Hidden Footprints of Unity – Dedication

‘Dedicated to my grandchildren –
who know not the boundaries of culture
or see any skin colour’

(This simple dedication is predicated upon the merging of tribal and geographical origins. Initially, a German couple with a powerful historical name arrived in Australia in the early 19th century. The blending with Anglo-Australians in subsequent generations ended with a cultured Italian input. A product of the latest blend married a Hindu Asian, producing 2 slightly-tinted offspring in the second half of the 20th century in Australia.

At the time of his marriage, the Asian’s family background in Asia included a Chinese and a Malay. This extended family then expanded to include a Burmese and another Chinese.

The 2 young Asian-Australians with that rich heritage were brought up exclusively as Australians, for the simple reason that their mother was Australian, while their father was now an Australian citizen. They were therefore acculturated to fit into any level of Western society.

One of these offspring married into an immigrant English/Irish family; the other into a family with European antecedents. Their children, my grandchildren, are citizens of the world (having seen some of it already), as well as citizens of Australia. Their friends and contacts in school and sport are multi-ethnic, and Australian to the core. They subscribe to a single uniform culture.

These children/young adults represent the new Australia, distrusting politicians as a class (a long Australian tradition), and with no need of priests of the divisive kind. They can deal with their generation in the lands surrounding us as equals, and with panache!)


Hidden Footprints of Unity – Recommendation by US Review of Books

Hidden Footprints of Unity
by Raja Arasa Ratnam
reviewed by Cynthia Collins

“The bottom line is tolerance and fair treatment by all, to all, irrespective of origins, language, religion.”

This book describes the conflicts and unity of different religions as they, and the people who practice them, search for a common ground in Australian culture. It focuses on the spiritual aspect of what was White Australia during British rule. It can either be read as self-contained or in conjunction with Ratnam’s previous books, Musings at Death’s Door and The Dance of Destiny, that deal with the prejudices of language, race, politics, and employment during the same time period.

Ratnam grew up in British Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore). His environment embodied multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multi-religious tolerance. That changed when he moved to Australia at the age of 19 in 1948. He watched the country change from “white” British rule to one where the different races, languages, and religions are celebrated as a part of the variety of cultures. He goes into a lot of detail of discussing the various religions of the world as well as the beliefs of psychics and scientists. He questions the obvious and not so obvious, and wonders if those who condemn other religions are hiding their own fears of insecurity.

This is a well-written book and recommended for anyone studying comparative religion, sociology, Australian history, civil rights, and ethnic cultures of Australia. It would be appropriate for high school and college students, civil rights and religious leaders, and historians. The author uses a quote from Hippocrates made 2,500 years ago to make his point. “There is one common flow, one common breathing. All things are in sympathy.”


(There is little more that I can add to the above review. Given the history of mankind to date, is there any prospect that we will ignore the boundaries set up by geographical separation, as well as by religious institutions? Indeed, is there any need to keep separate the members of the diverse religions of the world?

When one gradually pushes aside the dogma of religions – which historically were created in diverse geographical regions to bond more closely their followers, and to attract others – and this will happen with material and mental security, will we recognise that, at the core of each major religion, there are only 2 beliefs? These 2 core beliefs are shared by all the religions (except Buddhism). They are: that we have a Creator for all that is; and that, as co-created, we humans are thereby bonded to one another.

Is there then any place for a chosen tribe, or an exceptional nation, or a path to God which is private to believers in certain religions, or a special door with special rooms in Heaven for specific religions? Ultimately, are we not all one?)

Hidden Footprints of Unity – Excerpts

Chapter 1 Black Looks in Oz
“…the assumption that Australia not only has
a history worth bothering about, but that
all the history worth bothering about
happened in Australia”
— Clive James

“Be careful! Raj will give you a black look, if you don’t play well today.” When I first heard these words, I was mystified. There had been no reference to my colour for decades, certainly never in a stable social situation. Why now, in the mid 1990s? Anyway, it came to my notice that these strange words were being uttered somewhat frequently by Willy, a chatty old Aussie, in my presence. Yet, he never referred to any of the others — all white — as ever giving black looks. Willy, typically self-confident, in spite of being relatively unlettered, and I were members of a group of elderly men (known as the ‘vets’) who played tennis three times a week. Our ages ranged from a little under 60 to about 80. Most, like Willy, were ordinary folk, with no pretensions.

