Sunday, October 23, 2011

A LIFE WELL LIVED

Lee Wei Ling's in the Sunday Times today. Non-subscribers can click here to read.
I always look forward to reading Lee Wei Ling's column in the Sunday Times, especially when she writes about her father, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding PM. Away from the media spotlight and public functions, LKY is a very private man. It is through his daughter's writings that we get glimpses of LKY the father, the husband, and the mortal man.

Wei Ling is currently on a 16-day world trip with her father. Since her mother passed away last year, she has increasingly taken on the role of her father's companion, often accompanying him on his overseas trips. She keeps an eye on him, to make sure he doesn't over-stress himself with back-to-back meetings and official functions. In a sense, she is now her father's care-giver.

As Wei Ling puts it, "Even for a healthy and fit man of 88, the above would be a formidable programme. For a recently widowed man who is still adjusting to the loss of his wife, and whose level of energy has been lowered, it is even more challenging."

So far, the travel itinerary has included meetings at the White House and a ceremony in LKY's honour where he received the Lincoln Medal - the first Asian to do so. In Wei Ling's column last Sunday, she wrote about the numerous awards and titles that have been conferred on her father. Among them is the prestigious British award of Companion of Honour and the Grand Cross of St Michael and St George that entitles LKY to be addressed as Sir Lee Kuan Yew. But to all and sundry, even the media, he is still referred to as Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He himself has never made use of his titles.

What a stark contrast to the dignitaries and VIPs in Malaysia who expect to be addressed by their titles of Tun, Tan Sri, Datuk, Dato, Datin Paduka or whatever.

Wei Ling ends her thoughts about her father on a rather poignant note.

"But I am getting maudlin. Both my father and I have had our fair share of luck, and fate has not been unfair to us. My father found a lifelong partner who was his best friend and his wife. Together with a small group of like-minded comrades, he created a Singapore that by any standards would be considered a miracle. He has led a rich, meaningful and purposeful life.

Growing old and dying occurs to all mortals, even those who once seemed like titanium. When all is said and done, my father - and I too, despite my bouts of ill health - have lived lives that we can look back on with no regrets. As he faces whatever remains of his life, my father's attitude can be summed up by these lines in Robert Frost's poem 'Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening':


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

1 comment:

Antares said...

It's remarkable the parallels between LKY and Mahathir. Both saw themselves as visionary leaders - but their visions were almost entirely materialistic, favoring infrastructural development over mental or spiritual (although, to his credit, LKY did realize subsequently the importance of cultural growth and began pumping money into nurturing the arts).

Both walked a tightrope between importing western technology and aping western economic models, while deploring western notions of free expression and individuality. Neither LKY nor Mahathir can be considered racists, but both have been guilty of capitalizing on racist ideology to maintain their voter base. Both have loving daughters who write well and serve as humanizing factors in terms of how the public perceives their fathers.

LKY created a dynasty of sorts by seeing his son, Hsien Loong, take over as prime minister, though it's unlikely that Singaporeans will tolerate any more emperors named Lee. Mahathir is still yearning for a political dynasty and has placed his hopes on Mukhriz, whom few take seriously. Indeed, most thinking Malaysians are appalled at the idea of a Mahathir dynasty. One is already one too many!

In any case, there the comparison ends. As far as dictators go, LKY has shown himself to be among the most brilliant and nobody can dispute his stature as an intellectual. On the other hand, Mahathir comes across as cunning and ruthless rather than intellectual. Indeed, judging by his sneering syntax and perverse misuse of logic (e.g., his infamous remark that abolishing the death penalty would be unfair to all those who have already been hanged), Mahathir will go down in history as somebody whose megalomaniacal ego far outstripped his intellectual capacity.