One of my favorite fishing spots is the drop-off point exactly opposite Tekka Centre before Hastings Road near to the Verge where Sheng Siong supermarket is located. Whenever I pass by the vicinity, I’ll definitely stop there by the road side for a while to check if there is any passenger. It doesn’t cause any obstruction and usually there are passengers waiting for taxi. I have picked many passengers there before; usually shoppers around noon time such as maids after their marketing errand either at Tekka Centre or Sheng Siong supermarket nearby.
Those domestic helpers on their weekly marketing trip there usually live at Newton, Stevens or Balmoral residential estates vicinity. Whenever I pick up a maid, I would wait for the lights at the junction of Sungei Road and Serangoon Road to turn red before filtering over to the other side of the road turning in to Buffalo Road then to Race Course Road, Hampshire Road, Kampong Java and on to Bukit Timah Road leading to all the private residences there.
Once a while, I managed to get long distance passengers either to Jurong or Chua Chu Kang HDB estates. From there, I would continue with my driving routine looking for other fishing spots on the west side of the island.
This happened quite some time ago. As usual I was waiting for passengers at the road side exactly opposite Tekka Centre when one elderly man in his 60s knocked on my side glass panel. When I wound down the window panel, he asked me in halting English if I could send him to the bird park? Of course, I’d send him there. “Come in lah!”
I was quite surprised when that elderly Indian man was still standing beside my taxi even after I asked him to hop in. He asked slowly in English, “How much er… you charge for taking me to the bird park? Is it far?” “It’s about $20 plus or minus depending on the traffic conditions etc. Not so far, about half an hour should be there.” was my reply.
That Indian gentleman still didn’t want to get inside my taxi. He said that he would pay me $20 for the trip to the bird park. I told him, “No. No. We go by the meter,” I pointed the meter to him, “I can’t just accept your money like that. It’s against our regulation.” I then told him that I would not charge him more than $20.
Assured of the fare, the elderly Indian gentleman got into my taxi with his wife and daughter in her late 20s. After I hit the meter, I told him that I would be taking the ECP, MCE, AYE and then exit via Jurong Pier Rd to the bird park. But first I needed to make an U-turn via Upper Dickson Road to Jln Besar then to Ophir Road. That Indian gentleman stared at me blankly and didn’t understand what I was telling him. Suddenly, a thought struck me. “Oh, he must a foreigner dah!”
Indeed, my Indian passenger with his wife and daughter were first time tourists from Tamil Nadu. They were here for a short visit. They do not have any friends or relatives here but they heard so much about us so they decided to visit Singapore. He’s soft spoken and a jovial person. Always smiling just like the laughing Buddha – a portly figure. When I asked him why he wanted to visit the “Kuruvi”, he was surprised that I could say it in Tamil – his mother tongue. I then let go a few Tamil phrases like “Have you eaten?” “How are you?” etc… “What other Tamil words you know of?” “Nop. Only these phrases. The others I can’t say cuz they are bad words!” That made him giggled uncontrollably.
When he heard one powerful statement I made, the smiling jovial Indian tourist suddenly got serious stood out from his seat next to me. I said, “Tamil is King here in Singapore!” “What do you mean by that? Pls explain.” with his huge hairy forehand waving at my direction.
“Have you noticed that certain street names are written in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil? The MRT stations got Tamil names.” “Oh yes, that’s what I noticed when I took the trains yesterday.” was his confirmation.
I elaborated further on my earlier statement. “You see, Tamil is one of our 4 official languages in Singapore. Click link here to read related article. In fact, if you go to any of the police stations or government departments, you may speak in Tamil. They will have to entertain you. They can’t chase you out. Whenever the government sends out letters to us, it’s always in 4 official languages including Tamil.” After listening to what I said, he was extremely impressed. He told me his wife doesn’t speak English, only Tamil. After few days here staying in little India, he said that he’s quite at home even though it’s not his home state Tamil Nadu where he came from. His wife and daughter like it here.
“But why you said Tamil is King here?”
“Isn’t it so obvious that you can use Tamil easily here in Singapore? Even in your own country, your Parliament in New Delhi, India you can’t speak or debate in Tamil! Here, an MP can speak Tamil in our Parliament. In your Parliament, only Hindi and English are used. Except in Tamil Nadu, Tamil doesn’t have the kind of status accorded by Singapore as compared to India even though Tamil Nadu is a huge state occupying the tip of the Indian sub-continent with almost 80 million people.” Click here to read Indian Cabinet Minister can’t speak Tamil in Parliament. Another link here.
When I was saying all these, the Tamil native kept nodding and swirling his head in agreement to what I said. He told me that Hindi is the language of the elites in India spoken by mostly Northerners. He spoke in an unhappy tone. “Oh, you try speaking Hindi or any other of the 22 official Indian languages other than Tamil in our government office, they will not entertain you cuz those other Indian languages are not recognized here except Tamil.”
I also told him we had 2 Tamil presidents before this current one. “No, only one. The other one not Tamil!” I was quite impressed. “You seem to know much more than me?”
“Presently, we have 3 Indian ministers including one DPM in our government even though the Tamils are a minority here. Only about 8%!”
“That’s what I like about Singapore. They treat their own Tamil people better than the New Delhi government!”
“Oh, I didn’t say that. It’s you who said it.” I was quite cautious not to talk bad about their Indian government. I merely stated the facts here. I usually do not go beyond the facts especially avoiding criticizing my tourist’s government.
With much chattering, the journey seemed rather short. In no time, we had arrived at the bird park. The fare was about $18 plus. He gave me the $20 and told me to keep the change since that was his original offer. Unlike Singapore, they bargain at taxi fares in India. Otherwise, you could be over-charged according to him.
The Indian gentleman from Tamil Nadu’s parting shot, “I’ll tell all my countrymen what you just said. I’ll tell them all to visit your country since Tamil is King here! Haha!”
My reply, “We welcome them here as tourists. They give us business when they spend here. Pls bring them all here! Nandri!”
After he left. I thought to myself. What if all the nearly 80 million Tamils from Tamil Nadu suddenly just decide to enter our country legally via travel documents? Could we accommodate them all? In our business quest for their spending power could we – just a little red dot cope with the sudden surge in the overwhelming numbers if they do arrive here by the tens of thousands of millions? Will the little red dot of 710 sq km with only 5 million over inhabitants turn into a little India overnight?