Creator of Tamil NDP song honoured

Creator of Tamil NDP song honoured
Mr S. Jesudasan.

If there is one song that brings a smile to Mr S. Jesudassan's face, it is the popular Tamil melody Munnaeru Vaalibaa.

Every few months, the 84-year-old wipes the dust off his old cassette tape, slots it in a player and sings along.

Mr Jesudassan is behind the catchy ditty, which so many Singaporeans have sung and danced along to in school and at National Day Parades.

But the song had humbler beginnings, said the retired teacher, who has taught Tamil for 45 years.

When he was a teacher at Raffles Institution (RI) in 1966, he was asked by the school's principal to pen a song for students to sing along to.

His brief was to come up with something that could inspire students to succeed in Singapore, which was still in its infancy as an independent and sovereign city state.

"It is a rally call to the youth to strive and reach out for the sky," said Mr Jesudassan of Munnaeru Vaalibaa, which in Tamil means "Move Forward, Youth".

"My intention is to inspire the young to become tomorrow's leaders who can help grow and develop Singapore," the father of three told The Sunday Times.

The song has also been translated into English.

In 1967, RI's then head of music, who was also the Education Ministry's music director, decided to adopt the Tamil song as one of the official community songs that was taught and sung in every school.

Last night, Mr Jesudassan's achievements were hailed by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who said: "As it is catchy yet easy to learn, Munnaeru Vaalibaa is very likely the first Tamil song that most Chinese and Malay students are able to sing!"

Speaking to some 160 guests at a dinner to pay tribute to Singapore's pioneer generation of Tamil teachers, Mr Shanmugam honoured the 65 seniors who have "nurtured in all of us a love for Tamil and an appreciation of its history and beauty".

He also called on the new generation of Tamil teachers to continue the legacy of their predecessors.

Mr Jesudassan fondly remembers some of his students, who still send him greeting cards during Christmas and Deepavali, writing in Tamil.

And when asked to do so by reporters, he was still game enough to break into his famous song, albeit with a caveat: "I'm old and may not remember all the lyrics, but I will never forget the tune."

Memorable tune "I'm old and may not remember all the lyrics, but I will never forget the tune." -MR S. JESUDASSAN, 84, when asked to sing Munnaeru Vaalibaa

This article was first published on October 12, 2014.
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