Mother’s Day tribute from
brothers Janadas and
Janamitra to the late
Mrs C.V. Devan Nair,
Singapore’s first Indian
woman MP and wife of
the third President
REPORT ON PAGES 10,11 & 12
Mother was our world
Mummy’s boys... Janadas (left), Janamitra
(right) and Janaprakash.
T H E H E A R T B E A T O F T H E I N D I A N C O M M U N I T Y
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SEEKING to regain some of India’s his-
toric reputation as a centre for interna-
tional learning, the Indian government
has announced an ambitious programme
to more than quadruple the number of foreign stu-
dents in the country’s institutions of higher educa-
tion.The “Study In India” programme launched on
April 18 seeks to increase the intake of international
students to 200,000 in less than five years. It stresses
India’s strengths in affordable quality education in
English and a “thriving innovation ecosystem”.
It is aimed at students in other South Asian coun-
tries, South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia
and Thailand, Central and West Asia and Africa.
Mr Sandeep Goel, who heads the programme,
told The Straits Times: “The world should know that
India offers great value for money (in) education.”
The branding campaign has a budget of around
$3.12 million. Online, it has a one-stop portal
(www.studyinindia.gov.in) that helps students
choose a course and facilitates admission into 160 in-
stitutions, including the Indian Institutes of Technol-
ogy and Indian Institutes of Management.
While the number of partner institutions is grow-
ing, involvement in the programme has been limited
to the country’s top-ranked institutes, which offer a
range of full and partial fee waivers. The portal will be
backed by a call centre and reinforced by frequent in-
ternational roadshows in target countries.
The programme is also working on simplifying
cumbersome visa regulations and securing agree-
ments to guarantee mutual recognition of degrees
with prospective students’ home countries.
The quality of India’s higher education has been
hit by a lack of investment and the absence of an en-
abling regulatory set-up. This is reflected in the con-
spicuous absence of Indian educational institutions
in international rankings. None of them was ranked
in the top 250 of the Times Higher Education
World University Rankings released in Febru-
ary this year, and only six of them made it to
the top 600.
Chinese institutions secured 22 of the first
600 spots. China hosts close to half a million
foreign students, more than 10 times the
45,000 in India.
Concerns that keep foreign students away from In-
dia include the poor law-and-order situation, racism
and pollution. There have been attacks on foreign stu-
dents, especially those from Africa, in some places.
That academic institutions in India have been sti-
fled by a complex web of bureaucratic control is some-
thing former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo
has experienced first-hand. He resigned as chancel-
lor of Nalanda University in Bihar in November 2016
after claiming that the Indian government had failed
to maintain the university’s autonomy.
Conscious of the need to radically improve the
quality of its academic centres, the Indian govern-
ment recently announced an Institutes of Eminence
programme that will identify 20 institutes and chart a
path for them to become “world-class”.
India out to woo more
Laughing their way to good
health with yoga
JAIPUR commemorated World
Laughter Day by organising laughter
yoga sessions in parks and public
places in the city on May 6 (right).
The event, called Hasyam, takes
place on the first Sunday of May every
year. The first World Laughter Day
was held on May 10, 1998 in Mumbai.
It was organised by Dr Madan
Kataria, founder of the global
Laughter Yoga movement. The aim
was to promote laughter as a positive
and powerful human emotion that has
the potential to keep people healthy,
physically and mentally.
Punjab panel to re-examine Class
12 history syllabus
PUNJAB Chief Minister Amarinder
Singh has announced the setting up of
a six-member Oversight Committee
after allegations that Sikh history has
been diluted in the Class 12 syllabus.
Historian Kirpal Singh will head the
committee to examine the issue.
The Chief Minister lashed out at the
opposition for “unnecessarily
politicising the issue”.
He told the media in Chandigarh on
May 7: “My government has decided
to prevent any such politicisation of
history books by setting up a
permanent committee to oversee
formulation of the syllabi and ensure
error-free books on the subject.”
500 children participate in
Kolkata inter-orphanage fest
ABOUT 500 underprivileged children
participated in various activities
related to literature, art and culture
during an inter-orphanage talent
festival held for the first time in
The festival, called Nakshatra,
brought together children from
various schools and shelter homes, at
the Birla Industrial and Technological
Museum auditorium on May 6.
