updated 7 Apr 2011, 00:36
user id password
Fri, Jan 14, 2011
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
The sporty bookworm
by Pradeep Paul

FOR someone who regularly logs 14-hour work days as a Member of Parliament and a high-flying legal eagle, Indranee Thurai Rajah has a very down-to-earth retirement plan: She wants to learn how to make handmade noodles and open a noodle shop. More about that later.

For now, let's talk about how she handles her demanding schedule where she rises at 7am, goes for a run, gets into work at Drew & Napier by 10am and very rarely gets home before midnight - when she is involved in trials, she is in the office till 2 or 3am and on days she has constituency work at Tanjong Pagar GRC - especially Meet The People sessions - the clock is well past the witching hour too.

That's not counting days when she has to head to the Singapore Indian Development Association where she is the president or attend to the other associations where she has official duties - at last count, that included the Supreme Court, NUS' Law Faculty and the Agency for Integrated Care which is a subsidiary of Ministry of Health Holdings.

When you salute her for that punishing schedule, Miss Rajah, a Christian, shrugs it off and says: "Each of us has a purpose in this life. I'm only doing the things that were meant for me to do."

Don't be misled by her seemingly nonchalant response.

This is a very driven woman. She says she was a "sporty bookworm" during her school and college days at Marymount Convent, Raffles Institution and the National University of Singapore.

Miss Rajah explains: "My mum started me off reading very early - she used to read the newspaper cartoons to me when I was very small - and I inherited both my brother's as well as my sister's book collection, so by the time I went to primary school I had waded through the entire collection of Enid Blytons as well as 'boy' books like the Biggles series.

"But I didn't have my nose buried in books all the time. I enjoyed sports at school too. I did athletics in primary school and switched to netball in secondary school. In my pre-university days, it was cross-country running and I played squash on a social basis during university."

These are habits that have stuck with her even as she nears her 48th birthday. She still devours books - fiction books are demolished in two days, heavier material like histories or autobiographies in less than a week - and reads just about every English newspaper published here. And to maintain her health and trim frame, she runs, works out with weights at the gym and does kickboxing.

"Being an MP has brought me new sporting experiences too. I had to learn rock climbing for one of the events that we did and I discovered I had muscles in places I never knew muscles existed before! Rock climbing was definitely an 'ouch' experience," she adds.

By the way, this adventurous streak also saw her taking a leap of faith from a seven-storey height when doing the Flying Fox - "with the kind assistance of the SCDF", she interjects - to launch the Ready Bag (meant to contain essential items to be used in case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack) and even did the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) reserved for Singapore's armed forces personnel.

On the professional front, she completed her LL.B. (Hons) in 1986 and was admitted to the Singapore Bar the following year even as she embarked on a career in law with Freshfields Singapore. A year later, she moved to Drew & Napier and by 1992, had become a partner.

In 2003 she was appointed senior counsel by the chief justice of Singapore and now holds the rank of deputy managing director at Drew & Napier where she specialises in civil and commercial litigation.

She is also carving a political career for herself, having joined the People's Action Party in 2001 and being elected as the MP for the Tanjong Pagar GRC that year. In 2006, she was appointed deputy speaker of Parliament.

If all this sounds like the perfect recipe for a stressful life, Miss Rajah has the perfect antidote: Cooking curries the old-fashioned way.

"I think it's amazing how you start of with a wide range of diverse ingredients, especially the spices, and then watch it transmute into a completely blended and harmonious end-product. When I cook curries I prefer to do it the old-fashioned way - pounding the spices by hand, using the stone mortar and pestle. It's very therapeutic for relieving stress," she explains.

The daughter of a Tamil father and Chinese mother, Miss Rajah is a poster child for the confluence of cultures. When asked how she handles the mixed parentage, she comes back with this: "There's nothing to handle. It's like the curries! It's all been blended into one complete and holistic end product - moi!"

She then adds: "My dad was Tamil and a Hindu. His parents were from Sri Lanka. My mum is Chinese and a Christian. When they got married, mixed marriages of different religions were definitely not the norm. So they were groundbreakers in their own time. My dad, when he was alive, took my siblings and me to the temple and my mum took us to church... but they let us choose our religions."

Given her firm commitment to Singapore, she does have a dream for her nation: "That Singaporeans will continue, for many centuries into the future, the great adventure of nation building that was begun by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and the other founding fathers like Mr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam.

They set out to build a nation against all odds and, with the support of Singaporeans, they succeeded. It has been said that we are an improbable nation.

That is true. We turned improbability into reality.

"My dream for Singapore is that Singapore will always be a place where Singaporeans can fulfil their greatest aspirations and have happiness while at the same time be a welcoming place where people from other countries can live and work, and join us in our great adventure of building an enduring nation."

That said, she reverts to her playful self, pushing aside her brunch dish with an avocado half eaten.

"MUFA overload," she says. Noticing my quizzical look, she simplifies:

"That's mono-unsaturated fatty acids... good for you, but not in large doses."

As for that retirement plan which involved a noodle shop, she says: "I'd like a place where I can experiment with noodle recipes.

I've always wondered what tung hoon in rasam might taste like."

[email protected]

readers' comments

Copyright © 2011 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.