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Mr SR Nathan, Former President of Singapore – October 10th, 2014

Mr Sellapan Ramanathan served as the sixth president of the Republic of Singapore. He was the President of Singapore from 1.9.1999 to 31.8.2011. It is my privilege to present his interview.

Here is the interview

1. The life time value that your difficult formative years has taught you

The most important value is to remember that life does not go on as you expect. Unexpected things can come your way. Good people can become evil and evil people can become good. You will never know from which quarter you will get help or hindrance. My mother always says in Tamil that ‘avan illamal ellum asaithu’ meaning without God even a minute thing can also not move. Only in later life I realized the value of those words.

When I left home, I repudiated all religion. Then, the war came. Then my life changed unexpectedly. That is when I realized the meaning of those words. So in misfortune, my mum would always say, God is testing us. Don’t be angry about it. You prove right. So you must remember two things in life – in your interaction with people do not take everything for granted. There are all kinds of people in this world – Some with sweet words, but with evil intentions. Others may look crude, but they will be with noble intentions. These are the values I learnt. Do not take the words with face value.

2. From your experience, what is your suggestion, advice for being a good human in this complex world?

It is difficult for me to give advice to people. We all are differently made up. We move in different circles. We are in different levels of society. So each one will have different values. One should have self confidence and put in a lot of personal efforts in whatever you do. I learnt a message from my mother and the Japanese Lieutenant. Both told me the same. That is ‘Do your duty and do not look for rewards’.

3. Can we then take this as your ‘one principle’ that has carried you this far?

Yes. In my career, I don’t have much of education. Just by doing my duty, I moved on and on. I never looked at the benefits.
4. The character traits of yours, that you admire the most

I never admire myself. People have to admire. It is difficult to make your own judgment, as one is very subjective about themselves. Somebody can talk about your strength, weakness and so on…

5. Your top two principles while trying to encounter a problem…

First you must try to understand the problem and how formidable it is that you have to overcome. One must understand the easier part of addressing the problem. Then determine your priority as which one you are going to tackle first. If you have to address the serious problem first, it may consume your whole life. So you may want to deal with the simpler problem first and clear them and deal with the serious one later, if time permits.

6. This is globalized world. What is your advice on the globalization and the technology that influences this younger generation?

You cannot change this. This is only going to get worse. Technology is going to be moving faster and faster. And young people will be adapting to it equally faster. Due to the speed, their action, reaction, judgment will also be instantaneous and fellable as there is no depth. Because of technology, we have lost the sense of wisdom from reading and thinking.

7. You have been having a very glorious career. Which position have you cherished the most? For what reason?

I cherished the ‘Labor Movement’. It is a place, where small man can rise. Without education and by sheer ability, one can rise to lead people. You can do a lot of good for community. At the same time, you also encounter a lot of unreasonable demands and expectations, which you will have to balance between and make sure that you have not been mislead in doing things at the spur of the moment.

8. Is there anything that you feel unaccomplished as the President of Singapore?

No. Because the constitution lay down what the President can do and cannot do. Hence, there is nothing much the President can do beyond the constitution. As I say, I always do my duty and be contended. I am a constitutional president and not the executive president. Hence, I need to abide by the constitution.

9. Your connection with India and its people…

When there is an Indian blood in you, always there is a sentiment towards India and its rich heritage. But it is sadden to see the decay that has taken place in the Indian society, the loss of values all in the name of Democracy, so much of unethical things are done.

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