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The Singapore Law Gazette

A Quest for Freedom by G Raman

Dr Gopalan Raman, or G Raman as he is popularly known, is The Authority on probate, wills and administration in Singapore. His learned opinion on estate issues are often sought by warring litigants and relied on by the Courts. Quite apart from his expertise in this area of law, this gentle octogenarian holds a wealth of first hand historical knowledge and memories of Singapore’s rocky formative years, the actions of high ranking public servants and prominent legal personalities that will keep the reader spellbound. His hallmark ability to share his thoughts passionately and yet dispassionately, without fear or favor, makes the book such a joy to read. Having put off countless requests from family and friends at the Bar to write his memoir, Raman finally got down to it after surviving two emergency surgeries in 2012, and “A Quest for Freedom” was launched at The Arts House on 21 August 2018.

A Quest for Freedom tells the journey thus far of G Raman, and the individuals and events that shaped him and his life. At the start of the book, the author engages the reader by shedding light on his childhood years growing up in Chenderoh, Perak, Malaysia, and his formative and teenage years studying in Singapore. The author shares his simple carefree childhood which was plagued with financial difficulties and hardship. His recollection of his impoverished childhood is poignant and touching. One often hears gripes about having to “put food on the table”. The author’s family literally “had no rice at the dinner table” during the Japanese occupation. Some charming moments in the book include the author bringing the reader back in time when children had no toys and how an empty cigarette packet was a child’s prized possession.

In the chapter titled 1950s Singapore and My Teen Years, the author enlightens the reader on the various political parties and individuals who played their parts in the history of Singapore. Having left school at the age of 19, the author recounts his experience as an interpreter in Parliament and the Courts, his joining the legal profession, his detention under the Internal Security Act, and his life after his release. Throughout the book, the author shares heart-warming photographs and eyebrow-raising documents as he recounts his experiences.

After working, scrimping and saving over the years, the author began his journey to join the legal fraternity on a flight to London to read law at the age of 28. The author recollects his overseas experience and how it impacted his beliefs, principles, and subsequent life decisions. Since being admitted to the Singapore Bar in 1969 (not “called” as the author points out the difference between being called to the English Bar versus being admitted to the Singapore Bar), the author acted in countless high profile cases, a few of which he highlighted in the book for discussion. As some of these cases were “sensitive” or “political” in nature, his recollection and narrative may differ from “official” versions. The author also reminisced about the legal profession’s good old days, and shared his sincere thoughts about the legal profession today.

Of the 18 chapters in the book, the two that received the most attention from the author were titled Politics from the Front Seat and Detention, each garnering just above 30 pages. In Politics from the Front Seat, the author shared his personal observations of the events surrounding and leading to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, which would be an enlightening read for many Singaporeans whose impression of that period is based on the government’s narrative propagated on almost every National Day.

Of all the experiences that the author has had to deal with in his life thus far, his one-year detention under the Internal Security Act in 1977 ranks as “… one of the most painful and scarring phases of [the author’s] life …”. On this topic, the author recollects the terror of the entire saga in the chapter titled Detention as though it happened yesterday. This gripping chapter alone would surely be worthy of the price of the book, as the author shares his heart-wrenching emotions with the reader.

A true believer in democracy, justice, equality and freedom, the author is deeply inspired by Gandhi’s patriotism and philosophies of non-violence and peaceful resistance. In the chapter titled My Spiritual Search, the author shares his spiritual journey with the reader, before summing up his current station in life. Being the well-read scholar that he is, the author does not confine his spiritual discussion to Hinduism but discusses other religions including Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, as well.

Despite the many obstacles that the author has had to overcome throughout his life, he never gave up his pursuit for what he believed to be right. When life gave Raman lemons, he not only made lemonade but went on to become the best lemonade seller in the country. Despite being accused of having abused his position as a lawyer in his detention under the ISA in 1977, the author was elected Vice President of the Law Society in 2005 and awarded the prestigious CC Tan Award in 2014 which singles out one lawyer from among five thousand who exhibited “honesty, fair play, gentlemanliness and integrity”.

Apart from learning about our history, the good, the bad, and the ugly of mankind, the ruler and the ruled, the reader will also get to know Raman the filial son, the loving husband, the responsible father, the doting grandfather, the loyal friend, and the perfect gentleman. The author’s recollection of his courtship with his wife is hilarious! The closeness and bond between the author and his family is evident from the layout of the book – it begins with a biography of the author penned by his grandson, and ends with a tribute by the author’s daughter.

A Quest for Freedom is a must-read for everyone in the legal fraternity, anyone who have read law, and anyone looking for inspiration to deal with the trials and tribulations of life. The author writes like he speaks. This 300-page paperback is a light and easy read with minimal legal terminologies. And true to form, Raman puts his money where his mouth is by pledging all sale proceeds from the book to “… the Law Society of Singapore in aid of sole proprietors and small firms needing assistance.”.

At the book launch on 21 August 2018 at the Arts House, Law Society President Gregory Vijayendran called the author a Gentleman, a Gutsy Man, and a Great Man, and concluded his tribute to the author and the book as “… a story that the Bar needs to remember [and] a story we must never forget.”.

A Quest for Freedom is available at Ethos Books (https://www.ethosbooks.com.sg/products/a-quest-for-freedom) at S$30.00 a copy.

Chia Wong LLP
Council Member, The Law Society of Singapore
Member, Anti-money Laundering Committee
E-mail: chiaboonteck@chiawongllp.com