‘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’ – 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.

 

‘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.

“What?”

“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 mono-cultural to multicultural, and from monolingual to multilingual, all within 2 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

Australia’s infamous 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 migrants seeking asylum, especially the ‘boat people’.

Quaint interpretations of international commitments; the assertion of unlimited rights for illegal entrants to avail themselves of unending publicly-funded legal services and appeals; an unbalanced emphasis on the use of lawyers to present the unlawful immigrant’s case for admission to Australia (when he has carefully destroyed the documentation which authorised him to enter his port of departure to Australia); a reliance on the adversarial court process, with the lawyers not required to assist the nation by objectively searching for the truth; a claimed right for asylum applicants to live freely in the community (presumably at the Australian taxpayers’ expense) whilst their refugee status is being assessed; or, alternatively, to have community standards of comfort whilst in detention,  with education, welfare and social worker support thrown in; all these highlight the distance administrative and legal processes have traversed since the days of the dictation test and its policy parameters.

Those who landed on Australia’s shores by boat, in the 1990s, travelling in a highly calculated manner, can claim (through their Aussie advocates) more entitlements to legal aid, access to the courts and other services than are available to us taxpaying citizens.

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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.

 

 

‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

Appraisal

“What a beautiful mind!  Hidden Footprints of Unity is a substantial work from an intelligent and spiritually perceptive man. Arasa has skilfully 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.”

Synopsis

A memoir by an Asian immigrant. He offers his observations after more than half a century of an intensively interactive life covering an unusually wide range of activities in Australia.

Deposited by Destiny in a strange mono-cultural, mono-lingual, mono-chromatic nation which displayed contradictory attitudes towards fellow humans (derived from a misguided perception of the significance of skin colour), he has observed and analysed his fellow Australians whilst adapting, in a substantially contributory fashion, to his new home.  This record is not, however, a litany of whinges about the difficulties of life in Australia for a coloured person (especially in the early period) or even a recital of personal achievements and contributions – but some details of his personal experiences naturally provide some relevant ballast. It is neither effusive in gratitude, as might be expected from an imported ‘blackfellow’  who has had, on balance, a good life in a white nation; nor is it  exprobratively critical, although his cultural values are, at their core, somewhat at variance with those currently displayed by some fellow-Australians in key areas of human conduct.

Instead, this record focuses on the realities of life in the two principal areas of human significance: inter-community (especially black/white) relations, and the universal search for the Creator. Commencing with a look at that strange sensitivity to skin colour by most adult whites he has encountered, his narrative moves onto that rather weird competitive urge displayed by mere mortals in their search for the Divine, and then onto that understandable desire by one and all to peer into the Void of the future. Finally, it touches upon the issues of a divisive tribalism, and the imperatives of an evolving new Australian national identity.

Endorsements (pre-publication)

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 renowned 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 renowned author.

 

 

 

‘The Karma of Culture’ – Overview

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  SlippagePeople 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.

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To conclude:

The desirable pathway for us is clearly visible, without further elaboration. Notable Western leaders and learned writers have contributed to defining this pathway. All that we need is a little more maturity, courage, and responsibility from our future leaders; as well as a vision of what we ought to be as a people and as a nation- state.

Such a place and position might be as a sovereign state, relating as an equal to the sovereign states of Asia, without any crap about white multicultural man in the southern hemisphere leading the multi-tribal coloured Asian heathen towards the light. Neither Christianity nor the ultra-West’s vision of democracy has a claim to be unique or even durable. There are many paths to our Creator, as the tolerant forest faiths of Asia have demonstrated for more than two millennia. The paths to political freedom have to evolve, not to be imposed. And more equitable treatment of our indigene, with equal opportunity for all coloured people, is a must, lest the Creator finds us wanting!

We might then expect that there will be less divergence from the intent and impact of Asian values as against Australian practices in all spheres of human action. Then we can all claim to be equals, and our babies can continue to wiggle their toes at us with mutual joy.

 

(Comment: Although written about 15 years ago, Australia’s relationships with our Asian neighbours need more tweaking. When the nations of South East Asia join up with China in a co-prosperity and security pact, we do not want to be an isolated outpost of the Christian West. Our national sovereignty cannot also afford non-integrated cultural diversity.)     

