Talking to SR Nathan about his book entitled, "Why Am I Here?", ironically a question often asked by many Singaporeans who wondered about the wisdom of paying him $3 million to stay in the Istana, the journalist had probably assumed some heroic acts during the Occupation years.
"Did defying the Japanese soldiers embolden you so?"
"No, it was the other way round," admitted
Apparently It all started with a Japanese lieutenant asking him: "What is your nationality?" As he hemmed and hawed to avoid admitting he was Straits born, and thus likely to be locked up or worse, they found out he was Indian. "Okay, why don't you learn Japanese for a change? We'll be here for some time."
So he learned Japanese and they gave him "entry to many things". Whether you were meeting the district officer or the sultan, you had a certain daring, he said. It figures. When your godfather wields a Samurai sword, a bit of swagger is expected. To be fair to the 85 year old, he was not the only collaborator with the enemy during the terrible days when Singapore was Syonan-to. Writing in his memoirs, Lee Kuan Yew confessed doing translation work for the Japanese occupiers, and who knows how many brave lives of resistance fighters were lost due to his diligence.
Even in peace time, there was always a benefactor. Journalists protested against his appointment as executive chairman of The Straits Times Press in 1982. Nathan dismisses their outrage with: "That? Nothing. I'd had seen bigger strikes than that! They were wearing black armbands and jumping about." Maybe they should have worn Red Shirts to send a stronger message.
Living such a life, he must naturally attract only fair weather friends. "Each time I changed a job, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sent me somewhere else, they would say, 'This fellow is finished.' Then they see me bouncing back and they come back to you." Apparently this happens to him a lot. "Time and again, I've seen this. Sometimes their wives are even nastier; they can write you off faster than their husbands..."
Perhaps, if he had earned his position in society, he may actually acquire some real friends.