Tell Me The Story, Daddy!

“Tell me about Singapore,” I said.  “During the war. When you were a child.” Dad set his fork down, a rush of memories spilling into his eyes.

The famous Raffles hotel, Singapore,  playground of the colonial elite,  circa 1920 (Google images)
High Street, Singapore in 1945, just before the outbreak of WW2 (Google images)


“My father was a radio communications officer.  He worked for the British government in Singapore …”

I don’t remember Grandpa James who died days after my first birthday.
A WW2 radio communications officer (Google images)







“He was a highly intelligent man, but he had a volatile temper!  He was my hero, though it was frightening to live with someone like that. He flew into a rage one day and struck me with the radio wires he was working with.  My mother had to apply a hot fomentation on my back for days until the marks subsided. I don’t remember my mother ever cuddling or kissing me. But there was plenty of food. A laden table.  She was a good cook.  My father was a hospitable man. The house was always filled with people and she fed them gladly.

James and Violet. Grandpa James was part of the diaspora of English-educated Ceylon Tamils who were wooed into coveted government posts in colonial Malaya and Singapore.  He sailed home for a brief visit  when an inter-marriage was arranged for him and his sister.  Grandpa James wedded my grandmother, Violet;  grandma Violet’s brother married Grandpa’s sister, Fanny. 
Dad’s older brother, Rigby, was born in 1935. Dad arrived thirteen months later. Granny Violet had three children during the Malaya/ Singapore years.  Dad grew up speaking Malay and Chinese.


“We lived in a sprawling home on Mount Rosie, surrounded by a large compound. I remember climbing fruit trees and playing for hours outside.”

An old colonial home on Mount Rosie Road (circa 1940’s) which matches Dad’s description of the home he lived in as a child (Google images)
Mount Rosie Road — the current street sign (Google images)


“The Japanese considered their monarch a god.  They worshipped him as such.

Screaming headlines (Google images)


The West was distracted by Hitler and Stalin.  It was the perfect time for the Japanese to leap in with their own agenda.  They worked their way through the East, carving out an empire …”  


Map of the Japanese Empire in 1942 (Google images)

“When the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans got involved.  This was the beginning of the Pacific War.”

Hawaii 1941.  US Soldiers watching the explosion after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. (Google Images)

  “The tanks rolled into Singapore.

Japanese troops storm the shores of Singapore (Google images)


Headlines screamed.


Singapore surrenders (Google images)
Screaming headlines (Google images)
Singapore: the newest feather in the cap of the Japanese Empire (Google images)
Invaders patrol Singapore streets (Google images)









It was one of the worst defeats in British military history …

The fall of Singapore was one of  Britain’s greatest military defeats.  The 1942 battle ended with 140,00 troops and citizens of Singapore captured, wounded or killed.  Around 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops based in Singapore became prisoners of war.
POWs in the Changi Prison, Singapore WW2 (Google images)


“Pretty much everyone was labelled a traitor.  They shipped them off to POW camps.  By the thousands.”           


Singapore surrenders, 1942 (Google images) 

“So how did Grandpa survive, Dad?” I asked. Dad’s tone was matter-of-fact. “My father worked for the Japanese,” he said. My jaw dropped.                                  

Sword held high, ready to strike.  Japanese officer, Singapore, 1940s (Google images)

“After the surrender of Singapore, the Japanese generals stood at our doorstep with drawn swords.  They threatened to cut off his head if he didn’t work for them.  There was no other option.    

On our way to school, we’d see rows of traitors’ heads impaled on the walls.”



POWs who were used as targets in practice had their heads blown off (Google images)
Katana (Samurai) swords laid out in rows.  They were long, curved, single-bladed and could slice a man in half. (Google images)








“The Japs began losing ground after America entered the war with a powerful fleet of fighter planes and bombers.  I remember them.  There were the B-27s, B-23s, B-24s and B-26s.”

Anti-American propaganda (Google images)

The Chinese and Japanese were hostile to each other. If the Chinese had been for the Japanese, the Americans would never have won the war.”

