Tracing the lives of Singapore Malayalees

More than 100 personal narratives of Malayalees who migrated from Kerala to Singapore from 1900 to 2016 - this is what you can expect to read in From Kerala To Singapore: Voices From The Singapore Malayalee Community.

The book, written by Dr Anitha Devi Pillai and Dr Puva Arumugam, is a result of in-depth research into the Singapore Malayalees, and provides a comprehensive insight into the community that has made rich contributions to Singapore.

(Left) Dr Arumugam and (right) Dr Pillai.Photos: Dr Puva Arumugam and Dr Anitha Devi Pillai

A comprehensive insight...Ms Kamala Devi Thangappan Nair’s narrative in the book.(Below) Dr Arumugam and (bottom) Dr Pillai.

Each narrative is complemented by photo portraits, personal family memorabilia and detailed family trees.

Ms Kamala Devi Thangappan Nair's narrative in the book.Photo: Dr Anitha Devi Pillai

The book traces the lives of Malayalees in Singapore through their memories and experiences of moving from Kerala to Singapore and how their families then built their lives here, slowly sinking their roots and becoming Singapore Malayalees.

It also includes interviews with prominent personalities such as former president S.R. Nathan, Associate Professor Rajesh Rai, Arun Mahizhnan and Chelva Raja.

From Kerala To Singapore: Voices From The Singapore Malayalee Community will be launched on Feb 11 at The Arts House by Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Professor Tommy Koh.

The launch is sponsored by the Singapore Indian Association (IA), Singapore Malayalee Association and The Arts House.

The book will be sold for $40 and part of the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the IA Welfare Fund.

Former managing director of Lagos Free Trade Zone Ananda Sivaram, who read the book, said it is "a fascinating appraisal retracing the journey of Malayalees from Kerala to Singapore since early last century". He added that it is a must-read book for Malayalees, particularly those who would be interested to know the adventures and experiences of their forefathers.

Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education (NIE) Ruanni Tupas reviewed the book and commented that it is "a highly accessible but groundbreaking book on Malayalee history and culture in Singapore with a spotlight on the (Malayalam) language and its contribution to nation-building".

The book project was conceptualised in 2002 by Dr Pillai, who decided to embark on it after she found that "there is little documentation on the evolution of the second largest Indian community in Singapore: The Malayalees".

She started on it after her PhD in 2012, to document the social and cultural paths of members of the Malayalee community who have settled in Singapore.

A research team was then formed to interview the community. In late 2013, the project was awarded a partial sponsorship by National Heritage Board which helped to accelerate the progress of the project.

Said Dr Pillai, a lecturer at NIE: "The biggest challenge in this project was the amount of data that needed to be collected.

"More than 130 interviews were conducted, each interview typically lasted at least an hour. A lot of time and resources were also needed to collect and manage the memorabilia from each family as well as to draw up detailed family trees."

The other author, Dr Arumugam, who is based in Australia and specialises in theatre and cultural studies, wrote some of the narratives, particularly those relating to arts and culture.

Said Dr Arumugam: "It took Dr Pillai and me several years to see this wonderful journey come to fruition and it must be noted that most of the work has been done by Dr Pillai, as I could offer limited support to her dreams from afar as we worked on this project from two different continents.

"Working on this project after migrating to Australia and juggling a hybrid existence; trying to ensure that my Singaporean Indian identity is kept alive, made the writing of narratives about the early Malayalee migrants to Singapore and the challenges of hybrid identities of the younger Malayalee generation very meaningful and familiar."

IA president K. Kesavapany, who is also an Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, said: "This 'labour of love' will stand out as a gem in the literature of diasporic studies. Based on original and assiduous research, and with the inclusion of photographs and documents, many hitherto unseen, the book is a treasure trove of information on the Malayalee community in Singapore."

Members of the public can place orders of the book at this link: Those who are interested to attend the launch can also RSVP at the same link.

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