‘The Karma of Culture’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

Australia, throughout its brief history, has experienced 2 ethno-religious cultural challenges in its efforts to achieve and maintain a secular society. The first, the early divisive influence of Roman Catholicism, has seemingly been tamed. The keen observer will, however, note that the social policies of the nation are dominated by the Vatican’s values; for example, compassion is constrained by so-called pro-life edicts.

The other challenge to the institutions and social mores of the nation has recently arisen from a tiny segment of the immigrant Muslim intake. Since Islam makes no distinction between the secular and the religious, some Muslims seem to experience difficulty in adapting to the nation they chose to enter.

Australia’s achievement in the past half-century has been its success in integrating a very broad spectrum of culturally diverse ethnic communities into the Australian ethos. We will not regress. My book deals with the principal issues, in the context of Australia’s surrounds of Asian spiritualism.

Endorsements pre-publication

“Writing from the perspective of an Asian Australian, Arasa addresses some of the fundamental questions confronting human kind at the present time. The clash of collectivism and individualism is seen as an East/West issue. Here is available, perhaps for the first time, an insightful ‘take’ on Australian society written by an ‘insider’ who, paradoxically, is an ‘outsider’ as well. …enormously interesting and not uncontroversial …” — John Western, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Queensland, Australia

“Ratnam’s book is a wake-up call for a more independent national policy on immigration and multicultural policy. Coming from a well-informed former migrant, who has embraced this country as his own, his message has particular value. … Impressed with the depth of (his) analysis” — Professor Bob Birrell, Director, Centre for Population & Urban Research, Monash University, Australia.

This is a book that every Australian should read. It provides a unique insight into the society and culture of contemporary Australia from someone who has been both an insider and an outsider in Australia. It has a refreshing honesty in an age in which ‘spin’ and euphemism too often combine to hide the true nature of things. You may not always agree with what the book says but you will be compelled to sit up and think more deeply about our contemporary world. I think that the book has that element of honesty and insight that much of what is currently published does not. I hope that it will be read widely.” — Associate Professor Gregory Melleuish, Head, School of History and Politics, Wollongong University, Australia.

REVIEWS 

The US Review of Books

Karma of Culture by Raja Arasa Ratnam

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.

RECOMMENDED

 

Appraisal – pre-publication

“This book provides a thoughtful and fearless approach to some important and highly topical questions. What constitutes Australia’s nationhood? What is her role in Asia and in the world? How can, and should, the burgeoning economies of Asia contribute to the development of Australia, not just as foreign investors and trading partners, but in terms of cultural and spiritual values? What is the nature of democracy, and how can democratic ideals be realized in Australia and in its Asian neighbours? What is the meaning of multiculturalism in the Australian context? These questions are raised in an intelligent and thought-provoking way.”

“You give us valuable insights into your own experiences as an ‘outsider’ in a predominantly white ‘Western’ environment, who has been able to become part of that environment without losing your deepest links with your own culture. And you demonstrate that the influence of Eastern philosophers – to which Australia is uniquely exposed among Western countries – has the potential to counteract the West’s slide into materialism and the spiritual impoverishment that provides fertile soil for cultism and fundamentalism in all their forms.”

“This is a hard-hitting, insightful book that will appeal to academics, public servants, students, and many members of the general public………..”

 

 

 

A snapshot of author Raja Arasa RATNAM

A Hindu Malaysian Australian, with a residence of nearly 7 decades in the Land of Oz, and participating fully (and therefore atypically) in Australian civil society (and at leadership level), with his work and social life taking him across almost all levels of the Australian people, and a variety of industries and occupations.

He has thereby been able to observe, most carefully, communities of immigrants, Anglo-Celt and other Australians, segments of the business and public sectors, a trade union environment, the work-shy and other welfare dependants, the asset-rich age pensioners, as well as many of those unable to offer long-term commitment in human relations, even within family. A marginal member of a community is often better enabled to identify the structures and operating inter-relationships of that community and, thus, its ethos and essence.

He has lunched with a Governor-General, and shared the head table with a couple of State Governors and Federal Ministers – at different times of course. He has dealt officially with captains of industry and commerce, senior public officials and ethnic community leaders.

