“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 1)

This last piece of bicultural fiction in my book “Pithy Perspectives” has entranced readers. I offer it in segments, because of its length, but also to allow ‘Wordpress’ readers to digest the events presented. The New South Wales President of the Federation of Australian Writers was quite entranced by this parable.

The Plan

House spoke. He had the right to speak first because he was the Elder of the tribe. Speaking first has traditionally been understood in all manner of societies to indicate unobtrusively, implicitly, and without further sign or signal the authority necessary to lead. Yet, it was also understood that age or seniority did not necessarily deliver that authority. However, House’s tribe had agreed in that democratic way that had been lost since the demise of the Athenians (who, one might remember, had resided in that location which, nearly 1,500 years later, had become part of a new nation called Greece), that House was entitled to speak first.

So, House the mouse spoke first. But, as soon as he started to articulate his scrambled thoughts, for rapidly advancing age does tend to scramble – as with an egg in a frying pan being man-handled (so to speak) – thoughts, both formed and preformed, Mona (his number one wife) began to moan. Her moaning did not, however, discomfit the tribe because Mona always knew what House was going to say – so she claimed.

Was she clairvoyant? On the contrary, she had lived with House long enough to anticipate not only his words but also his thoughts. Ah, so she thought! She really should have consulted his sainted mother, now in the land of the angels, and thereby able to guide her. For House was not a common house mouse (that is how he received his pseudonym) or even a garden mouse. He was indeed an intellectual mouse who, when the moon was in conjunction with Pluto (not the neighbor’s dog), could not only see into the future but also anticipate trouble. That might explain why he had not been eaten by Whicky, the Persian cat who shared the house with him.

Whicky, so named by little Virginia who, at age eighteen months, had displayed the normal age-related inability to say certain sounds, was a very relaxed beast. He must have been since he seemed unable to see or even sense the presence of House when they were only a meter apart in the kitchen. But Whicky was not the problem. It was Mangy Maxwell (MM), Whicky’s best friend, who lived next door, who posed an existence-threatening problem. Existence is, of course, as Whicky had already intuited, an ephemeral matter. Well, not so much matter as energy perhaps. For, as the ancient Hindus have taught, not only is matter interchangeable with energy, all existence is only Maya; that is, neither real (but not in a Platonic sense) nor unreal and that both real and unreal are merely transitory emanations from that ocean of consciousness from which all objects with form and name arise.

To counter MM, the mice in House’s environs had tried travelling en masse. Yet, after each foraging trip through the paddocks adjoining House’s domain, there would be one less member. They believed that cunning MM had somehow managed to side-swipe into his maws one of their lot.

House had finally decided to have a confabulation. He, in his Whicky-derived wisdom – because it was Whicky’s demeanor which had allowed House to grow old and thereby wise – knew what the solution was. But, before he could speak, Mona had risen with all the authority of ancient wives to speak for him. Big mistake! Wife number two, Angelina, much younger and not as bound by habituation, was not about to let Mona upstage House. So she broke into the moaning that had just begun to flow like water over-flowing a bathtub and insisted – ever so courteously and in that acceptable voice of gentility which is far more persuasive than any other kind of oral delivery – that House should have his leadership say.

Gratefully, House stood up (on his hind legs of course) and spoke. He spoke with that authority which can only come from leadership – whether imposed or earned. He uttered these words of profound wisdom: “We need to bell that cat!”

 

The Problem

Thus, in the beginning were the words. The words were: “We need to bell that cat!”

Then came the void – the void of ocean-deep silence. And what silence! Was there such a silence after God had said to her entourage, “I am, there I create”?

The silence convinced House that he had not dropped a clanger. His suggested solution for the tribe was sound. That terrible silence surrounded the mice and suspended all potential sounds in much the same way as a sea mist seeps onto its foreshore, engulfing, as it were, all other matter whether alive or dead, animate or inanimate, conscious or unconscious. The silence which had suddenly flooded the consciousness of the mice was not as heavy as that winter fog that can press down upon one with its weight of moisture about to be deposited without discrimination upon freedom-filled flesh or feathers. It was also not like the summer mist that filters the dawning light to produce an enlightening glow which yet renders insubstantial all that it subsumes.

Instead, in that deep void of silence, all the brains brought to the confabulation of mice suddenly went berserk. Never had these brains been so stimulated. Never had the normal chatter of trivia which so occupies the lives of mice (and mankind) been silenced by the enormity of this plan of concerted action. And thus and thereby, all the brains went into hyper-drive. If channeled into some kind of propulsive mechanism, collectively they could have found themselves in one of the inter-galactic “worm-holes” alleged by certain speculative cosmologists to link any one universe with another.

But then what would mice know about the Cosmos? On the other hand, how are we humans to know whether intergalactic or interstellar travelers (viz. anthropologists, members of the food supply industry, or armament merchants) have not already insinuated themselves into each and every life-form on Earth? If this has already happened, it would only be an extension of the now well-known path of neo-colonialism. This process of entrapment of the resources and minds of “others” (that is, those who are not “us”) is currently being propagated with a prodigious proficiency by the lust of the last of the white-skinned colonizers. As ever, similarly pigment-deficient accumulators of the assets of others had, over a few recent centuries, not accepted that all humans are but projections from the one and only Creator of the universe and that the urge to control resources that transitorily belong to “others” is truly futile. After all, one cannot even take one’s material body into the ether on Judgment Day. It must be admitted, however, that mice normally do not bother themselves with matters which preoccupy the minds of socially sensitive souls of the human kind, intergalactic and interstellar observer-participants of mice (and mankind) possibly (and probably) excluded.