American bombers (Google images

“I remember watching the Japanese bombers flying overhead in formation with anti-aircraft units hot in pursuit.” “The air raid sirens could go off at any time of day and you were supposed to seek shelter immediately in the bunker, under a staircase, or under furniture.  Our bunker was in the basement of the house.”


Singaporeans waiting out an air raid in a bunker (Google images)

“I remember the dog fights in the air, when the Japanese bombers came in V-formation and the American fighter planes went after them.”

Japanese boat plane (Google images)
Japanese fighter plane (Google images)






Aerial dogfight, WW2 (Google images)
American ground forces observing the wake created by aerial dogfights.  Pacific War (Google images) 
Tail pointing upwards.  Downed warplane (Singapore) and gaping onlookers.  (Google images)

“I stood outside one day and watched as a Japanese plane got shot down.  It caught fire and made a nose-dive to the ground.  It crashed into our compound, its tail pointing upwards.  There was a huge crater in the ground. 

After the flames burned out, the gardener ran up.  He was an eccentric Indian man.  We were all convinced he was mad. He dragged the dead airman out, pulled off his boots and pillaged the corpse.  He pocketed the wrist watch and searched for gold fillings in the teeth.

Then I saw the allied planes pass overhead – massive aircraft, gleaming in the sun.  You could hear them from miles away.”

Allied planes. Massive aircraft, gleaming in the sun … (Google images)

“One day my father was shaving upstairs, when a shell came flying in through the bathroom window and rolled down the staircase.  Thank God it didn’t explode.    Our home was like a refugee camp for the Ceylon Tamil community – injured boys and girls were brought there.  Providentially, Mount Rosie was never bombed.”

Singaporean students being taught Japanese, circa 1940s (Google images)

“We attended an Anglo-Chinese school.  There was a Tamil priest on the teaching staff.  The Singaporean teachers were compelled to learn Japanese and then teach it to their students.

Our formal schooling was sporadic through the war years.  English was forbidden.

My father taught us in the basement bunker at night.

A Japanese class with soldiers in attendance, Singapore, circa 1940s (Google images)


We had to memorize poetry and I was able to read far beyond my years.

I remember reciting  The boy

stood on the burning deck …    



The Japanese soldiers had funny uniforms – long, long khaki shorts and hats with elongations at the back from the brims, covering their necks.”

Dad’s amazing power of recollection: “The officers wore white shirt, khaki jacket and leather boots”. And the long swords he described … (Google images)
Japanese soldiers wearing long khaki shorts and hats with “long extensions at the back”.  I was amazed at Dad’s accurate description, culled from his memories from over 75 years ago. (Google images) 











“The officers wore white shirt, khaki jacket and leather boots.  I remember coming down the hill, one particular day, where the school was situated.  There were steps going up the hill to the school building. The students were all lined up on either side of the road to greet and wave flags at visiting Japanese army dignitaries.  They came in a convoy of lorries and military vehicles.  A boy standing across the street called out to me.  Without thinking, I dashed across the road to reach him, cutting through the oncoming parade.  A lorry hit me and I was knocked unconscious.  They drove on.  They didn’t stop.  The entire convoy passed over me. 

“They didn’t stop.  The entire convoy passed over me …” (Google images)

When the parade was done, the Tamil priest — the teacher from my school – picked me up and took me to the government hospital.  Miraculously, there was no serious injury and I recovered.” “How old were you, Dad?” I queried. “I must have been about 7 or 8.” “That was nothing short of divine providence,” I commented. Dad nodded.  “Yes,” he said. “And I used to collect all the shells and metal fragments I found lying around. That was my hobby.”

Grandma Violet looking fine, wearing a saree (1961)


“My mother carried her jewellery in a pouch tied around her waist, under her saree.  She finally buried it all outside in the garden.  When the war was over she wasn’t able to find the spot to dig it back up.” “You mean she lost all her jewellery?” I asked. Dad shrugged.  “Many people buried their valuables and never found them again.”     “The Americans bombed Singapore before the Japs surrendered.  I remember Singapore harbour up in flames.”





