"when words are not enough remember love" —Chandran Nair (1944 - 2023)
Group photo with Chandran Nair (5th from right) during one of the dinners he hosted. "He was a good person and he honestly loved me." Quote and photo from Mukul Hossine
Beloved literary luminary Chandran Nair (Reaching for Stones, 2010) passed away on 18 September 2023. We would like to celebrate our friendship and his legacy with the following eulogy, penned by Fong Hoe Fang.
Chandran Nair was just a name to me when I was in my teens. But it was a name I respected as a Singaporean poet whose first published collection, Once The Horsemen and Other Poems, I had enjoyed.
Little did I expect that I would get to meet the man himself in 2010, and even more privileged, to be able to publish Reaching for Stones – a compilation of his first two collections as well as other poems which had been published in journals and anthologised in many countries but never collected in book form.
The wonderful experience continued when the book was officially launched and Chandran and his beloved wife Ivy engaged with members of the audience in various events together with renown moderators and admirers of his poetry.
The poetic and intellectual heft of Chandran became even more apparent in the ensuing months and years when he and his wife visited Singapore more regularly and generously entertained friends and members of Singapore’s literary community in their home.
Our conversations over Ivy’s home-cooked food and couscous recipes were scintillating, like her food. The couple regaled us with stories of their lives and adventures in other lands, and in different situations. But always, the poetic bent somehow made its way in.
When Wai Han and I visited Chandran and Ivy in Paris, Chandran brought us on his version of the Knights Templar in Paris tour, and his storytelling passion stirred my interest about the Knights Templar which hitherto I had no knowledge of. I owe Chandran big-time for that.
Chandran the poet. Chandran the man. He made himself one. I will miss him.
after the hard hours this rain
sipped like some rare wine
contentment has no edge,
only a spreading warmth, love.
glow gently, take your time.
you own this vineyard now, all yours.
cask contentment, let it mature
and never remember the bitter taste
in other wines gone sour
you’ve got love to age you,
gently let it draw the lines
soften the rough cutting edges,
the lust you once believed in
till your eyes see another face,
now also your own, peaceful.
in this vineyard let no wind
prophesy the dialectic of days
grown in poorer soils
walk the vineyard where love grows,
vines climb the trellis
into a sun no longer drying,
and the wind that once roared vengeance
falls gentle on skin, penitent.
walk your vineyard and be content
while the fences come down
one by one
when words are not enough
remember (for ivy)
sunlight in forest clearings, the coolness of water
against toes, the desert’s beauty in which you drown
when words are not enough remember
the loneliness of parting, the emptiness of rooms
the cat climbing onto your lap, the bird calling
her down to breakfast
when words are not enough
About Chandran Nair (adapted from Poetry.sg)
Chandran Nair (b. Kerala, South India) arrived in Singapore in 1951 and was educated at Raffles Institution (1959 - 64) and the National University of Singapore (1965 - 1972) from which he holds a BSc and an MSc (Marine Biology).
Nair’s first work experience was as an administrator with the British Council, Singapore, but he chose to become a publisher first as the Manager of Eastern Universities Press, then as Assistant General Manager of Federal Publications and finally as the founder and AGM of Times Books International before leaving Singapore to become a specialist in book development for UNESCO in Karachi, Pakistan (1981 - 85). He was transferred to UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 1985 and has worked in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean as well as in Europe and retired from his UN career as a divisional director in 2004 but continues to reside in France.
Nair started writing at nine years old while in Havelock Road School, Singapore, but his poems were first published in The Rafflesian (the annual journal of Raffles Institution) in 1963. He subsequently became part of the growing literary scene in Singapore, informally grouped around Edwin Thumboo at the National University of Singapore’s English Department and Goh Poh Seng, the founder of Centre 65 and Chairman of the National Theatre Trust. It was at the National University of Singapore (1965 - 1972) that he got involved with the stage via the Guild House Drama Group, where he was involved in publicity and lighting before producing and directing Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. He continued with the production and direction of Sartre’s Huis Clos for the Alliance Française Karachi (1986).
His determining contribution to the growth of Singapore Literature came from 1976 - 81, when he was the first President of the Society of Singapore Writers. Formed by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, of which Nair was an executive committee member for many years, the Society worked to bring writers from the four language streams together. To this end, he edited Singapore Writing (1977), which was launched at the 500th anniversary of the University of Tübingen in Germany, and worked to get publishers, media and governmental support and acceptance for writers and writing, though his contribution (in a Singapore where the support he envisaged is now the norm) is now largely forgotten.
Nair helped a number of young writers such as Geraldine Heng, Rosemary Putucheary, and Mervin Mirapuri to their first publications through Woodrose Publications, which was set up by four friends as a non-profit operation to publish Singapore writers. Woodrose’s success pushed Heinneman and others to also publish local writers including Catherine Lim, Stella Kon and others. Times Books International (now Marshall Cavendish) continues to publish local works to this day.
His first book of poems, Once The Horsemen and Other Poems (University Education Press), was published in 1972 and was well-received, as was his second collection After the hard hours, this rain (Woodrose Publications, 1975). He also co-translated The Poems and Lyrics of the last Lord Lee, the last Emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty (Woodrose Publications,1975) with Malcolm Koh Ho Ping. His poem “Grandfather” has been widely published in a number of languages, and has been used by the University of Cambridge International Examinations Board for their examination papers. His collected poems, Reaching For Stones, was published by Ethos Books in 2010.
Nair’s fiction won The New Nation Singapore Short Story Writing contest in 1973 and has published his stories in Short Stories From Africa and Asia (which he co-edited with Theo Luzuka), Singapore Short Stories (Vol. 1) edited by Robert Yeo, and also in Malay translation in Cerpen Cerpen Asean (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka).
Since moving to Paris, Nair has continued painting and writing but has not published, though he has been included in a number of anthologies including The Second Tongue (1979) and Journeys: An Anthology of Singapore Poetry (1995), both edited by Edwin Thumboo, Calling of the Kindred (Cambridge University Press, 1993), and has been featured in Reworlding: an anthology reviewing the writing of expatriate Indians, edited by Emmanuel S Nelson (Greenwood Press, New York, 1992). He is also included in Idea to Ideal: 12 Singapore poets on the writing of their poems (Firstfruits Publishing, 2004).