரு நகரங்களை விட விலைவாசி சற்றே குறைவு என்று தான் சொல்லவேண்டும்.

Photo by Niyantha

சென்னை கடற்கரையின் மேல் எனக்குத் தீராக் காதல். சுனாமி வந்த பிறகு சில வருடங்கள் கடல் கொஞ்சம் சீற்றத்துடன் தான் இருந்தது. இப்பொழுது முன்புப் போல உள்ளது. சென்னையில் வளர்ந்தவர்கள் வாழ்வில் மெரினா கடற்கரை ஒரு அங்கமாக இருக்கும். என்ன மன அழுத்தம் இருந்தாலும் அங்கு சென்று சிறிது இளைப்பாறினால் மனம் லேசாகிவிடும்.

என் நண்பர்கள்! என்னை இளமையாக வைத்திருப்பது என் நண்பர் குழாம் தான். எங்களை அடிக்கடி சந்திக்க வைத்து சிரிக்க வைப்பது இந்த சென்னை தான் 🙂 வேறு வேறு ஊர்களில் இருந்த நாங்கள் இப்பொழுது சென்னைவாசிகள். இப்பொழுது சேர்ந்து நாங்கள் வேறு வேறு ஊர்களுக்குச் சுற்றுலா செல்வதும் சென்னையில் தொடங்கித் தான்.

அவரவர் பிறந்து வளர்ந்த ஊரின் மேல் தனிப் பாசம் இருப்பது ஒன்றும் ஆச்சரியமானதல்ல. ஆனால் பெங்களூருவில் வளர்ந்த என் கணவரும் என்னுடன் சேர்ந்து சென்னையை நேசிப்பது எனக்குப் பெருமையே!