Inferno.  American forces bomb Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
Singapore harbour in flames, 1945 (Google images)

D-Day came and the Germans surrendered, but the Japanese hung on until the American bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  That was when they finally gave in.

Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan officially surrendered on September 12, 1945 after the US military dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  About 200,000 people died in the horrific aftermath of these nuclear explosions (Google images)

Japan would never had surrendered if not for the atom bomb.  America was the only nuclear power in the world at the time.    The bombs were dropped two days apart.”

Singapore is signed back over to the British, September 1945 (Google images)
The British return to Singapore, 1945 (Google images)








My father had a radio hidden in the basement.  He tuned in at night to listen to the BBC news.  There was no other way of knowing how the war was progressing.  Suddenly one day, the war was over.  Everything fell silent.  The Japanese forces vanished.    

The Union Jack flies at full mast over liberated Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
The allied troops roll back in to Singapore, 1945 (Google images)

“A Ceylonese Burgher gentleman who was a friend of my father’s  – his name was Mr. Garth, an educated man, slightly brownish in complexion — ended up in a Japanese POW camp.  After we knew for sure that the war was over, my father took me with him to the POW camp.  I remember sitting  in the car as we drove there.  The camp was a place of the living dead.  Men, women and children had been starved and made to do hard labour.  We found Mr. Garth.  He had been a prisoner for four years. He was plain skin and bones.  We brought him back home. My mother had cooked a good meal and set it on the table.  Mr. Garth sat and stared at the food for quite awhile.  Then he ate slowly, savouring every mouthful.   He saved the boiled egg for the last.”

Plain skin and bones.  A starving POW, Singapore, circa 1940s (Google images)
Parade of prisoners in a Japanese POW camp (Google images)







The war ended in September 1945. 

Rejoicing survivors (young boys in their midst) exit the Changi prison camp, Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
Rows of Katana swords after the surrender of Singapore at the end of the war (Google images)
Captors now captive … Japanese forces being guarded by Indian troops in Singapore, 1945 (Google images)


Captors captive. Japanese soldiers being hauled off to POW camps,  Singapore 1945 (Google images)









“The British returned. Many Ceylon Tamils who lived in Burma had walked to South India to escape the invasion.  They were found and rescued. Everything was in a mess.  A new administrative system had to be set up. All residents of Singapore had to get their British citizenship renewed.  Those who were not originally from Singapore were given the option of staying or receiving a free passage back to the country of their birth.  Mother wanted to stay, but Father had no choice.    He had worked for the Japanese during the war years and was declared a traitor to the British Empire.  His name was on a formal list of Traitors To The Empire that appeared in the newspapers directly after the war ended. The British arranged for our repatriation.  We travelled in a massive ship which had been used as a troop carrier during the war.  It was called the SS Arundel Castle.”

The SS Arundel Castle. I was delighted to find a picture of the liner and amazed at the accuracy of Dad’s recollection.  (Google images)

Our passage was paid and they provided us with clothing and food.  With a load of over one thousand passengers – all Ceylon Tamils – the vessel set sail soon after the war was over.  The voyage lasted five to six days before we docked at Colombo harbour.   I remember being loaded onto a boat and coming ashore, where there was a big reception committee awaiting the home-comers. 

Colombo harbour, circa 1940’s (Google images)

My mother’s sister’s daughter — my cousin, Mabel — came to meet us at the dock.  We slept the night at her home in Maradana and caught the train to Batticoloa  the next day.”

Maradana Railway Station (Google images)
The journey by rail from  the west coast of the island of Ceylon to Batticoloa on the eastern shoreline.
In the land of their ancestors.  Rumbling through the countryside on British-built rails …  (Google images)








At breakfast the next morning, a heavy-eyed Dad informed me that he hadn’t had much sleep the previous night. “The horrible scenes kept playing in my head,” he said. I picked another subject for that evening’s conversation. 