After an extended silence of the void created by many minds in gear, one mouse started to speak. In his excitement at having suddenly produced a clear and undeniable thought, he forgot to ask for permission to speak from the chairman, his tribal leader. House therefore would not accept his right to stand up (on his hind legs of course) and to speak. As soon as the others saw Porthos (the mouse who thought that he had a clear and undeniable thought) stand up, they erupted. Vesuvius, that great volcano of ancient lore, would have been envious. Fortunately, unlike that eruption that had destroyed Pompeii, the eruption at the confabulation of mice was only oral. An observer of this aural reverberation might be forgiven for remembering, with some amusement, that famous childhood aphorism: “I tought I tought I saw a puddy tat”. For any vision of the pussycat MM, whether real, imagined, or illusory, would certainly have caused a comparable decampment.

The dam was now broken. All those mouse brains in gear, silently churning all manner of clear ideas and fragmentary thoughts as well as visions and feelings not quite ready to be transformed mentally into unspoken words now switched from processing to projection. All that mental grinding, not unlike the grinding of the tectonic plates below the surface of Earth, led to the uplifting into potentially vocal sounds, again not unlike the uplifting of ground-up magma within a volcano, and finally to that mighty explosion of sound. Vesuvius would indeed have been envious.

In the process, poor Porthos was drowned out, but only aurally. Even if the sounds were all near-subliminal squeaks, the uproar was truly deafening. But House cleverly allowed them all to jump up and down and have their say. This they all did simultaneously. He realized that all that brain-power had to be released. He therefore waited patiently for that strange phenomenon demonstrated by large vocal groups: when all the froth and fury of self-expression had been exhausted, there would be a silence – the silence of uncertainty. The unspoken question would then be: “Where do we go from here?” Or, more pithily (as that great Chinese sage Lin Yu Tang might have said to his porcine pet): “What now, old sow?’

 

 

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‘Musings at Death’s Door’ – Ponderings of significance

The full title of this book is “Musings at Death’s Door – an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.”  It is a rear-vision-mirror view of Australia after more than 60 years of a highly interactive and contributory life as an adult. The book was first published in 2012.

Chapter 2 – On subservience

“I am intrigued by the discrepancy between the independent stance of the Anglo-Australian worker (originally the bulk of the people) and the obsequiousness/arrogance of Australian governments.  Having been a tram conductor, worked in factories and offices, and socialised with all levels of Australian society, I say categorically that this Aussie worker is someone I respect.  He is the one who will stop to help you were your car to break down on the street.  He stands tall at all times, and encourages immigrants to emulate him.

Contradictorily, Australian governments are subservient, but selectively; originally it was to Mother Britain, later to stepfather USA.  Yet, they will throw their weight about in the Pacific (their US-allocated bailiwick), or look askance at the newly independent nations of Asia with foreign faiths.  These nations will never bend their necks again, and will not pay the respect claimed by Australia.”

Chapter 3 – On family and society

“The family is the basic unit of society.  Some extraordinary, some terrible, changes have seriously affected Australian society since my arrival two generations ago.  These changes parallel those elsewhere in the Western world.  The individualism underpinning those Western nations I describe as Ultra-West has been honed, through associated personal rights, to the point that many children and society at large may be seen as at risk.

Is society, as the coherent collective that we have known it to be historically, on a downward trajectory in Australia?  Will any sense of community and the reciprocal responsibilities within it survive?  Will my Australian descendants, who have grown up without significant support from an extended family, continue to be deprived, relative to my own extended family overseas, of the moral and cultural support available in a community which is linked genetically?”

Chapter 4 – On governance

“Australia plays a prominent part in the push for developing nations of interest to the Western world to adopt our form of politics.  A vote for each adult should lead to governments based on representative democracy.  This will replace traditional tribal governance with rule by political parties (the new form of tribalism), aided and abetted by religious groupings (the other form of tribalism).

Whereas traditional tribal leaders, with a durable leadership, focus on the long-term needs of their tribes, the leaders of political parties, whose leadership is relatively transient, will focus on their short-term survival needs.  The consequential contrast may be between a stable society with a relatively stagnant regional economy, and a relatively unstable society engaged in some economic growth, where on-going growth is a condition of survival.

The core issue is whether the acquisition of a voting right results in voters having any effective say in the politics of elected governments; and whether this is an improvement over traditional tribal rule.”

Chapter 5 – On racism and tribalism

“When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased.  Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, there is little danger in Australia now joining the Family of Man.

However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant.  In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?”

Chapter 6 – On multiculturalism

“Multiculturalism has become a divisive term.  Instead of being a mere descriptive term for an admixture of ethnic cultures, it has now come to reflect an official policy.  This policy enables permanent residence for ethno-cultural communities with religion-based traditions which are widely divergent from those of the mainstream populace; with the new communities wishing to retain their traditions unmodified by time.

