President's an author now
His book Why Am I Here? chronicles his 1950s role as seamen's welfare officer. -tabla!
By Sheela Narayan
HE DOESN'T consider it an "earth shaking" story, but President S.R. Nathan is still proud to have written his first book. Titled Why Am I Here?, it is published by the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a grant from Keppel Corporation and chronicles his time as seamen's welfare officer in the mid-1950s.
The just-released book recounts his dealings with the seafarers and his role in helping and protecting an exploited community comprising Malay, Chinese and Bangladeshi (then East Pakistani) sailors.
Dubbing them "rough diamonds", Mr Nathan writes about developing a relationship with these sailors, the intimidation he faced on the job, even to his moment of despair when he considered giving it all up, until a Catholic chaplain persuaded him to continue.
In an interview with the local media, Mr Nathan said that his friends have been urging him to pen his experiences as a career civil servant and he picked this particular chapter of his life because it was the first challenge that he had: "The cover of the book in some ways is very revealing; it's grey and gloomy. It is through that uncertain world that I went in."
Mr Nathan, who qualified as a medical social worker, served as a mediator between aggrieved seamen and the various organisations they worked for, against a backdrop of immense changes taking place in Singapore in the 1950s as the People's Action Party took the reins of government following the end of colonial rule.
However, when he passed the manuscript to Professor Bernard Tan at the NUS Centre for Maritime Studies in 2006, Mr Nathan felt it was not "something that would merit publication".
Prof Tan felt otherwise... and the 120-page book is proof of that.
"It is not an earth shaking story. It was 50 years ago. I was not persuaded that it should be published. Finally last year I said okay," said Mr Nathan, 85.
Prof Tan feels the book will garner plenty of interest among Singaporeans: "Though the President has been extremely modest at what he thinks the response will be, I am sure the book will arouse a lot of interest. It has a lot of lessons including moral lessons which are relevant to many Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans."
The book is available at the NUS Co-Op bookstore for $29.90
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