Happy birthday, Red Dot! -- Swati Arya

Happy birthday, Red Dot! -- Swati Arya

August 9, India’s Quit India Day, was Singapore’s National Day. An Indian woman, who has been living in the small equatorial nation, often called the Red Dot, pays tribute on the occasion.

 

Today as I stepped out of the house and into a red sea of happy smiling faces, I could not help but reflect on my life in this tiny red dot of an island. Any reference to the tiny red dot always reminds me of the first time I saw it, 17 years back. I was in an important looking office of an important looking man to give an interview for my first job, after B-school. 
 
 
The logo of the company was a red dot, and the first question he asked me was, “What does this red dot signify to you?” At that time, the exalted twenty-something in me had replied, “The red dot to me represents ‘shakti’ or power, in this case the power of creativity and self-actualisation.” Several minutes and comments later, having drawn references to various red dots-– from the ‘Bindi’ worn by Hindu women on their fore-heads, to the rising sun (though isn’t that yellow? Talk about taking creative liberties!), I landed the job. The red dot has been with me ever since, from a simple corporate logo, to a tiny island I now call home.
 
Life in this tiny red dot has been a roller-coaster ride, more exhilarating than the Galactica at Universal Studios. It has been sometimes hot sometimes cold, as strong as Kopi-O (plain coffee, without anything, thus the O) and as sweet as Teh Tarik (tea, blended by pouring from one vessel into another, several times; tarik is Malay for ‘pull’). 
 
There have been days when it would push and shove itself, bursting at the seams, like an over-crowded SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transit) train, other days when it would be content just watching the rain trying to meticulously clean up an immaculately spotless city. I have never had the pleasure of devouring the world famous chilli-crabs or satays (a bit like the seekh kabab), or the other feasts and flavours that symbolise this food-crazed nation. Yes, I am guilty of committing a sacrilege of gastronomical proportions in a country where food is the great unifier of all. 
 
But since you can never take the sea-food out of a Singaporean, I have had my share of mock-meat, to prove I am worth my ‘sea salt’. The city has given me friends from every walk of life, whose cultures I have not only admired but at times adopted too, lah (a Singaporean/Malaysian crutch word that is a sort of English ‘no’ as in ‘Give me, no’ or Hindustani ‘na’, as in ‘De do na’!).
 
 
And every time I return from an overseas trip and land on the tarmac of the world-renowned Changi airport, I know I have come home. Thank You, little red dot, for coming into my life, making me one of your own, opening up a world of opportunities, quite literally, and allowing me to re-invent myself, just like you do, every five years. 
 
 
Happy Birthday, Singapore!
Excerpts from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech on Singapore’s 51st National Day, 09 August 2016
 
Last year, in SG50, we celebrated how far we had come. Singaporeans now own and live in beautiful homes. Our incomes and our lives have improved year after year. Our children receive good education and have bright futures.
 
Most importantly, our different races and religions live together in harmony. We share common spaces, and celebrate one another’s festivals. In January, I celebrated Pongal with my Indian friends. At Chinese New Year, I exchanged mandarin oranges with non-Chinese friends. During Ramadan, I joined many Iftars and enjoyed the bazaar at Geylang Serai.
 
 
Swati Arya, who was educated at Jamshedpur and Mumbai, is the Assistant Director, Business Development at MoneyTree Singapore, a company that promotes a very special kind of children’s education. Siraj Syed, nrizone.com’s Consulting Editor, met her during his trip to the country, in June. 
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