Chapter 2 The Power of Pigmentation
“It’s powerful,” he said.
“That one drop of Negro blood
— because just one drop of black blood makes a man coloured.”
– Langton Hughes

Like most Asians, I do not take notice of variations in skin colour. When everyone around me sported a different colour, how could I be sensitive to such variations? This claim will no doubt surprise those with a need to detect, and possibly denigrate, anyone with any hint of colour. The way the mixed blood urban Aborigine is talked about is sufficiently illustrative. Since most parts of the world are multi-hued, differences in skin colour are generally not persuasive in human relations where whites are not involved. The exceptions are the caste-ridden, especially the Indians (eg ill-educated Hindu mums looking for ‘fair’ daughters-in-law); or those Euro-Asians who sought, generally by necessity, to identify themselves exclusively with their usually distant white progenitors.

Chapter 3 To Have a dream
“It is a great shock … to find
that, in a world of Gary Coopers,
you are the Indian”.
– James Baldwin

I can claim to know only one Aboriginal person. Indeed, I have met very few Aboriginal people over half a century in Australia. How am I to meet them? Our paths are so far apart. When a meeting does take place, there might be little of that communication that one might expect from people sharing the same stage. Are they keeping themselves apart, because they have been rejected by white society?

Chapter 4 Which way to the Cosmos?
“Now, my own suspicion is that
the universe is not only queerer
than we suppose, but queerer than
we can suppose.”
– J.B.S.Haldane

I well remember being taught, at about the age of eight, that the universe is without beginning or end. It was part of my acculturation. My mother, well read in our tribal language, and with a strong belief in our religion, started me on this path. She thus planted the seeds of a significant search — for understanding the meaning of life. This search was to stimulate and sustain me for the rest of my life.

Chapter 5 Peering into the Void
“No matter how I probe and prod
I cannot quite believe in God.
But oh! I hope to God that he
Unswervingly believes in me”
– E.Y. Harburg

On this fragment of the Cosmos known as Earth, there are those who seem to know what creation and existence are all about. Then there are those who claim to know, surrounded by that multitude who just want to know. Amongst the Hindus, there is that belief (expressed in the Upanishads) that, through meditation, one can realise Reality. Although this Reality cannot be described, one can come to know it by identifying with it (ie by realising it). It follows that, as stated by J. Krishnamurti, those who know cannot tell. Those who claim to tell apparently do not — cannot — know. This unitary awareness, being experienced, is uniquely personal. It is non-transmissible, beyond words, beyond thought (so we are told).

Chapter 6 The end of Tribalism?
“How can you govern a country
which has 246 varieties of cheese?”
— Charles de Gaulle

PART ONE — Foreigners Everywhere
•The whitening of terra Australis
Australia went from monochromatic to multicoloured; from monolingual to multilingual; from mono-cultural to multicultural, ¬all within two hundred years. This is quite an achievement for any nation, if one could only ignore the poor Aborigines, with their original diversity of tribes and tongues. This tri-level transformation of the country was, however, only the secondary change which the indigenes of the nation have had to contend with progressively. The most tragic impact upon the original black inhabitants and their abode was caused by their white conqueror, camouflaged as a seeker of discovery.

PART TWO – The Merging
•Rejecting the new unwanted
The dictation test allowed officials to throw out anyone they (or their political masters) did not want, for any or no reason. This was achieved simply by finding a language which the applicant for immigration entry could not possibly know. This approach was clearly reflective of the utter ignorance and insensitivity of leading Australian politicians then. It was all so fatuous, contrasting with the currently impossible task of ridding the nation of queue-jumping economic refugee applicants, especially the ‘boat people’.
(to conclude)
Adapting an Ethiopian proverb: when the spider webs of a nationalism based on a shared humanity unite, they can tie up the lion of tribal diversity. What Australians of all origins should now work towards is the evolution of a new national identity. In this objective, is there scope for each cultural strand of Aussie humanity to articulate what it contributes to this evolving national image? Could this possibly be done on the basis of what the collective soul says?

In so doing, all past contributions of value to the human spirit would be recognised. The new identity would thereby rely less on highwaymen, failed excursions overseas, cross-dressing ‘wannabe’ humorists, caste, gender and religious wars, and the ‘deputy sheriff’ role (with its implications of a smug superiority on the surface, and a sub-surface insecurity).

The new identity would re-focus on communitarian aspects of society. Both individualism and tribalism would give way to community cohesion as the Aussie Family of Man.

(There is nothing I would want to add to this attempt to achieve a new National Identity for Australia which recognises that we immigrants have re-shaped this evolving nation for the better.)

Hidden Footprints of Unity – Endorsements pre-publication

“What a beautiful mind! Hidden Footprints of Unity is a substantial work from an intelligent and spiritually perceptive man. Arasa has skillfully navigated his way through a vast array of subjects: the ‘strange sensitivity to skin colour by most adult whites … the search for the Divine … the desire by some to peer into the Void … the issues of a divisive tribalism and the imperatives of an evolving new Australian national identity’. He has produced an eminently readable memoir, uplifting, provocative, and well written. He writes with a light touch on complex issues. His use of pertinent, often amusing, quotes adds a further dimension to his vision of the inter-connectedness of mankind.”

