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Asia Reborn: A Continent Rises from the Ravages of Colonialism and War to a New Dynamism by Prasenjit K. Basu

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.’

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Nilanjana Sengupta’s rebuttal to P N Balji’s review of ‘Singapore, My Country: Biography of M Bala Subramanion’

singapore-my-countryOn 8 November 2016, P N Balji had reviewed “Singapore, My Country: Biography of M Bala Subramanion” by Nilanjana Sengupta right here on kitaab.org.

On 24 November 2016, Ms Sengupta sent the following rebuttal to Balji’s review:

“I found the review to be very perceptive, particularly his points about further contemporizing the book as well as Mr Bala’s voice taking a bit of a back seat. I will take careful note of this and ensure that I don’t fall into the same trap while I write about Mr J Y Pillay. But regarding the title of the book, I would beg to differ. It is not anchored in a wish to gain out of the SG50 celebrations but actually emerged organically while I wrote the book. If you read the book it actually traces Mr Bala’s journey in discovering his own identity – the British, Japanese, Indian, Malay, Tamil influences which were at work and then the final confluence of all these cultures and his alighting on what was his own or the Singaporean identity. To explain this further I give below a poem I had written on the occasion of the book launch and which I hope to include in the 2nd edition of the book:

An Indian in Singapore

He heard the word first when they had their backs to each other
His mother was intent on her spices
Grinding into dull submission
Frisky corns of pepper
Fiery red chilli, a genteel nutmeg
While he faced the door
Angsana trees beckoned
Balding patches of the football field in Racecourse Road

A whittled sun filtered in through the attap roof
He saw the word dance around him in little coins of light
Noticed the achromic floor, a split toe nail
You are Indian, you have to be decent
His mother said

Images of little boys in little coattails
Airing dogs at the promenade
Proud as the fat queen
In a country as distant as Naples or Batavia
Calm, dignified, of unfailing good taste

February 1942
Ghostly shadows rose from the yellow loam
Tonsured, skinned, horrible
A cloud of fine bone dust hung low
Over a land pitted and pared
As the waters of Blakan Mati keened its dead

In their house a new picture was put up
Just where the family gods used to be
The Samurai’s sword cut through the indolence of Indian deities
Industriousness was their new god

So by the early dawn light
He marched to the orders of the rising sun
And in the afternoon tilled neat plots
Growing tapioca from bleached bones and human remains
A bit of white loin cloth replaced the coattails
All for the cause of peace

And then came the moment of genesis
Parting darkness from light, the trite from the truth
Footfall of a stranger in the crescent*
And patriotism spread like a forest fire
Burning down undergrowth and small desires
While survivors stood tall
Pulsating, victorious, irascible
The fire had entered their veins

It came visiting their kampong as well
Snaking in through lorongs, shooing away cattle and poultry
And smouldering, waited – fearsome and fascinating
Licking at the edges of their home

India was suddenly in their line of vision
As close as the waters of the Straits
The spinning wheel fluttered on the flag
A crouching tiger hid in their hearts instead

The drum-roll receded, the kings were back
But so were the men
Lice crawled under their skin as they sang songs of freedom
Their eyes burnt with a fever, they were unable to sleep
He wondered if it was the lice or the song
And knew the kings would never be king again

He was sailing the seven seas with a new intent
He faced his mother as the sun set over the wharf
Looked at her as if for the first time
The silver twine in her hair
The five stars of her nosepin like fireflies
He bent low and whispered into her ear,
Singaporean, Mother
Singaporean is what we will be

Nilanjana Sengupta* The reference here is to Subhas Chandra Bose’s arrival to SEA in 1943

I do hope this will suffice to clarify my stance. Once again, I would like to put on record my gratitude to Mr Baljyi for taking time out to do the review.”

Best regards,

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The Singapore Writers Festival 2012 comes to a successful conclusion

The 15th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival came to a successful conclusion on Sunday (Nov 11) after the closing debate in the festival pavilion.

The raucous debate’s motion was ‘Sinking roots here is little more than shopping and eating.’ The debate’s participants included aunty killer Adrian Tan,  Gwee Li Sui, Lye Kah Cheong, the ‘Return to a SexyIsland’ writer Neil Humphreys, Ovidia Yu and Zizi Azah. The views in the discussion ranged from the flippant to the intellectual and the speakers dissected the Singapore identity with complete chutzpah. Nothing was spared: Singlish, cheap foreign workers, low birth rate, the Singaporean obsession with makan and shopping, the Chinese expats’ love affair with condos, the Indian expats’ penchant for everything East Coast, the Ang Moh’s passion for the OrchardTowers, the variety of sex scandals in the city and the set ways of politics in Singapore. The audience lapped the humour up and blew the roof off of the festival tent with applause and mirth.

Closing the festival, Paul Tan, the festival director, characterized this year’s debate as tongue-in-cheek, ‘colourful’ and a bit ‘off colour’ too. In his remarks, he thanked all local and foreign writers who participated in the festival and applauded the audience for their support, despite the rain and bad weather, adding that he refused to apologise for the rains as it was an act of God.

In parting, he encouraged the attendees to support local writers. “If you don’t buy the books of our local writers, who will?” said Tan. He said that he looked forward to audience support next year and promised that the future festivals will be a mix of order and chaos just like this year’s.

Following the debate, the participating writers of the festival had a two-hour long closing party where they interacted with each other and their fans. Kinokuniya bookstore offered a special 20 percent discount for all the books on display on the last day.

A successful festival

Over the years, the Singapore festival has been growing in size and prestige. This year more than 150 local writers and 50 international writers participated in the event. Some of the top literary draws this year were American author Michael Cunningham, Taiwanese author Huang Chun-ming, Booker Prize-shortlisted author Jeet Thayil and globetrotting travel writer and novelist Pico Iyer.

Some of the sessions this year were so well-attended that there was not even standing room for some disappointed attendees. Snaking queues of autograph hunters were seen for authors like Cunningham and Iyer.

The topics discussed in the festival were not just literary. The heat of political debate marked the sessions of Catherine Lim, Marina Mahathir and Cherian George. Veteran journalist P N Balji and George talked about his (George’s) new book on mainstream media in Singapore, Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore and discussed how the mainstream media had become less relevant because of the arrival of the new media. However, the mainstream media still played an important role and the OB markers for Singapore media have become more flexible, the two panelists claimed.

The festival accommodated nearly 200 panels, and the issues that were discussed ranged from culture, sports, food, crime, media and politics to sex. There were also a few panels that highlighted the Arab literature and what was happening in that part of the world. Lilia Labidi of Tunisia, political cartoonist Khalil of Iran-US, and Hisham Bustani of Jordan talked at length about the Arab Spring and presented a very optimistic picture of the region’s future. Referring to the Arab movements for freedom, Khalil said that ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ and it is very difficult to set the clock back—the people in Arab have awakened.