SG: I’m Indian and my 'mother tongue' is EnglishI’m sure many in singapore would say, ‘but you Indian what! How can your mother tongue be English?’
To some of the Indians whom said that to me in the past, I would retort, ‘*Dei Baderwa, a ‘mother tongue’ is that which enables you to get to know and appreciate all that falls within the space where you interact. In Singapore, that’s English, since it enables us to get to know and be known by those of other cultures/races. In other words, the language is a ‘mother’ that nurtures us to become truly singaporean - which is an amalgam of the best of all culture found therein. Get it?’
other: Yah, but your ancestors spoke what? Tamil right?!
ed: Dei, let’s be accurate about it alright. My RECENT ancestors spoke Tamil. Those that came before them, i’m not sure, maybe some earlier form of African language, or perhaps some Indo-European language after that. And before that, they grunted, walked with a slouch, lived in caves, and their greatest technological innovation was the club. So which ancestor’s language you want me to pick?
other: Recent lah! Why go so far back?
ed: So you mean ‘recent history’?
ed: Ok, so my recent history begins in 1969 in Singapore. And as I said, the language that became my ‘mother tongue’ is dependent on that which enables me to adapt to the best of my environment. That is singapore. Multicultural singapore. With the Malays, Chinese and Indians, amongst others. Do you think a villager in India or China is going to teach her kid Swahili or Hebrew respectively? No right! How are those languages going to help the kid extract the best of all the cultures or perspectives present there? So how the f**k is Tamil or Mandarin going to be of use to do the same in singapore. All this does is to bond the people with their respective points of recent ancestral origins. That turns singapore into Little India or Qingapore if one or the other dominates by numbers.
other: But English is the mother tongue of the English what! How can that be your mother tongue.
ed: Dei, language is not just words, grammar and other stuff. It’s also the medium through which you express ideas that is a result of the blending of the various singaporean cultural perspectives. In other words, through English, I get to know other cultures in Singapore, and that gives me various ways to see things. That is expressed in English.
So in other words, the reserve of the British leads them to use English in a very different way than the way we use it. The perspectival, emotional, etc, content is very different. That’s what makes the language ours. You try going to England and speaking the way we do to each other here. You are going to shock quite a few people there man. The Singaporean in me feels quite constipated over there. My communal/feminine spirit cannot just get out and go walkabout as and when i feel like it. Well, to be honest, i feel the same way in the Qingapore of today as the general rule is, ‘it’s either the chinese way or no way.’ The Chinese of the 70s and 80s were different.
other: So you’re not proud of your culture is it? You’re not proud of being Indian?
ed: Well, I’m not just Indian dei. I’m also British, Filipino, Malay, African, Japanese, Arabic, amongst others. I’m talking culturally. I’ve been influenced by their cultures or find similarities between the way I view things and the way they do. And besides, how can I be Indian when I’m a product of different civilisations? You know what globalisation is? You see a product with various parts made in various countries? You are making the ‘made in china’ mistake man. That may be the locale where a product is put together. But the some of the raw materials, labour, ideas, etc, come from all over the place. You are not honouring ‘intellectual property’ by giving credit to the various sources that chipped in to create the product. Same goes for me and you.
Hey, even my mother stopped me and my siblings from speaking Tamil, and for myself, from the age of 4 or 5. And she did it because she wanted me to focus on a language that enabled me to get along with all in Singapore. Of course, if we were living in Tamil Nadu, then she probably would have gotten me to learn both Tamil and English. But this is, or at least was, Singapore, as opposed to the Qingapore it is today. So in answer to your question, no, i’m not going to be ‘proud’ of ‘being Indian’ if that’s going to pose even a 1% danger of me discounting the perspectives of other cultures because they aren’t ‘my culture’. You know the chinese of today are fond of saying, ‘the west is the west, we have our own way and culture’. That just amounts to you not being all that you can be, but being the best that you can be after throwing aside the positive nutrients of other cultures. In a sense, that is how quite a few Chinese that I knew in the 70s and 80s thought. Not any more.
other: Ok, ok. So are you at least Singaporean or not?
ed: Yes, but a ‘Singaporean’ of the past. After this country turned Qin (with reference to the Qin dynasty in China that gave birth to the origin of the persona of its people of today), I became a singaporean of the past. In other words, a product of a country where there right way was that which we discovered after learning how to view things from various angles. And that we learnt from appreciating all cultures in Singapore. That is why the Chinese I knew in church were far more witty and smart than any chinese i’ve met the past couple of decades. Well, when you go ‘one way’ and ignore all others, you are going to become stupid enough to think that ‘singaporean’ today refers to all races and completely miss the fact that the ‘singapore’ of today is a product of ignoring and marginalising all non-chinese cultures and perspectives. You are going to forget that the government remade the chinese here in the image of the chinese of China. The Chinese had a valuable opportunity to break out of their top-imposed 'one way' system when they came to singapore. Unfortunately, the government just reinforced it. And now they are truly 'chinese', and singapore, because they are the thus-defined 'the majority', has ceased to be 'singapore'.
They lost out. And now we all lose out. They ended up not being more than they are, and the rest are less than they are as a result. The problem with 'Chinese' culture, as it has been a product of a one-way system since 221 b.c., is that those who practice it never fare as well in the face of something new as those from less 'one-way' cultures like that of the Brits or the Indians. They are also pretty bad when it comes to criticising themselves as a culture and people. That is why, for instance, they keep banging on about problems whilst their own 'one way' perspectives practiced in every arena in life maintains it.
I say, shove the 'mother tongue' and 'be proud of your race' bullshit where you have the opportunity to be the best of all that is found in your homeground, and then go on to use the more vibrant mind that results to get the best of all cultures from all corners of the planet. That, dei, produces, at the end of day, the best of all cultures. Part of my personality is a tiny fragment of that potential. If only the rest of the singaporeans practiced it, I would be smarter. After all, there's not much input you can get from those who think otherwise. Thus, i'm not as smart as I could be. But then again, that doesn't stop me from learning from those of other climes, just as i'd learnt from the more true Singaporean chinese, malays, peranakans, indians, amongst others in Singapore-past.
[*‘Oi idiot’. Though no Indian to-date, from Singapore or India, has been able to confirm the meaning of ‘baderwa’ with myself, i take it as ‘idiot’ since it is generally used in such a context)
The above is a compilation of conversations i’ve had with Singaporeans since the late 80s, and with especially the Indians. It would generally go this far when speaking with the Indians of the past, but generally stops one-third of the way when its with the chinese who tend to just drop the topic.]