National Day Special

Singapore Celebrates…

After a pause of the pandemic years, this island with its otters, idyllic beaches, palm trees, angsanas, parakeets and golden orioles mixed with modern technology and tall skyscrapers gears up to celebrate its National Day — a day when it came to its own fifty seven years ago. Veteran writer and academic, Kirpal Singh, who was a young boy at that time (1965), shares with us his memories of what had been the past in the years Singapore was born as a country. On the other hand, Tan Kaiyi, a young writer, celebrates the feeling of holiday in the air with a dark story — a typical local favourite — focussing on the parade. We also share from our treasury some pieces by expat writer Ayesha Baqir and poetry by iconic names from Singapore like Desmond Kon Zhicheng–Mingdé and Marc Nair — all these giving us a glimpse of Singapore of a post-independence era.


The ‘New Kid on the Block’ Celebrates…Dr Kirpal Singh ruminates over what led to the making of an island state, Singapore. Click here to read.

No Rain on the ParadeTan Kaiyi goes on a hunt for the National Day Killer. Click here to read.

Singapore’s Secret Recipe by Aysha Baqir … Click here to read.


The Contingency of Saying and Eternal Motion by Desmond Kon… Click here to read.

Rasam & Sunil the Brahmin by Marc Nair. Click here to read.

National Day Special

Vive La Singapore

Singapore is a tiny country connected to the bigger land mass of Malaysia with two causeways. It started out as a small island inhabited by pirates and legends. Sir Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), a British East Indian administrator, thought it strategic and relocated some of the trade routes through the island. Migrants from many countries merged here — some looked for a better life and some served as coolies and prisoners of the colonials. When Malaya threw off the colonial yoke in 1963, Singapore continued part of the country till it gained sovereignty in 1965.

Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister envisioned a multicultural society where people of different cultures lived as one people. He said in one of his moving speeches in 1965: ” We will prosper, and a multi-racial society will take roots here. And it will do so because when you don’t allow people to play communalism, or racial bigotry, or religious bigotry, you breed an atmosphere of tolerance.”

Fifty-six years later, Prime Minister Brigadier Lee in his National Day speech clearly took the bull by the horns and said, while social media highlights the negative altercations of race and religion, it fails to highlight the positive ones. “Many more happy interactions happen every day but these seldom go viral.” He added these were values that needed to be reinforced with every passing generation. Read to find out what some Singapore residents feel about the outcome of Lee Kuan Yew’s vision, not just of race and religion but of living in a city state which hopes to continue as ” one united people“.


Poetry of Kirpal Singh 

Fifty-six years down the line, eminent academic and litterateur, Dr Kirpal Singh, comments on the dream of the first Prime Minister of Singapore. Click here to read.

Unaccompanied Baggage 

Marc Nair, a multifaceted artiste who moves from photography to writing to music with equal elan, reflects on life in Singapore. Click here to savour his work.



Dr Kirpal Singh talks of his life and times through colonial rule, as part of independent Malaya, and the current Singapore. Click here to read.

Flash Fiction: Horizon

Tan Kaiyi, a young vibrant writer, evokes the spirit of the Singapore National Day amidst the darkness spread by a deadly virulence. Click here to read.

Singapore’s Secret Recipe

A recent immigrant, Aysha Baqir takes us through the flavours of life here on the tiny island during the lockdown. Click here to read.

The island state continues a home for many immigrants — some came early and some late. As a first generation immigrant, to me the little red dot is Asia’s gateway to the rest of the world. I enjoy its sand and seas very much. We conclude our ensemble with a little poem to the green islet that nestles between the Indian Ocean and South China Sea rippling with notes of harmony…

Anointing with Love 
By Mitali Chakravarty

Listen to the swish of the waves.
Feel the breeze whisper caresses. 
See the mangroves stretch 

their roots above the ground, 
in a siesta during lazy sunrises 
and sunsets. Murmurs from the 

ocean come wafting as 
coconut fronds sing in the
fringes where the sand 

welcomes the surf. It is a 
party at the beach with
differences woven to 

harmonise into a melody 
sung in tune. A crescendo
that anoints with love. 

First published in Daily Star, Bangladesh
Interview National Day Special

In Conversation with Kirpal Singh

Dr Kirpal Singh
we are known globally
as a nation of multi-cultures
but we are united as one people.

not an easy goal to realise
knowing how differences divide
and make unity problematic.

-- Reaching Out... Kirpal Singh, 2021

Kirpal Singh is a poet and a literary critic from Singapore. An internationally recognised scholar whose core research areas include post-colonial literature, Singapore and Southeast Asian, literature and technology, and creativity thinking,  Singh has won research awards and grants from local and foreign universities. He was one of the founding members of the Centre for Research in New Literatures, Flinders University, Australia in 1977; the first Asian director for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1993 and 1994, and chairman of the Singapore Writers’ Festival in the 1990s. In 2004, he became the first Asian and non-American to be made a director on the American Creativity Association’s board. He retired dean of Singapore Management University.

