“The past makes the present”: Vashdev Khialani, President, Singapore Sindhi Association-- Siraj Syed

“The past makes the present”: Vashdev Khialani, President, Singapore Sindhi Association-- Siraj Syed

In his centrally located office, Civil Engineer Vashdev ‘Vashi’ Khialani, an amiable Singaporean Sindhi who speaks with an accent that is called Singlish in the island-state, talked to Siraj Syed, our Consulting Editor, about his life journey, career and passions.

“We were from a middle-class trading family. After partition, we migrated from Hyderabad, Sind, with whatever we could carry, to Ajmer, Rajasthan. From there, my father moved on to Malaysia, around 1952, and onwards, to Singapore, in 1962. I was in Malaysia, from 1958 to 1970, and moved to Singapore after completing my schooling. We were traders, buying and selling in and around Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India. I had three brothers, and the business was not doing too well.

In 1970, we moved from Kuching (Malaysia), where there were only two Sindhi families, to a more Sindhi-friendly Singapore. I had completed schooling at St. Thomas. As the class topper, my teachers had great expectations from me. One teacher asked me what did I want to specialise in? I said, “Accountancy.” The teacher was disappointed. Accountancy was the first, and logical, option for me. But the teacher said to me that becoming an Accountant would prove too easy. I should try a vastly different, much more challenging career. I took up the challenge, and considered various vocations, but, ultimately, settled for an engineering course. It was rare for a Sindhi to take-up engineering, back in 1970. In more recent times, tendencies are changing. After several generations of traders, Sindhis are branching out into medicine and law.

I did not want to inherit a small part of the family business, so I had to think of an alternative career, where I could get a big part of a small whole, possibly the whole enterprise. When it came to specialisation, in the third year, I realised that Electrical Engineers are never really their own bosses, so I chose Civil Engineering instead, which I completed in 1974. None of my brothers is an engineer, but I am happy with my choice. 

After getting my degree, I worked for the Singapore government’s Housing Development Board (HDB), which houses the overwhelming majority of Singapore’s population, for 5 ½ years. Then I joined a British consultancy company. Finally, I set-up my own companies, C & V Engineering Pvt. Ltd., 1982, and C & V Consultants, 1991. We do a lot of things—civil, structural, infrastructure, industrial.... C & V’s first project was a Singapore government contract, worth SGD435 million, in 1982. The company has undertaken projects in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and some other countries. As a civil engineer in Singapore, you can be reasonably affluent--can buy a car, not luxury car...a house...but not a palace!

My sister is married in India. I have relatives in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. Recently, I went back to Ajmer, after a very long time. My parents are no more, and I could not even recognise the houses in the area where we once lived.

Roots matter. Foundation is important. The past makes the present, the present makes the future. I go to India three to four times a year, often combining pilgrimages with tourism. Yes, there are differences and challenges found in India, but it is important to remember where you come from. Singaporean Sindhis also invest in India, in mutual funds as well as property. I myself had bought some property, which I have since sold.

The SSA works a lot with the Gujarati, Marwari and Maharashtrian associations, as well as the Hindi Society. I was Vice-President of the Hindi Society for 15 years.”

Vashdev Khialani joined the SSA in 1992, and took over as President, for the regular two-year term, in 2014. 

SSA began as a fledgling organisation in 1921, and moved to its present location, Sindhu House, on Mountbatten Road, in 1953-54. It has over 600 families as members, which translate into about 3,000 individuals.

This is the second part of a two-part focus on the Sindhis of Singapore. See also 

Siraj Syed Siraj is the Consulting Editor of nrizone.com. See profile


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