An unsought, and an even undesirable, consequence of this policy is that, instead of converging in time with the socio-political structures of the host population, there develop, by choice, parallel cultural structures.  These either delay or deny a desirable eventual integration of these new arrivals into the mainstream populace.  The enlarged population is now not a unified people bonded by a shared citizenship and shared civic values.

Ironically, while these introduced communities seek to retain their version of ancestral cultures intact, back in the countries of origin of these new communities, their cultural practices keep evolving.”

Chapter 7 – On migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

“Modern Australia was founded by immigrants, and developed by immigrants.  Under the sway of capitalism – that the economy must grow for ever – governments tend to favour a rising rate of immigration.  This policy is the preferred substitute for a long-term development plan, or even a population policy.  Awaiting  God’s Will may explain this approach.

However, refugees and asylum seekers either cannot afford to wait, or choose not to wait, for God’s Will.  Of course, there are genuine refugees and ‘wannabe’ refugees.  The majority of the latter are most likely to be economic migrants who, in all probability, will not pass our normal selection process.

Today, asylum seeking is probably the biggest entry racket, aided by some Aussies who seem to believe that the Australian taxpayer is required to benefit a claimant for refugee status.  This is in contrast to tradition where the migrant is expected to benefit Australia.  Even border control now awaits God’s Will, since neither side of politics has any policy worthy of note.  In the meantime, what are the issues involved?”

Chapter 8 – On national identity

“I do wonder if a nation can have its own identity.  Might it be defined in the same way that a personal identity is drawn?  But then, is there a single personal identity for each individual?

In British Malaya, the land of my birth, we were classified according to the territory from which we had come.  I was therefore Ceylonese.  In post-war White Australia, I was initially described as a black man, occasionally black bastard.  Later, I was an Asian student, with Immigration authorities ensuring that we did not become over-stayers.  Then I became an Indian, because everyone brown in colour, other than the indigene, was Indian; although I was occasionally asked when my Afghan ancestors had arrived in Australia.

Later, much later, like everyone else, I was defined by my work, with passing reference to my origins.  Occupation and status were standard delineations of identity.  However, when my wife and I mixed with middle-range diplomats, I was assumed to be a foreign diplomat;              brown-skinned Asian Australians were a missing species.  I guess that my wife and I scrubbed up well too, and spoke ‘proper like.’  Among the academics, I was assumed to be one of them; my tendency to speak in jargon from the social sciences may have misled them all.  I was a mere public servant.  In this arena, one’s social contacts were obliquely, yet inevitably, set by one’s position in the pecking order!”

Chapter 9 – On religion

“While increasing numbers of our younger generations do not see religious affiliation as relevant to their lives, the governments of a secular Australia permit the social values of an authoritarian Vatican to impose these values on non-Catholics.  By favouring Christian immigrants, especially from Asia and Africa, federal governments have sought to counter the progressive erosion of church affiliation.  Strengthening the Catholic vote almost led to East Timor becoming a dependency of Australia.  Religion also interferes with our relations with our neighbours.

Yet, I accept that religious belief can be beneficial.  The need is for mutual tolerance, with the power of divisive priests and their acolyte politicians constrained.  My musings follow.

Almost all of those who profess to having, or believing in, a religion are born into it.  Is it not the religion or faith of the family?  Some exchange their religion for another later in life: it would be a well-thought out shift of allegiance, reflecting a search for a more satisfying faith or religious community.  There will be of course some who are born into a family without adherence to any religious belief, but who may subsequently join a religious sect through a considered choice.”

Chapter 10 – On the Cosmos

“To ponder is also to wonder.  Tiny drops of moisture, each on its own blade of grass, winked at me early one morning.  As the sun’s rays changed direction, an invisible movement of ground-level air created a choreography – a dance of winking droplets.  How aesthetically and spiritually satisfying that was!  Indeed, the beauty of wondrous Nature has always transfixed my ever-roving mind.  To wonder is therefore also to ponder.

A Seeker of Reality will commence with the question ‘What is it?’  In time, his search may lead to the next question ‘Why is it so?’  Is the next logical question then ‘Quo Vadis?; that is, ‘Whither goest thou?’  There surely has to be a destination for our journey through Earthly existence, through life after life.  Is there also a destination for our universe, other possible universes, and the Cosmos as a whole?”

Chapter 11 – On empires, gone and going

“When I ponder about empires, I do so both as a former vote-less colonial subject, and a present-day free citizen.  I now belong to a satrapy, a country subservient to a great power, but I am not in the least fussed about that.  I wonder, perhaps with misguided charity, whether any long-term benefits (even if unintended) had accrued to mankind as a consequence of the great empires of history.  My intuition says that there may have been some benefits at a regional, rather than a global, level.

My feelings dominate my thoughts about colonialism.  These are about the loss of personal freedom and political independence; the imposition of foreign religio-cultural values and the consequent denigration and attempted destruction of the cultural beliefs and practices of the conquered and oppressed people; and the subversion of the local economy and much of the way of life of its workforce to suit the trading and other economic wants of the coloniser.  After all, the interloper was not there for the benefit of the so-called natives; for instance, to teach us how to govern ourselves (as a friend of mine was taught at his school in England).”

