Mr K Kesavapany, Singapore Ambassador to Jordan – February 9th, 2015
1. Can you tell us about your formative years/yourself to our readers please
I was born In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 4th November, 1936. My father Mr Krishnasamy Naidu, was a clerk in an estate and my mother’s name was Andal. Ours was a big family, as we are six siblings. When I was six, I lost my mother but was fortunate to have had a caring stepmother.
We then moved to Pahang where I went to school. An average student since my school days, I eventually went to Liverpool, UK to do teacher training on a scholarship and were there for two and a half years.
I returned to Malaysia in 1958 and started as a teacher in Economics and English in Penang. In 1963, I married Padmini, also a teacher. The aspiration to do higher studies led me to get enrolled in University of Malaya. I graduated with a BA honors in History. In November 1967, I decided to move to Singapore and join the Admin Service here.
2. What was the catalyst that brought you to Singapore?
I was taken by the then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kwan Yew’s views on Meritocracy, Equal Rights and the society that he was trying to build in. In 1967 November, I came to Singapore and joined the Ministry of Labour.
3. How and when did the interest arise to be in the Diplomatic Service?
That has always been my desire. When you study History, international relations, politics, interaction between countries, you will apparently aim to be in the Diplomatic Service. That is the primary reason, I came to Singapore for.
4. Then when did you join the diplomatic service?
I joined the Ministry of Foreign Service in 1972. I shall list down the years and the countries I have been posted to.
1973 to 1976 – Indonesia
1979 – 1981 Moscow, Soviet Union
1982 – 1986 London
1991 – 1997 Ambassador to United Nations and Permanent Representative to World Trade Organization
1997 – 2002 High Commissioner of Singapore to Malaysia
In between some periods, I served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore.
5. Can you tell us about the other positions you have held/holding?
From 2003 to 2011, I was the Director of the Institute of South East Asian Studies. I am now associated with several Organizations in various capacities. President of Singapore Indian Association; SINDA Board of Trustees; Member, Hindu Advisory Board; Governor, Singapore International Foundation; Vice Chairman –Indian Heritage Centre, Cultural and Content Committee; Distinguished Fellow, Asian Research Institute, NUS.
6. So, how do you see the change from the Diplomatic Service to head ISEAS?
As research is predominant in both ISEAS and in the Diplomatic Service, it was very natural for me to make the shift.
7. Going back to your diplomatic service, which posting was the most challenging?
The most challenging one was my posting in Malaysia between 1997 and 2002. There were some issues like Immigration, water and railway. I am happy that most of the issues have now been resolved and bilateral relations are cordial.
8. Which of the posting was the most satisfying?
The United Kingdom was the most satisfying. Apart from my diplomatic work, my wife and sons profited from the educational opportunities. I did my Masters in London University that further honed my skills in English Language; my wife did her Diploma in Special Education; my sons went to school there. Apart from these, culturally too we were comfortable!
9. You have been holding crucial, rather say stressful positions where you have had to balance between various constraints. Still you look very young for your age. What is the secret?
I live by the motto, ‘why worry worry until worry worries you?’ In office, I do my work and once I am at home, I forget about my work. I never brood over anything. I can sleep well, even during a flight, well before the plane takes off! Also one must have a variety of interests. I love to walk, play golf; I am interested in music and dance. So, it is simple and there is no any secret as such.
10. Do you believe in Karma?
Yes. I do strongly believe in Karma. I got to know of Karma through reading ‘Sufi Literature’. I am sure Karma much determines our lives. Take my own life for instance—a child who grew up in a small town in Malaysia and returned as Singapore’s High Commissioner to that country. I always remember this
Eluthuchelum Vithiin kai,
Eluthi,eluthi maath chelum
Orr eluthum maarathae
Hence,there is some power higher than us. We don’t know what will happen. We must be ready to accept whatever comes.
11. Are you Religious?
I am not that religious and we don’t perform rituals at home. However, I like to go to temple. I have 30 plus Ganesha Idols with me and I have been to Sabarimala thrice. But I believe in serving God through serving Man. I have been advocating this principle since my days as a youth leader in Penang, where, I led the move to form the Hindu Youth Organization. Sixty years on, the HYO continues to be a vibrant organization.
12. Can you tell us about your Inclination to Music/Dance
When I was six years old, in KualaLipis, Pahang, Malaysia, my neighbor was a ‘Sattam Pillai’ (Music Teacher), who was from Sri Lanka and conducted Music Class daily. Hence growing up listening to music led to a life-long appreciation for Classical Music. I support several Arts Groups including Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, Apsaras arts, Samarpana.
13. Can you comment on your 40 years of experience in the Diplomatic Service of Singapore?
Diplomacy is the first line of a country’s defence and a principal tool of the Government to secure/advice a country’s interest. In this context, I am proud and privileged to have been a member of Singapore’s Diplomatic Service. For many services, I was awarded the Public Service Star medal in 2014.
On the lighter side, I was able to travel widely and gather enriching experiences. As our first Foreign Minister Mr S. Rajaratnam, put it, ‘As a diplomat, you can live like a millionaire, without being one’.