road to singapore

what’s that in the water… kranji way

have you ever stood at a beautiful spot, bright, calm, and scenic, feathery clouds drifting in a clear blue sky, waters rippling by, the green of the grass pure and lush, and then felt it all go absolutely eerie? can’t say exactly at what point it hit me, but as i looked at the lone man fishing out there, and my eyes followed the even waters of the johor straits all the way to malaysia on the other side, as i scanned the skyline a mile away, my mind resting on no particular thought, wondering perhaps how not to let the sun mark my skin with more sun spots… somewhere in the middle of all that, and also trying not to step on snakes just in case they were out to enjoy the day, i thought, this is where they must have landed, yes, somewhere here… on our walk to kranji cemetery i’d read they’d entered singapore somewhere close by… there had been a battle with heavy losses.

i was looking at the exact stretch of the straits where the japanese had attacked singapore on 9 february 1942 in order to secure a second beachhead, having already struck first at sarimbun beach further west, the day before. i have heard stories of how many of the japanese soldiers swum across in the dark, while others came in vessels. and how completely fierce, indomitable they were. the allied forces were vanquished pretty fast. in fact, it took the japanese just over a week to capture the island and turn it into an orwellian or perhaps even more suffocating place, now renamed syonan-to, light of the south (fairly macabre that sense of humor).

aj and i were at kranji reservoir in the north west. when he’d suggested we walk there, i’d grumbled. we had been to the kranji war cemetery only a couple of weeks ago, maybe we should head east or south. he kept saying there was a very nice road there, the reservoir on one side, johor on the other beyond the straits… i gave in.

kranji was once a river that flowed into the sea. the river mouth was dammed in the seventies to form a fresh water reservoir, a bridge alongside connects the two ends of the river. the word “kranji” comes from a tree that used to grew in this area, pokok kranji or keranji, which is malay for the velvet tamarind tree. a sense of danger still lurks around here. at the park nearby, large signs warn you about crocodiles. the water glimmers beyond the leaves on the low branches of the old trees all around. a barrier of merely two ropes between the wanderer and the croc, should it decide to clamber up and get some sun.

when the japanese came up the river and across the straits that night, they found there were oil slicks all around them. the allied forces had emptied out the woodlands oil depot not wanting it to fall into the hands of the enemy. allied small arms fire set the oil alight, several japanese soldiers were burnt alive. a wily, anaerobic darkness rushes in whenever i think of that scenario… fire blazing on the water, ferocious soldiers screaming in pain, dying. during the battle of kranji, there were moments when both sides thought they would lose.

no sign of war anywhere now, apart from a board saying the kranji battle site is a few metres away, and a memorial which we missed seeing. the reservoir on the other side is peaceful, the park benches along its edge invite you to take a break. before us and behind us the shining, perfectly laid surface of kranji way. not too many vehicles come by, most of them are lumbering massive ones, i try not to get killed by them, the pavements aren’t wide.

we trundle over past the done up entrance of sungei buloh wetlands reserve, it used to look more natural earlier, prettier. there are no houses or offices or anything around here, a row of nurseries as we turn right into neo tiew crescent, again a straight well-made road. by now i am trudging, the sun is heartless. i flop at a bus stop, aj has spotted a tiny snake somewhere and behind us is a crocodile farm. you never know what you’ll find next. one thing is clear, you won’t find a cab here and even if you call one, sorry, they don’t have any record of this address. crociodile farm… hear me? cro-cooooo… no, they don’t have the address.

we start to walk back, maybe we’ll get a bus at the stop on the main road and it will take us somewhere? an mpv comes up and slows down. the driver leans out and calls us over. it’s a taxi, he’s on his way to get lunch, he’s willing to give us a ride. can’t thank the man enough, he refused to take any money. kindness and chaos, both have a way of catching you unawares.

road to singapore, kranji way, neo tiew crescent, 02/12/2016 ‪#‎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

maybe if you sit there and look out, you’ll see a soldier swimming across… ww2 is never that far away from here.

water hyacinth conquering land.

yes, do not feed crocodile, 🙂

those two ropes i mentioned earlier. this park not meant for the faint of heart and tardy of foot.

there used to be mangrove forests at this estuarine stretch once, some of that is still there i think, there are also manicured parks richly green.

no swish mercs and bmws on this road.

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  • Reply
    Nirmala Bhattacharya
    February 2, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Lovely Indrani, how beautifully you made me feel like I was at the water.

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      February 2, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      thanks, nirmala… so glad you read and felt the water. really, no sign of any war or past around it now ad yet, there are those stories and that funny feeling as you gaze at the straits.

      • Reply
        Nirmala Bhattacharya
        February 3, 2017 at 2:04 am

        The feeling with all that is happening in the world now. All of us can do with a little bit of paradise such as this.

        • Reply
          indrani robbins
          February 3, 2017 at 12:27 pm

          🙂 singapore works quite earnestly to bring people together… an interesting history… quite a melting pot. i hope their efforts ensure cohesion and calm.

  • Reply
    lalita arya
    February 2, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Wow, indi…that was some article, gave me the creeps – the parts with the water coming alive with oil on fire. Whew. It took me back to a book I just finished reading about a Nepali/Gorkha 3 generation family that settled in Dehradun – a novel by Madhu Gurung. in which the Gorkhas’ participation in the war becomes vivid in your description of the Japanese entry into Singapore. As far as standing by vast waters, I just returned from standing at the mighty Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America – and the expanse of view is amazing, so aptly described by you. Thanks for a wonderful article. I love the pictures.

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      February 2, 2017 at 6:52 pm

      lalita :)… thank you. i am delighted you enjoyed this so much. the gorkhas are fabled, of course, wish i could read that book. sadly, for quite some time now i have not been able to read anything… maybe it’s a phase and some day i shall start reading again. there’s a prized contigent of gorkhas here in the police. i grew up in assam, where there were many gorkhas and the tales of their bravery and loyalty one couldn’t have missed. aj and i went for a walk around the gorkha camp in singapore, have written about it here. in case you wish to quickly take a look, here’s the link a camp on mount vernon. dehradun and a gorkha family through many generations, must have been fascinating, i can almost feel the drama and utter bravery, also a hint of tragedy.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2017 at 12:47 am

    That was such a good article. What is it about water anyways? Always found myself loving it infinitely.

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      February 3, 2017 at 1:17 am

      thank you so much… yeah, water always mesmerising. 🙂

  • Reply
    lalita arya
    February 3, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    OMGoodness – I had to go read the camp on mt. vernon article and absolutely loved it. the gsorkhas seem to be everywhere. But please would you give us a vidhya-dhari and gorkha story. It would be so romantic and awesome – set in the cemetery!!

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      February 4, 2017 at 12:24 am

      thanks so much for reading that one, lalita. gosh… what a plot. teehee. i’d be shivering away sitting before the comp. 🙂

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