Organised by Bhumi, an
independent volunteer non-profit
organisation, the festival saw the
children showcase their talent in story
writing, paper modelling, pot painting,
recitation, singing and dance
E-office system in all UP
THE electronic-office system aimed at
enhancing movement of files has been
implemented in all Uttar Pradesh state
The new system, announced by
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Oct
27 last year, was implemented in 20
departments at the state secretariat in
the first phase.
An official said the new system will
ensure that files are not delayed and
that digitisation expedites the process
of decision making. It will also cut
down on corruption as the system will
be monitored by officials in the Chief
Poor to get free medical
treatment in Madhya Pradesh
MADHYA Pradesh Chief Minister
Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced
that the poor in the state will get free
treatment for medical problems.
“People should help the poor get
the benefit of various welfare schemes
of the government,” he said during the
groundbreaking ceremony of a
multi-storeyed building at the Kailash
Nath Katju Hospital in Bhopal.
The hospital, which has 20 beds,
will have 100 beds soon.
‘One Stop Centres’ for women in
100 more districts
AS MANY as 100 additional districts
will have One Stop Centres aimed at
supporting women who are victims of
violence. A statement by the Ministry
of Women and Child Development
said the additional centres will come
up in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh,
Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra,
Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Tamil
Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
The centres aim to facilitate
integrated services for affected women
such as police assistance, medical aid,
psycho-social counselling, legal aid or
counselling and a temporary stay of
five days. The government has set up
182 centres since April 2015.
Indian tea industry records
highest ever production
THE Indian tea industry recorded the
highest ever production of 1,325.05
million kg as well as export of 256.57
million kg during the financial year
2017-18. This is according to the Tea
Board of India.
The total tea production in 2017-18
went up by 74.56 million kg or 5.96
per cent, compared with the
corresponding figure in 2016-17.
The growth in exports was mostly
driven by five countries – Egypt, Iran,
Pakistan, China and Russia.
May 11, 2018
BRIGHT future in India’s corpo-
rate sector seemed assured for
him as he had a degree from the
Indian Institute of Technology Kharag-
pur and a master’s in business adminis-
tration from the Indian Institute of Man-
He even worked for a year at Indian
multi-national Infosys, a global leader
in technology services and consulting.
But Mr Vinayak Lohani’s mind
turned to a more meaningful vision
which led him to opt out of the job place-
ment race after his master’s.
He was inspired by the spiritual and
humanistic ideals of the legendary In-
dian monk Swami Vivekananda, and
decided to devote his life to serving the
“divine in man”.
Said the Bhopal-born Mr Lohani,
39: “The most I can achieve in the cor-
porate world is to be a chief executive of-
ficer, but it didn’t feel meaningful. At
the same time, I was very interested in
Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy, such
as his high degree of empathy. This
moved me at a very deep level.”
In trying to emulate the Swami’s val-
ues, he wanted to get involved in hu-
manitarian work, but did not know
how to start.
“I thought about values such as love,
care and selflessness and then I thought
of children who come from vulnerable
backgrounds and don’t have anyone
around them,” he said.
“I felt I could translate those values
into action by creating a loving and car-
ing environment and transforming
That led him to set up Parivaar
(which means family in Hindi), a shel-
ter for destitute children in 24 Parganas
district, West Bengal.
“I initially wasted many months
speaking to people and companies who
were involved in social funding, but no-
body wanted to support me because
nothing was concrete,” said Mr Lohani,
who visited Singapore in February to
speak about his work before audiences
at Tanglin Club, Facebook and
“They thought it was just my wishful
“I was not worried about failure. To
me, following what I want to do is in it-
self a success. Only that mattered to
In order to kickstart his mission, he
tutored students taking management-
entrance exams and used the money he
earned to start Parivaar in late 2003.
He rented a small building to house
three children he picked up from the
streets. Within a year, the number grew
“The building could house only 40
children. Word spread about the cause
and I was getting so many cases,” Mr Lo-
“I had to find a bigger
At the end of 2004, he purchased a
plot of land and developed a campus
for boys and girls. In 2011, he built sepa-
rate residential blocks for them.
