Simei's Little India

AT FIRST sight, Melville Park may seem like any other condominium in Singapore. The type which, when you fly over in aeroplanes, resembles a holiday resort. Perfectly manicured lawns. Lush trees, clear blue swimming pools and putting greens. Children's playgrounds with colourful swings, tunnels, bars, and aesthetically positioned blocks of buildings, some of which have gables.

But this condominium in Simei, one of the largest in Singapore with 1,232 units, is special for one more reason. Its occupants are largely Indians - locals, permanent residents and expatriates.

Visit the condominium any evening and take in the sights, sounds and smells. You'll hear screaming children, running about, speaking in more than a dozen Indian languages. You'll hear the whistles of pressure cookers.

Get whiffs of onions frying in mustard oil, or spicy curries steaming in pots. Find groups of mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers exchanging notes on everything from domestic-help grouses to newest sari trends and India's pathetic cricket performances. It's a miniature India, a melange of people - loud, spiritual, enigmatic, eclectic and distinctly Indian.

Mr Markose Thomas and his wife Susan are a young couple who made Singapore their home almost eight years ago. He is a lawyer and she works for Unilever. The successful couple, with their two children, could have chosen to live anywhere on the island. But Melville Park's attractions, it seems, were hard to resist.

They own a three-bedroom apartment in the condominium, which they purchased in 2008, and claim it to be one of the best decisions of their life.

Mr Thomas says: "Before we bought our place, we were living on rent at Melville for 11/2 years. We felt very comfortable here. It's like living in one big happy family, just the way it is in most neighbourhoods in India. It's also good value for money. The apartment size is much bigger than the cubbyholes in the market today."

For Mrs Markose, the appeal is the little comforts she enjoys.

The condo has a mini shopping mart which stocks everything Indian - from Lijjat Papad to Amul milk.

"In the last few years, we've visited Mustafa not more than three times, and that's only because our guests from India wanted to see it. There has been no need," she says. The Melville Park Supermart is run by Mr Clemen Tan, a Singaporean, who says stocking Indian products in his shop has made business profitable.

Many home-run businesses in the condo take care of Mrs Markose's other Indian needs. Like a beauty parlour which provides henna hair treatments. Or perky women residents who prepare motichur ladoos, vada pavs and other Indian snacks and sell it in the condo mini mart on weekends. Some run Bollywood dance classes, aerobic and yoga classes and even Art of Living sessions.

Melville Moms

But her biggest anchors are the bonds she has built with many other women like her who share a deep love for their adopted home, yet yearn for India.

Mrs Markose says: "In India, neighbours are never strangers. They become our extended family. In a new country, sometimes the absence of such relationships makes it harder for women. That is not the case in Melville."

During her pregnancy a few months ago, Mrs Markose's friends at Melville took good care of her. She says: "If I craved for masala dosa, it was sent over the next day. Aloo parathas, halwa, kheer, anything I wanted, someone would hear of it and send it to me. When my son goes down to play, I know my friends will keep an eye on him." The Melville women are a strong community.

One of Mrs Markose's friends, Mrs Ramya Prem, started a community group called Melville Moms. A Melville Park resident for five years now - she and her husband Prem Bhagat, both human resource executives, rent a flat there - Mrs Prem began the group with 15 members eight months ago. Today, it boasts 226.

The Melville Moms group serves as a support system for the women, helping them interact and share ideas and concerns on issues ranging from raising children to domestic woes, gossip, recipes and condominium maintenance.

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