I didn’t read President Nathan’s memoirs Path to the Presidency: An Unexpected Journey, which I expect to be too ‘heavy’ (in the words of a friend) for my intellectual as well as reading pleasure. This book for young readers, which was partly extracted from his memoirs, was purchased for my youngest son and I decided to read it before passing it to him. And guess what, I thought it was well put-together in terms of contents and I found the historical events nostalgic and eye-opening.
President Nathan lead a full life and was/is well liked by everyone. Thus, jobs landed on him without him actively seeking for it, which lead to a fulfilling career serving the country. A simple man who was, and still is, respected for his principles and integrity – that’s the message I got from this book.
His childhood was interesting, and I could barely imagine my son at the same age running away to make a living on his own in another city now, but as the older folks can imagined, young people grew up faster in the old days. My grandmother was already a mother at 18, and she is two years younger than President Nathan who was born in 3 July 1924.
His youth was spent during the Japanese Occupation, which interrupted his education, yet that did not deter him from continuing his education after the war. Perhaps a tinge of good luck, or that he was blessed, but his life, though poor, was not lacking. Unlike most of our forefathers who mostly came from rich backgrounds and were educated overseas.
Other than learning about how Singapore was historically, and the relationships with the world, the book provides a brief insight to the life of a diplomat as well as a President. It was a coincident that I finished the book just before National Day and I described what President Nathan had written about the parade. True enough, when we watched the parade, we noticed the subtle ‘X’ on the parade ground(no spoiler here for you, read the book yourself!).
Another interesting chapter is his courtship with his wife, whom I thought was so romantic, since Indians I know to this day still frown on love marriages and rely on match-making. Their romance during that day and age certainly shows how open-minded their parents were.
This is an easy book with beautiful illustrations and lessons. His lessons may have been learned on hindsight, but for the youths reading this, I hope it’s with great foresight that you take on his wise words as you read the book.