Today, there are more than 1,700
children at Parivaar, making it the
largest residential programme for chil-
dren from impoverished backgrounds
in West Bengal, according to Mr Lo-
Children from tribal areas in 11 dis-
tricts of West Bengal and Jharkhand
also live there.
Mr Lohani said he is approached to
accommodate at least 2,000 children
every year, mostly by field organisa-
tions, relatives or concerned citizens.
Parivaar has a team that conducts a
thorough check on each case. A report
is prepared and then assessed before a
child is admitted.
The children are housed in dormito-
ries. The campus also has a library, com-
puter room, dining area, football field
and volleyball court.
They attend classes on weekdays
and visit art galleries, theatres and mu-
seums on weekends.
After grade 12, they can do courses
in subjects such as hospitality, nursing,
information technology, beauty and
Mr Lohani said the children are also
given opportunities for higher educa-
tion and job placements.
Some of them are now interns at Pari-
vaar while completing their higher stud-
ies, while others have found employ-
ment in professions such as nursing and
An example is Kalpana Majumdar,
who was found begging at Kolkata’s
Sealdah station platform with her
grandmother. She was admitted to Pari-
vaar in March 2004.
Now, after completing her higher
secondary education and doing a pro-
gramme in sales, she is working at retail
According to Mr Lohani, around
Rs37,000 is spent on a child a year at
the residential institution.
This covers food, education, medical
expenses, clothing and toiletries, as
well as sports, cultural and recreational
Parivaar also has six day-boarding
centres – each with between 100 and
200 children – in Madhya Pradesh and
another one in West Bengal.
Mr Lohani said this is an initiative to
tackle malnutrition among children, es-
pecially in Madhya Pradesh.
“There is a significant tribal popula-
tion of 35 per cent in Madhya Pradesh.
We provide children there with meals
and come up with a curriculum,” said
the philanthropist, who plans to in-
crease the capacity of residential facili-
ties at Parivaar to around 3,000 chil-
dren over the next three years.
In recent years, many people and
companies in India, Singapore and the
United States have come to know
about Mr Lohani’s efforts and support
him with donations.
When asked whether his job at Pari-
vaar will ever be complete, Mr Lohani,
who has taken a vow of celibacy, said:
“It’s an endless mission. I’ve accepted it
as my way of life. It’s not a utopian situa-
tion. There will always be new prob-
lems and we should find ways to over-
He gave it all up for them... (Above)
Mr Vinayak Lohani with children at the
Parivaar shelter in West Bengal and (left)
some of them tying a rakhi (wristband) on
him on Raksha Bandhan (Brother’s Day).
Saviour of poor children
Mother was our world
Associate Editor , Tamil Murasu
HE married her childhood sweetheart
and stood by him as he went from anti-
colonial fighter to political prisoner to
founder of the National Trades Union Congress
(NTUC) to President of Singapore.
Avadai Dhanalakshimi, wife of Singapore’s
third President, C.V. Devan Nair, was a mother
of four who held the family together through tu-
She also had a brief political career of her
own. Indeed, when Singapore separated from
Malaysia in 1965, she and her husband held
elected seats in different countries.
She supported and encouraged him in his
struggles and fearlessly faced the challenges
that life threw at her.
At the same time, she was a typical Tamil
woman of her time, a loving but strict mother.
It was she who drove the children to school
and to their extra-curricular activities, took
them swimming, and made sure they were fed
and clothed properly.
That is how her children remember her.
Said eldest son Janadas Devan, 64, Chief of
Government Communications: “Our home
and life revolved around our mother. Our father
couldn’t have achieved what he did without my
mother by his side.
“Indeed, he might not have thrown himself
into politics, when it was terribly risky to do so –
he could have lost his life – if he didn’t feel my
mother could take care of the children if some-
thing happened to him.”
She was usually in a sarong and simple
blouse at home, with very few ornaments, the
red auspicious dot on her forehead and a ready
smile on her face.
