Separation trauma of the personal kind for track star

The year 1965 was traumatic for Mr C. Kunalan and his fiancee - now wife - because both were estranged from their families.
The year 1965 was traumatic for Mr C. Kunalan and his fiancee - now wife - because both were estranged from their families.ST FILE PHOTO

Singapore's exit from Malaysia in August 1965 came at a time when national sprinter C. Kunalan was grappling with separation trauma of a personal nature.

"My wife and I were both estranged from our families at that time. They objected to our relationship as we were of different races," said Mr Kunalan, who is Indian and was courting his Chinese fiancee Chong Yoong Yin at the time. "It was a very traumatic year for us."

He was in the news this week in 1965 when he led a team from the Ministry of Education to a first- place finish in the inter-ministry athletic championships.

Asked where he was when the news of Singapore's sudden independence broke, Mr Kunalan, now 72, said: "Honestly, I have no recollection of that moment. I remember talking about it with my wife and some friends, but there was nothing much to say.

"We were young, we just assumed things would go on."

He said separation had little effect on his athletics career, as Singapore athletes mostly trained here. But he recalled that many in team sports cheered the separation.

"Selection was sometimes very biased in Malaysia. They would choose their own over Singaporeans. It happened mainly in team sports, but even track and field saw the problem a bit during the 1964 Olympics," he said.

"So when the separation happened, many athletes were very happy - now, we're just Singapore. We can do it on our own."

As for the tension at home, there was a happy ending too.

When Mr Kunalan and his fiancee sent wedding invitations to their families in January 1966, his father visited him at the flat where he rented a room.

"When I saw my father at the door, all the hair on my arms stood up," recalled Mr Kunalan. "He told me he saw now that we were serious, and accepted our relationship."

While Madam Chong's mother and siblings were supportive, her father came round only a year after they were married. "Out of the blue, we received an invitation from him to a Chinese New Year reunion dinner. We were so happy," he said.

The couple have three daughters - Soma, Mona and Gina - and three grandchildren.

Jennani Durai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 09, 2015, with the headline 'Separation trauma of the personal kind for track star'. Print Edition | Subscribe