road to singapore

leave my village alone

come with me to holland village. it’s not far from my place. it’s never been far from my place. ever since 18 november 1997, when i first came to this island country, it’s been just a few minutes away from my home.

sometimes twenty, sometimes 30; right now, about 15.

if you take the bus it’s two stops. if you drive, it’s two minutes. the first time i stepped out of my home in singapore, i went to holland v. i was alone. my husband had left for a trip the day i’d arrived. he’d said, i could take a cab to this nice little place nearby… shops, restaurant, bars, easy, relaxed kind of place. he liked the indian restaurant there, sharay punjab. i had laughed at the spelling of sharay. the lion of punjab, i think that’s what it means, usually spelt sher-e… food was nice and homey, the lady who ran the show, friendly, large, always in shalwar kameez, and with this robust let’s get on with it air. i remember once when she saw me making my way to sukothai, the thai restaurant along the same stretch of shops, she was offended. “what’s this, you don’t come to us any more,” she called out. she was good friends with the lady who ran sukothai though.

sharay closed down, i don’t see her now. sukothai also closed down. but wala wala, with its live music and chicken wings and beer, is still there. so is coffee bean… open 24 hours, perfect place to sit and gas about nothing till two in the morning. if plans hold, that’s what i’ll be doing tonight.

crystal jade (great chinese food), foster’s (steaks, chicken a la kiev), cha cha cha (margharitas, nachos), tango’s, coffee club, huddles of bars with all sorts of beer and fried stuff still there. haagen dazs is open till midnight. my friend ela’s foot massage place remains a little grotty with happy customers on black rexine chairs. the cold storage (super market) is open day and night. atms, eateries, wet market, pet shops, doctors, trendy hair salons, local coffeeshop, food court, money changer, news agent (thambi magazine store), factory outlet shops, jewellers, kitsch sellers, parisilk (super popular electronics store), wine and spirits shop tucked away on the second floor of holland village shopping centre that stocks a little known rum from venezuela (diplomatico, reserva exclusiva)…

and most preciously, that holland v chilled out feeling… that is still so so much there.

yet the village must go.

for the last few months i’ve been hearing they will change things here. i thought, okay, they’ll develop the land around it, but won’t mess with the heart of things. lorong mambong and lorong liput will stay more or less untouched, with the rows of shophouses, and low rise structures, a bit humdrum. some longtime tenants, some new… that strange windmill there for no reason. someone’s sense of humour deciding if holland, must have windmill i guess. in case you were wondering, holland village is not named after the country, it’s named after holland road; which is named in turn after an architect and amateur actor, hugh holland, who lived here years ago.

ah, seems the whole thing will undergo “upgrading”.

sad. this kind of atmosphere is hard to find and really doesn’t come about in a day. ever since it began its life as a place to congregate and get a few things done – back… back… when the british were here and then later, when singapore decided she needed both people from home and abroad to make things work and so “expats” or “foreign talent” came to live here and the areas around became popular among them, also the university nearby with its professors and students, all looking for a place to hang out – ever since then, holland village has been different and well, holland v. every year it’s just gotten better at being that. it’s one of those places which becomes a part of you, and you have no idea when but suddenly you’re calling it holland v and looking a little upset when a shop disappears, getting sort of possessive.

the coffee club at the far end of lorong mambong, i believe is singapore’s first ever gourmet coffee house, opened in 1991. i have many memories from holland village starting from 1997. think i didn’t take a cab that very first time, i walked.

all these thoughts in my mind as i walked with aj to and around hv the other day. we took many pictures, we went and looked down from high hdb floors trying to get a top shot. we ate katong laksa. i couldn’t believe everything will change.

on my whatsapp, monday: “so shall we meet this wed?”… “can, where?”…  “yeah, me too, where?”… “somewhere else. new!”… “how about mbs?”… “hmmm!”… “too far!”… “try chinatown?”… “okay… no! mbs”… “or how about dempsey?”… “yeah, fine, not holland v again, that’s all.”

on my whatsapp, wednesday late afternoon: “so? tonight on?”… “yeah, lah.”… “9.15?”… “sure!”… “where?”… “holland v…” series of crazy emoticons.

on the way to hv, went down several inner lanes across the residential areas that lead to holland avenue. lovely road names: jalan kuning (yellow road), jalan hitam manis (black sweet road, i know hitam manis also means dark skin as i have been told gold suits me thanks to my hitam manis), jalan puteh jerneh (clear white road).

if you’d like to know more about holland v…


road to singapore, holland road, jalan merah saga, lorong liput, lorong mambong, holland avenue, 01/09/2015 #SG50

end of 1997, we moved to singapore from india. in 2015, the country celebrated fifty years of independence. singapore has given me much and i am fascinated by the spirit of this gutsy city state with hardly any land or resources, but oh what dreams and chutzpah (the finest interpretation of the word), the ability to reach big, hunker down and hold and strategise and act and grow. despite my many years here, i haven’t seen a lot of the island, which started out at only 28 miles by 18. now of course it’s bigger, thanks to that spirit i spoke of. so anthony john or aj as i call him, my walking partner, and i decided to do fifty walks in the island to celebrate #SG50. well, we didn’t stop at fifty; couldn’t. there was still so much to see and feel and also how not to let the hot, merciless, climate-change sun not have its way with us. so the walks continue, as does the walk talk. hope you enjoy, try to bring an umbrella.

indrani’s index

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  • Reply
    Archana popli
    September 24, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Hi just read your take on a part of your city ,I visited sigapore on my way backto India with my older son who was 5 months old ,I felt it was the cleanest cities and we took the trains around. People were so stylish in their dress ,it was nice to shop this was in 1990 we stayed with friends of our family so we got to see places , you opened up our eyes to holland village ,it like we our their with you as you explain the character and harm of this place hope it stays ,

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      September 25, 2015 at 12:26 am

      hi archana,

      thank you so much for reading this piece. i am glad you enjoyed singapore when you visited. it is a lovely place and far more interesting than it’s given credit for. yeah, holland village is very much a part of singapore, i hope good sense does prevail.

  • Reply
    rhea sinha
    October 4, 2015 at 1:23 am

    Indi di this is a lovely piece and I could identify completely with it. Have only been away from Ranchi a few years in regular terms, but already when I go back there in the rush of dinners at fancy new restaurants noone tells me whats happened to my favourite everyday stops after a tired day following my mother around in her shopping spree.

    Your first trip alone in Singapore? No wonder this place is super special. The coffee shop is where you take me okay? By the way does this have some connection to the Holland flyover you had shared earlier?

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      October 4, 2015 at 3:33 am

      hi rhea,

      long time… good to see you. so you know the feeling. losing something almost intangible but meaningful. i guess one can’t do much, only write and store the thoughts, share it… let it float off. i will take you to that coffee shop, done. yes, holland flyover takes you straight to the holland village area. my story’s hero, nikhil… works at the interpol office which is on the other side of the flyover after you’ve traveled down holland a bit and it’s become napier. come soon, we’ll walk and drink coffee, and plan writersbrew.

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