Life story of Singapore's first Asian Postmaster-General

Mr Bala Subramanion with DPM Tharman at the launch of his biography. The book, published by World Scientific Publishing, is available for $28 in paperback and $56 for hardback.
Mr Bala Subramanion with DPM Tharman at the launch of his biography. The book, published by World Scientific Publishing, is available for $28 in paperback and $56 for hardback.PHOTO: COURTESY OF WORLD SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHING

Mr M. Bala Subramanion was a postman at a time it took a week for a letter to be delivered locally and when cash was often sent by mail.

Singapore's first Asian Postmaster-General, now 99, has had a biography written about him. Singapore, My Country, by Ms Nilanjana Sengupta, was launched earlier this month at the Fullerton Hotel.

Mr Bala Subramanion joined the public service in 1936 as a probationary clerk in the colonial Postal Services Department.

"My life has been shaped by a fortuitous confluence of events and Nilanjana, having understood this, has scripted this in the most enticing and compelling manner in my memoir," he said at the launch, on the grounds where he spent 35 years at the then General Post Office.

He recalled how Mr K. Kesavapany, president of the Singapore Indian Association (SIA) and Singapore's non-resident ambassador to Jordan, surprised him by mentioning the biography during a regular curry lunch. "He introduced to me a very pretty lady who he said will be my biographer and to whom I had to open my heart and my secrets over the next several months," he said.

Ms Sengupta, in a speech, said Mr Bala Subramanion's life spanned many of the notable Indian organisations of Singapore, such as the SIA, of which he was former president.

She said the book is not just about his working life, but also about his internal journey "marked by a quest for a personal identity". "It was an identity that was shaped and chiselled by the multiple cultures that he was exposed to. Just as it had a few ringing lines from Shakespeare, it was also stimulated by genuine admiration for the Japanese spirit of sacrificial nationalism, their respect for ancestral gods and elders and their ardour for enterprise."

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who attended the event, said of the book: "It's an interesting and inspirational story of Bala's life, and aptly titled as it has been a life shaped by the ups and downs of Singapore's history, and the life of a man who has contributed to Singapore."

Proceeds from sales of the book go to the SIA's Welfare Fund.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Life story of Singapore's first Asian Postmaster-General'. Print Edition | Subscribe