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A group of Singaporeans who were detained under the Internal Security Act got together to write a book of poems that hammered at the draconian law.
Entitled Our Thoughts Are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile, the book was launched on 28 Feb 2009. A reading was held last Saturday at an arthouse on Marshall Road. There was standing room only where the authors took turns to read their contributions.
Ex-ISA detainees Mr Tan Jing Quee, Ms Teo Soh Lung, Dr Wong Souk Yee among others were on hand to read their works. Also present were former political leaders Drs Lim Hock Siew and Poh Soo Kai. Mr Vincent Cheng who was detained in 1987 was also present. It is available at Select Books, Kinokuniya Books and Gerakbudaya.com
Below is a poem written by Mr Tan Jing Quee who was detained in 1963 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew under Operation Coldstore.
by Tan Jing Quee
What was it like ‘inside’?
A difficult question
Could you, would you really listen
Without sneer, to the endeavours
How should I begin?
Should I start from the traumas of the raid
How liberty was so capriciously enchained
Without a warrant, without warning
On the dark hours
When even dogs slept undisturbed.
You were hauled into a world ran amok:
The mug shots, ‘turn out your pockets’
the thumb and fingers impressions
(whatever for, I commit no crime!)
No one bothered,
The guard shoved you on,
Along the corridor of despair;
That first heavy thud of the iron door
Sealing you incommunicado from the world —
The wind, sun, moon, and the stars
And all that was human and dear.
Should I recall the dark cell
At Central Police Station
A purgatory of perpetual night
The stone slab for the bed
Sullied, soiled matteress, no sheets
Blood smeared walls, cries of past agonies
The rude, cruel hourly rip-rap of the shuttlers
“To check your health”,
So it was explained.
Should I narrate
The daily bath at the tap
The Squat pan, dank and putrid
Meant to dehumanize, humiliate.
Should we be thankful
For the daily ditch water
which passed for tea
The stony crumbs for bread
The rice so callously tossed with dust?
Should we be grateful
For the censored books and news,
To decontaminate our minds;
Should we be grateful too
For the unbearable heat
The lonely insomnia of the day and night,
Migraine and diarrhoeic fever
And panadol as panacea?
How could I ever forget those Neabderthals
Who roamed Whitely Holding Centre,
Under cover of darkness,
Poured buckets of lice water
Over my stripped, shivering nakedness,
Slugged my struggling, painful agony
Circling, sneering, snarling
Over my freezing nudity,
More animals than men;
What induced this
Vengeful venom, violent score
To settle, not for a private grievance
But a public, democratic dissidence;
From whence sprang this barbarity?
What made men turn into beasts
In the dark, away from prying eyes,
Protected by a code of dishonour and lies
To ensure they survive and rise.
For sure, there were gentler souls
Who tried to be decent, no more:
The smiling guard who lightened the hours
With a chance remark, a joke
The barber who brought his scissors, cigarrets and news
The interrogator who handed a bible
Told him the elegant prose
Contrasted strangely with my current state,
How distant those beautiful thoughts were
From the violence to our liberty.
What then is the truth?
A generation trapped in lies
Who rushed to defend, to justify
Never to listen, see, or speak out.
Only when we open our hearts
Confront this barbarism
Can we truly exocise our fears,
Finally emerge as a free people,
A liberated society.