Saturday 23 February 2013


In the last few days, Dave (David Cameron, Great Britain's PM), has been busy visiting and courting India, whose economy is the world's tenth largest ( by GDP) and is expected to grow by 7.7 to 7.9 per cent in 2013.  As for Great Britain, today her triple A credit rating has been slashed to just two.

On his tour Dave played cricket with Indian youngsters, met students from a women's college accompanied by  Bollywood heart throb Aamir Khan.  How cool can you get?  He bowed his head at the Jallianwalla Bagh public gardens memorial for the 1919 Amritsar Massacre (when 379 innocent Indians were killed by colonial forces),  paid an hour long visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar  (with an eye on the Sikh vote in Britain) ..

The British PM shown around the Golden Temple (PA) - from The Daily Telegraph 20  Feb 2013 
.......  but he was also adamant that Britain should not have to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond.  This huge diamond weighing over 21 grams, mounted into the British Crown was confiscated by the British East India Company and given to Queen Victoria in 1877 when she was proclaimed (by the British)  as the Empress of India.  The Indians have been demanding its return to India for a very long time.

It was quite a scene -  the PM of Great Britain ingratiating himself to the Republic of India.  Of course he had an agenda - to enable Britain's financial services to participate in the sub-continent's financial honeypot, to boost the sale of British products like the "superior"  Eurofighter Typhoon Jet instead of the French 126 Dassault Rafale fighter jets and to lure more students from India to study in Britain.  Also in the pipeline was the offer of British know-how to set up a task force to tackle the increasing cyber threat from China and other cyber terrorists.

I reckon Bob ( Robert Clive, the British national hero who according to British Online Archive  "was the leading actor in the political and military events that paved the way ..... for the establishment of the British territorial empire on the Indian sub-continent during the 1750s and 1760s")  must be turning in his grave.
Robert Clive (1725-1774)  first Baron Clive of Plassey
Once upon a long time ago in the mid-1750s,  the ruler of Bengal, Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula, was getting in the way of the British East India Company's ambitions in India.  He was suspected of setting up an alliance with the French.  From 1751  the British and the French had been backing 'rival Indian claimants to the position of Nawab of the Carnatic Coast' - all part of the great game of taking over lucrative trade and territories in the subcontinent.

Bob played the old game  (which was copied by Stamford in 1819) of anointing a rival and pretender to Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula's throne - one called Mir Jafar, a general in the Nawab's army.  The  middleman in these negotiations (not unlike the Temenggong in 1819 Singapura)  was Amirchand, a Bengal merchant who of course expected a bakshish for his efforts.  Well, there is not much trust or honour between thieves!  The 'enterprising' Clive prepared two different treaties.  One was for Amirchand promising a large bounty when Bengal was transferred to Clive's pretender.  The other, presented to Mir Jafar, made no mention of Amirchand's cut. Hence in the famous 1757  Battle of  Plassey, Mir Jafar and his forces defected to the British and the Nawab was replaced.  This crucial battle marked the turning point for British supremacy in India vis-a-vis the French.

So, 62 years after Bob and 194 years before Dave another act of British chicanery was staged by Stamford - a chip off old Bob's block.
Stamford Raffles  (1781-1826)

If - prior to 1819 - the ruler of Singapura Tengku Rahman, who was also the Sultan of Johore, had not been weakened by divisions and rivalry within the ruling family  ( like most dynasties and ruling families of Europe, China and India)  Stamford Raffles' dream of acquiring Singapura would have come to naught.  Not only that, Tengku Rahman was in the grip of both the Bugis and the Dutch - Great Britain's arch rival for trade in the Malay Archipelago.

Bob had the French to contend with in 18th Century India;  Stamford had the Dutch to deal with in 19th Century  Malay Archipelago.

Stamford employed the old imperial trick of manipulating factional rivalry  (like Bob) and playing the kingmaker ( again like Bob) to ensure Singapura belonged to the British and to challenge the Dutch threat to Britain's lucrative opium trade between China and British India.

Bob enthroned Mir Jafar as Nawab of Bengal and Stamford installed  Tengku Hussein ( brother of the Sultan of Johor) who lived in exile in Riau  as the Sultan of Johor and hence of Singapore!  All this was done with the collaboration of the Temenggong who was a vassal of the ruler of Singapore and the head of the Malay settlement located at the mouth of the Singapore River when Raffles first landed in Singapura.

