This is the image that has been burned into my memory.
I suspect, for many, it was also this image that brought on the tears and grief overflowed.
Long before his passing, I have heard stories of his relative austerity, his unusual daily routine of working late into the night on papers brought to him in the red box and his single mindedness to Singapore right to the very end. That has allowed me to indulge in a private, distant and even cringeworthy admiration of the man, not the politics. The starkness of that picture of his house just affirmed for me that my distant adulation for this man for much of my adult life has not been a lie.
I don’t profess to understand the terms of reference which the committee of ministers set up to decide whether 38 Oxley should be preserved will consider. Neither do I want to stop to even begin to understand the loftier ideals of our national heritage and whether 38 Oxley should be preserved balancing those ideals.
But let there be no confusion – it was his desire that his house be demolished. He put it in very plain terms and gave detailed reasons why – that was his wish. It’s on u tube – you don’t need a committee to verify that. They just need to balance his final wishes against the question whether there is such a burning national interest to preserve it and deny him his final wish.
And let’s not pretend that he is an ordinary citizen – he’s not. So there is no shame for the committee to say yes it’s an icon but we make an exception for a man who has given us his life. And for once, we don’t have to worry about his detractors objecting. Why would they fight for his abode to be preserved ? Everyone will understand or support that decision for different reasons.
There are many other ways to remember him by. I, for one, will not be lining up to try to idolise the man by walking through a vacuous exhibit which is meaningless without context, with a sour taste in my mouth that we, as a nation anxious to profess our adulation and gratitude have, nevertheless,
refused to fulfil his last wish.
Sometimes if you love someone, you have to let them go.
I will remember him by the image of his fist clenched, brow furrowed and eyes blazing uttering these words:
“Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.”
That is enough.