Indians in Singapore once upon a time, and now

SHASHIKIRAN MULLUR: Ten years ago, here in Singapore, I’d suffer at the sight of fellow Indians shopping. At Mustafa, where they were a major source of revenue, the staff would disdain them though they mostly bought the things they asked about. At the circular counters in Changi Airport they’d receive a verbal rap on the knuckles when they pointed and asked the price. When sometimes told the price, the Indian line was, “I’ll think about it”—promptly scorned by the attendants. Here ten years ago, the color of Indians was a poor shade of brown, pallid as the rupee.

Today, I sat in an office in Raffles Place, on the twenty-fifth floor, with a view of the ocean up to Bintan. The lovely office belongs to a Kannada couple from Belgaum, and their partner from Maharashtra. They wouldn’t end their praise for this city, repeating examples of all things here that are so easy and stress-free, not like in India. They have been in business in Singapore for six years. They told me Kumaraswamy was here a few weeks ago; that he made a terrific impact; that a lady-officer made an impressive presentation; that all the civil servants looked good; that Kumaraswamy summed things up saying, “I’ll do some things for Karnataka, I won’t do some things for Karnataka, so you investors tell me what you want, and I will clear or reject your proposals here and now.”

It was afternoon and though clouds hid the sun, light poured in through the large windows and lit up the faces of my hosts: a wheaty healthy brown. We were waiting for the phone to ring to confirm an appointment at the Economic Development Board. They were relaxed, happy. Why, I was so relaxed myself.