I have always wanted to know where I came from, no not the birds and the bees stuff, but where did I come from as in place. When I was younger (much much younger) I realised that I didn't look like the other people in Singapore. My family and I, we weren't Chinese!! What were we, where did we come from, were we Singaporeans? Identity, that's what I was looking for, and it took awhile but I did realise that I was Singaporean but Indian. It didn't help that my parents didn't conform to the Indian way of bringing us up. Religion and Indian culture were never a very big part of the household and the thinking was very forward. We spoke English at home, and it still annoys me when native English speakers say to me with surprise in their voices " you speak very good English"!! We grew up in the middle of being Indian, Singaporean and in some ways very westernised. With Dad being a pilot and flying everywhere he brought back to us a different mindset and way of being. We as kids, absorbed all the multi cultural atmosphere he created with his travels. We were cosmopolitan before it became fashionable. I wont say we became less Indian or Asian but just that we were a hybrid of some sorts.
My paternal grandparents moved here from India, (Punjab) in the early 1930's. My dad was born here but spent the war years in India. I think it had to do with the fact that he was the only grandson of the only son at that time and with all the unrest, his grandparents insisted that he stay in India while my grandparents went back to Singapore in 1940. They spent the war years in Singapore, in Middle road actually, and there are plenty of sketchy stories about my granddad being tortured at the hands of the Japanese. Granddad took the family back to India after the war only to witness the war of partition in India (the British split India and left, leaving Muslims to fight with Hindus and Sikhs). Granddad came back to Singapore in 1948 with my father, where he set up shop in Changi. My dad used to tell us stories of him studying under the street lamps and sleeping outside the shop..... most parents tell this to their kids to teach them all about hardships etc, but with my dad it was true!
My maternal grandfather moved to Singapore as a child of 2, his father came to Singapore in 1913 or so as a clerk first then an interpreter in the British Courts. My maternal grandfather also served in the British courts as an interpreter. My granny told us many stories about the war and how they (my grandparents and my mother and her siblings) escaped death just because.... no other reason why the Japanese soldiers didn't gun them down as they did the rest of the people that had been herded into the open street.
The family is spread out with uncles, aunts and cousins in Australia, UK, Canada, US, New Zealand, and those are the ones I know of. My Dads side of the family is very large as his father (my granddad) had 5 sisters and I am not sure how many siblings his mum had though..... Mums side of the family is smaller but again everyone has spread out across the globe.
Where I come from and my family is important to me. The village where my Dad came from is still there but alot more modernised now. We used to go there for our December school holidays in the 70's and then it was a sleepy little village with no proper sanitation. Electricity would go off often and we would huddle in the kitchen with the open fire to keep warm and eat our dinner of vegetables that were picked that morning. The village is still there, my unlce's house is bigger and has all the modern amenities now, even a satellite dish! the food is still gloriously fresh but alas modernisation is creeping closer, with farmland being sold and factories being set up closer to the village. I love going back there, even with the chaos of India.
I don't know if I truly belong in Singapore because going back to India makes me feel at home as well. So its still a journey for me to find where I belong and perhaps like my grandparents before me, I will travel and find another shore to call home