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Fri, Jul 16, 2010
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The gentle warrior farmer - Ivy Singh Lim

THE word "warrior" kept cropping up from time to time during our conversation (even a curry in her bistro has a warrior tag).

Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim is a familiar name in Singapore's mainstream newspapers, often penning letters on issues that are close to her heart or being quoted on current topics about which she had a point to make.

Mrs Singh-Lim calls herself the gentle warrior farmer. She did look like a warrior when I met her at Bollywood Veggies, the 10-acre farm she and her husband Lim Ho Seng own in Kranji.

Clad in shorts and a black vest, the 61-year-old moved around with a knife sheathed in a scabbard clipped to her belt.

She claims to be a warrior by race too. Her late father, she says, is from the Rajput clan and he came here as a young boy from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.

He did several small jobs, eventually becoming a rich landlord who owned several properties in the Simei area.

"My father was rich, handsome and powerful so he had several official and unofficial liaisons, all with Chinese women. His first wife had a son, so he adopted the boy. My mother, who was wife No. 2, had four children - my two older brothers, me and my younger brother," says Mrs Singh-Lim, in her no-holds barred style.

While there are some who don't agree with her views, there is no denying that Mrs Singh-Lim adds much-needed spice and colour to Singapore society. She is credited with turning around the fortunes of Netball Singapore during her tenure as president from 1992 to 2005.

It is a sport that she does not play and only got interested in when Singapore hosted the World Netball Championships in 1983.

"When Netball Singapore hosted the 1983 World Championships they needed someone to assist in the area of publicity. I was working with British American Tobacco then and the convenor of the netball team asked me to help out. After the games I was asked to help the association because it realised I am such a wizard," she jokes.

She and her husband (a former CEO of NTUC FairPrice) set up Bollywood Veggies in 2001.

They had initially decided to move to Perth but on hearing that agricultural land was available in Singapore, they bid successfully to take 10 acres on a 20-year lease from the Government.

"My husband and I are fortunate Singaporeans who want to retire in our own country, and believe that we should do something productive with our time and money.

Setting up a farm makes the land productive, teaches people about the importance of local agriculture and provides employment for Singaporeans.

Rich people must love their country, otherwise their country has no hope and truly rich people never leave their own country," she says of her decision to set up the farm.

Why name it Bollywood Veggies?

"Bollywood Veggies reflects my heritage and embodies energy, entertainment and enlightenment... which is what my farm is about," she says.

There is also a bistro at the farm which sees a steady stream of customers and the feisty woman, who confesses that she does not cook, has named it Poison Ivy - a name chosen because it made for a fun topic when customers ask about the food.

For all the warrior talk and the image of a tough cookie, Mrs Singh-Lim has a soft side too.

She employs Singaporeans who are older, lesser educated and even challenged individuals like Ms Oh Siew May, a 39-year-old who was born with cerebral palsy and has written a book titled Scaling Walls - My Story.

She champions the cause of the farmers in the area, recently writing to The Straits Times forum page asking why regular bus services to the farms cannot be run to help farm employees commute to work.

She has nine dogs, some of them strays which she has taken in. One dog, which lost a leg in a trap set by wild boar hunters, is her favourite and she calls it the farm's "cobra killer".

Even though she has enough people to run the bistro and the farm, Mrs Singh-Lim is often seen engaging visitors in conversation. When I was there, an American family dropped by with their young children. As they complimented Mrs Singh-Lim about the farm, the inquisitive five-year-old son asked her if there were snakes on the farm.

The gentle side of the warrior came into play as Mrs Singh-Lim answered all the questions thrown at her by the little boy and even showed him her knife.

Life, however, was different for her when she was growing up. "When I was young, kidnapping was an everyday affair, so we were brought up by our servants to be vigilant like warriors. I have taken that same conscientiousness and sharpness in protecting myself, the people I love and my way of life. Those values have enabled me to live a purposeful life, whether in my job, my personal life or any other pursuits," she says.

Mrs Singh-Lim may be seen questioning authority often but she admits that there are many things she likes about Singapore.

"I like that things can be done and changes can be made quickly if you get to the right thinking person who can help you make the change in Singapore. As a young country, we've come far, but we run the risk of stagnating. I dislike the bull shit that is holding our country back: The unproductive bureaucratic attitudes, the inertia and the apathy. I am launching an EOBS (Enough of Bull Shit) campaign," she quipped.

So has the owner of Bollywood Veggies been to India or is she planning to visit that country anytime soon?

"I have never been to India because there are too many Indians there and also have no desire to visit China because there are too many Chinese there," she says with a laugh.

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