I was moved by the tributes at my father’s Funeral Service. Muthukumarasamy in particular left an impression on me. Kumar started life as a daily rated employee (DRE), upgraded himself, and rose to become leader of the DRE union and a member of the NTUC Central Committee.
My father entered politics by working with the unions, so that people like Kumar would have better lives and futures. Singapore has come a long way, but we have not forgotten our roots, nor what we stand for.
It meant a lot to have Kumar speak at his funeral. He spoke from the heart, directly and personally, sharing what my father had meant to him. I asked for an English translation of what he said in Tamil. Here it is. – LHL
என் அப்பாவின் இறுதிச் சடங்கில் நீங்கள் செலுத்திய அஞ்சலிகளைக் கண்டு நான் நெகிழ்ந்துவிட்டேன். குறிப்பாக, முத்துக்குமாரசாமி என் மீது ஒரு தாக்கத்தை ஏற்படுத்திச் சென்றார். குமார் தன் வாழ்க்கையை ஒரு நாட்சம்பள ஊழியராகத் தொடங்கி, தன்னை மேம்படுத்திக்கொண்டு, நாட்சம்பள ஊழியர் சங்கத்தின் தலைவராகவும் என்டியுசி மத்திய குழுவின் ஓர் உறுப்பினராகவும் உயர்ந்தார்.
குமார் போன்றவர்கள் மேம்பட்ட வாழ்வும் எதிர்காலமும் பெறவேண்டும் என்பதற்காக, தொழிற்சங்கங்களுடன் இணைந்து பணியாற்றியதன் மூலம் என் அப்பா அரசியலுக்குள் நுழைந்தார். சிங்கப்பூர் ஒரு நீண்ட வழி வந்துள்ளது, ஆனாலும் நாம் நம் வேர்களையோ அடையாளத்தையோ மறந்துவிடவில்லை.
அப்பாவின் இறுதிச் சடங்கில் குமார் பேசியதை மிக முக்கியமானதாகக் கருதுகிறேன். அவர் தன் இதயத்திலிருந்து பேசினார். அப்பா தனக்கு எவ்வளவு முக்கியமானவர் என்று தன் மனத்தில் உள்ளதை வெளிப்படையாய் பகிர்ந்துகொண்டார். அவர் தமிழில் பேசியதை ஆங்கில மொழிபெயர்ப்பு செய்யும்படி நான் கேட்டுக்கொண்டேன். அது இங்கே உள்ளது.
– லீ சியன் லூங்
MARCH 29, 2015
English Translation of Mr G Muthukumarasamy’s Eulogy for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew
There is so much to talk about Mr Lee Kuan Yew. When I first met him, I was very honoured. He was an outstanding leader and has inspired my own personal development as a worker, a unionist and a leader.
When I was young, my father would often tell me about Mr Lee. He said that Mr Lee played a key role in advancing the Indian community in Singapore. If not for him, none would be able to stand on their feet. Because in those days, Indians did not send their women to work. Only men worked. That was the culture. Most Indian families were single income families. This caused financial hardship as most men earned low incomes. Families usually stopped sending their kids to school and sent them to work instead. How could we move forward like this? How could families manage with low incomes?
Mr Lee understood this very well. He saw the hardships experienced by the Indian community and was determined to help. So he publicly called for women to be brave and to go to work. He said, “Don’t be scared. We have safety measures in place for you.” He introduced the Vigilante Corps, to ensure the safety of women returning home from work at night. What he did greatly encouraged and emboldened Indian women to work, learn a skill and help their families financially.
As more Indian women started to work, their families began to earn more. Because Mr Lee also made sure that public housing was affordable, the combined incomes of the husband and wife enabled Indian families to purchase a basic house and start families. Today, there are many dual-income Indian families. Many Singaporeans today own their homes and are proud of it. We have to thank Mr Lee for that.
I went on to complete my education, and join the workforce. I would like to share with you a personal interaction with Mr Lee many years ago. I was then an apprentice wireman at the Public Works Department. Many told me stories about Mr Lee. They said, “Our PM, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, is a very hot-tempered man. If he wants, he will dismiss officers immediately.” Many said different things about Mr Lee. I didn’t worry too much about it because I wasn’t at that level to have any sort of interaction with him.
Unfortunately, I should have paid attention. Once, my colleagues and I were asked by my supervisor to go to Changi Cottage to service the air-conditioning system. We did not know who lived there or used the space. When we got there, we serviced the air-conditioning system as per my supervisor’s instructions. As we were finishing up, Mr Lee, who was then PM, came into the room and looked at us. How would you feelif he looked at you? We had heard that he is a hot-tempered man. We were very scared. In fact, we were shivering! We tried to control ourselves, finished the job and climbed down from the ladder.
When we were done, Mr Lee asked if we had completed the job. We said, “Yes, Sir”. Then Mr Lee asked where our supervisor was. We told Mr Lee he was outside. Mr Lee asked me to call him in. When my supervisor came in, Mr Lee said, “When a job is given to you, you should do it. I asked you to service the air-conditioning. Please service it now in front of me.” My supervisor immediately went up the ladder and started servicing the air-conditioner again.
I was dumbfounded! Maybe I did a terrible job! We were all very scared. We watched as my supervisor serviced the air-conditioning. My colleague whispered to me, “Don’t worry. I’ll explain later.” When he was done, Mr Lee told my supervisor that he did not want to see him again in the Istana or at the Changi Holiday Bungalow.
The incident left a deep impression on me. Mr Lee believed that one must do correctly what one is told, and everyone should do their own work. If a third person is asked to do the job, the impact would not be right. If it is our job, we should not pass it on to others. This is how a leader should be.
Mr Lee was indeed very strict. This father (Mr Lee), we must be principled like him. We must have a sense of duty and be upright like him. His philosophy is evergreen that we do well today.
Mr Lee was also like a father to the unions. In his May Day speeches he would encourage workers, employers and the government to work hand-in-hand. He said everyone must play their part. If the three of you work together, the management would be good. If you three fight amongst yourselves, it won’t be right. Sit down, think carefully and work together. Who else would teach us such things?
Mr Lee would urge us union members to upgrade our skills. He would tell us: “Don’t stagnate. There are a lot of courses for you to upgrade yourselves.” In those days, there used to be Lembaga (Adult Education Board) night classes. Many heeded his call, and became technicians and engineers. I’m proud to say I am one of them. If he didn’t teach us these things then, we wouldn’t be at this level today. All credit goes to him.
We are very fortunate to have had a leader like Mr Lee.