Writers Festival pays tribute to 'Singapore's D.H. Lawrence'

Prominent Singapore writer and neurosurgeon Gopal Baratham. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Prominent Singapore writer and neurosurgeon Gopal Baratham. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Family, friends and lovers of the written word came together to celebrate Singapore literary pioneer Gopal Baratham (1935–2002) tonight.

His son, lawyer Sayana Baratham chose to stay away from the panel discussion on the life and times of his father at the Singapore Writers Festival, but he ended the night beautifully by reading a short story entitled Welcome.

The story is part of Collected Short Stories by Gopal Baratham, published by local publisher, Marshall Cavendish.

Festival director Paul Tan called him "an important writer who enriched the Singapore literary canon".

He told The Straits Times it was important to have him as the focus of this year's SWF Literary Pioneer Showcase as "we want young writers to discover this literary voice and we want those of us who are familiar with him to re-discover him".

A neurosurgeon by training, Baratham's work has been lauded internationally.

Academic and writer Dr Kirpal Singh painted a vivid picture of the late writer he knew personally.

He called him "a kind of D.H. Lawrence of Singapore", and said "you could feel the sheer power of his words. He remains, to date, the best short story writer of Singapore".

While Baratham started writing in the 1960s, most of his literary achievements came much later.

In the mid-1960s, he started work on a novel entitled Fuel In Vacant Lots, which he never finished.

A Candle Or The Sun, his first and most controversial novel, was only published in 1991 though he had published many short stories before that.

It is a political thriller about a store manager drawn into spying for the government on his mistress, linked to an activist group.

Apart from the many aspects of Baratham's writing and his richly layered works, Dr Singh also shared many first-hand encounters demonstrating how much the late writer cared for others.

He said it was his mindfulness and his keen understanding of people that added to "the richness of all his work".