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‘Stop moaning – or you’ll collapse in defeat’


Joan Campderrós-i-Canas under a Creative Commons Licence

The UK election results last week sent most of our British friends into mourning. I can relate to that.

Our own election last May sent me into depression. I was immersed in a terrible sense of defeat and hopelessness.

Sitting in Singapore surrounded by manicured lawns and dreadful Dubai-like buildings, I am listening to a journalist friend, Prema Viswanath. She is a veteran, having written political and other commentaries since the 1970s.

I have this strange feeling of ‘but on the other hand’. Prema lives in an apartment with a truly breathtaking view of the river and a panoramic view of the Singapore skyline.

My first nighttime sighting of it from our room elicits a gasp. It’s electrifying. No other reaction is possible. However much you detest glass and concrete, this evokes wonder, even from an architectural fascist like me.

The next morning is grey and misty. A gentle rain beats down, but that does not diminish the charm of the river, the jade-emerald water flanked by obviously landscaped greenery.

Prema does not come from my usual circle of committed socialist friends. Her views are interestingly different, out of our ‘normal’ predictable box. She says she believes in an equitable world order, but takes ‘a realist’s’ view on how to navigate the current capitalist order.

Singapore is changing. Even the indomitable Lee Kuan Yew [Singapore’s first prime minister who died earlier this year, aged 91] softened his stance towards the gay community. When Singapore sets itself up as the culture hub of South East Asi, where music, theatre and the arts are welcomed, how can the gay community, with its creativity, be left out?

Always pragmatic, always hypocritical, Singapore exploited gay and transgender people for its tourism as far back as the 1950s. Until the 1980s, Bugis street with its transgender shows and colourful ambience was a huge draw for tourists. Pragmatism prevailed, though publicly, a Victorian morality was preached.

Singapore is a playground for the global rich. Hedonism is a way of life. Wealth is its religion. The poor – immigrant labour, domestic workers – are carefully hidden from the public view.

Prema travels frequently to China and gives us a perspective we rarely receive. The Chinese people are buying into environmental change in a much bigger way than we in India ever really hear about. And it’s a serious change, Prema tells us.

The internet has helped increase Chinese awareness about global warming. Falling oil prices are detrimental to solar energy, as much of the solar switch-over is driven by the cost factor. People will lose interest if solar energy costs are higher.

Another nugget of information that intrigued me and revived my spirits was her experience of visiting Iran and finding Iranian women, at least the urban middle-class ones, full of energy, hope and chutzpah.

Prema works with Iranian women who are intelligent, driven and in control of their lives. I hasten to add that I am aware this sounds disgustingly patronising, but I was just so delighted to stumble across information and an image of Iranian women which was the opposite of the stereotyped portrayal we mostly receive.

In Iran, 65 per cent of university graduates are women, so they are better educated than the men. This does not detract from the horrors of theological fundamentalism that women endure in the name of religion. But another world does exist.  

I found Prema’s take refreshingly different, partly because her views are not set in stone. So, a lesson in that for me.

I was struck by Prema saying: ‘If you go on moaning about the terrible things, you’ll collapse in defeat. Far better to keep going.’  Or something like that. I learned an awful lot in one evening about Singapore, China, Iranian women, racism. It’s probably enough to fill a book.

But for now, a 600 word blog will have to do…

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