Darkness :Made in India
Darkness : Made in India
In the folk opera, when the maids of Brindavan try to break Krishna’s spell on Radha by describing the former as dark, Radha retorts, “If dark is ominous, my friends, why then people shed tears when their hair grow grey?”
Whoever has read Joyce Cary and has a memory for remembering bizarre similes could not have helped adding, to the report of a Singapore M.P. finding the Serangoon Road area of his city all dark because of too many Indians (see The Hindu, Madras edition, 15.3.’92), “ as dark as the inside of a Cabinet Minister” – though in the present case it is the inside of an M.P.
The M.P. concerned, Mr. Choo Wee Khiang, taken to task, says that it was a joke. The wise inform us that goodness lies in forgetting a bad joke. Besides, isn’t it already a punishment for the cracker of a joke if he has to appeal to his audience for a kind grin?
How and when did darkness become associated with something amiss? Since the M.P. concerned is of Chinese origin, he must have known that according to one of the earliest Chinese myths at the beginning of creation there was no light. Darkness was the mother of light and hence deserves respect. However, in the myths of practically every race, if darkness and evil became synonymous, primarily it is because of the primeval man’s fear of darkness. Added to that was the demand of figurative speech. Light reveals things at the physical plane. Naturally it became the symbol of knowledge or truth. Consequently its absence or darkness had to symbolize the opposite qualities. Satan became the Prince of Darkness. Thrice woe to us that we are neither capable of transcending the elements settled in our collective subconscious, nor are we capable of keeping the influence of the symbolisms created by ourselves to their own spheres. But, of course, had the memory of the primeval fear for darkness not been as strong in man as it is, its figurative connotation alone could not have coloured his outlook, for darkness is associated with as many beautiful and happily memorable objects, experiences and emotions as fairness is. After all, at different planes darkness is associated with romance, mystery and mysticism! Even at the bare physical level who can deny its charm? In the folk opera, when the maids of Brindavan try to break Krishna’s spell on Radha by describing the former as dark, Radha retorts, “If dark is ominous, my friends, why then people shed tears when their hair grows grey?”
Undoubtedly, the degree of man’s inner evolution is indicated by his capacity to shed his primitive hangover, to transcend the impact of his early fears and to disallow his conduct and attitude to be moulded by them. If man is capable of enjoying different flowers, different fruits and different seasons, there is no reason why he cannot accommodate in his consciousness differences in colour, lifestyles and cultural strains. The cause of racial intolerance is not to be traced to the behaviour of any particular race, but to certain negative traits in human race as a whole. A primitive man looked upon another man at once as as helper and a rival. The paradox has not yet been resolved in human consciousness. The challenge before man who stakes a claim to civilization is to conquer such traits.
Any success in building up a peaceful and understanding multi-racial society is a significant step in the right direction and the tiny Republic of Singapore is a demonstration in that kind of progress. I remember my first visit to the island, still a colony, in 1956. “Once the British lion leaves, Singapore – literally lion’s abode – will become a haunt of jackals and wolves of all sorts. China will not rest unless it turns red; Malay will pounce upon it as if it were a meatball of which it had been deprived; the greater powers, in their bid to grab at its heart, will tear it asunder,” was the gloomy prophecy made by my Punjabi host, a citizen of Singapore. His misgivings were shared by men of other communities as well.
But if people of Singapore proved themselves wrong, it is because of an exceptionally brilliant, if a bit ruthless, leadership. They have achieved a meaningful racial co-existence and a model in pragmatic inter-dependence. On several visits to the island as an Author-Consultant for a project under the ministry of Education in the recent past, I have been delighted to observe this culture of co-existence growing stronger, despite occasional tremors of a superficial nature. Indians, constituting a minority of a maximum 12 per cent, enjoy a satisfactory share in the executive and judiciary of the country and are appreciated for their efficiency and dedication. Tamil is one of the four national languages (the other three being English, Chinese-Mandarin and Malay) of the Republic. No visitor from any part of the world can fail to be impressed by the aesthetic cleanliness of the city.
“How was this possible?” I have put this question to any number of people belonging to different strata of the society. Answers have varied, their emphasis shifting between historical necessity and enforcement of strict codes of conduct. But the factor underlying all the answers, as a leading Indian, Mr. S.R.Nathan (at present Singapore’s ambassador to the U.S.A.) once pointed out to me, was the acknowledgement that the makers of new Singapore were unswerving in their zeal to ensure a sound multi-racial society. “Theirs was not a slogan, but a total commitment. Not even the most severe critic can refute this,” he asserted. Soon I came across a most severe critic, a much-travelled, highly educated Singaporean. Indeed, he did not refute Mr. Nathan’s claim, but appended a comment to it: “True, they have never played with racial emotions which once ran high, nor have they exploited communal allegiance for the sake of votes, but that is because they had no need for it. The party in power has ensured its permanence in other clever ways! But they work very hard and they are not corrupt. They are not arrogant like leaders in many other Afro-Asian countries. They explain their actions to the people as persuasively as possible.”
I had occasions to experience the quality of their leadership and what struck me again and again was their unpretentiousness. I was talking to Dr. Goh, then the Dy. Prime Minister and believed to be the wizard behind Singapore’s economic miracles in the seventies and early eighties. We were discussing the educational merits of the Indian epics when he asked me, “Have you seen the new English translation of the Indonesian Ramayana?” I replied in the negative. He jumped from his chair, took the lift for another floor and in five minutes returned with the bulky volumes in his arms, though there were officials galore around him to execute his instruction. The gesture is symbolic. (It is not difficult to visualize the familiar scenario of an Hon’ble Minister asking the Secretary of his department; the secretary asking his P.A.; the P.A. asking the concerned clerk, the clerk sending a memo to the librarian…until it is revealed that the key to the bookcase is missing.)
The aforesaid critic had cynically observed, “People say that we are lucky in our leaders. Well, are we not paying a heavy price – in terms of freedom of expression – to deserve such leaders?”
The supremo of the ruling party, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, has set precedence by stepping down voluntarily. Gradually the entire old guard will retire. The new leadership is expected to do away with the alleged check on freedom. But if they can do so without disturbing the harmony achieved by their mentors, Singapore would become a rare example for the world today. Herein lies the responsibility of Mr. Choo and other new leaders. Mr. Choo must choose between an intellectual freedom to dawn on a solid base of mutual faith among races and the freedom to crack the base with his racial bias, if any.
Meanwhile Serangoon Road, the “Little India” of Singapore, must be allowed to bask in its warm darkness. As a publication of the Institute of Southeast Asian studies says, “The perpetuation of Indian community as we know it today is linked to the area and this linked in turn to the past. Whether or not the unique characteristics of the Indian community in Singapore which evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries will be relevant to the Indian community in Singapore in the 21st century is a matter for reflection. Change is a matter of choice”.