Chapter 12 – Concluding my musings

“From early boyhood I have wanted to know about the Cosmos; about nations and why they behave as they do; about key aspects of society anywhere and everywhere; and about what makes we humans behave the way we do.

More recently, I have pondered the following issues.  What determines the trajectories of our lives?  Does the spirit world normally impact upon humanity?  If so, why?  Is there a Creator behind human affairs as well as the Cosmos as a whole?  How can we really know what we think we know?

My most recent interest is in how people divided by their cultures, including religion, can reach out to one another.  How can we un-learn taught prejudice, and accept that inner yearning within us to accept one another?  Would a sense of belonging to the same nation (hopefully with some pride) induce a feeling of one people, in time?

Perhaps because of my increasing understanding of humanity, and possibly some maturity on my part, I find myself becoming more frivolous, while simultaneously ‘taking no shit’ from anyone.  I have had enough of ‘racism,’ tribalism and religious prejudice.  Thankfully, I have finally achieved mental as well as spiritual peace.”

 

Read my books ’The Karma of Culture’ and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ about the issues of immigrant integration, and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ which offers contrasts between Australia and Malaysia/Singapore in the manner ethnic communities relate to one another.    
 

 

 

 

‘Musings at Death’s Door’ – Extracts

Preface

“Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948.  Then, it was (ridiculously) officially racist; today, any intended racism is likely to be subterranean (the yobbo excepted).  Then, it was mono-cultural, mono-lingual, and mono-coloured, and very British (the ‘wogs’ of white Europe had not arrived yet); today, it is multi-ethnic and thereby multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-coloured (although recent black humanitarian entrants are viewed askance by some, mainly because they may not be economically viable for a long time), and traditionally egalitarian.

That is, while the nation has evolved into a modern cosmopolitan, generally integrated people, the ‘fair-go’ ethos of the ‘old’ Anglo-Australian underpins both official policies and much of interpersonal relations.  As a communitarian small-l liberal, metaphysical Hindu, and a card-carrying Christian, I applaud this.  I believe that Australia could become a beacon for our neighbouring nations were we to deal with them with our feet on this platform

Yet, because of the ‘Asian values’ which formed me in colonial British Malaya, I do not accept, as an all-embracing ethos, the individualism which underpins Western nations, especially those created by immigrants, viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Their human rights record is also deplorable.

These nations seek to shove a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Western view of human rights onto those nations of interest to us.  The intent of this approach is the destruction of tribalism and communitarian values.

In the meanwhile, exaggerated and often self-nominated individual rights have led to the breakdown of family, which has traditionally been the backbone of society everywhere.  Excepting those few involved in civil society (I am one of them), there is a rising tide of ‘takers.’  These are found at all levels – from foreign investors, corporate leaders and politicians, down to the many professionally work-shy welfare recipients.

Pockets of well-meaning individuals, seemingly unable or unwilling to consider seriously relevant policy issues, form glee clubs supporting the takers or those who seek to take, eg. asylum seekers.  Communal responsibility and personal respect are thinning out like an outgoing tide at the beach.  Since our politicians are pre-occupied with short-term politics rather than long-term policies – the current batch presenting themselves as the worst I have experienced – the community, by and large, reminds me of the movement of an empty stoppered bottle floating on rough seas.

Where goes my adopted nation, to which I have made a substantial contribution, especially in civil society?  With little time left, I ponder about those issues of interest to me.  These, I believe, are relevant for all thinking fellow-Australians.  My musings are naturally filtered through my bicultural values.”

Biculturalism

Being a bicultural Asian in a Western nation has given me a significant advantage.  I can understand the divide between those acculturated (as I was) in what the former Prime Minister of Singapore (Mr. Lee Kuan Yew) popularised as ‘Asian values,’ and those who were conditioned by life in an immigrant-created nation which could not provide extended families and their near-universal role.  Newly-inhabited countries such as Australia simply lacked the communal support that one is born into in Asia.

By necessity, I became acclimatised to living, initially alone, later within my own nuclear family, in a society which requires self-sufficiency.  In some of us, this situation engenders a wish to contribute to the welfare of one’s community by volunteering time and effort.  I have thus had my head in the clouds of Asian values (metaphorically speaking), with my feet firmly planted on the hard rock of individualism, which now respects not authority figures and even one’s elders.

For individual Asians in this bifurcated society, there is the solace of a spiritual life.  This assists me in achieving a necessary balance between two cultures.

Now, who am I?  What is my background?  And how am I enabled to ponder at some depth about my adopted nation?

I am 83.years old.  I am thereby well past my statistical use-by date.  No member of my extended family has survived longer.  Greater longevity may of course have applied to earlier generations living in our ancestral land in Jaffna in the north of Ceylon; we are known to be a hardy people.

As a tribe, we are also known to have earned an adequate living from a harsh land for more than two thousand years; to have competed more than successfully with the Singhalese majority of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in academe, in civil society, and in the public service, while living under British suzerainty.  Subsequently, we have adapted successfully to the diverse Western nations to which, as an on-going diaspora, we migrated.  Initially, migration was for economic reasons; later, for political reasons.