In spite of this highly intensive interactive community life, he has not lost himself culturally. His core values, formed in his youth in Malaysia, have remained with him. A bulwark in his early years in the slipstream of a weakening White Australia ethos, his “Asian values” perspective has enabled him to chart the waves of the sociological changes engulfing him, without being drowned by the current. Being able to be an integral part of his essentially Western environment without losing his connections with his own traditions, and always being aware of his ancestral values, he can straddle the cultures merging in the new cosmopolitan Australia. 

His first 4 books (viz. ‘Destiny Will Out,’ ‘The Karma of Culture,’ ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ and ‘The Dance of Destiny’) led to a senior academic reviewer to state that they represented a sliver of Australia’s post-war history. That is because, since his arrival in Australia in 1948, he has lived through the worst demonstrations of the White Australia policy, in particular, the eventually-failed effort by the then Minister of Immigration to deport Mrs. Anne O’Keefe and her family back to Indonesia.

His own experience of an Australian ‘ignoramus’ seeking to protect ‘white British space’ stolen from the Aborigines was to be attacked in public thus in early 1949; ‘Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?’ In early 1950, a fellow student said to him, ‘I don’t mind you, but I do not many more like you in my country.’ In the mid-1950s, he was too black to be employed as a psychologist (he had qualified as a research psychologist in the University of Melbourne); a little later, when he had qualified as an economist, “the Australian worker is not ready for a foreign executive” (said to the Head of Melbourne University’s Graduate Employment Unit).

In the late 1970s and in the mid-1980s, much effort, including some unethical conduct, was spent to prevent him remaining in the Senior Executive Service in the federal public sector (if he had succeeded, he would have been the first foreigner at that level). He had been on higher duties, however, for almost a year in each of 2 government agencies, without complaint or criticism from anyone. It is difficult to counter a WASP or a religio-political ‘tribal.’

At another level, in spite of the non-discriminatory immigration entry policy of the 1970s, there remained a relatively closed entry door for applicants from the Indian sub-continent. The 2001 Census showed that the majority of Asians in Australia had arrived from East Asia, and that the majority of the Asian immigrants had claimed to be Christians.

Another reviewer said this in relation to a book which was not published.

“ … what I liked about the style of writing is its unpredictability. The author cannot be read as belonging to any particular intellectual ‘tribe’.  Overall, it is very stimulating and different to other pieces of social commentary written in this country. That is its real strength.”

“… in many ways, it is an immigrant addition to that style of social commentary practiced by Conway and Horne……..but the author’s ‘outsider’ status gives him the insights that they lack.”

Non-publication was to avoid unwarranted controversy. The key issues were, however, woven into his other books. The purpose of publication was to inform, not to antagonise.

Since the spirit realm had brought him to Australia, he saw his role in life as building bridges. Indeed, he began writing his books only in response to a suggestion from the spirit of his uncle that he “could seek to contribute to building a bridge” from where he came to where he is. His own settlement experience and his work (over 9 years) on all the policies relating to the integration of immigrants enabled him to write his books and (later) many articles for publication. (Refer ‘The Dance of Destiny,’ his 4th book, and ezinearticles.com)

His message to newly-arrived immigrants and others: Ignore oral expressions of intolerant ignorance; but challenge significant acts of discrimination such as denial of equal opportunity. He himself had been unable to counter racial discrimination (skin colour and being ‘foreign’) and tribo-religious discrimination (Mass-related ‘not one of us’).

Yet, he bears no grudges. His experiences reflected the ethos of the white Christian supremacy of his time. Time and the human spirit do, however, bring desirable change. Australia is on the road to the Family of Man!

 

Accolades for ‘Destiny Will Out’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

When this book was published in Britain (because Australian publishers were not interested), and distributed in Australia, the response from senior academics was incredibly warm. As one said to the author “This is the first occasion when we are able to know about the first-hand experiences of our early Asian students.” Another said, in relation to the extensive official efforts to assist immigrants to settle successfully in Australia, “This is the first time that we have had access to an ‘inside’ story; can you tell us more?”