Stamford Raffles did not discover Singapura!  It was not there for his taking.  Furthermore he did not sign a treaty with the actual Sultan of Singapura/Johore - he installed Hussein as the Sultan, a responsibility for which he had no right or remit.  He had pulled a coup, yanking the carpet from under the feet of the Dutch.  He had succeeded in setting up a British base and trading station along this crucial route for the India-China trade - the Straits of Malacca.  This was one big British hoodwink in the history of Singapore.

If not for this political engineering, Singapura might have been a Dutch colony and be a part of Indonesia today.  Maybe the Dutch would have left Singapura as a swampy appendage of the Malay Peninsula because they had a more important investment in Batavia (Jakarta) as a port and the capital of their empire in the Malay Archipelago.

In Africa the British gained territory and trade by giving tribal chiefs coloured beads and sea shells.  In Singapura they had to pay a little more - yearly payments of $5000 to Tengku Hussein and $3000 to the Temenggong - for the right to raise the Union Jack and set up their trading outpost.  According to Shakespeare's play Richard III  the last Plantagenet King of England cried  "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" when his horse collapsed in the mud of Bosworth and he died fighting for his Kingdom.  As for Singapura, it was acquired by many fistsful of dollars.

Stamford was a quick mover  - in his determination to break up Dutch monopoly in the Malay Archipelago and to extend Britain's sphere of influence.  He landed in Singapura on 28 January 1819 and by 1 February Tengku Long (Hussein) was smuggled in from Riau and Raffles offered to recognise him as the Sultan of Johore  thereby legitimising the British right to set up a trading post (mind you, just a trading post) in the treaty of 6 February 1819.

In the Treaty, Hussein was claimed to be "the lawful sovereign of the whole of territories extending from Lingga to Mount Muar".  The Brits left no stones unturned.

This is how we should see the British history of Singapore - and it's a far cry from what I was taught when I was in school.  That was disembodied history - like scrutinising the lips of the Mona Lisa and disregarding the rest of her portrait and her painter.

Enough for now, of the adventures and shenanigans of Stamford, Bob and Dave.

The exploits of  Bob left many nasty tastes in the mouths of the people of India today although Dave is now back there making up, and plugging swords and ploughshares for the Motherland.

As for Stamford he has been airbrushed as a 'nice sort of guy' - the Founder and pioneer of the modern City State of Singapore.  Though of course the word 'pioneer' has been reserved mainly for the Chinese in Singapore, one should not exclude or diminish the contributions of British merchants, soldiers, administrators, Christian missionaries and other carpet-baggers in turning Singapura into the Goose that laid the Golden Egg.

More later.

 "If you waste your time a-talking to the people who don't listen,
To the things that you are saying, who do you think's gonna hear.
And if you should die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changing, who do you think's gonna care?

There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time, 
'Cos the truth remains that no one wants to know. 

I was born a lonely singer, and I'm bound to die the same,
But I've got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickel, I won't ever die ashamed
'Cos I don't believe that no one wants to know."

Saturday 9 February 2013

Kisses Sweeter than Air Bandung

Though she looked like a frightened rabbit in her first year at Pasir Panjang English School ........
Maznah is 5th from the right in the back row
..... she grew out of her shell when she joined the Brownies.
My sister is in the back row, 2nd from left, looking snazzy in her uniform at the Botanical Gardens

I  was over the moon when she went to Crescent Girls School ......
She's first on the right, front row, posing under the flagpole at Crescent Girls School.

.... because I could get up to all kinds of nonsense in PPES without her noting down my  misdemeanours.

I must admit I was jealous of her because she was the favourite of our suave and handsome Pa'Uda Sheriff.
See what I mean? Note his spats, and he played real cool tunes on his accordion.  

In our family we did not use terms like Kakak and Abang -  just short forms of Nah, Nor, Mus and Akim - very egalitarian, but we know who to watch out for,  (like the older ones) and who to give in to (mengalah)  and who to push around ( the younger pests)!

Always the very feminine lass - unlike AsH her younger  sister - Nah  had the cheek to don my chic tomboy gear ...
AsH - the samseng from Lorong Abu Kassim 

..... to swank around like this.
I must admit the outfit looks better on her!

Nah was loaded with all the "sweet and pretty" genes from Mak, but she's not short of the grey matter . She grew up into a beautiful swan even though she was no ugly duckling.
Sweet little Malay girl of 12, I think.

A helluva smasher 5 years later.

After her Cambridge School Certificate she went on to teacher-training at Johor Baru......
The future school marm - fifth from left

 ......after which she was posted to teach at Parit Sulong, Johor.  It was very brave of her to be living and working so far away from home .  It was testimony to our Abah's trust in his daughter - to enable Nah to have a career which stood her in good stead for all of her future.

