I have pretty cool encounters with Little India before going for this heritage trail.
First, I was brought to this place during my Primary and Secondary school
years, for heritage trail as well. Second, the attraction of delicacies from
Tekka Market often lured me and my friends to have meals there after our
usual rugby trainings at Farrer Park Field. Lastly, it's surprising to know that
Little India is often used as a stop for 'Amazing Race'(Singapore version)
Twice i took part in these races organised by NTU and my church,
Little India happened to be one of the stopovers. Perhaps many will share the
same thought as me, that Little India is like a place to go to if you want to
learn everything about the ethnic Indian culture.
Just at the start of the trail, a tourist came to me and asked, "What can you do here in Little India?"
I froze for a few seconds and do not know what to answer. Despite my familiarity to this place, yet I stumbled upon that simple question. But after completing the trail, I am quite sure I am ready to tackle the question again. What amazes me was the fact that this small place, once a place mainly for sojourners from India, actually contains a rich history that not many knows.
I thought it was cool that you can find many places of worship - Chinese temples, Hindu temples, Mosque and even churches can be found here. We question why would a Chinese like Tang Teng Niah would want to start off a business here in Little India, how they used street names to name after British Governors or leaders who were posted to India. I personally felt that these thoughts developed as we already have ingrained in our perception that Little India was only for the Indians and the cattle rearing. Yes, our perception is proven ostensible with history and 'founding' of Little India. Perhaps through this analysis, we are able be intrigued by the changes Singapore goes through in this multicultural society.
But since this is Little India, I had expected to learn more about the Indian culture rather than the blending of the plural society. As I embark on this heritage trail, I foresee learning about the how the Indian community had lived during the colonial rule and how they organised themselves, what activities they engaged themselves in, the jobs they took up, their religious faith and many other factors I would also be interested to find out in the Chinese or Malay community. But sadly, some of my questions were left unresolved. I find it a pity that the place had to through major changes in the 1980s and this resulted in alot of changes to the place. For instance, the shift of the Tekka Market, the demolition of the old Kandang Kerbau Road. Modernization and the need to shift the attention to the growing population could be one of the few reasons for such changes.
One probably could guess why the name 'Race Course Road' was given to that street by the name itself but yet never able to envisage how it was like in the past. I tried hard but yet failed to transpose and bring back Buffalo Road to my mind. I felt compelled to say that Little India does have a rich history, but yet they remained distant from the public or even tourists, ignoring the need to preserve historic places. Where have all the mood, character and role of the area that it is supposed to instill in us gone to? Rather, I perceive that Little India has already become a contemporary place just like any other place.
Overall, it was a good trip but I was a little disappointed to know that the Indian heritage Centre only opens in year 2013. But still, the opening next year brings excitement, though, I hope to see that the new heritage centre not only displays tradition cultural elements, but the aptness to bring history alive.
This trip challenges my understanding and selection of monument/site/stop for a heritage tour. It is impossible due to insufficient time for primary school kids to learn and probe into the history of this place in one trip. Teachers should have the initiative to discern the importance and significance of their choices when planning, and not just entrust the task to the friendly convenient heritage tour guide to do the job. As a student back then in primary/secondary schools, I naively complained to my history teachers that Singapore History is boring. Perhaps now it's time to look at ways to transform my perception since I might be teaching history in future.
Sharon Siddique, Nirmala Luru Shotam. Singapore's Little India: Past, Present and Future. Singapore: Institue of Southeast Asian Studies, 1990, c1982.