And the Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs bought a copy; no one had presented the totality of Australia’s successful settlement policies before. And that was because the author had been responsible for all these policy programs (and was the only one at that time).

That he was thus knowledgeable was reflected in him being considered for the position of Chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of South Australia and, then, Western Australia. Alas, parochialism had to prevail. As there would have been no increase in his remuneration, it was the challenge which attracted him.

The accolades

“——-a well-written, honest, first-hand account of the trials, the pain, the pleasures, the frustrations, and the ultimate success of an Asian immigrant in Australia——-contains important lessons——-.The story is peppered with keen observations, acerbic comments, strongly expressed opinions and wry humour.——-Totally fascinating and strongly recommended”. —Probus News (Spring 1999)

  • “——-honest, insightful, and marked by a genuine perception of the workings of Australian culture and society——-provides an intelligent and spiritually perceptive man’s views and reflections on how Australia has changed over the past forty years.——-It is the sort of book that should be widely read as an antidote to the blinkered views held by both pro- and anti-multiculturalists, because it offers humanity (and spirituality) in an area too dominated by abstract and barren intellectualising” —Dr Gregory Melleuish, Senior Lecturer (History and Politics), University of Wollongong,, and author of “The Packaging of Australia”
  • “——-a timely book. The author is well qualified to comment on burning issues of ethnicity, tribalism and cultural hegemony, ——-having had personal experience of settlement in Australia over a period of half a century; voluntary involvement in a range of community organisations; and work experience as a senior public servant——-” —Prof Jerzy Zubrzycki, Emeritus Professor; and Member, National Multicultural Advisory Council

.· “A rare blend of experience, reflections, and strong judgements, grounded in keen insight. Arasa knows how vote-seeking parliamentarians and ambitious ‘ethno-politicians’ do not see how their actions work against the life-chances of immigrants, by distorting social justice, democracy and language as power foci of official multiculturalism. A cleansing fire! Highly recommended!” — Dr John Atchison, Senior Lecturer (Classics, History and Religion), University of New England.

 “——-a narrative interspersed with charming homilies and thoughtful commentary about Australian society and its reaction to the substantial contact with people of non-European origins——-” “——-a wealth of empirical material regarding the transformation of Australian society, with particular regard to the sensitive areas of immigration, cultural diversity and race relations.” ——-“He has many salient points to make about the distinction between cultural diversity and State-funded multiculturalism, and the problems of public education and the welfare system—–” “This authentic testament of the migrant experience in the midst of the White Australia policy also offers refreshing perspectives, bereft of bureaucratic jargon and, more importantly, of the sort of predictable rhetoric one has come to expect from some political activists.” –Jason Soon in “Policy” (Spring 1999), organ of The Centre for Independent Studies, Australia.

“The family re-union (immigration) program and structural multiculturalism have come in for their share of criticism and analysis in the 1980s, and Arasa has some pungent insider’s comment on these topics and on the humanitarian (refugee) intake.” –– Dr Katharine Betts, (Senior Lecturer, Swinbourne University of Technology) in “People and Place”, vol. 7, no. 2, 1999

Reader responses

“——-thoroughly enjoyed it. It is well written, informative and slyly witty.” —Noel Purves, Retired school principal, Western Australia

“Raw honesty, with unsettling insight. Read it and reassess multiculturalism.” —Danny Ronis, Planning Manager, South Australia

“…….I found his account of childhood…….fascinating and nostalgic,…….his experiences of emigration to Australia and subsequent struggles to understand and come to terms with the culture are where he affords insight and sympathy with the new immigrant’s plight.” —Philippa Cairns, Co-ordinator, ESOL (English as a Second Other Language) Home Tutor Service (Western Bay of Plenty). New Zealand.

“I must congratulate you on your commendable work in bringing out a worthy publication. I enjoyed your language, particularly your humour and quotes.” —C. Rajadurai,, former Bursar, University Technology; Executive Secretary, Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia; and community leader, Malaysia.

“I recommend that all Australians read this book to understand what immigrants go through” —Maria de Rocco (ex-Italy), Music Tutor, New South Wales.

