Doyenne: Voice, Not An Echo

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Indranee Thurai Rajah is Singapore’s Senior Minister of State. Wearing two hats in the Ministry of Law and Finance, this is a prominent lady who is seen as a friendly leader with a reassuring presence.

By Vajidha Hameed

“It is always hard to lose a sibling, and losing both were big blows. It always makes you remember how short life is and why you must make it count.”

Growing up in the company of books, it was easy for young Indranee to imagine that all the plants and snails in her garden were inhabitants of a faraway magical land, a land filled with constant wonder and adventure. It was a world she loved to visit, and visit often she did.

“My mother introduced me to the world of books. One of my earliest childhood memories is of reading together with my mum. She would read aloud to me comic strips like Alley Oop, Nancy, L’il Abner etc. that were published in the newspaper. Besides that, I loved playing in our large garden,” recalls Madam Indranee Thurai Rajah, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Finance.

Though she had a fertile imagination as a child, growing up, Madam Indranee wasn’t driven by any specific ambitions. “My parents never pressured me into anything, so I just enjoyed my childhood and took it as it came.” Eventually, she chose to study Law and became one of the most recognized and notable names in her chosen field. However, when she entered politics as Senior Minister of State for Law and Education, in 2012, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in her life. “It conferred not just new responsibilities but also gave me so much more exposure, besides broadening my world view,” she states.

Mentoring, a trait that her former colleagues at the law firms she has been associated with fondly remember her for, is something she clearly enjoys and continues to focus on. “It is always nice to see someone blossom into a confident, able individual,” she says, flashing the trademark smile that has endeared her to many.

Perhaps that is why, in her current role as a Minister, she is committed to the responsibility of ensuring that every Singaporean is developed to the fullest of his / her potential, irrespective of their age. As she puts it, “every Singaporean matters, every Singaporean counts”. To this end, she has developed several community initiatives. “I am particularly delighted with the social programmes I have introduced in my constituencies, especially those for the low-income, elderly, and young children,” she remarks, with a clear sense of conviction and fulfilment.

As a leader, she has effortlessly charmed her way into the hearts of many through her cheerful and down-to-earth demeanour. Her genuine interest for their welfare is evident in the manner she connects with them – be it addressing real time issues concerning their quality of life at the Meet-the-People sessions, or standing up and speaking up for victims of online bullying of her constituency, on social media. In her chic pixie haircut and a warm smile, Madame Indranee is seen as a friendly leader with a reassuring presence by her supporters.

Despite her days and evenings being choc-a-bloc with meetings and activities, the agile and trim Minister is not complaining. On the contrary, she enjoys the pleasure derived from engaging her mind productively. She takes active responsibility for her health by exercising in the mornings, and sometimes, between events. It is interesting when she recalls how she was chased around the house as a kid to ensure she had her daily dose of cod-liver oil. “Ugh, I hated it,” she grimaces, “but I guess it was all for my good. I’m grateful for my health. Without it, it would be difficult to do other things”.

She would agree that there is more to the adage ‘Health is wealth’ than what is usually perceived, having lost her father to a liver disease when she was just a toddler, and much later, her sister to cancer, and her brother to a heart attack. “It is always hard to lose a sibling, and losing both were big blows. It always makes you remember how short life is and why you must make it count.” That is yet another reason why she finds her job so fulfilling – the fact that she can make a positive difference to people’s lives.

“The real me is a bit of a bookworm, who also enjoys cooking. My idea of a perfect day is like this: potter around the kitchen, whip up a good meal, and spend the rest of the day reading.”

However, challenges like these helped her learn to face adversities with determination and resolution. It also buoyed her faith in God, besides teaching her that it is fine to ask for help when required. If there is something that she has learnt of life thus far, it is that “there will always be ups and downs, and you have to take life as it comes. There will be tough times you have to overcome, and there will be moments of sweetness and joy that you should savour for as long as they last.”

Even so, in the hustle and bustle of a life filled with work commitments, she does look forward to some ‘me time’. And when there, she makes the most of it. “The real me is a bit of a bookworm, who also enjoys cooking. My idea of a perfect day is like this: potter around the kitchen, whip up a good meal, and spend the rest of the day reading,” she laughs. Of course, there is also the occasional movie, movies that engage the heart and mind. Perhaps her mixed lineage – her father was an Indian Hindu and her mother is a Chinese Anglican – was what drew her to the movie ‘Lion’, which she describes as ‘an amazing story of determination and the strong instinct to find your roots.’

An active and busy politician she might be, but boring or sober she isn’t. There are moments when she lets people get a sneak peek into her fun persona, like when she takes to the stage and croons in different languages at fundraisers, for instance. Or, when she lets her clothes do the talking!

“Political life requires you to have many wardrobes – office wear for work, casual wear for constituency, formal wear for official functions, ethnic wear for special occasions etc. Though my clothes personality is eclectic, I like modern, fun, quirky fashion alongside traditional saris.” Irrespective of what she dons, she never ceases to impress with that charming smile. “People often tell me that I have a nice smile. I hope it’s true”, she smiles.

You bet, Madame!

Vajidha Hameed is the editor of Doyenne: Voice, Not An Echo. Published by The Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (LISHA) Women’s Wing, the book is first to feature the success stories of 50 inspiring Indian women in Singapore.

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