Singh was born as a part of Malaya in 1949 to a father of Sikh descent and a Jewish-Scottish mother. He lived through three regimes in this part of the world: colonial, Malayan and Singaporean. His poetry is perhaps what best tells us about his faith in the little island state that came to its own in 1965. In this interview, he shares his life story with us, the last being a huge donation of books that he is making to the National Library of Singapore – a donation of 3,000 books collected over decades.

You are an academic, critic and writer who stretches out across SE Asia. When did your ancestors move to Singapore from India and why?

My paternal grandparents moved to Singapore from Punjab in 1901. They came to the then Federation of Malaya in search of a better life.

You have never lived in India but shuttled between Singapore and Malaysia. Probably at that time it was all part of Malaya. Can you recall Singapore/Malaya during your childhood?

Yes, though born in Singapore in March 1949, I was taken back to be with my dadiji (paternal grandma) in Malaya when I was two months old.  However, I was brought back to Singapore when I was seven to begin school. My grandparents thought Singapore was a better place to receive an English education.

Your mother was Scottish and father, an Indian. What languages did you grow up speaking? What language is most comfortable for you to write in? 

I grew up speaking bits of Punjabi, Malay and, of course, English. In my teenage years I also picked up some Chinese dialects. Though I did study Mandarin in school, I am not too good at it. I can only speak a smattering of it. I am most comfortable writing in English.

You have seen Singapore move from infancy to its current state. Can you tell us what this journey has been like?

It has been an astonishing journey. When I was young-preschool age — Singapore was a British colony. In 1963, Singapore joined Malaya to become part of a new entity then known as Malaysia. However due to basic differences, Singapore pulled out of Malaysia and became an independent, sovereign nation in August 1965.

You are an academic who retired dean of Singapore’s major management institute. And yet, you write poetry. Can you tell us a bit about your journey?

At the then newly established Singapore Management University which I was invited to join as Founding Faculty in 1999, I was told to introduce Creative Thinking as a new mandatory module for all undergraduates. I helmed this exciting and new programme for ten years. SMU was the first University in the world to make Creative Thinking a compulsory course for all undergraduates. Sadly in 2010 this was made optional.

You have a huge collection of books —25,000. How long has it taken you to collect these books?

It has taken me more than 50 years.

Tell us a bit about your book collection. What are your favourite books?

My collection is eclectic. Most of my books, however, belong to the humanities, and within this, most belong to the literary genre. I loved reading from a very young age (being alone at home, reading brought me solace and also knowledge). Among my favourite books, the tragedies of Shakespeare and Sophocles feature prominently. Some 20th century books (those of D H Lawrence and Aldous Huxley in particular), I value tremendously. I should also add that I have been very blessed to have met many of the more well-known/established writers of the 20th century and blessed to have been given signed copies by these wonderful authors: among them Doris Lessing, William Golding, Brian Aldiss, and numerous others.

Did your reading impact your writing?

Quite naturally, yes. I think it’s hard not to be affected by what one reads when it comes to one’s own writing. Even with writers who consciously try to ensure that no clear influences obtain, critics have frequently found far too many disguised references not to infer which authors influenced those writers.

Recently, you made an announcement that you will donate 3,000 books to promote love of reading in Singapore. Do you think donating these books will be enough to make book lovers of non-readers?

I doubt if the mere act of donating will create readers. However, I feel that having a few thousand additional books in a library will, hopefully, draw at least the attention of a few readers and maybe among these will be new readers.

Most people read bestsellers.  What do you think will attract more to appreciate literature like EM Foster, DH Lawrence, and Coleridge?

Yes, in the age of commercialisation, classic writers may not obtain immediate readership– hence schools and colleges/universities play a vital (and necessary) role to ensure that our graduates are educated– at least minimally– in the works of writers who helped change and shape new sensibilities.

Thank you for your time. 

Click here to access poetry by Kirpal Singh



National Day Special Poetry

Poetry of Kirpal Singh

My Beloved Singapore

who would have thought
in 50 years you'd grow
from a village/town
to a city/metropolis?

and yet if I had been
attentive, the seeds were sown
and the fruits were expected.

little in my nation
grows spontaneously
there's careful planning,
planting of opportunities
obtaining rewards
for jobs well done.

so now, celebrating
our National Day
comes naturally-
and we rejoice knowing
many become one.
Reaching Out...

we are known globally
as a nation of multi-cultures
but we are united as one people.

not an easy goal to realise
knowing how differences divide
and make unity problematic.

despite the given difficulties
we have come through-
showing there is hope
when the desired ends
are commonly shared-
and understood.

Kirpal Singh is a poet and a literary critic from Singapore. An internationally recognised scholar,  Singh has won research awards and grants from local and foreign universities. He was one of the founding members of the Centre for Research in New Literatures, Flinders University, Australia in 1977; the first Asian director for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1993 and 1994, and chairman of the Singapore Writers’ Festival in the 1990s. He retired the Director of the Wee Kim Wee Centre.



National Day Special Stories


By Tan Kaiyi

The whole nation was watching, Guna was sure. He wished that he was home too, holding Eshwari and Rajeev in his arms. But he had a job to do. After this, there were more bodies to be burned. He pushed the thought out of his head. He had to allow himself a moment of respite, or the corpses’ embers would sear his mind permanently. There was no way to go home for the moment. The bodies were waiting, like unmoving lovers who refused to give up their ashen affections for him.

