READING SPECIAL

Which literary character would you be?

Violinist Loh Jun Hong, 25, single
Violinist Loh Jun Hong, 25, singlePHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Theatre practitioner T. Nakulan, managing director of Ravindran DramaGroup, in his 30s
Theatre practitioner T. Nakulan, managing director of Ravindran DramaGroup, in his 30sPHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Children’s author Adeline Foo, 45, married with three children
Children’s author Adeline Foo, 45, married with three childrenPHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Actress Sharda Harrison, 28, engaged
Actress Sharda Harrison, 28, engagedPHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Entertainer Sheikh Haikel, 40, married with three children
Entertainer Sheikh Haikel, 40, married with three childrenPHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Actress and comedian Selena Tan, 44, married
Actress and comedian Selena Tan, 44, marriedPHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Poet, writer and translator Shelly Bryant, 45, single
Poet, writer and translator Shelly Bryant, 45, singlePHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Kenny Chan, 63, store and merchandising (Pacific Asia) director of Kinokuniya Singapore, whichhas four outlets here
Kenny Chan, 63, store and merchandising (Pacific Asia) director of Kinokuniya Singapore, whichhas four outlets herePHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Film-maker and director Royston Tan, 39, single
Film-maker and director Royston Tan, 39, singlePHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE
Stand-up comic Rishi Budhrani, 31, married with no children
Stand-up comic Rishi Budhrani, 31, married with no childrenPHOTOS: ST FILE, MARCUS TAN, JOYCE FANG, ZACH TAN, RAVINDRAN DRAMA GROUP, DAVE SINGH/PICTUREPERFECT STUDIOS, COURTESY OF SHEIKH HAIKEL, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, PENGUIN CLASSICS, HARPERCOLLINS, LITTLE, BROWN, SCRIBNER, SPEAKING VOLUMES, ATHENEUM, VINTAGE

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Lee Jian Xuan ask 10 people about their favourite fictional figures

Aragorn from The Lord Of The Rings

Violinist Loh Jun Hong, 25, single Loh, who was admitted to the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory at 15, will perform with pianist Abigail Sin and trumpeter Lau Wen Rong in the concert A Touch Of Gold at the Esplanade Recital Studio on June 12.

I'd like to be Aragorn from The Lord Of The Rings. He embodies traits I'm striving towards: humility, respectfulness, inspirational leadership and the ability to overcome doubt.

As the heir to a throne, he never takes his rights for granted. At first, he doubts his ability, aware of the responsibilities that come with the crown but, finally, after many tests of his character, confidence, conviction and strength, he leads others to follow him as the true heir to Gondor.

Even Boromir - who has been brought up to take over leadership of Gondor and who initially refuses to acknowledge Aragorn as king - eventually acknowledges that he will be a great king.

As one of the fortunate violinists to be discovered at a young age, I've had privileges such as performance opportunities and media coverage. Along with this came the expectations of everyone around me, and self-doubt over whether I could fulfil them.

Reading about Aragorn inspires me to strive to be a leader in the classical music scene here.

If I were him for a day, I'd probably get a haircut and change the design of the Gondor armour - the Rohan one looks so much better.

•The first of three books in The Lord Of The Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship Of The Ring (1954, George Allen and Unwin), can be purchased at $19.26 from Books Kinokuniya.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh


Karna from the Mahabharata

Theatre practitioner T. Nakulan, managing director of Ravindran Drama Group, in his 30s Nakulan has acted in and produced several of the company's plays, and has also hosted shows on Singapore Tamil television channel Vasantham. He is working on Pathey Nimidam, an annual 10-minute Tamil play festival to be staged in August by Ravindran Drama Group.

I would choose to be Karna, an unsung hero from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, a narrative of the Kurukshetra war and the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandava princes. This epic has always piqued my interest as I am named after one of the Pandava princes.

Karna possesses all the qualities of the Pandava princes. He has Yudhisthira's sense of dharma, Arjuna's valour and archery skills, Bhima's strength, Nakula's handsomeness and Sahadeva's intelligence.

It is his character to stick to his principles no matter how difficult things became, which sets him apart from the rest.

He is the epitome of giving. He has taken an oath to give whatever people ask of him. He gladly gives away all his dharma which he has accumulated all his life to Krishna when the latter asks for it, even though he knows that it is his dharma that keeps him alive and giving it away will immediately kill him.

This act earned him my respect and admiration.

•The Mahabharata (2009, Penguin Classics) can be purchased at US$12.50 (S$17) from Amazon.