Arasa’s ideal is the Aussie family of man, evolving from the recently achieved cultural diversity. There are signs (footprints) that exist, but we must seek in order to find them. This memoir by an Asian immigrant reflects half a century of observation and analysis during an intensively interactive life in a fast-changing Australia.

Chapter 4 – ‘Which Way to the Cosmos?’
“I find the concepts in ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ most appealing, coming as they do from an agile mind which has managed to embrace cultures usually seen as competitive, or even enemies. This book should prove a precious contribution to mutual understanding”.
– James Murray, SSC, recently retired Religious Affairs Editor, ‘The Australian’

Chapter 5 – ‘Peering into the Void’
“As for your writing, it takes us out of our norms, our comfort zones, and reminds the reader that what we assume is objective historical reality is often mere permeable ideology, an arbitrary sense of order imposed upon the flux of life”.
– Paul Sheehan, Columnist, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ and author.

Chapter 2 – ‘The power of pigmentation’
“The value of Chapter 2 lies in its use of personal experience of living in Australia. One is struck by the author’s sincerity and, at times, magnanimity in recounting the lack of tolerance at the hands of colleagues and acquaintances.”
– Jerzy Zubrzycki, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, ANU

Chapter 6 – ‘The end of tribalism?’
“No question is more likely to provoke a quarrel between friends than some aspect of population policy. Are there too many Australians? Are the ones we have the right kind? Raja Ratnam is doubly privileged to reflect on such matters. He was a Malayan Hindu arrival when White Australia prevailed. By the 1980s, he was a senior public servant dealing with high policy.

His comments strike me as contrary and contradictory. He can be as anachronistic in his portrayal of Aussie customs as he is penetrating in his glimpses into how all Australians have managed the personal strains of living in a new place with even newer-comers. He is at his most perplexing when retelling his professional involvement with immigration policies. No one will read through this chapter without crying out “Too right” before having to stop themselves slamming the book shut with a shout of “What rot”.

Yet his retrospect and his prognosis are conveyed in a congenial voice, one that should contribute more to the sense of communal responsibility that he champions. Meanwhile, his neo-Liberalism seems set to demolish what Australia retains of these values.”
– Humphrey McQueen, historian and author, Canberra

(I sought and obtained pre-publication endorsements for only the above chapters in this book. As with ‘The Karma of Culture,’ the persons I approached had to have an acknowledged expertise and status relevant to the contents of the chapter referred to them.

In collating the memories and knowledge which had fallen out of my memory-bank when I began writing (and that was in response to the suggestion received from the spirit of my favourite uncle during a most significant clairvoyant-led psychic experience), I began with 2 major strands of enquiry: how our ethnic communities reached out to our Creator; and how they related to other ethnic communities sharing their nation.

My underlying intent was to ‘seek to contribute towards building a bridge’ from where I came to where I was. That was the message from the spirit of my uncle. Since I had some expertise in, and personal experience about, migrant settlement, I wrote as I did – presumably under some guidance from the spirit world.

The Family of Man may now seem like pie-in-sky, but one can never know how we will behave after the Sixth Extinction.)

The Karma of Culture – Dedications

Dedicated to –

All the babies
who wiggle their
toes at us

“It is wisdom to live in the world
In the way the world lives”
-Tiruvalluvar (Kural 426)
(South Indian Weaver Sage, 2000 BC)


“Two birds of beautiful plumage, comrades
Inseparable, live on the self same tree.
One bird eats the fruit of pleasure and pain;
The other looks on without eating.”
– Shvetashvatara Upanishad (4.6)

(I offer extracts from the Upanishad, which offers wonderful understanding, if not guidance, about the possible path through the Cosmos for Mankind. I also offer Tiruvalluvar, an Indian sage, whose advice is both locational and historical (as with other great guides for mankind), while highlighting universal societal codes of behaviour based on right conduct.

As for babies, with their wiggly toes and gratitude for being loved, what can I say which we do not already know?)

The Karma of Culture – Recommendations by the US Review of Books

The Karma of Culture
by Raja Arasa Ratnam
Kindle Direct
reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

“It is now Anglo-Celt Australia which therefore has to change. It needs to rebuild its communities to enable the close inter-relation- ships between individuals, which used to prevail before individualism took over their souls.”

This is an enjoyably erudite text that will mean most to thoughtful Australians of all cultures. Ratnam served for nine years as Director of Policy on Australian migrant settlement related issues. Surprisingly, to an American reader, his descriptions of some of the worst ills of current Australian society sound almost exactly like the ills of American society: a large and seemingly expanding lower class of people dependent on government subsidies, subsidies in the main funded by an increasingly burdened middle class, while a small number of very wealthy people look on and offer no assistance to either.