“……Arasa’s insight into problems that arise, along with suggestions on how to avoid them and live in harmony in a multiculturally enriched society is an intriguing read.” –-Hilary Chaly, Legal Executive, New Zealand

“Arasa’s book is poignant and informative for anyone of adult age. We have lived through enormous cultural/political changes in Australia since World War Two. I have watched the face of the nation change, and read the book with fascination……..” –Maureen Nathan (ex-South Africa), Pharmacist, New South Wales.

“A definite inside story reflecting prejudice and his success against mountainous odds due to his colour……..Excellent reading.” —Dr. Zyg Atlas (immigrant), medical practitioner, and author of “Just One Life”. Victoria

“It is the detail about your personal history and about your experiences in Australia that are particularly rewarding for the reader ……….Full marks for the penetration and perspicacity of your observations, the lucidity of your English, and the wealth of detail”. – –Robert Purves, barrister-at-law, UK and Australia.

 

More about ‘Destiny Will Out’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

The author ends ‘DESTINY WILL OUT: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia’  (published October 1997.  Out of print.  Ebook available from Amazon Kindle Direct) with this expectation: Without any interference from priests and politicians, the youth of a wide mixture of ethno-cultural Australians will evolve into an integrated nation, ignoring differences in skin colour and upheld by the nation’s traditional ‘fair-go’ ethos.

Imagine a lightly-coloured Ceylonese Malayan boy, brought up in a British territory (but who had not experienced any discrimination), where the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-coloured people co-existed with mutual tolerance. He entered Australia in 1948 as a fee-paying student at the prestigious University of Melbourne.

To his disgust, he observes a roaring sectarian religious divide, a colonial mentality, and racism. He faced discrimination in service in shops, finding accommodation, and seating on public transport. He was described as a blackfellow (there being no other term in the local lexicon for coloured people other than the indigene). In a fashionable arcade, in spite of being expensively dressed, he was loudly asked “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?,” in a very aggressive tone. He did wonder at such ignorance, thinking that a similar question should have been addressed to Cook & Co, the white invaders, when they had arrived to dump the products of Britain’s cultural cleansing.

This was White Australia in the 1950s. Yet, this coloured lad eventually reached the rank of Director in the federal public service, becoming responsible progressively for each of the immigrant settlement policies offered through the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs during the 1980s. However, he suffered discrimination even within that department – both racial and tribal (the word mass had a weighty influence with the ‘tribals’).

This book weaves fluidly his settlement experiences with his work experiences, in a readable manner, with no bitterness. What was encouraging were the endorsement from senior academics, a number of private agencies, and a variety of immigrants and others. Although out of print, copies of the book can be found in the National Libraries of Singapore, Malaysia and Australia and the State and Territories Libraries of Australia, as well as the top 20 Australian universities.

This book is highly relevant in the light of claims in the 2010s by some ethnic community leaders that racial discrimination legislation is necessary to protect immigrants from being hurt and humiliated by oral insults. Strangely, the initially unwanted non-English speaking European immigrants and the English-speaking Asian students did not get excited by ignorant White Aussie yobbos mouthing off in an effort to protect white British space. As yobbos are endemic, we just ignored them. We did not feel victimised. I say this from my extensive contacts with immigrants.

A relevant review

 Destiny Will Out: The Experiences of a Multicultural Malayan in White Australia by Raja Arasa Ratnam is an interesting book that will give readers a glimpse into the life of Asians living in Australia. The author narrates his personal experiences along with his life and adjusting to Australian life and culture. The author’s observations on Australian life as an immigrant and his perception give the book a genuineness and honesty that readers will appreciate. The humaneness and the concern enable readers to grasp the author’s feelings, emotions, and experiences.

I found the book very fascinating because it exposes readers to a totally new way of life in a foreign land; the author’s comments and opinions are strongly expressed, making the narration more effective. The book also tells readers about the extensive research the author has done on topics relating to tribal population, ethnicity, and other details regarding the culture of Australia.

The perception about Asian children and their education in Australian society is quite an interesting fact and he speaks about racism, the existence of colonial mentality, and the discrimination he was subject to as a student at university. But what makes the book likable is that it has been written with no malice or bitterness and just as the author’s experiences as an immigrant. A heartwarming story that connects well with honesty.” – “Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite 5 stars