Lee Jian Xuan


Olivia from the Olivia series

Children's author Adeline Foo, 45, married with three children Foo has written 27 books, including the best-selling The Diary Of Amos Lee series published in 2009. She is also an adjunct polytechnic lecturer and a Lee Kong Chian research fellow with the National Library Board.

I would choose to be Olivia in the books of American children's author Ian Falconer.

I love his minimalist style of illustration. The clean lines and sparing use of black, red and an occasional pink give Olivia character. Is she human or is she a pig?

I recall tender nights of reading Olivia to my three children when they were young.

They sat rapt as I flipped page after page, reading about Olivia starting a band, learning to paint or saving a circus.

I wished I was her, full of zeal for life and so determined to try everything. And for loving herself even if she fails.

•The Olivia series (various publishers) by Ian Falconer can be purchased at $12.89 to $33.15 from Books Kinokuniya.

Lee Jian Xuan


Charlotte from Charlotte's Web

Actress Sharda Harrison, 28, engaged Harrison is the founder of inter- cultural theatre company Pink Gajah Theatre. She is performing in The Necessary Stage's Ghost Writer, which runs from June 9 to 12.

If I could be any literary character, it would be a spider. And not just any spider, but the great Charlotte A. Cavatica from Charlotte's Web.

Why would I want to play a bloodthirsty, carnivorous spider? I am a vegetarian.

I adore the way she is so unapologetic about who she is. I admire that female strength.

But underneath that scary exterior many would associate a spider with, Charlotte is kind and extremely loyal to her new friend, Wilbur the pig. She is also very intelligent.

If I get to be Charlotte for a day, I would spin a very, very large web that is non-sticky and has the ability to be bouncy - like a bouncy castle - and get everyone to have a go at exploring it. I would encourage children to see the beauty of spiders - that not all spiders are dangerous - likening it to an animal- friendly day to see beyond the threat of scary insects and to appreciate and respect all life on earth.

•Charlotte's Web (1952, Garth Williams) by E B White can be purchased at $12.84 from Books Kinokuniya.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh


Jonathan Livingston Seagull from Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Entertainer Sheikh Haikel, 40, married with three children Haikel, who won talent search programme Asia Bagus in 1991, is an actor, host, radio DJ and rapper.

The character that best resonates with me is Jonathan Livingston Seagull from Richard Bach's book of the same name.

Like him, I've learnt to look beyond my limitations. I've always been big in size, but that has never stopped me from being the best at what I do, from being a hip-hop artist to being a stage and TV actor.

I'm actually a Grade 4 in ballet despite my heavy weight. During my days in the Music And Drama Company while in the army, I had the privilege of having teachers who taught me that I could go beyond my own expectations - I could point, jump, stretch and even do the split.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull also has a very different idea of success. Just as he is the outcast of his flock, I understand how it feels to have to fight against the odds when I first started my career. It was not common to be doing hip-hop on stage; no one in Asia was doing it.

We were rapping when audiences didn't have a clue what hip-hop was, especially in Singapore.

But I convinced everyone that it's not just about being gangsters with bad language and morals. It's a borrowed culture that I made my own. I wrote about love and life, keeping it real in my own way.

I feel success can be measured by the family I have built: I married a very beautiful and intelligent woman and am raising three great children. Like the book says: "You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."

If I turned into him, I'd go find Nemo!

•Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970, Macmillan) by Richard Bach can be purchased at $22.24 from Books Kinokuniya.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh


Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird

Actress and comedian Selena Tan, 44, married Tan, who directs, writes plays and acts, is the founder of arts and entertainment company Dream Academy. She is directing Meenah And Cheenah, which stars Siti Khalijah Zainal and Judee Tan, and deals with racial steoreotypes. It runs from May 11 to 22.

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird was my literature text in Secondary 1.

So it pains me to know that for the last two decades, literature has been shoved aside in Singapore schools. What a tragedy.

Ministry of Education, it is not too late to remedy this so that more of us can say what our favourite literary classic is and who our favourite literary character is.

Mine is Scout. She's the adult narrator of this incredible book that deals with justice, coming of age and racial stereotyping. She's also the young innocent who speaks the truth, asks difficult questions and instinctively practises empathy.

I am not sure what I would do differently from Scout except that I can only hope and that I would have even an ounce of her strength and her sense of justice.

•To Kill A Mockingbird (1960, Grand Central Publishing) by Harper Lee can be purchased at $18.71 from Books Kinokuniya.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh


Kerish-lo-Taan from Seven Citadels

Poet, writer and translator Shelly Bryant, 45, single The American-born Bryant, who is fluent in Chinese, is known for her translations of books by Singaporean Cultural Medallion recipients such as Chew Kok Chang and You Jin, as well as the memoirs of Chinese tennis star Li Na. Her translation of Sheng Keyi's Northern Girls was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012. Since 2009, she has produced six poetry collections.