A year and a half in later, after the birth of his youngest child — a son — Grandpa James returned to Singapore.  He approached the British authorities in anticipation of being reinstated into his former civil service post. Representatives of His Majesty’s government grimly reminded my grandfather that his name was etched on the infamous traitor list. They concurred that Grandpa’s only other choice would have led to the instant annihilation of himself and his young family. They graciously granted him a pension for his service to the British Empire.  Then they showed him the door. Grandpa sailed back to his native Ceylon.  He disembarked at the port of  Colombo and rode the railway back to Batticoloa in the east, where his wife had inherited extensive acreages of profitable paddy land.  

An old steam train (1940’s Ceylon) rattling its way around the island on an efficient network of railways that still remains in use (Google images)

The new baby symbolized the end of an era in their lives. Old dreams dead and buried, life commenced anew and in earnest. The three youngsters, foreigners in the land of their parents’ birth, were constrained to learn a fifth language. English, Malay, Chinese, Japanese and now … Tamil.


Settling in nicely.  Dad in his teens some years later, thriving in academics and sports, sporting his trademark moustache and burgeoning film-star looks. 





If Grandpa was granted his pardon, if Granny obtained her heart’s desire, Dad wouldn’t have met Mum and allied himself with a new country and people.   And I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.     

Looking good at 82.  Dad at Christmas service, 2017



An interesting thought which strengthens my conviction in the knowledge that life is directed by an unseen hand that masterfully orchestrates circumstances in such a manner as to bring an undeniable destiny to pass.  



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Until next time,          


P.S. Dad meets his bride in Matchmaker, Matchaker! (click here)

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Two Slices Of Rainbow

Rush hour traffic on Friday morning. A chopped-off bar of colour appears ahead, directly above the steering wheel.

Sketch by Selina, 2016 F
Sketch by Selina,  February 2016

A sideways glance at my passenger. “Look at the gorgeous bit of rainbow!”

No response from Daughter.  I turn into the bus station, and …


An equal-opposite matching wedge in pastel colours. The slices cling to the sky, like two pillars on either side of the building.

Sketch by Selina,
Sketch by Selina, February 2016

Enchanting. Delighted …

“Look, another piece. Heaven is smiling!


!  It’s going to be special!”

Daughter throws a puzzled look and hops out of the car. “Bye, Mom.”

Kids …

I park some feet away, remove sunglasses, raise camera-phone to click. No rainbow.


Disappointed. Turn key in the ignition, put sunglasses back on and …  my chunks of rainbow are back!


Lower the glasses to the tip of my nose. Rainbow-chunks disappear. Realization dawns. These stumps of rainbow are only visible through tinted glasses.   Daughter never saw them.  She must have thought I was nuts.  

I’ve just seen beauty un-visible to the naked eye.  Life’s like that sometimes, isn’t it?

I drive home realizing that


because Inner Me wears tinted lenses born from the dark seasons she’s lived through.

I suppose the soul-sunglasses are to blame for how my eyes perceive  things. Like last week, when I was in the mall minding my business. I had this serious urge to step into Hallmark Cards and …


Three ceramic ornaments in different spots — two below eye level and half turned away from where I stood — held hands and stood up to shout with one voice –




Message for the day?


 – honest! I’m






that IMG_20160123_201754

and IMG_20160114_150918

is now!


to convince me and



I took this picture some months back.


How I laughed.  That’s me.  I can’t help it!








P.S.  Keep the sunglasses on!




This post is dedicated to my friend Marietta with my thanks for the pictures she took and shared with me.  I’ve used one of them in this piece.  All the other photos are digital moments captured on my phone.

Love Language




Family and out-of-town cousins eager to open presents. Four grown up offspring eyeing plump stockings dangling from the mantelpiece.  IMG_4793

The Beloved (aka  _20150623_101400

) wields a mop with vigour.

Sis-in-law is puzzled. “Why is he sweeping the floor?”

“He’s mopping,” I tell her.

Sis-in-law looks around. “But the place is clean.”

“I’ll be



,” The Beloved announces.

Sis-in-law laughs. “  _20150617_155007

my brother-in-law sweeps while the stockings and presents are waiting.”

“He vacuumed. He’s mopping now,” I interject. “And one man’s oddness is someone else’s love language, you know!”