Then came the day when this cool dude from Muar ...
Abang Long went to Kota Bharu Teachers Training College.  This photo  was taken when he was at Muar High School. He's in the middle row, third from left.

..... was hit by Cupid's arrow when he saw this cool chick when they were both teaching at Parit Sulong.
Cool chick in sarung kebaya .  Sandra Dee - eat your heart out!

Like in a true fairy tale, they got hitched ......
...... hatched these four horrors ...
Stinky messy kids especially the impish boy on the left.

......  ( who improved slightly some years later).
With  Tok 'Mok  ( my mak) in 1985

They followed their parents' footsteps and brought more horrors into Maznah's and Haron's lives.

And so Happy Birthdays for  Nah ( 19th January) and  Bang Long (today).

Thank you for sharing  your love and life with the two idiots from Leicester.

Bang Long, I hunted all over YouTube for the song "Kisses Sweeter than Air Bandung" - knowing how it's your favourite drink but it was to no avail.  This is all I can get.  Just shut your ears to the wine.

Thursday 7 February 2013

The King in the Parking Lot

EH YUP ME DUCK.  That is Leicester-speak meaning  "good day"or "how are you"?

Leicester is the tenth largest city in the UK.  Although it was one of the country's oldest cities, it has lost much of its stature.  When I told a colleague that I lived in Leicester, she smiled and said.  "Oh yes, I've been to Leicester in London."  She was thinking of Leicester Square!

During Roman times, about 1,800 years ago, it was known as Ratae Corieltauvorum.  Our row of terrace houses was built along the old Roman road - Via Devana - that connected Chester in the north to Colchester in the southeast via Leicester.  And the spouse is very proud of his discovery of a 272 AD Roman coin while walking along New Walk some years ago.

People do make fun of Leicester (nicknamed Leccy/Lesta) and that includes Leicesterians especially.  Leicester makes a big effort to promote its credentials - like the Roman Jewry Hall, Melton Mowbray's pork pies, stilton cheese, the National Space Centre and the Leicester Comedy Festival.  It's hard work because uncomplimentary perceptions of poor old Leicester persist.

Here are some examples, from the website "Nowhere", quoted verbatim except for my remarks in bold letters in brackets.

1.  Leicester isn't famous for anything ..... it's a good all round city but it lacks an overall image.  Nottingham has Robin Hood, Sheffield has steel ...... in the 60s a lot of historic buildings and features were ripped out and replaced by ubiquitious concrete office buildings.

2.  There's rubbish everywhere.  Chewing gum splats all over the pavements.  Buses that don't run on time.  Bad tempered bus drivers.  The foul-mouthed language of the locals ( both natives and Asians.  As for the East European newcomers, they don't speak English!).  The dog mess on the pavement.  The cars parked on the pavements, ..... The cars with stereos pounding out.

3.  Too many trendy cafes.  The flipping repeating panpipes CD playing in the shires (Leicester's main shopping Mall).  Dustcarts and men standing in the street - always doing bugger all but giving people dirty looks.

4.  If you're a tourist sort of person the Cathedral is nice and so are all the statues about Richard III who spent a night in Leicester before getting his butt kicked at Bosworth  (the locals are pretty proud of that for some reason).

Well, three cheers for Leicester!  On 4 February this adopted city of mine ( been here for 29 years) , finally hit the world's headlines when it was confirmed that the 500 year old skeleton excavated at Greyfriars Carpark in the City Centre was that of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.  At last, the locals of Leicester have got something to be proud of.   And of course it will be a Tourism Honeypot - like Stonehenge and Buckingham Palace.

The Blue X marks the spot of the excavation.  The Market in the centre is my 'Wet Market" and the blue spot marked  CHIPS is my chip stop whenever I do my marketing, about 2-3 times a week.
Every Lestarian's meeting place, just north of my Chip stop
The  600 year old Guildhall is one of the best preserved timber-framed hall in the country, just next door to the cathedral where Richard III 's remains will be buried.

I won't bore you with the details of the discovery.  Loads of stuff relating to the find will be on the internet.  But I shall attempt a brief summary of the historical context.  Richard III ruled England for two years (1483-1485)  before he lost his throne and his life (aged just 33) in the 1485 battle of Bosworth, located  to the southwest of Leicester.  His enemies then strapped his naked body on to a horse and it was dragged to Leicester.  His corpse was mutilated with multiple wounds and was finally thrown into a coffinless grave in the church of the Greyfriars.