I would probably choose to be Kerish-lo-Taan from Geraldine Harris' series Seven Citadels. Kerish is not always the most attractive character to me and does not always find himself in the most pleasant of circumstances.

What I like about Kerish, though, is that, as he goes through his tasks, he transforms from a self-centred person from a privileged background into someone who learns love and compassion for others - first for his brother, and later for someone he once looked down on and even saw as hideous.

As he matures, his capacity to appreciate others grows and he is transformed. That seems to me something to aspire to.

•Prince Of The Godborn: Seven Citadels (2011, Speaking Volumes), the first book in the series by Geraldine Harris, can be purchased at $23.79 from Books Kinokuniya.

Lee Jian Xuan


Charlie Chan from The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Kenny Chan, 63, store and merchandising (Pacific Asia) director of Kinokuniya Singapore, which has four outlets here Mr Chan, who is married with two children, has been in the book retail industry for more than three decades.

My favourite literary character is Charlie Chan Hock Chye, the main protagonist from graphic novelist Sonny Liew's magnum opus, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

He represents the Singaporean everyman in general, one who has gone through the tumultuous changes that Singapore underwent from before World War II till today.

Besides living through the days of the British colonial government, the fall of Singapore and its subsequent occupation by the Japanese, he also lived through Singapore's fight for independence and its journey towards economic success.

As an artist, he represents the unrealised dreams of those who had to choose between sacrificing their aspirations in exchange for economic success.

In his case, he chose his passion and remained impoverished as a struggling artist.

Since I am enamoured with art and comics, his struggle to reflect his opinion of events in his unwavering terms has endeared him to me.

A truly credible character that is highly relatable.

•The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (2015, Epigram Books) can be purchased at $37.34 from Books Kinokuniya.

Lee Jian Xuan


Kafka Tamura from Kafka On The Shore

Film-maker and director Royston Tan, 39, single Tan is one of Singapore's most prominent film-makers and has made hit films about Singapore, such as 15 (2003) and 881 (2007). He recently filmed Homecoming, a documentary about former Pulau Ubin residents who still visit the village and new settlers on the island. It will premiere at a screening this Saturday on Pulau Ubin as part of the Singapore HeritageFest.

I'm not an avid reader but one character who has stuck with me through the years is Kafka Tamura in Haruki Murakami's Kafka On The Shore.

This literary world where people can communicate with cats is something that I wish actually exists.

The idea of surrealism and the boundary between fantasy and reality that Kafka experiences is a very interesting concept that I like to think about and play around with.

It is the teenager in me who aspires to have Kafka's sense of spontaneity and vitality, and this is something I try to bring to my work.

It has always been my dream to be able to just drop everything and run away from it all, to go through life as freely as possible and enjoy whatever adventures it may bring, just as Kafka does throughout his journey in the book.

•Kafka On The Shore (2005, Vintage) can be purchased at $17.12 from Books Kinokuniya.

Lee Jian Xuan


The protagonist of Shantaram

Stand-up comic Rishi Budhrani, 31, married with no children He met his wife, fellow stand-up comic Sharul Channa, in 2005. In 2011, the couple made their foray into stand-up comedy.

I'm drawn to the protagonist in the novel Shantaram. Gregory David Roberts, the author, wrote a semi- fictional biography about escaping from prison in Australia and making his way to live in India - living in the slums, fighting drug addiction, becoming a gang leader's right-hand man and falling in love with a sex worker.

This sense of adventure, danger and spontaneity is something that I've always thought about, but in Singapore, you can only experience this while trying to buy a television at the IT fair.

Shantaram is about someone who leaves home and finds himself in unchartered territory. He has to learn the ways of this new world and to do it on the down low with no legal help and no official documents. He has to live by his wits.

In Singapore, we don't place enough emphasis on being street smart. The focus is on academics and bureaucracy.

But you need to be able to think outside these boundaries because there are many things that books and forms don't teach you.

What would I do if I were him?

I'd want to experience what he experienced. I'd want to do some of the things he did: sit for hours listening to Sufi music in an old palace while the mafia swopped opinions about how to run the city.

I would want to care for the sick in the slums, if I could, and take nothing in return but three meals a day, a cup of kadak or crisp tea, and a mud hut to sleep in.

•Shantaram (2003, Little, Brown) by Gregory David Roberts can be purchased at $24.95 from Books Kinokuniya.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Which literary character would you be? '. Print Edition | Subscribe