“How long do you think it’ll take before it disappears into the sea?” Chan asked.

Guna shrugged, observing the receding giant figure. “I don’t care as long as it doesn’t come back.” The shadow was slowly shrinking out from view, soon to be flattened within the eyelid of the horizon. Even though it was far away, Guna could still see the gigantic pores of the thing’s skin. Some of them were opening and closing, gnashing like hungry mouths waiting for their next meal. He shuddered, nearly dropping the can of cold coffee he had in his hand. Guna had seen the greenish plumes ejecting out of those holes, engulfing people and entire districts. Some people collapsed instantly, most died within minutes. The worst were those who survived, crying out for an end to their suffering. There were still many more to be attended to. That was Chan’s job, and it was not one that Guna envied. He never wanted to catch sight of those pores again.

“Why do you think it left?” Chan asked.

“Maybe, we asked it to leave nicely,” Guna replied.

“You believe what they said, that we managed to communicate with it?”

“I have no idea.”

The whole country had seen the creature withstand desperate barrages from light firearms, tank cannons and missiles from fighter jets. The armed forces were throwing everything they had to stop its advance but their violence fell on invincible hardened skin. The only thing that kept the creature at bay was its own resting patterns. It would interrupt its streak of poisonous fumes and physical destruction by coming to a complete standstill. Like a misplaced iceberg in an oppressive humid climate, it would stand unmoving for weeks and months. The longest stretch of peace and silence the nation had was six months. The thing slept the sleep of the invulnerable. Nothing would penetrate it, nothing would wake it. 

“Daddy, what’s it doing?” Guna remembered Rajeev asking. He didn’t have an answer for his son, so he went for the easiest, “It’s sleeping.”

“Is it going to stay that way forever?”

“I don’t know,” Guna said. He gave his son a lot of ‘I don’t know’s’ during these two years. Why is the creature so big? What are the green clouds coming out of its back? Will it be stopped? Why did his best friend at school Daniel stop showing up to class one day after falling sick? Guna was worried that his son might think he was an idiot for knowing so little about the world.

The people lived in an uneasy tension when the creature froze. Even when the government allowed businesses to resume, there was hardly any cheer. People met loved ones not knowing when they will see them again. On the third day of one of the re-openings, Guna remembered sitting at a kopitiam, watching the channel dedicated to broadcasting the creature live all around the clock. He was observing the patrons around him as he nursed his third and last bottle of beer. Their gazes were chained to the TV screen, their mouths double-locked in silence. No one could get drunk.

Seeing it move again was a terrible sensation. The familiar sense of dread swept through everyone and terror became dangerously monotonous. When Guna read the reports of those he cremated, he came across an entry of a woman who apparently just sat on a park bench as she saw the green fumes coming at her.

She could have run, as the fatal smog took a few minutes to reach her. She just sat there, staring.

The sky turned dark as dusk. The heavens let out a whistle and a pop and bursts of white and red stars appeared above. “It’s starting again,” Guna said.

“What do you think it means?” Chan asked. Guna had memorised the sequence. Red, red, white, red white, white. Over the past month, this specific sequence of fireworks was fired into the air on the Floating Platform in the Singapore River. The fireworks stopped the creature in its tracks and it looked at the flashes as if it were hypnotized. Someone seemed to have figured out that we were able to connect with the creature with colours and sounds. At this moment, no one knew what the sequence meant but there will be plenty of time for that. Guna imagined the conspiracy theories that would be drawn around this mystery. Fake news was another battle for another day.

The blasts and sparkles faded. The national anthem played softly through the public announcement system like an afterthought, as if the entire country suddenly remembered that it was the 9th of August today. The song continued playing when the creature disappeared, and it went on for some time until it was cut off abruptly like an underground party being raided by the police. Chan took this as a call back to work. He stood up and told Guna that he’d see him soon. Guna didn’t hear him. Instead, he stared ahead into the rising night, beseeching it to seal the departing creature forever and always.


Tan Kaiyi is on a literary odyssey to unearth the wonders and weirdness within the mundane. His poems have appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS). His play, On Love, was selected for performance at Short & Sweet Festival Singapore. He has also been published in Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018), an anthology of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories from the region.



National Day Special

Unaccompanied Baggage

By Marc Nair

Photo Courtesy: Marc Nair
Unaccompanied Baggage 

Sometimes things get lost in transit,  
left behind on wide sidewalks 
next to the warning signs and the 
presence of police cameras. 

Sometimes the language of distance 
surveils us in untranslated dreams. 
Or maybe this is just temporary
and somebody will return to claim it.

Sometimes an announcement will be 
made for a lost child, a missing passport.
Misplacing one’s identity is too common
in a country founded on myth and merit. 

Marc Nair is a poet who works at the intersection of various art forms. He is currently pursuing projects that involve photography, movement and creative non-fiction. His work revolves around the ironies and idiosyncrasies of everyday life. He has published ten collections of poetry.