Memorable journey for India-born navy man

Many overseas Singaporean males view their two years of national service as their natural duty, despite challenges such as adapting to life here. Lim Min Zhang speaks to three full-time national servicemen who have been inspired by the NS experiences of their fathers and brothers and feel they have been passed the baton.

3SG Thirunavukkarasu Karthikeyan was born in India and moved here when he was 13.
3SG Thirunavukkarasu Karthikeyan was born in India and moved here when he was 13.PHOTO: MINDEF

Third Sergeant Thirunavukkarasu Karthikeyan has described his national service so far as "memorable" and said that his one highlight has been a month-long deployment out at sea last November.

The most junior member of the engineering department on board the landing ship tank RSS Endeavour, the 23-year-old Singaporean took part in two foreign exercises during the deployment.

3SG Karthikeyan was born in India but moved to Singapore with his family when he was 13.

And he has come a long way since being enlisted as a 92kg obese recruit in July 2019 after completing his polytechnic studies in marine and offshore engineering.

"When I first joined a secondary school after coming from India, it was a bit tough in terms of the language barrier because of the Singlish words used. But by the time I enlisted, there was no trouble fitting in - it was just like mingling with a new group of people."

NS has meant a more active lifestyle for 3SG Karthikeyan, who now works out on his own almost daily. "At the end of my BMT, when I had lost about 18kg, it improved my self-discipline, confidence and self-esteem."

After being posted to the navy as a marine system operator, he was exposed first-hand to the engineering systems he had learnt about in polytechnic.

3SG Karthikeyan, who will complete his full-time service in July this year, already has a place at the National University of Singapore to study mechanical engineering, and is planning for a career in the marine and offshore industry.

His father, a Singaporean, works in administration in the security sector. His mother, a nurse, is from India. He also has a nine-year-old sister who was born in Singapore. The family does not plan to move back to India.

He first heard about NS from his father, who was an infantryman, as well as from his peers in secondary school. The idea of serving NS did not bother him, he said. "I was open to the idea of serving the nation. After living here for so long, NS is the least I can do for the country that has given me a house and a livelihood."

Asked if he felt he belonged here, he said: "Yes, of course. Because I spent the majority of my teenage and young adult years in Singapore. I feel like I'm more Singaporean than anything else.

"When I talk to people, they don't realise I was not born here, because of the way I speak Singlish. I feel proud that I've integrated well into the society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2021, with the headline 'Memorable journey for India-born navy man'. Subscribe