S RatnaKumar

Mr Ratnakumar is an advocate of secularism and believed the Thirukkural text to be the most secular writing that taught important values of life. Even though numerous English translations of the text existed, he set out to interpret Thirukkural into simple English incorporating modern context so that it could reach out and benefit a wider audience.

Ratnakumar’s strong believe in secularism is perhaps forged as a result of growing up in Sri Lanka or Ceylon as he fondly calls it during his time. He was educated there in a 193-year old famous American school where he learnt both Tamil and English. He eventually went on to complete his Mechanical Engineering degree in UK. Following that, he made his way to Singapore and joined the General Electric company as a Research Engineer. His roots were firmly planted here when he married a Singaporean and settled down in Singapore. He felt that Singapore has grown from a small 215 sq mile island to a large metropolitan city. He proudly recalled that Singaporeans then were also united regardless of race, language and ethnic differences. He felt that the Thirukkural was the most fitting text for Singapore as it also promoted values beyond religious and racial boundaries.

“Even Mr Lee Kuan Yew said Thiruvalluvar must be a genius.”

Ratnakumar never considered community service as an isolated task. He helped people whenever the opportunity arose and didn’t turn away anyone who needed assistance. Ratnakumar considers humanity as an important virtue and emphasised the Thirukkural as a secular text teaching virtues without the need for religious association. However he felt that Thirukkural as written in that era of highly polished Tamil would be difficult to understand. Furthermore he rejected the religious interpretations of Thirukkural and strongly felt a more secular interpretation would achieve a wider reach.

He opined that today’s Tamil children including his own were better versed in English than Tamil. Thus, an interpretation in street level English would be more beneficial to the younger generation. He consulted a few Tamil experts like Dr S. Thinappan and Professor Tamilannan and read many books to work on the interpretation. It took him three years of hard work to deliver his first interpretation of the 1,330 verses of Thirukkural in simple English. Following feedback from students and foreigners, he completed his second edition with more practical information.

“My interpretation is pragmatic, practical.”

The proceeds from his first edition was donated to the Kandasamy Education Trust and the proceeds from the second edition was donated to Sun Love Home for the Aged and Handicapped. He felt that giving should continue as long as there were needy which is also advocated in the Thirukkural. He also strongly felt that he should not benefit from a work written by others, which he has merely interpreted.

Ratnakumar’s passion for secularism extended beyond the Thirukkural to a subject that has become a hot topic in Singapore – what makes one a Singaporean. He felt so strongly on this subject that he wrote to the forum in Straits Times expressing his views on why he was proud to be a Singaporean. He puts this down to the secular government, which upheld the principles of meritocracy and provided equal opportunities to everyone without discrimination.

He even cited a verse in Thirukkural as a measure of a good government. His article won him the Straits Times Best Writer of the Week in November 2013.

“I am not discriminated or oppressed by the government or by my fellow Singaporeans.”

Ratnakumar mentioned with pride that he was from the same village in Ceylon as Mr S. Rajaretnam – one of the first generation ministers of Singapore. He feels that immigrants to Singapore should not bring over their baggage impacting Singapore’s growth but work together with us to build this country. On the other hand, he also feels that Singaporeans should respect and welcome the immigrants. He was convinced that this mutual respect and integration would lead to Singapore’s further growth and prosperity.

As 50faces wrapped up the interview, we asked Ratnakumar to share his favourite verse out of the 1330 versus he has interpreted. He immediately pointed out verse no 353, which incidentally was also aligned with the rationale behind his interpretation of this ageless text as well.

50faces thanks Ratnakumar for his valuable contributions.

“Live with self-respect and respect for others.”

A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

50Faces brings your stories of ordinary Singaporeans who have contributed to our community and nation building.