S R Nathan's state funeral: He was a friend to the end, says Ramaswamy Athappan

Businessman Ramaswarmy Athappan delivering his eulogy for the late former president S R Nathan, at the University Cultural Centre on Aug 26, 2016. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - Even near the end of his life, Mr S R Nathan continued to care for people around him and those close to him, said his friend of 16 years, Mr Ramaswamy Athappan.

The businessman said that he met Mr Nathan by chance during one of his early morning walks at East Coast Park.

"He conversed and listened kindly, courteously and attentively to the concerns of people he met during his morning walks," he said in his eulogy to the former president at the University Cultural Centre on Friday (Aug 26).

While historical events such as the Laju incident are well known, Mr Ramaswamy recounted three incidents which demonstrated Mr Nathan's softer side.

On July 12 night, a group of four women from India arrived on their motorbikes at the Singapore Immigration Checkpoint at the Causeway.

"This was the last leg of their trip on motorcycle around Asia, covering 10 nations and over 10,000 km in 40 days to raise awareness about female feticide in India," said Mr Ramaswamy, who spoke in Tamil.

They were not allowed into Singapore as they did not have the appropriate vehicle insurance.

One of their contacts called Mr Nathan for help. He was in hospital then, but called on Mr Ramaswamy to help them.

"I arranged for them to get the insurance certificates that very night," he said.

In April, Mr Nathan personally gave him a hand-written letter and a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, which the former president said will safeguard Mr Ramaswamy.

Mr Nathan's note read: "My days are somewhat numbered. I will be 92 in July. My heart is getting weaker by the day. My only wish is to see you well and successful in your life."

"He has deeply touched the hearts of all those who knew him," said Mr Ramaswamy, as he recounted the third story to family, friends, dignitaries and ordinary people gathered at the UCC.

Two years ago, when Mr Ramaswamy fell ill in India, Mr Nathan, then 90, came to his home to visit him during his morning walk.

He said that this reminded him of a couplet from Thirukkural, a classical Tamil work: "Those who are destitute of love, appropriate all to themselves; those who possess love, consider even their bones to belong to others."

Said Mr Ramaswamy: "Mr Nathan will always remain a priceless treasure in the memories of all of us. We are all so blessed to have been acquainted, in one way or another, with the life of this excellent, great man."

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