In Australia, to which I was despatched by either my personal destiny or the spirit world, I have adapted successfully.  Indeed, I have also integrated successfully, including holding leadership positions in civil society.  My initial preference was naturally for living with my own people in the land of my birth.  Why so?  Because the land of my birth was, already in my time, multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious; and with a mutual tolerance between the Asian communities there far in advance of that level of inter-cultural tolerance to be reached in Australia by the end of the twentieth century

It is highly probable that I will be ejected from the departure lounge of life fairly soon.  Because my observations of key aspects of Australia, from the vantage point of ‘Asian values,’ began more than six decades (or about two generations) ago, there should be some socio-cultural and historical value in the attached musings.  I need to highlight, however, that my thoughts have been filtered through my anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-communist (that is, freedom-loving) values.”

 

 

 

 

‘Musings at Death’s Door’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM – Overview

‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’

Near what I considered to be the end of my life (as erroneously forecast by an otherwise accurate clairvoyant), I decided to take a rear-vision-mirror look at the nation into which I had been sent by the spirit world (I did once think of it as exile). Having survived the White Australia era unscathed; having had my career path blocked four times unfairly; having a creditable record of accomplishments during my contributions to civil society; having experienced a full life in a Western milieu over nearly 7 decades, while retaining the spiritual values of Asia which had formed me, I was in a position to place on record my considered conclusions about Australia and its society.

During a 30+ year career as a public official, I had spent 14 years dealing with the private sector, and 9 years with leaders of our immigrant communities, with some significant contact with ministers of government, and a slight tussle with a shire council about citizen rights; and served on many committees wherever I lived. My Anglo-Australian wife supported me in all these activities.

I had been the national president of Australian Rostrum (akin to Toastmasters), and responsible for opening membership to women; the founder of a public speaking competition for primary schools in the national capital and surrounding townships, and co-founder of a comparable nation-wide competition for secondary schools; as foundation chairman of a school board, I had produced (and had accepted) an outline of an educational program for primary school students about religion.

I had also received a Meritorious Service Award from my trade union for my decade-long contribution to career protection in the federal public service. My only failure was in my efforts over 7 years, after retirement, to achieve improved health services in my Shire. I feel that I understand my country of adoption to be able to write objectively, while being proud of its achievements.

An endorsement pre-publication

“Raja Ratnam has lived a full life and made significant contributions to Australian life over six decades.  His experience as an Asian in Australia from the time of White Australia to that of multiculturalism is unique.  This book is a final distillation of the wisdom he has gained over that time. He provides insight into a wide range of areas from society and culture to religion.  And even better, his insights reflect his unique experience.  There is wisdom here and, like all of his work, this book is rich, intelligent and provocative. A major contribution to Australian culture.” –Prof. Greg Melleuish, History & Politics, Wollongong University

A review

Recommended by the US Review of Books, as follows:

“Before I leave this shell, my body, I need to recognise what it is that I have learnt from my turbulent but interesting life.”

“This book is a commentary about how Australia has changed since the author first moved there in 1948. This work stands on its own merit, however his previous nonfiction work, The Dance of Destiny, describes the prejudices he, as an Asian from British Malaya, experienced. Those experiences are discussed in this latest book, as they relate to his observations of how society has reacted to different races, nationalities, languages, and religions.

Ratnam witnessed a change from White Australia to a multi-cultural, multi-lingual nation. During his years of public service, he achieved several high-ranking positions in areas of refugee settlement and migration, education, and humanitarian work. He was also denied positions because of his ethnicity. Even though he was well-known in his field, including serving as an advisor at a government level, he still faced racism from time to time. In the early 1970s, the country developed an official entry policy that was non-discriminating. Skin color was no longer an official issue. In fact, as more immigrants arrived from ethnically diverse backgrounds, more social workers were needed who could speak those languages and understand the cultures.

This well-written book flows easily from one point to another. It is excellent for anyone studying sociology, public service, immigration policies, and related categories. It is also a recommended read for those who are not necessarily students, but who are interested in how a nation went from being “very British” to one of diversity acceptance. To use the author’s words, “Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948.”

Presentation at Beijing Book Fair 2016

The book was presented at this fair by Dr. Irina Webster of the Australian Self-Publishing Group.

Chapter headings

Chapter  1     On Biculturalism

Chapter  2      On Subservience

Chapter  3      On Family & Society

Chapter  4      On Governance

Chapter  5      On Racism & Tribalism

Chapter  6      On Multiculturalism

Chapter  7      On Migrants, Refugees & Asylum Seekers

Chapter  8     On Religion

Chapter  9      On the Cosmos

Chapter  10      On National Identity

Chapter  11      On Empires – gone & going

Chapter  12      Conclusion

 

EXTRACTS from chapter 12

From early boyhood I have wanted to know about the Cosmos;  about nations and why they behave as they do;  about key aspects of society anywhere and everywhere;  and about what makes we humans behave the way we do.

More recently, I have pondered the following issues.  What determines the trajectories of our lives?  Does the spirit world normally impact upon humanity?  If so, why?  Is there a Creator behind human affairs as well as the Cosmos as a whole?  How can we really know what we think we know?

