Elections and Leadership Contests | Voyage to India 1960 (ish)
It was a long, long time ago, in a country far, far away; I was about eleven and my parents decided we were to visit India, during our Christmas holidays. We travelled by train and took a passenger ship, the S.S. Rajulla, from the port of Kluang, in Malaya. The objective was to acquaint my younger brother and I with our roots, and to educate us in our cultural heritage, as we were growing up in Singapore. The sea was rough and although most of the people were sea-sick, my brother and I played ping-pong, supervised by my father. We also witnessed a sombre occasion of a burial at sea, when an ailing man died. We paid our respects as the flag flew half-mast.
On arrival in India, even now, I remember the shock of a completely different environment; the noise, the heat, the people and the transport. It was especially fascinating to see cows roaming freely. We stayed in a hotel in Chennai, and then travelled by train to our ancestral village.
We must have spent a few days here, for I recollect trying to initiate my peers into electing a leader. I was quite proud, for I knew the word ‘Jananayagam’ (democracy) and ‘Podu-uvudumai’ (communism) and ‘Sama-uvudumai’ (socialism) in Tamil. I canvassed quite hard and tirelessly to be chosen, stressing the need for someone who was knowledgeable, and who had the skills to lead. Of course, I had no doubt, since it was all my idea and effort from the start, they would choose me. Well, on the day of reckoning, they unanimously chose Raman, my brother! Nobody else remembers this play, but I do! I knew, I must have been totally over-powering, like Lucy in the Charlie Brown ‘Peanuts’ cartoon strips. ‘Okay, so I had taught them about secret balloting, trust, and a need for someone to-be-in- charge; but they didn’t like me!’
Shortly after, we left to continue our pilgrimage and tour of the sacred temples of South India. It was at our last destination; I had been feeling ill, looking forward to getting back to our relatives. I came down with typhoid, and did not know at the time it was all quite a close call.
I was bed-ridden for quite a length of time. Towards the end, one cousin came quietly to my bedside, and said, ‘Sarada, Sarada, please get better; we want you as the chief.’
I am sure that must have propelled my recovery.
Well, here I am!
Despite the setback to my health, both Raman and I loved India, and we have always treasured that early childhood journey.