Reflections and Milestones of the SNM By R Asokan
Reflections and Milestones of the SNM
By R Asokan
I have always been active with the Sree Narayana Mission (SNM) ever since I was a schoolboy. I joined as a Life Member in March 1972 while I was doing my National Service. The subscription fee for Life Membership was $50 then and it was a one-off payment while Ordinary membership was pegged at $6 per annum. I was elected into the SNM Executive Committee on 5 February 1978 and continued to serve until 30 June 2002. I like to take this opportunity to reminisce and share some of my fond memories of SNM activities.
In May 1961, the SNM staged its first Flag Day and it so happened to fall on a Saturday. In those days, Saturdays were school days so I had to obtain parental permission to not attend school that day. My sister and I started our collection of donations in the Nee Soon Area early in the morning and we were accompanied by an adult volunteer. We had to carry a tin for the collection of coins (sometimes dollars!). A box, containing saffron paper badges bearing the message of Sree Narayana Guru, was hung around our necks. There were many students like us collecting donations all around Singapore. The street collection came to an end at about 6.00 p.m. and the total collection raised for the day was about $8000!
Onam and Guru Birthday Celebrations
In 1965, the SNM hosted a week-long Onam and Guru Birthday celebrations from the 6 to 12 September. At that time, the Sree Narayana Mission was located at 48 Soon Keat Road, in Sembawang. A public forum, with distinguished speakers, was held on the last day which served as a befitting climax. I was a student at the Naval Base Secondary School and I attended the event with my father.
The event became part of the annals of the SNM as it was the first public engagement made by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew after Singapore gained independence on 9th August that year. He had visited the SNM previously in 1963 as part of an Elections campaign and would later attend the Onam and Guru Birthday celebrations again in 1967.
As guest of honour, Mr Lee arrived at the venue at 11 a.m on 12 September 1967 and addressed the crowd after the welcome addresses by then General Secretary Mr Devadasa Panniker and by Mr M K Bhasi, who was the SNM President at the time. Mr Lee spoke in both Malay and English. He spoke with clarity and passion and the large audience (mostly comprising Indians) listened with rapt attention. He left at 12.30 p.m., after presenting bursaries worth $100 each to ten students.
The first public forum for students was held during the Guru’s Birthday on Sunday, 13 September 1970. It was the first of the many such forums and youth camps to be held. The theme of the forum was “The Conflict of Generations”. The Patron of the Sree Narayana Mission and Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang, Mr Teong Eng Siong, was present while the Guest of Honour was Inche Mohd Ghazali Ismail, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education. The Forum was well attended by many pre-university students from various schools in Singapore. The panel of speakers comprised of Dr Sharon Ahmat, Dr Gwee Ah Leng, Mr G. G. Thomson, Mr Gerald D’Cruz and Dr Nalla Tan. It started at 6.00 p.m. and it was a lively session with active student participation, which ended at 9.00 p.m.
On Sunday, 27 June 1976, an international “All Stars ’76 Charity Show” was organised to raise funds for the Sree Narayana Mission Building Fund at the National Theatre. Resident bands from some of the best hotels performed together during the evening with the likes of Alley Cats from Malaysia, Sweet Charity from Singapore, The New Minstrels from Philippines, Casino from Indonesia, Shiners from New Zealand, Talisman from Karachi, etc. The National Theatre was packed with a young boisterous crowd and the event was sponsored by Texwood Jeans.
Home for the Aged
By end of 1978, the Government’s Bases Economic Conversion Division offered the Mission’s management with a two double-storied brick building at 87 & 89 Canberra Road, to manage a Home for the Aged. The Home started operations on 18 February 1979 with four residents. A “Sree Narayana Mission Home for the Aged Fund” was also launched. We had a dedicated volunteer doctor in Dr Seng Kwang Meng, who used to see the residents of the Home regularly. Another doctor who helped for many years during the early years was Dr Nadarajan, who used to run a clinic in Sembawang.
By October 1980 there were 51 residents living in the Home and some of them helped the Mission during the annual Flag Days. There used to be many visitors, volunteers and other well-wishers at the Home. Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, then a Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang, used to visit the Home during the Chinese New Year celebrations to distribute ‘hongbaos’ to the residents. He also declared the Canberra premises officially opened on 22 February 1981, at a ceremony well attended by members of the Mission. The Home remained in this location until 22 October 1983.
On 23 October 1983, the SNM was shifted to a new premise at the former Sembawang Hospital. Some 50 members of the Singapore Armed Forces and 200 members of Chong Hua Tong Tou Teck Hwee, a Chinese Association, joined hands in assisting with the shifting operations. The new premises were completed in June 1993 and residents were moved into the new Home on 6 February 1994.
These are some of my reflections on the journey of Sree Narayana Mission which I have treasured all these years. I am so proud to be part of the SNM traditions, culture, activities and monumental development while walking in the footsteps of my late parents, who were pioneers in the 1950s.