Singapore—At the launch of a food heritage book entitled They Came from Jaffna, Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat turned to the pioneer generation for inspiration as he called on people to work towards a multiracial, multicultural future.
As the Guest of Honour at the event at Grand Hyatt Singapore, Mr Heng was asked to beat a vessel instead of a gong at the book launching. He spoke before an audience of around 170 people, mostly from the Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Malay communities.
Connected to India reports the Finance Minister as saying, “The pioneers faced many dangers and difficult times – the Japanese occupation, the anti-colonial struggle, race riots, the fight against communism and our separation from Malaysia. These experiences shaped our identity as a nation.
Our great grandparents and grandparents accepted hardship, persevered, and built better lives for themselves and their families. In doing so, they put Singapore on a path of development, and transformed Singapore from a third-world country into a modern metropolis.”
The complete title of the book is They Came from Jaffna: A Historical Culinary Journey And Enchanting Tales Of Roots, Routes And Vivid Memories As Told By A Pioneer’s Granddaughter. It was written by 69-year-old author and playwright Indra R L Iswaran and contains over three hundred recipes which are a reflection of the cross-cultural experiences she has had in Singapore.
The author got the title of the book from the story of people such as her grandmother Meenachi, who hailed from the Sri Lankan city of Jaffna in the 1890’s. Ms Iswaran is Tamil, and in her book, she also traces how the Tamil community came to Malaya and Singapore.
Ms Iswaran thanked the National Heritage Board, as well as those near and dear to her, for the launch of her book. “I could not have been here without National Heritage Board, my family and the friends that surround me here and those that are far and wide and could not make here. I am also thankful to the expatriate community that moulded my life story and the great universe that surrounds me and channels me.”
She also urged everyone to tell their story. “Each of us has a beautiful story to tell of the past. Do not be afraid of (sic) telling that story because it helps to conserve history for generations to come.”
Mr Heng stressed the unity between the different races and religions in Singapore’s history.
“Over time, our different races and religions mixed with one another helped one another and forged a common understanding. The circles of trust expanded. Our pioneers knew that for us to survive as a nation, we cannot be divided as a nation.”
Even today, the Finance Minister emphasized the need to celebrate diverse talents and ideas, and to stay open to innovations and collaboration.
“No one group or country has all the ideas or expertise to tackle the many challenges that the world is facing. In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected, we need to remain open and collaborate to achieve better outcomes together. For a city-state like Singapore to thrive, businesses must continue to innovate and internationalise.”
Mr Heng also had a special message for the youth of Singapore. He said, “Young people must also be given opportunities to be global-ready, and must acquire a deep knowledge of Asia, for Singapore to truly benefit from Asia’s growth as global economic weight is shifting towards the region.”
Given the author’s heritage, as well as the theme of the book, Mr Heng also touched on how much Ceylon Tamils have contributed to building the country. “One of the nation’s founding fathers S Rajaratnam, who drafted the National Pledge, was from the Ceylon Tamil community. And many educators, engineers, medical professionals, academics, legal professionals, senior public servants and members of the judiciary are of Ceylon Tamil heritage.”
He tied the book launch in with the celebration of Singapore’s Bicentennial Year. “As we commemorate our Bicentennial year, it is a good time for us to reflect on our rich history and learn from our past, so as to chart our future together.”
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