Chandran Nair (b. 1944)
Chandran Nair (b. Kerala, South India) arrived in Singapore in 1951 and was educated at Raffles Institution (1959 -64) and the National University of Singapore (1965-1972) from which he holds a BSc and an MSc (Marine Biology).
Nair’s first work experience was as an administrator with the British Council, Singapore, but he chose to become a publisher first as the Manager of Eastern Universities Press, then as Assistant General Manager of Federal Publications and finally as the founder and AGM of Times Books International before leaving Singapore to become a specialist in book development for UNESCO in Karachi, Pakistan (1981-85). He was transferred to UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 1985 and has worked in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean as well as in Europe and retired from his UN career as a divisional director in 2004 but continues to reside in France.
Nair started writing at nine years old while in Havelock Road School, Singapore, but his poems were first published in The Rafflesian (the annual journal of his secondary school, Raffles Institution) in 1963. He subsequently became part of the growing literary scene in Singapore, informally grouped around Edwin Thumboo at the National University of Singapore’s English Department and Goh Poh Seng, the founder of Centre 65 and Chairman of the National Theatre Trust. It was at the National University of Singapore (1965-1972) that he got involved with the stage via the Guild House Drama Group, where he was involved in publicity and lighting before producing and directing Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. He continued with the production and direction of Sartre’s Huis Clos for the Alliance Francaise Karachi (1986).
His determining contribution to the growth of Singapore Literature came from 1976-81, when he was the first President of the Society of Singapore Writers. Formed by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, of which Nair was an executive committee member for many years, the Society worked to bring writers from the four language streams together. To this end, he edited Singapore Writing (1977), which was launched at the 500th anniversary of the University of Tübingen in Germany, and worked to get publishers, media and governmental support and acceptance for writers and writing, though his contribution (in a Singapore where the support he envisaged is now the norm) is now largely forgotten.
Nair helped a number of young writers such as Geraldine Heng, Rosemary Putucheary, and Mervin Mirapuri to their first publications through Woodrose Publications, which was set up by four friends as a non-profit operation to publish Singapore writers. Woodrose’s success pushed Heinneman and others to also publish local writers including Catherine Lim, Stella Kon and others. Times Books International (now Marshall Cavendish) continues to publish local works to this day.
His first book of poems, Once The Horsemen and Other Poems (University Education Press), was published in 1972 and was well-received, as was his second collection After the hard hours, this rain (Woodrose Publications, 1975). He also co-translated The Poems and Lyrics of the last Lord Lee, the last Emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty (Woodrose Publications,1975) with Malcolm Koh Ho Ping. His poem “Grandfather” has been widely published in a number of languages, and has been used by the University of Cambridge International Examinations Board for their examination papers. His collected poems, Reaching For Stones, was published by Ethos Books in 2010.
Nair’s fiction won The New Nation Singapore Short Story Writing contest in 1973 and has published his stories in “Short Stories From Africa and Asia” (which he co-edited with Theo Luzuka), Singapore Short Stories (Vol. 1) edited by Robert Yeo, and also in Malay translation in Cerpen Cerpen Asean (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka).
Since moving to Paris, Nair has continued painting and writing but has not published, though he has been included in a number of anthologies including The Second Tongue (1979) and Journeys: An Anthology of Singapore Poetry (1995), both edited by Edwin Thumboo, Calling of the Kindred (Cambridge University Press, 1993), and has been featured in Reworlding: an anthology reviewing the writing of expatriate Indians, edited by Emmanuel S Nelson (Greenwood Press, New York, 1992). He is also included in Idea to Ideal: 12 Singapore poets on the writing of their poems (Firstfruits Publishing, 2004).
Nair is perhaps the only Singaporean poet cited in Parliament. In a discussion about the multiracial nature of modern Singapore, Dr. Chiang Hai Ding (MP for Ulu Pandan) had this to say:
Where else but in Singapore can we find an ethnic Indian, born in India, educated in Singapore, possessing a Science degree from the University of Singapore (a Master’s degree in Marine Biology) and writing beautiful love poems to his ethnic Chinese wife in an English language magazine? I do not propose to read out his poems today but, in view of the forthcoming visit of our foreign minister to Peking, perhaps Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members will bear with me if I read three lines:
"To the east where there is sunshine
The Mind must turn for the beginning
of the World, in which only love matters"
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