His death marked the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty with rulers like Henry VIII  ( the one with 8 wives, who dissolved England's connection with the Catholic Church, so that he could divorce his Spanish wife and marry his then paramour, which he later beheaded to marry another filly  .... and so on and so forth).  He was the father of that famous Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.  After the Tudors came the Stuarts (from 1603) followed by the present Windsor Dynasty.  Interestingly, the name Windsor was a  makeover of the original German name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  Understandably this German name had to be anglicised during World War I when Britain was fighting the Germans.  Also, the family of the Imperial Queen Victoria and Empress of India (1819-1901)- like some immigrants in this country, did not speak English at home.  They spoke German.

As for King Richard III, he is the only British Monarch with a Fan Club, the Richard III Society or the Ricardians - spread out all over the world.  They were determined to search for Richard's remains, to prove that he was not the much maligned hunchback King portrayed in Shakespeare's Richard III, that he did not murder the rightful heir to the throne - his two nephews - that he was a brave warrior King and to give him a decent burial befitting a Monarch of England.

All the modern scientific tools of archaeology, osteology, carbon dating, DNA testing and craniofacial identification were utilised to prove this skeleton was indeed Richard III.

The skeleton in the grave.  Note the curved spine and the hands tied together.
Portrait of Richard III
The skull of Richard III
The reconstructed face of Richard III

There were all sorts of jokes floating in cyber space about this discovery in the car park.  This is my favourite.  As it costs GBP 18.50 per day to park at Greyfriars Car Park, Richard III owes Leicester City Council GBP 3,564,006.50 in parking fees over the period of 192,649 days!

But at the end of the day, after the big Jamboree at Leicester University over Richard III, one cannot avoid other contexts of other histories. There's this one, for example:

India's struggle for Independence from Britain did not begin with Mahatma Gandhi or the Congress Party.  It started with what the British cynically described as "The Indian Mutiny" of 1857 when both Muslims and Hindus rebelled to bring down their imperial masters.  History of course was on the side of the victors, turning the British into suffering, courageous victims  - not unlike the heroic Israelis and the 'murderous' Palestinians in present times.

Many Indians were killed as well but one man, Bahadur Shah II, a descendant of the Mughal Emperors of India, who was chosen by the rebels as their nominal leader, was convicted and exiled in Rangoon where he died in November 1862.
A photograph of the last Mughal King of India,  Bahadur Shah II (1775-1862), just before he was exiled to Rangoon.

To make sure this emperor will be forgotten and his tomb does not become a focus for future rebellions, the British buried him in an unmarked grave - at the back of the compound where he was imprisoned - and scattered quicklime over him so that the body would quickly decay.

An almost similar situation occurred in Perak when the British Resident Birch was assassinated by Dato Maharaja Lela in 1875.  The latter was sentenced to death by hanging.  Sultan Abdullah and his courtiers were exiled to the Seychelles to remove a rallying point for another anti-colonialist rebellion.  A more amenable royal was put on the throne by the British.

With Singapore, British manipulation re-configurated the lineage of Singapore's and Johore's monarchy so that they could claim the island as their property.  Hard core anti-monarchists could scoff at the relevance of Sultans and Rajas in the history of Singapore and the Malay Peninsula and dismiss  it all  as insignificant tribal squabbles.  The story of Maharajas, Emperors and Empress Dowagers are given due recognition and standing in the history of China and India.  Likewise, the roles of the Singapore and Johor Sultans cannot be sidelined or discarded into the bins of history.  Kampung Glam, Teluk Blangah, Bukit Larangan, even the posh Tyersall Park bear witness to this veiled history.

The British are masters of destroying, inventing and re-scripting history to suit their political ends.  What they did to their kind would be applied with a vengeance to others not of their ilk.  When Richard III's skeleton was discovered 500 years later in an unmarked grave it was not a one-off  situation.  Henry VIII destroyed the Abbey where Alfred the Great (849-899) was buried and left his grave to be vandalized.   In 1660 the 'supporters' of the Stuart King Charles II,  exhumed the body of the anti-monarchist Oliver Cromwell  ( who ruled England as the Lord Protector  from 1653-1658) and he was hung, beheaded and then dumped into a pit.

Today people tend to venerate UK as the fount of liberal democracy, a political system that maintains but keeps its Monarchy and the aristocrats under control.  Do not be deceived by this very English diffidence and indifference to their Kings and Queens.  They are as embroiled and regardful of their tribal leaders and tribal history as any others in the non-Judaeo Christian cultures.

Witness the Jamboree surrounding the unearthing of their last Plantagenet King Richard III in Leicester's Parking Lot.