Roopa Dewan on the Childhood Memories series by Eng Joo Heng

I DREAM IN black and white and MONOCHROME
A short story inspired by Eng Joo Heng’s prints
by Roopa Dewan, FOM Docent for STPI

I (1960’s)

A soft, gentle breeze blows. The air streams and circulates. All is calm and serene. I’m 8 years old. My puppy senses my excitement. Today is my day to go to our prawn farm with my father. It’s a sunny day; my seven siblings consider me lucky. My puppy runs ahead, weaving circles. He couldn’t be happier as we reach the beach. I clutch a branch, and rest my cheek against my favourite tree. Hang my lunch. Today, I will catch a big fish for mother. She will be pleased. On stormy days we get no catch. My Memories of childhood are etched in stone in black and white. Nature like me is free and wild. I’m so happy.

II (1970’s)

Now bigger and older, my favourite pastime is climbing. Jumping from one rocky hill to another, clutching onto the trees. I love the moss, its feel beneath my toes. My dog does too. But this ends soon. Singapore is industrialising and reclaiming land – my land. And Jurong will become a major industrial estate. My father moans his loss. When I return from school, my home is gone. We are relocated to the boonies – Boon Lay. The ocean – my swimming pool, the beach – my playground are gone. Our family of 10 in one HDB! This urban landscape, I’m trapped. Blue looms large in my dreams. I escape to the soothing rhythm of waves.

III (2000’s)

I have my own family now. The city has transformed. Digital waves and hi-tech sounds abound, electrical and neon lights flash, consumption and destruction define our lives. We are a first world nation. My sons feel a sense of pride. Where is the kampong spirit, my ulu days? The ecosystem is disturbed, the balance of nature lost, natural disasters increase, and man becomes adept at creating veneers of green, under a polished and glittering city. Gardens of Steel, air-conditioned cloud forests is what they know. Land, nature, relationships are forgotten. Man looms larger than the landscape in flat relief.

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