And she could be a striking presence in any
She was orphaned at a young age and was ed-
ucated only up to primary three, but skilfully
managed her family even when her husband
was in prison or in Malaysia.
Mrs Nair, a fourth-generation Singaporean,
was born in 1925, the third of six children. She
lost her mother Anjalaiammal at the age of
seven and her father Avadai Thevar, a contrac-
tor in the building industry, at the age of 11.
She, her sister and four brothers, were then
brought up by their maternal grandmother and
maternal uncle Gopal.
Initially they lived in Campbell Lane in Little
India and Mr Nair’s family lived nearby, in
Roberts Lane. He was two years older, her
brother’s schoolmate and best friend. The chil-
dren would often play together.
Her family later moved to a wooden house
on stilts at Coronation Road, near Bukit Timah,
where her father had bought land. She attended
the Ramakrishna Mission School and loved to
study. But she had to stop school because the
family could afford to educate only the boys.
Though Mrs Nair went on to make her mark
in Parliament and at the Istana, she keenly felt
the absence of education in her life.
In a 1981 interview with the Straits Times,
she said: “I like politics but, at the same time, I
don’t have the proper education – I regret that.
You want to be an MP, you need to have more ed-
She helped educate her brothers and consid-
ered education the most important thing for her
Said Janadas: “If only our mother had been
educated, she would have had a career of her
own. She was naturally a very able person.”
When she and Mr Nair, a Malayalee, wanted
to get married, there was opposition from her
family. But she was firm in her decision.
“We used to play together...childhood sweet-
hearts,” she told The Straits Times.
“I said either him or I won’t marry. I’ll take
care of my brothers all my life.”
Her uncle Gopal, a fervent anti-colonialist,
who had opposed the marriage, eventually
came to admire Mr Nair for standing up to the
British. He agreed to the union after Mr Nair
was released from his first political detention
from 1951 to 1953. The couple married in Au-
gust 1953. Barely three years later, Mr Nair was
detained again. For the next three years till his
release in 1959, when the People’s Action Party
formed the Government, she brought up
Janadas and Janamitra on her own.
Janamitra, 62, who has held senior positions
at the World Bank and McKinsey & Company,
said: “Till the age of three, I don’t remember see-
ing my father. As a result, I naturally became
closer to my mother.”
He and his brother grew up speaking mainly
“After our father’s release from prison, find-
ing that our conversational English was poor, he
began to converse with us in English. With this,
our use of Tamil decreased over time,” he said in
a phone interview from the United States,
where he now lives.
He remembers that unlike his brothers, he
did not particularly care for academics at first.
He wanted to be a pilot instead. But Mrs Nair
was determined that he should advance his stud-
ies. He went to the Philippines for a year before
proceeding to Indiana University in the United
States, where he graduated with honors before
going on to obtain his PhD in economics.
“It was my mother who believed in me more
than I did. I was obviously a late developer and
had she not stood firm, I would not have gone as
far as I did,” he said.
And he added with a laugh: “We were full of
mischief and managing us was a huge task for
our mother. My elder brother especially, but we
all had our fair share of caning from her.”
Said Janadas: “When I passed my Senior
Cambridge exams – the equivalent of “O” lev-
els today – she was very happy and gave me a
Rolex watch. ”
Janadas, who is also the director of the Insti-
tute of Policy Studies, still wears the watch 48
“I think I inherited my mother’s thrift,” he
said. “For example, I live in an HDB flat. I can’t
shake off the feeling anything else would be an
It was his mother who managed the finances
of the family.
In 1964, she built a modest house on her
share of her father’s land between Coronation
Road and Bin Tong Park, without borrowing a
She had squirrelled away what she could
from the pittance Mr Nair earned as a unionist,
and later from her MP’s allowance, which was at
that time $500 a month. When NTUC Income
was established in 1970, she was among the first
to sign up for one of its savings plans.
Otherwise, investment meant buying gold,
Janadas remembers, as was traditional among
Asian women of her generation. And she made
sure only her daughter and granddaughters in-
herited the gold from her, because she never for-
got how she herself had survived the Japanese
Occupation with the few pieces of gold she had
inherited from her own parents.