My most recent interest is in how people divided by their cultures, including religion, can reach out to one another.  How can we un-learn taught prejudice, and accept that inner yearning within us to accept one another?  Would a sense of belonging to the same nation (hopefully with some pride) induce a feeling of one people, in time?

Perhaps because of my increasing understanding of humanity, and possibly some maturity on my part, I find myself becoming more frivolous, while simultaneously ‘taking no shit’ from anyone.  I have had enough of ‘racism,’ tribalism and religious prejudice.  Thankfully, I have finally achieved mental as well as spiritual peace.

My musings, as recorded above, are obviously tentative.  If I have time, I would possibly revise them;  but that will not happen.  So, why record these musings?  To show that I have learnt.  To whom?  It is always possible that the Cosmos will guide some kindred spirits to take my thoughts into their ponderings about what it is all about; in which event, I would not have lived in vain.

Nevertheless, I will take with me my learning and add to it through my future lives.  That is my perceived trajectory of re-iterative existence, hopefully leading to that realisation of why it is so.

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Dance of Destiny’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM – Overview

PART 1  :   THE WHEELS FELL OFF

Chapter  1  –  The upheaval

Covers the attack by the Japanese on Malaya in Dec 1941, the surprising retreat of British and Australian troops, the Japanese military Occupation begun in early 1942, and life under the Japanese until 1945.  Sub-headings are: a casual contact; a speedy withdrawal; avoiding the bombs; life under the Japanese.  This last sub-heading is further broken down to: the early days; the latter days; the final days; a retrospect.

The retrospect highlights the corruption of Christian colonialism, Japanese military brutality, the starvation of the people and, for my family and the surrounding neighbourhood, a reign of terror imposed for a period by a gang of communist anti-Japanese (so they claimed as they carried out some killing of civilians).

Chapter  2  –  Back in time

Describes in detail the peaceful progressive life of an immigrant family from Ceylon in the context of the British administration before the Japanese Occupation.  Sub-headings are: origins; boyhood; the way we lived.  Highlights the religious and cultural tolerance of people of diverse origins, and the way we all lived.

Chapter  3  –  Forward in time

With the defeat of Japan, Malaya became focused on the future, on freedom from foreign rule.  The author’s life, however, falls apart.  Yet, there is a glimmer of light ahead.  After a short flare of hope, the author’s life again appears doomed, when his Anglo-Australian wife rejects him on his return to Australia.  This leaves him in a societal and geographical limbo.  A quotation from the Upanishads indicates the author’s optimism-larded realism. 

Sub-headings are: a new beginning; the descent to doom; keeping afloat; Quo Vadis.  The end is dramatic: the reader, like the author, is left in suspense.

PART  2 :  OF HOLES WHICH WERE NOT THERE

Chapter  1  –  Quo Vadis

The author restates his dilemma, but now within the context of family and tribal origins and background.  He draws together the many strands of Destiny-derived influences.  These suggest that he is to belong to Australia.  Yet, there he was, stranded at a kerbside in the city of Melbourne on a cold winter’s morning in 1953.  Reconciliation with his wife offers a future, but in a nation of white supremacists and colonial arrogance.

Chapter  2  –  Memories of White Australia

As necessary stage-setting background, the author recounts his disastrous life in Australia between 1948 and 1952.  The country and people of Australia, as perceived by the author in that period, are presented as further relevant background.  The insights he has gained, the lessons learned, and his obvious respect for Australia’s ‘fair-go’ ethos ready him for his precarious future.

Chapter  3  –  A failed takeoff

In spite of a tremendous effort, involving a substantial denial of sleep over four years, the author is unable to find appropriate graduate employment.  He is a foreigner, and a coloured one as well, as made clear to him.  He has to move to the national capital (a small town set in a desert) to become a public servant.  Beggars cannot be choosers!

Chapter  4  –  The trek to the new world

The sub-headings ‘The launching’ and ‘Settling in’ describe the author’s multifarious experiences, especially his contributory exposure to a range of significant facets of society in the national capital.  He has an interesting life, being involved in an unusually wide range of societal issues.  With his second wife, he builds his family, and becomes integrated into the nation (as the spirit world might have expected).

Then, having  his career path overtly blocked because (as again made clear to him) he is “not one of us”, he moves on.

Chapter  5  –  The forks in the road

There are 2 forks here, the first highlighting the maturation of Australia through its policies on immigrant settlement (of a diverse intake) and citizenship enhancement, leading to an evolving national identity.

The second fork reflects the widening gulf between the Asian values relating to family and respect for one’s elders, and the individualism of the Ultra-West, those nations created by immigrants.  The author decries the alienation overtaking the nation, essentially through the breakdown of the nuclear family.

The author provides adequate detail on both forks, based upon his knowledge and personal experience.

Chapter  6  –  Ultimate Reality

In this chapter the author gathers together all the threads of his life experiences, and ties them into a spiritually coherent philosophy of human existence.  The path available is clearly upward.

Overview :  The nature, role and impact of Destiny are woven lightly through the whole MS.  In much the same way, a personal narrative is set casually in each chapter in the context of relevant geography, history, sociology, politics and philosophy.  Official policies pertinent to each segment of the narrative give additional depth and some colour.