I’m on a roll. “  IMG_20151125_212546

.  A spotless house and  washroom is his gift of love.”

The giggles cease.

Love language, huh?  Hmm …  IMG_20151225_001929

A light bulb comes on.  I hear daughters’ voices , then mine, in my head –

“Why do you spend so much time folding napkins and arranging cutlery?  It’s just a table, Mom. Who cares?”

Who cares?  Who cares??

“I care. It’s  how I show my guests they are honoured and appreciated. It’s my gift –  IMG_20151228_095649

that only I can give  


, and I


giving it.

I begin to wonder.  Is love why I spend hours

– Decorating the Christmas tree

– Creating a one-of-a-kind gift  IMG_20151214_183645308



– Setting a table for my guests


– Making my garden a


to relax and rest in


– Preparing for a surprise birthday party  IMG_2280

Is love why hubby vaccums and mops like crazy when


?  Daughters and nieces squeal over sundry items in their stockings.  A   IMG_20151227_162535529

washes over me.  I


My eyes  smile into hubby’s.

We’re the


, darling!  I

Some folks won’t


.  Crazy compulsions in others’ eyes – his love language and mine.

What is your love language, Reader?  IMG_20151228_101931

, right?  So  


Well, here’s to what’s left of


and to dreams come true in 2016.


and happy New Year!

PS –


and  _20150701_153025




One Thousand Things

I went moon-chasing last week.  I made a dash around the neighbourhood, trying to capture the fascination of a


through my camera.  She sailed into the


, an ice-queen in a shroud of wispy cloud-cobwebs.  I inhaled my soul-food for the day.  


 .”  My friend Bev presses a book into my hands, some months ago, in the summer… 






 I am  captivated.  So commences a dazzling new journey.  A journey to finding thankfulness in all things.  Finding


in the mundane, the difficult, the tragic.  Being thankful no matter what.  Intentional thankfulness.

My smartphone and


never stray from my side.  I have to catch the joy-moments coming out of nowhere in a series of joy-gifts I never saw as gifts before.   Like these …


Africa-shaped puddle
Africa-shaped puddle

Supermarket shadow
Supermarket shadow

Rosy dawn skies
Rosy dawn skies

Rainbows on floor tiles
Rainbows on floor tiles

  • Sun-splash on gum day
    Sun-splash on glum day
  • Puppy in wee-hour glow
    Puppy in wee-hour glow

light 'n' shadow on kitchen wall
Light ‘n’ shadow on kitchen wall

Microwave reflection
Microwave reflection

Tawny tree upside down
Tawny tree upside down

  • Sky-in-the-parking-lot


The list goes on.  And on.  Pausing to discover the fragrance welling out of intentional thankfulness.  My lungs filled with joy. 


Ann Voskamp (just Ann with no e she calls herself) – The Farmer’s wife,  mother of six – writes (paraphrased) –

Thankfulness releases joy, which releases miracles …

It feels as if


have come to reside in my heart. 


I began to change.  This is the


Thankful for the ugly, the lovely. The precious, the un-pretty.  The simple, the complex,  the


And all the in between, mundane stuff.  Intentional thankfulness that generates sublime joy.  Surely this is


, the daily



 I went to the bookstore to buy a copy of One Thousand Gifts for my aunt. 

 “Funny,” the girl behind the counter said. “Lately, there’s been a rush of people coming for the book.  There aren’t too many left.”

All IMG_20151029_175957I replied, “That’s probably everyone I know coming to get one.  I haven’t been able to stop talking about it.”

 “I’ve heard it’s good,” she replied.

Bless you, my dear.  It is!

 If my family think I’m bananas, they



, you know.  So I try to


because I  choose to






 .  I


 .  It’s


!   I sigh over pretty puddles and go


And that’s why I went moon-chasing last week.


Is this 


?  Quite possible!  IMG_20151102_220835

IMG_20151101_231436   Something happened.  It’s unleashed the


They don’t seem all that far-fetched anymore.   I understand that





Me?  (Smiling!)



, Reader.  May you find gifts in the ordinary things.


Here’s to