Indeed, during the Japanese occupation, and
when Mr Nair was in prison, Mrs Nair did vari-
ous things to make ends meet. She grew vegeta-
bles, made brooms from coconut palm fronds
and took in sewing work.
Said Janadas: “My mother hated loans. She
would deposit money upfront for her credit
card which she would then use as a debit card!”
He remembers that she was also a great cook.
“As our mother’s family had been in Singa-
pore for many generations her dishes had a
Malay flavour. There is no equivalent to
mother’s stir fried meat dishes, fried bitter
gourd and beans curry mixed with eggs.”
She also made “corned beef curry”, that be-
came a favourite of the children. And there is a
story behind that.
When Mr Nair was in prison, the prison au-
thorities would give the detainees canned
corned beef. They, of course, could not stomach
most of the food they were given in prison. So
Mr Nair experimented with the spices his wife
would bring, and concocted a curry using
corned beef and shared it with his fellow de-
tainees, including Mr Lim Chin Siong.
After his release, he mentioned this to his
wife and asked her to make it. The dish be-
came a regular feature in their home. Mrs
Nair though, like many Hindus, never ate
beef herself. She was traditional in many
other ways. She would be the last to go to bed
and the first to rise.
Said Janadas: “Except when we were eat-
ing out or when we visited other homes, our
mother would eat only after serving her hus-
band and the children. She just never sat with
us while we were eating, constantly filling our
“When she had her meals, she would often
insist on the maids sitting down and eating
with her. Even as the President’s wife, she
kept this practice.”
Janamitra said his wife Sabrina, who is a
Chinese Filipina, learnt to cook corned beef
curry, among other dishes, from her mother-
in-law, in the process picking up Tamil and
Malay words from her as well.
Janadas’ wife Geraldine is also Chinese.
He said his mother initially found it hard to ac-
cept that her boys were marrying non-Indi-
But she also remembered her own struggle
to marry the man she loved.
When she realised her sons had made up
their minds, she consented, only insisting the
marriages be conducted according to Hindu
“Mine was a full blown traditional Hindu
wedding,” Janadas said with a laugh.
Though Mrs Nair came from a traditional
Tamil family and did not have much formal ed-
ucation, she had progressive ideas and never
backed away from saying or doing what she
felt was right.
She would call her husband “Devan” at a
time when it was unheard of for a Tamil wife
to address her husband by name, and would
often disagree with him openly.
And when her husband faced difficulties,
especially after he resigned as President, she
stood firmly by his side to the end.
They spent their last years in the US and
Canada. Mrs Nair died in Hamilton in On-
tario, Canada, in April 2005, just eight
months before the love of her life.
When she had pneumonia and was on life
support, the doctors said she was unlikely to
survive. The children knew how she would
wish to be treated in these circumstances
since she had signed a “living will”, specify-
ing that no extraordinary steps be taken to
prolong her life.
Janadas informed her of her condition and
she herself made the decision to have her life
Death held no fear for her, he said.
“If she made up her mind about some-
thing, she would not change it. Till the mo-
ment of her death, she had control over her
Abiding by her wishes, Janadas and Jana-
mitra immersed her ashes at the confluence of
the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in Ahmed-
abad, India, a sacred spot for Hindus.
Additional reporting by Tamilavel
FIRST INDIAN WOMAN MP: PAGE 12
Memorable times... (Far left) The family, from right, Janadas Devan, his sister Vijaya Kumari, his wife
Geraldine, his younger brother Janaprakash, and his parents, Mr C.V. Devan Nair and Mrs Nair, with
Blackie, their dog.
(Left) Mrs Nair with Mr Devan Nair upon his release from prison in 1959.
(Above) Mrs Nair releases pigeons in a symbolic ceremony to raise money for St. Margaret’s Primary
School’s $9 million building.
Mother’s Day tribute from brothers Janadas and Janamitra to the late
Mrs C.V. Devan Nair, wife of Singapore’s third President
mother. Our father
achieved what he
did without my
mother by his side.”
– Janadas Devan
“We were full
of mischief and
was a huge
task for our
mother. My elder
but we all had our
fair share of caning
– Janamitra Devan
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