The embellishments, in a story-telling approach, are not easily compartmentalised within each chapter; instead, they float in and out, often with a glancing touch.

Having completed his responsibilities to family and society, he now awaits, in mental and spiritual peace, his return to that Way Station; there he hopes to expand his learning.

 

‘The Dance of Destiny’ – Endorsements and Reviews

”Raja Arasa Ratnam’s ‘The Dance of Destiny’ can be read in a number of ways. The most approachable for a Westerner is as memoir and history. … Australia (very like the USA) is a land of immigrants and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ is as much a coming-of-age story for Australia as it is Ratnam’s. We follow the nation from political and cultural adolescence after WWII as reflected in its unconscious assumption that White is, quite naturally, the superior skin colour and Christianity, quite supernaturally, the only way to God.

Ratnam’s social and professional experiences are one long litany of injustices, but by the end of his career in government he records major advances in immigration and ethnic policies and develops a true affection for his chosen country. “Thus” he writes, “In terms of humanity, and a very necessary ethnic diversity, I saw the beginnings of a new Australia.”

So, this a very interesting and thought provoking book and made even more so where the narrative is interspersed with the author’s metaphysical meditations. Ratnam has read deeply and written at length about religion and spirituality.

Such contemplation has made him more able to accept what he calls his wheels-falling-off experiences as mere “manifestations of human will-power and folly, in a universe whose external and internal trajectories are symbolically signified by the flight of dragons,” … Believing as he does in reincarnation and the role of Destiny in his life, there is no closure to his story. One thinks, rightly so.”    BookReview.com

ENDORSEMENTS PRE-PUBLICATION

 Part 1 – THE WHEELS FELL OFF

” … an extraordinary piece of work. … it is unique because not only does it evoke in a rich fashion a life that has been extraordinary … but is also deeply reflective about what it means to be human. … an account of a journey of a soul, an account that enriches us as we continue on our individual pilgrimages through life.” –     Dr. Greg Melleuish, Associate Professor, School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong, Australia, and author

“As one might expect from a Tamil-Malayan-Australian, Raja Ratnam offers cross-grained reflections on his early life. Here is anecdote and analysis from an author who resorts to quotation despite sharpening epigrams of his own. Whether grieving or jocular, he is, by turn, percipient and puzzled, sceptical yet superstitious. The wheels have not fallen off his humanity.” –     Humphrey McQueen, historian and author, Canberra

” The witty, bittersweet reminiscences of a man travelling between cultures, observing and questioning systems and beliefs around him … This intriguing saga, packed with information on Tamil-Indian-Malay customs, offers a cosmic worldview with a twist.” –    Dr. Anne-Marie Smith, President, Multicultural Writers’ Association of Australia

Part 2 – OF HOLES WHICH WERE NOT THERE

“Here is a unique picture of Australia over the past 60 years by one who is both an outsider and an insider. It provides a picture of this country that may be uncomfortable to the reader at times because it tells truths that they would rather not hear. It is written by a man who not only has a soul but is willing to share his spiritual insights with us. If you wish to understand Australia as it really is, you must read Raj!” –     Associate Prof. Dr Greg Melleuish, School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong, Australia

“Thought provoking! Reflections based in sixty years at the heart of Australia’s post 1945-immigration process raise disturbing but necessary questions. Optimism tinged with realism prevails. Most strongly recommended.” –     Dr. John Atchison, Honorary Fellow, School of Humanities, University of New England, Australia.

“A gross understatement of the author’s achievements. A coloured immigrant, having been denied equal opportunity and fair treatment, in spite of proven managerial skills, became a prominent leader and an agent of desirable changes in civil society. With his insights, he offers hope for a racially diverse Australia.” –     Danny Ronis, retired Commercial Manager (treated as a ‘wog’, in spite of being born in Australia, because my father was a European.)

OTHER REVIEWS

The US Review of Books ‘Recommended’

“…my personal river of Destiny took me to where I had to go, no matter how hard I paddled to change directions.”

“What path does a man’s life take, and why? This nonfiction narrative is the author’s personal account of his journey. Born into a Ceylon Tamil family living in British-colonized Malaya, he was used to a multi-cultural environment. … After the war, he was accepted to study in Australia, and later had a distinguished career working with refugees and immigrants in the midst of racism.

This 411-page work does not get bogged down. Ratnam gives enough explanation to keep his story flowing without belabouring the issue. … It is not only the author’s life that is interesting, but it is how his background mixed with the larger significance of events happening around him that makes this book stand out. Ratnam discusses both harmony and prejudice based on race, religion, language, and customs, providing insight for any college student of sociology, race relations (including job discrimination), history of Malaya and Australia, Hinduism, or migrant settlement policies.”

Kirkus Discoveries – review

“A detailed exploration of a personal journey through varying cultures and countries. … Ratnam has a rare view of spiritual destiny, colonial politics and cultural identity. This memoir traces his childhood … to his move to Australia … creating a diverse array of cross-cultural situations. From the arrogance of British colonials disparaging the Asian cultures in ‘40s-era Malaysia, to the fight for immigrant equality in present-day Australia, the author examines racial and cultural divisions. He also speculates on the role that destiny places on life’s journey.”

