I have three reasons why Singaporeans mustn’t frustrate Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last wish: to have his home at 38 Oxley Road demolished.
1) Any old Singaporean’s last will and testament will be honoured, unless contested and deemed invalid by the courts, due to forgery or incompetence of the person making the will. There aren’t such concerns about Mr Lee’s will. So if any old Singaporean with a valid will can have his last wishes honoured, how dare Singaporeans, well meaning or otherwise, try to countermand what is his final wish? Surely Mr Lee has as much right as the next Singaporean on what to do with his personal assets? Or are we so presumptuous that we believe we have the right to decide just because he is the founding father of independent Singapore and so belongs to the nation?
2) If the argument for going against his wish is that his home should be fossilised for posterity because that’s where most of his ideas for Singapore were born, then I think it implicitly diminishes what are his handiwork all around us in Singapore. Ex-Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono puts it succinctly when he said “Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy lives in every rock, every tree, every building and every home in this country”. When the late Mr Lee is everywhere in Singapore, why do we need to confine him to Oxley Road?
3) The third and last reason for honouring Mr Lee’s wish, I think, is that it would allow him to share posthumously what many Singaporeans of the Pioneer Generation had experienced at some time in their lives, especially their early lives: the loss of home and other property as a result of land acquisition and/or resettlement to build a better Singapore. If I speculate correctly then it would be such a shame if the first among the Pioneer Generation were to have his intention nullified due to the misplaced sentimentality of those who don’t realise that Lee Kuan Yew is bigger than 38 Oxley Road where the annals of history, local and global, are concerned. He stands closer to Deng Xiaoping who was not only cremated but also no niche or urn contains his remains. His ashes were scattered at sea!
I adapt this well-known poem to remind us, or at least myself, how we should view our country’s first Prime Minister.
Do not stand at Oxley Road and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond lights on Marina Bay.
I am the sunshine come what may.
I am the gentle and not so gentle rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of focussed birds in daily flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at Oxley Road and cry;
I am not there. I do not die.