By Mitali Chakravarty



Title: Reluctant Editor

Author: PN Balji

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 2019


The Reluctant Editor has a forward by the prominent Singaporean lawyer and diplomat, Professor Tommy Koh, which tells us that the author, P N Balji “is one of Singapore’s veteran newspaper journalists and editors, and a very good one”. The narrative is not just an account of the Singapore media seen through the eyes of a veteran journalist as stated obviously on the book cover, but also a quick sketch of a man who is introverted and self-effacing.

We do not find the author talk much of himself or his work, but he does give an extensive report on the media history from the early 1970s to the early 2000s in Singapore, including episodes like the Toh Chin Chye case, where a false allegation was made in a newspaper report on an ex-minister of Singapore. PN Balji had been in editorial positions in The Straits Times (ST), The New Paper (TNP) and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Today.

The historic evolution of all the newspapers in Singapore and the government’s involvement in monitoring the media is clearly spelt out — even to the point of deciding what kind of newspapers were necessary for communicating with people. Described as a “brash” newspaper, The New Paper was started to bridge the gap between those who read and comprehended the one hundred and seventy-one-year-old newspaper, The Straits Times, and the people who don’t understand the ST. The New Paper was started to “speak the language of blue-collar workers”. A tabloid and later a morning daily, it needed a set of different writing skills as Professor Koh tells us in the foreword. His article in simple English had to be rewritten by the editor to make it comprehensible for the readers of TNP.

By Mitali Chakravarty


Singapore has completed more than half a century of independent existence. It is now a thriving country with an intrinsic personality of its own. What went into making Singapore a distinctive island cannot be just found in history books but between the borders of fact and fantasy, where lingers fiction that tunes us to the distinct flavour of this unique metropolitan city-state.

As Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father said in one of his speeches, Singapore started with people of  “many races who speak many languages, who worship different gods, who have different diet habits” and yet they all unified under the banner of a single flag. The kind of culture that evolves out of the union of these diversities is best explored in stories that are of the people, by the people and for the people.

These are some novels that showcase the culture and history of Singapore and how it evolved out of the colonial past to become what it is today. These are all books that focus on issues against the backdrop of a national landscape. The issues addressed transcend to become larger than the personal. Some of the writers are Singapore Literature Prize and S.E.A. Write Award winners and have been translated to multiple languages.

By P.N. Balji

Asia Reborn


Title: Asia Reborn
Author: Prasenjit K. Basu
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 708

Asia reborn… but what next?

He is a keen watcher of Asia, having spent the last 25 years putting the economies of this wonder continent under his microscope. Economist Prasenjit K Basu is eminently qualified to write this weighty tome, which runs into 680 pages. His research is painstakingly done with the notes and references alone going into 41 pages.

At first flush, Asia Reborn is intimidating. The title doesn’t seem to tell anything new and the voluminous nature of the book might put off many potential readers who want information on the go. Still, those interested in a deeper perspective of Asia and why some countries succeeded and others failed will find it worthwhile to plumb through its pages.

The author’s style is engaging; he makes sure that his research findings don’t interfere with his prose. He adds spice to his narrative with anecdotes that will keep the subject matter alive. For example, he brings to life one about Lee Kuan Yew. The former PM was among other students at Raffles College when they heard an explosion at the Causeway. The Allied forces had blown a hole in the Causeway to stop the Japanese army from moving into Singapore during the Second World War in 1942. The principal asked the students what the explosion was about. LKY’s reply: ‘That is the end of the British Empire.’

National Arts Council (NAC) is withdrawing its earlier approved $8,000 publication grant to Malaysia-born award-winning comics artist, Sonny Liew due the “sensitive content” depicted in his 324-page comic book, “The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye”.

The book uses different forms of comic illustration to depict the life of a Singaporean artist which spans across 60-odd years of Singapore history.



by Zafar Anjum

On the 29th of March, the day Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was to be cremated after lying in state for a few days at Singapore’s Parliament House, I was on a flight crossing the Pacific. The flight attendant had given me a fat issue of The Straits Times (ST), Singapore’s newspaper of record, that presented memories of many Singaporeans whose lives had changed—immensely for the better—due to what Lee Kuan Yew had done for them. One of the writers of those memories was Patrick Daniel, the editor-in-chief of ST.

In his tribute, Patrick said that he had been a beneficiary of the Singapore system of meritocracy and multiculturalism. In one generation, Singapore had covered the long distance from poor mudflats to a first world nation status—a transition that many countries take centuries to achieve, and a mere pipe dream for a majority of nations. Patrick had, for example, moved from a humble wooden house to owning a piece of landed property in a coveted area in Singapore, worth several million dollars, in his own lifetime. He had risen through the ranks and had become a top editor in a short span of time in the world of Singaporean journalism.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Stella Kon 2014Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

It’s what I want to do more than anything else. At this time of my life, I want to use up all that I’ve got left – in this joyous task of creating new work.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Current project – a musical about Dr Lim Boon Keng.

He was a man who gave his whole life to one ideal (to lift up the people of Singapore through education) and he ended his life in ignominy, disrepute, poverty. When I began this project 25 years ago I wanted to help rehabilitate him – bring him out from the cloud he had fallen under. This rehabilitation has happened since – beginning with Lee Kuan Yew’s tribute to him as an initiator of bilingualism.

I want to reflect what it means – to fight to the death for an ideal – and fail. I want to say that the most important thing is to do the task God gives you with integrity and courage – whether or not your efforts are rewarded with success, fame and glory…