Our Gurkhas is an anthology of portraits and anecdotes of the retired Singapore Gurkhas as they reminisce about life in the Lion City — from the 50s till today. This is a work in progress. The Gurkhas, men from Nepal, serve in the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force. Established in 1949, the legacy of the Gurkha Contingent goes beyond the independence of Singapore. In making these portraits, I conferred importance to these silent sentinels and to cement their place as an important community in Singapore.
This anthology serves to bring awareness, provide identity and uncover historical anecdotes of Singapore through the eyes of the Gurkhas. It should also serve as an important visual archive of a visibly invisible community. Having served over two decades of their lives in this city, their attachment and memory — as well as their wives and children — of Singapore is still raw. Those who arrived in the 1950s, 60s and 70s spoke bazaar Malay cheerfully as it was the language used by all races in the early years of modern Singapore — a language used by our parents and grandparents. They remembered the turbulent early years, in quelling riots and strikes that were widespread in pre-independent Singapore. They remembered walks along the Singapore River — passing by Raffles Place, the old Treasury and Henderson Bridge as they observed the rapid transformation of the city skyline. Their memories and their stories, if not collected, will be forgotten. In remembering these Gurkhas — our Gurkhas, in fact — is to give them a place in Singapore’s history.
The history and legacy of the Gurkhas is not lost upon Man Bahadur Sen, especially when he visits the Kranji War Memorial. “There is a statue of young Gurkha soldier among others,” he remembers, (recognizing the trademark hat and kukri?) This statue rests with other soldiers from the Commonwealth nations, all depicting â¦ (more description?) The memorial serves as a reminder of the thousands of soldiers who have lost their lives during World War II. The British East India Company hired the Gurkhas, impressed with their bravery and fighting abilities in the 1815 Anglo-Nepal war. Till today the Gurkhas fight alongside the British in major world conflicts.
There Sen would walk among the tombs of the fallen Gurkhas and pay his respects.
PC Man Bahadur Sen (4708), 67, 1962 – 1983. Retired police constable Man Bahadur Sen holds an old photograph of himself in uniform taken in the late 1960s.
Arriving in Singapore for the first time, surrounded by the sea, was surreal for Chandra Bahadur Thapa. Coming from landlocked Nepal â famed for the Himalaya and Annapurna ranges â Thapa was surprised to see so much water in Singapore. “It was like going into an unknown world,” the 78-year-old said. Before long, he looked forward to visits to Pasir Ris beach for annual picnics with other Gurkha families. There, he would watch his son, born and raised in Singapore, take a leisurely swim in the waters.
‘Staff Sergeant Chandra Bahadur Thapa, 78, 1952 – 1979 (4272). Retired Singapore Gurkha Chandra Bahadur Thapa holds a framed photograph of himself on office duty in 1976, three years before retirement’
The last time Resham Bahadur Pun left Singapore, it was a bustling and developing city nation. That was in 1977 â before he retired and worked for the Brunei royal family in Bandar Seri Begawan. 34 years later, the retired corporal lived in Singapore for three months with his daughter to find it a completely changed city. “Last time, they only had two lane roads,” he said “now, cars and trains all can go underground.” His son-in-law, who is now serving the Gurkha Contingent, rented a car during his off days and together as a family they roamed the island. His highlight of the trip: taking a photograph of the newly built Marina Bay Sands by Esplanade with his wife.
Corporal Resham Bahadur Pun (4558), 68, 1960 – 1977. Retired corporal Resham Bahadur Pun holds up an old photograph of himself in uniform taken at 38 Oxley Road in 1965.
Inspector Pan Bahadur Gurung, 78, 1951-1978. Retired Singaporean Gurkha, Pan Bahadur Gurung (4232), holds a framed photograph taken in 1976, wearing his Number One ceremonial uniform in Mount Vernon camp.
An aerial photograph of the Singapore River and the Central Business District dominate the wall of Bhabhindra Bahadur Malla. This was his last impression of Singapore before retirement in 1984. He pointed to a familiar statue to all Singaporeans including the Gurkhas themselves â a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. With tugboats â a dime dozen and used to ferry tourists now âstrewn all over the river in the photograph, the Merlion is no longer there I said. ”Where has it gone?” he asked, surprised.
As the coastline has expanded to accomodate more buildings and land, the Merlion is closer, to the mouth of the river I said. ”That is Singapore, always changing.”
Staff Sergeant Bhabhindra Bahadur Malla, 67, 1960 – 1984 (4561). Retired Singapore Gurkha Bhabhindra Bahadur Malla holding a photograph of himself in uniform just before his retirement in 1984.
Written and photographed by: Zakaria Zainal