Delve into Little India's history with exhibition

The Indian Heritage Centre's special exhibition features art such as this 14m-long collage juxtaposing pictures of more than 250 people associated with Little India against a backdrop of the precinct.
The Indian Heritage Centre's special exhibition features art such as this 14m-long collage juxtaposing pictures of more than 250 people associated with Little India against a backdrop of the precinct.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Indian Heritage Centre's special display tells area's story through 3 arterial roads

Today, it is a red-light district associated with sleazy activities after dark.

In 19th-century Singapore, it was a meat district.

For the Desker Road of the olden days was part of an area where a slaughterhouse was found.

The road was, in fact, named after Mr Andre Felipe Desker, one of the first butchers in Singapore.

The Eurasian of Portuguese descent got into the business in the 1850s, and owned land stretching from Desker Road to Sungei Road and the Kallang River.

The area was where he had his abattoir, which had cattle and sheep imported from Australia. They were fattened and slaughtered, and the meat was sold there.

The origins of Desker Road are just one of the many tales told at the Indian Heritage Centre's first special exhibition, Once Upon A Time In Little India, which was launched by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran yesterday.

The centre has attracted 250,000 visitors since it opened in May last year, exceeding expectations.

It aims to tell the story of the historic Little India enclave through its key arterial roads - Serangoon Road, Kandang Kerbau and Mackenzie Road.

On display are more than 100 artefacts from the community and the national collection. They include the late Mr Desker's indenture notice featuring his business address, and his last will and testament.

These are on loan from his great-grandson, Mr Barry Desker, 69, Singapore's Non-Resident Ambassador to Spain and the Holy See, and distinguished fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Mr Desker said he was glad to share his family's artefacts with the rest of Singapore. "As a historian myself, I often regret that we in Singapore don't recognise our own history and where we come from. We exist as if only the present matters," he said.

The centre's curator Nalina Gopal said the exhibition aims to juxtapose the past and present: "Little India then - home to a cosmopolitan society with a majority of Indians - is not very different from what it is today.

"Our showcase discusses the different life experiences people have had with reference to the neighbourhood which once stretched from Bras Basah to Dhoby Ghaut, most of Serangoon Road and right up to Potong Pasir. We also draw parallels with global settlements of the Indian diaspora."

The lesser-known Chitty community is featured in the exhibition too. The Indian Peranakans from Tamil Nadu settled in Malacca in the 14th century and married local Malay women.

They could be found in Chitty Road in Little India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mr Iswaran said the special exhibition is a good addition to the centre's existing offerings, which include a permanent exhibition.

He noted that the centre has attracted 250,000 visitors since it opened in May last year, exceeding expectations.

The centre does not only serve as a focal point for Indians of Singapore to recollect their past, he said, but it is also about sharing and communicating their culture, history and traditions "with other Singaporeans of different ethnic groups".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Delve into Little India's history with exhibition'. Print Edition | Subscribe