The false dawn

For me, the immediate post-war years, which should have brought peace and progress, involved personal tragedy, while attempting to make up for the damage caused by the interruption to my studies by the war. Before the war, I had completed only primary school. During the occupation, I was too old to go to school and too young to go to work. By force-feeding me with mathematical equations, my parents managed to enrol me in a technical college, with students three years older on average, and with that much more schooling and maturity. However, I learnt a lot during my time at that college, complemented by vast reading of books in English from that remarkable library in the home of family friends. My reading covered mysteries, stories of the American Wild West, Marie Stopes and others, adventures, and the English classics.

When schools were reopened in late 1945 under the British educational system, I was placed in the second last year of school. The following year I was placed in a class preparing for the Cambridge School Leaving Certificate examination. Thus I had jumped almost three-quarters of high school, simply because my knowledge of English had been enhanced by my reading, and I had acquired some knowledge of maths, physics and chemistry from the technical college. I learnt enough Latin in six months of cramming. The ageing Indian who taught me Latin privately was one of the many incredibly learned immigrants who were under-utilised and underpaid – the destiny of many a migrant.

That year, I completed school and obtained an exemption from the Matriculation of London University. It was all too ridiculous, educationally, and misled my parents. This proved to be the first of my academic tragedies.

… … When I left for Australia, I left a mother and three sisters, for whom (as the only son) I would be held responsible in future years. In the meantime, I had suffered a bout of malaria of one kind, followed a little later by four months of malaria of another kind (so I was told), followed later still by a bout of dengue fever. I was underweight, terribly unhappy because of the loss of my father and my rejection for study in Singapore, and uncertain about the choice of country for study. This was my heritage when I embarked for Australia.

On the other hand, my heritage was enhanced in part by my introduction to (and immediate love for) Western music. This introduction was a most exceptional occurrence in a community striving to retain traditional culture – while seeking material progress – in an alien environment. My heritage was further enhanced by my reasonably sound exposure to the core of Hindu philosophy. This not only enabled me to sail unruffled in divisive religious waters in Australia, but also to turn Australian eyes to the unlimited width of my door.

Little did I know then that my chances of success were negligible. How could I or my family think that? I had been described as likely to top the school graduation list for Malaya. But my stars said otherwise, and used a family decision to implement my downfall.

Indeed, we should all have remembered that itinerant Yogi who told my mother that her son would travel south to study (since no one we knew had gone in that direction before, it was not particularly credible); that the son would return in four years (the Yogi would not say whether the son would obtain any qualifications then or later); that he would be overseas for most of his life (this seemed plausible, but was interpreted as periodic study); and that he would never stop studying (this did not make sense, as the purpose of higher studies was to make lots and lots of money soon and to be seen to be successful).

Even if we had remembered the Yogi’s words, is it the nature of destiny to permit us to avoid what was foretold? Do we have to go down the path chartered somewhere, and reach the end laid out for us?

(These extracts highlight human plans vs. a personal destiny from my first memoir, ‘Destiny Will Out.’ For my attempted explanation of a personal destiny, refer my second memoir ‘The Dance of Destiny,’ especially Part 2 – which ends with a spiritual aura. This segment of my life also highlights how one may become competent in a foreign language by reading its classical writings, viz. Dickens, Austen and others.)