By Abhijit Nag
“If there be a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here,” proclaims the inscription at the entrance of a famous Mughal building in India. The existence, location and admission rules of the Pearly Gates are open to debate. But if heaven is a state of mind for a moment in time, this correspondent experienced it on August 9 off Marina Bay in Singapore. No kidding, the experience was validated by the sighting of the Father, the Son and the Holy Goh.
Jokes aside, it felt wonderful to be at the National Day Parade (NDP) 2013. It was dazzling, heartwarming. A great show was put up largely by the kids of Singapore.
But the first lump in the throat this correspondent experienced was when the giant screen on the stage showed the old man. He looked so fragile, wispy-haired, rheumy-eyed – the man who with his team built this Singapore that celebrated 48 years of independence yesterday.
To recall an old rock’n’roll hit he won’t approve, you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. Appearances can be deceptive. On the rare occasions he speaks, he is still as insightful as ever. But he was there only to be seen, not heard, yesterday when all the noise was made by ordinary Singaporeans – the parade participants and the cheering spectators.
True to NDP tradition, the leaders did not speechify, exhort, leaning back on their chairs instead or waving flags as the participants marched, sang and generally made whoopee. It was Singapore like no other day and everyone seemed to be enjoying the break, including a smiling President Tony Tan, who shook hands with a cartoon character. Really.
I saw the future of Singapore and it looked bright. Happy, smiling, singing, dancing, cheering, the bubbly kids who seemed to be everywhere at the parade really made a difference. Whoever came up with the idea of making NDP 2013 a children’s special should be signed up as a campaign manager by someone or the other for the next general election. This dude really knows how to work the crowd. I could not help smiling at the kids who gave out balloons, kacang puteh, and showed us how to do the Singapore wave. Their happiness, their enthusiasm, was infectious.
I wonder how many oldies like me chuckled when Gurmit Singh & Co sang, “We built this city on rock and roll”. That was a hit for Jefferson Starship. Grace Slick and her original band, Jefferson Airplane, are probably best known for their hit, White Rabbit, which was about Alice in Wonderland and, some say, drugs.
I am old enough to remember a time when hip young men did not want to come to Singapore because they would have to cut their precious, long hair. Now it is Singaporeans who want fewer foreigners working and living in their midst, but everyone can twist and shout – at least, on the dance floor. Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel , the Rolling Stones – almost all my idols have by now performed in Singapore.
Yes, Singapore has changed. Caught in the excitement of the Pop Quiz where the spectators answered questions about Singapore, my wife said: “Singapore really knows how to bring the people together.” That certainly seemed true at NDP 2013 where everyone seemed to be cheering and waving flags or light sticks or making a racket with rattling clappers when not taking pictures with their cameras or smartphones.
Thank goodness it happens only once a year. Aren’ t you supposed to go to heaven only once?
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