 

 

 

‘The Dance of Destiny’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

This book was originally intended to be a memoir, for the benefit of my extended family. Blood- and marriage-related members of this family live mainly in Malaysia and Singapore; some are, however, to be found in Britain, the USA, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Sri Lanka. However, when 14 readers in 4 countries found Part 1(‘The wheels fell off’) very interesting; and a few others later found Part 2 (‘Falling into holes which were not there’) had deep spiritual implications, I had to publish it. In any event, a clairvoyant foretold its publication (in 2004).

This is a personal story, which is also reflective of the recent history of three modern nations.  It is written in the first person as experiences, thoughts, relationships, and observations. The latter are of life, of society, and of individuals, as well as of psychic phenomena, and of the Cosmos. The story is set in colonial British Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore) and in White Australia.

The personal story is of a peaceful life being suddenly transformed into disasters, the major ones having been foretold by a yogi from the Himalayas. These events are portrayed as wheels falling off the author’s life-chances cart. Other disasters are represented as falling into holes which were not there, a quaint concept of philosophical import. Suffering and sorrow, trials and tribulations, juxtaposed with a sustained extraordinary effort to survive, and some consequential achievements and joy, lead the author to examine the nature and role of Destiny. This naturally leads to assertions about matters spiritual. Spin-off benefits of this approach are an understanding:  of cosmic cause and effect; of an acceptance of ultimate Reality as an achievable prospect; of the bonds available between fellow humans; and of prospects of a desirable future when Asian values uplift the ‘fair-go’ ethos of Australia; and vice versa.

This understanding is relevant to the historical presentation of British colonial arrogance, Japanese brutality during its military occupation of Malaya, as well as the progressive evolution of a cohesive multicultural Malayan people from diverse ethnic origins. This scenario is then contrasted with the author’s experiences of the racism of the White Australia era, and the ongoing sensitivity and some fear by the Anglo-Celt Australian of coloured people from ancient civilisations and their cultures.  A further contrast is the religious tolerance already manifest in pre-war Malaya with the bitter religious contest of post-war Christian Australia. The author experienced both racism and tribalism in his career, being “too black” to be a psychologist, and the Australian worker in the private sector being “not ready to accept a foreign executive, especially a coloured one.”

Part 1 of the book (‘The Wheels Fell Off’) deals predominantly with pre-independence Malaya until 1953, and a brief East-West interlude.  The latter reflects the author’s marriage to, and a brief but interesting life in Singapore with, his Anglo-Australian wife. This part ends with the wife rejecting the husband on a cold winter’s morning at the kerbside of her parental home in Melbourne shortly thereafter. To rejoin her, the author, the abject black sheep of the family, the pariah of the community, had cut off any claim he had to return to his roots.  This left him in limbo, both geographical and societal. The ending to Part 1 is indeed dramatic.

Descriptions of ordinary life under the Japanese (not commonly published) have historical significance, according to a professor of history and politics in Australia.

In about 65,000, words the author has woven a light mesh of geography, history, sociology, politics and philosophy, in which he has embedded the story of his ‘wheels-falling-off’ experiences.  More than a dozen readers in four countries have said that it is an interesting ’read’, and well written.  The three pre-publication endorsements and the professional appraisal confirm this.

Part 2 (‘Of holes which were not there’) is set in Australia, from 1953 to the present. In about 65,000 words, it covers 55 years of the author’s life as a settler in a country he did not choose to live in, commencing with his exposure to the virulence of White Australia. His varied and highly contributory life; the career barriers experienced (including the shifting of goalposts, racist treatment, and the ganging up by some Roman Catholics of a so-called Irish persuasion); personal involvement as a volunteer in education policy, in career protection in the public sector, and (currently) in community health services; and some confusing psychic phenomena, are woven into a coherent whole into this part of the manuscript. As well, relevant aspects of society and community relations are included.

This part also reflects some post-war history of Australia (as evidenced by the first academic endorsement), and the successful integration of immigrants into a maturing and progressively more tolerant multicultural nation. The author, however, offers some strongly critical comment on official policies relating to multiculturalism, ethnic affairs, refugee entry, and citizenship, all based on his in-depth experiences.

The author, however, highlights with warmth the on-going ‘fair-go’ ethos of Australia, and the open-ness and reliability of the self-confident Anglo-Australian worker, whilst expressing concern about the individualism of the immigrant-created nations of the West, in contrast to the time-tested communitarian values of Asia and much of non-Protestant Christian Europe. His conclusion affirms his hope that his country of involuntary adoption will be a politico-societal beacon to neighbouring countries, with both East and West learning from each other’s cultural values.

In his attempts to explain events and behaviour which otherwise make little sense, the author has titled his story ‘The Dance of Destiny.’ Believing that this MS fits into the genres modern literature/memoir and society/philosophy, he offers his inter-cultural experiences and his philosophy (including a belief in one people arising from ethno-cultural diversity) to an intelligent global readership, as well as to those who might simply want to read an interesting and well written story.  The target reader is the genderless Everyman.