To inhabitants of eastern Asia, Australia beckons, its welcome including housing, health care, and other aid to newly arrived immigrants and even more to those who stay longer. But sadly, despite this open door, old biases remain intact: “The most ridiculous manifestation of such prejudice relates to attitudes to study displayed by Asian children. They are accused of studying inordinately hard, and not developing a rounded personality through participation in sport.”

Ratnam makes a plea for a true multiculturalism that does not force one group to tamp down its cultural practices or religious beliefs (many Asians claim to be Christian upon immigrating, change their diet or manner of dress, in order to make themselves more acceptable to the dominant group) and does not take the color of one’s skin to be one’s only calling card.

Ratnam’s Hinduism is reflected in the book’s title; he says the book came to him as a suggestion “by the spirit world.” It would be hard to find a more cogent and simultaneously engaging treatise on this subject, so neatly organized and neatly phrased that even a neophyte can readily grasp its essence.

The Karma of Culture will, one hopes, be read by serious students of Australian politics, culture, and sociological issues, and by some ordinary people who want to be better informed and can see the correlation between the problems in Ratnam’s Australia and those of rest of the so-called civilized world.


(There is nothing more that I can add to this appraisal. I do, however, accept that the spirit world has had a great deal of influence on my life-path. I do not know why that should be so.

It was a yogi who influenced my mother to send me to Australia; but if she had paid more attention to him, she would have realised that the loss of my life-chances had also been foretold. So, why have me sent to Australia, and then have me return a failure?

During my significant encounter with the spirit of my favourite uncle after my retirement, I was told that the spirit world had experienced difficulty in getting me to Australia; how so? Was it only to have me write books about migrant adaptation? If not, for what other purpose?)

The Karma of Culture – Excerpts

Chapter 1 Be True To Thine Self
There is a tide in the affairs of men
which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
– Shakespeare

I am an integral part of a nation founded in fear. It lives in fear. While it struts the world stage – for example, as a “wannabe” mediator between two nations with nuclear warheads, or as an effusive preacher on human rights to any Asian or Pacific nation which might listen – it continues to be a little fearful.

Chapter 2 Unity In Diversity
She tried to found a salon
but only succeeded in opening
a restaurant
– Oscar Wilde

My relatives and friends, whether living in South East Asia, the USA, Britain, or Australia, speak a lot of English at home and in their ethnic community relations. Some have given away the Hindu religious taboo against beef. Some ignore the social taboo against pork. Yet, in almost every way, their life in their countries of residence is governed by their social customs and cultural traditions.

Chapter 3 A Silent Slippage
People will not look forward
to posterity, who never look
backward to their ancestors.
– Edmund Burke

Anyone brought up surrounded by what is known as Asian values, in that escalating culture war between East and West, will be quietly despondent about the deterioration in Australian families. What are the changes which have emerged, like a slowly rising volcano from the deep seas of a violently disrupted ocean? When and how did these changes come about? What impacts of these changes are manifest, and what are their consequences?

Chapter 4 Keeping The Bastards Honest
All animals are equal
but some animals are
more equal than others
– George Orwell

A colonial subject dreams of the day when the hated, arrogant, oppressor has gone. His people will be free to rule themselves. But, before his reluctant departure, the coloniser sets up a new form of government. In doing so, he is quite certain that the people are not yet ready to govern themselves. Has he not been preparing them for that great day when they are able to rule themselves in an acceptable manner? (I was told that this was taught to children in British schools.)

Chapter 5 Here Comes The Neighbourhood
Her frocks are built in Paris,
but she wears them with an English accent
– Saki

For more than half a century, I have watched with amazement (and some embarrassment) at the way the official Australian, his media acolyte, and many ordinary citizens, hold so assiduously onto that antiquated “whitefella” view of the neighbourhood beyond the nation’s shores.

Chapter 6 We are one
“The whistle shrilled and, in a moment, I was chugging out of Grand Central’s
dreaming spires, followed only by the anguished cries of relatives who would
have to go to work. I had chugged only a few feet when I realized that I had
left without the train, so I had to run back and wait for it to start – – – -S.J.Perelman

In spite of some quibbles and a few strong criticisms, I do aver that Australia is a wonderful nation. It is indeed the nation of the future. We, the people, are a mix of diverse origins living together amicably. As one of the very large influx of post war immigrants, I can say that most of us work very hard to improve ourselves and thus have a positive impact on the nation. Both by choice and by opportunity, I myself have made a small contribution to the direction taken by my nation over the last half century.

(I have extracted the opening paragraphs of each chapter of ‘The Karma of Culture’ to indicate to the reader something of the thrust of each chapter. However, the contents are much deeper, and offer thoughts to interest the thinking reader.

Some of my writing has been described as provocative. But that is the role of an author.)