Traversing trajectory of Malayalee community of Singapore

The Malayalee community forms an integral part of Singapore and an example of the heterogenous and varied culture of this country. Now, a book titled ‘From Kerala to Singapore: Voices from the Singapore Malayalee Community’ has hit the market which comprehensively explores the history about how members of the community came from Kerala to then British Malaya and Singapore from early 1900s till today.

Book titled ‘From Kerala to Singapore: Voices from the Singapore Malayalee Community’
The book titled ‘From Kerala to Singapore: Voices from the Singapore Malayalee Community’ documents Malayalee community of Singapore. Photo courtesy: Facebook

The book has been a passion project of writer Dr. Anitha Devi Pillai, a teacher in the National Institute of Education, who worked tirelessly for the past few years documenting details about the Malayalee Community. She juggled between her job as a teacher and managing her 13-year-old child to find time to write the book.

The book captures stories from 130 interviews with the members of the community in Singapore along with more than 400 photographs and documented family trees.

The book is an extension of her master’s thesis on the Malayalam language, which she completed in 2002 from the National University of Singapore. She went to do her PhD in  Applied Linguistics but decided to work on the book in 2012 after her doctorate studies ended.

Dr. Anitha Devi Pillai
Dr. Anitha Devi Pillai ( second from left), writer of the book. Photo courtesy: Facebook

The Malayalee community is very intricately interwoven in Singapore culture. They hail from Kerala, southernmost  State of India.According to the Census figures of 2010, there are about 26,000 Malayalees in Singapore, making up about 7 per cent of the Indian community.

Pillai said,"When I was doing my Master's, I realised that there was not much documentation of the community. Then I realised how massive the project was. It wasn't a matter of talking to 20 people. I wanted to give a composite picture of the Malayalee community and provide different narratives."

There are prominent members of the community who have been interviewed in the book including dance pioneer Santha Bhaskar, lawyer K.P.K. Menon and writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh. The interviews in the book are arranged chronologically, in terms of when the first person of the interviewee’s family arrived in Singapore or British Malaya.

Dr. Pillai  also  roped in Australian-based co-writer Puva Arumugam, as well as five of her students as research associates in the project for writing the book.

Pillai is a third-generation Malayalee on her father’s side and a fourth-generation on her mother’s side.