Every August, always once a year,
The call goes out, strident, loud and clear:
“Write a song that’ll make us all stand proud,
Write us a song that’ll make the stones sing loud,
Write us a tune to make our dry hearts swell,
Write us a melody we’ll all know so damn well.”
And so pen to paper, committees duly formed,
Terms of reference, proposals all are normed.
“What we want is something fresh and new,
All things borrowed, nothing must be blue.
Together, forever, in adversity
Are words you must include”, says the PA_.
Song constructed, lyrics all nailed down,
MTV type-casted, HDB, soldiers, downtown:
“This is our Singaporean life,
You can sing out of tune,
just don’t cause any strife”.
Fifty-two, but still acting like you’re three.
When the music stops, will your thought be free?
Or like me, are you prisoners to this rhyme,
Come on let’s stand, for Singapore we’re blind.
Once a year, on the 9th of August, a massive parade/ celebration/ orgiastic release of unbridled nationalism takes place in Singapore. It’s called the National Day Parade, or as we love our acronyms here, NDP.
The parade is broadcast over all the free-to-air TV channels and it’s generally a good show, replete with fireworks and fighter planes, soldiers and snazzy dance numbers, mass dance displays and LED light-shows. It feels like the entire Singapore Armed Forces is mobilised to support the parade in terms of logistics and many a national serviceman has done duty either marching in the parade or packing goodie bags, marshalling traffic or ensuring the security and safety of the participants.
In recent years, even as the parade has taken on a more showy, musical-like nature, the propaganda remains far from subtle. I have had the good fortune to get a ticket to watch the parade only once in my life so far (citizens have to ballot for the tickets – which are free – and some unscrupulously re-sell them on the black market for hundreds of dollars) and I can tell you, it was scary.
Scary because I felt like unlike myself, swept up in a nationalistic (patriotic?) fervour that spun round the stands like a typhoon. I was singing along with gusto, cheering at the fighter jets and parachutists and rumbling tanks and roaring with pride.
After the dust had settled, and the crowds dispersed, I sat in a coffee shop with a friend eating chicken rice and we talked about the parade. Mind control for the masses? You had to be there to believe it.
It was back in 2000 when I got a ticket for the parade. I think that once is enough.