Monkey” Business in Malaysia


[Note: The following text and letter constitute my response to an interview, conducted by e-mail and telephone by a staff-writer of Malaysian Business in Kuala Lumpur. The feature article on T. Ananda Krishnan, a hotch-potch mainly of earlier accounts on the magnate to be found in the internet and garnished by what Datuk Teagarajan and I had to say on the philanthropist, appeared in the December 16, 2002, issue of the magazine.See: ]




Letter to the Editor (for publication in your next issue):



Editor-in-Chief: Malaysian Business,

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia



Dear Editor-in-Chief,


I refer to the feature article on T. Ananda Krishnan (December 16,

 2002, pp. 54-56.) for which I was interviewed by your staff writer

by both e-mail (three questions) and by phone (one question), no

restrictions being imposed on the length of my replies and on the

expressed condition that no changes nor cuts be operated on

my responses without my consent.


The brevity of the published article which I have just seen [as an attached e-mail file] quite understandably sought to restrict my answers: only excerpts from the

first two referring to Mr. T. A. Krishnan’s childhood days were used.

The third written question which elicited a reply on the magnate’s

overwhelming sense of generosity, and the orally-posed question which

made me react with admiration for his “single-mindedness” in his pursuits

were left out.


I regret the rather “negative” nature of my responses which is offered

the reader, and pray Mr. Krishnan’s understanding in this matter.



Editor : The AsianistsAsia,

 Paris, France.

January 1st., 2003






Replies to questions on Ananda Krishnan


Question – 1:


“How would you describe Mr. Ananda as [a] childhood friend?”


Since I was a couple of years ahead of him at the V.I. [Victoria Instittution], the chances of us soldering any kind of lasting or close friendship were – to say the least, given his very own special sense of preciousness – quite unlikely. He lived in the leafy secluded “boulevard” of Temple Road, skirting the shored-up high banks of the sluggish Klang River (where wild papaya and banana trees drew droves of stray cows in search of cheap chow), behind the Hundred Quarters in Brickfields in the immediate post-war years. I was at Vanar Kampung, equidistant to the Chan Ah Thong padang [field] where we used to meet. He was always too neatly dressed: white long-sleeved shirt, ironed brown shorts and leather sandals which he had to take off for the usual football-cum-rugby sessions in the slush and rain. Cricket of course was another matter, all dry and well-heeled.


He was taller, lanky, even fleshy or rather on the “plumpier” side for those lean post-starvation days of the Japanese interregnum; the face bright caressed by flowing black curls, eyes tinkly, and even if brooding when by himself, his attitude quickly changed to one of cheeriness. His smooth ripe mango complexion too set him apart from the rest of us. In short, a particularly good-looker. He was known to be quite studious, and so he didn’t make it a habit of playing with us: the ragamuffins of the region.   



Question – 2:


“Could you tell [say] something about his family and up bringing [upbringing]?”


I’m afraid this is not something he shared with me – ever. I think he was already far too pre-occupied with the future - his future - to be concerned about confabulating or confessing. The feeling one had was that he had parents who sheltered him and had plans for him.


Question – 3:


“Anything else you know about him – any funny incidences [anecdotes], etc.”


I broke off schooling in my Senior Cambridge year, and after a lapse in India and Sri Lanka, first taught school in Seremban and then, in 1954, was on the reporting staff of the Malay Mail.  In between, we used to meet.


Once, Ananda returned from Perth where he had been roped into a kind of “indoctrination” seminar and spoke out about it all to the papers, and when we met after his return, I could see to what extent he was politically inclined: he literally raged and fumed about being hoodwinked by the free passage down and up. I think he became a sort of marked man then. I always wondered (later on) how he managed to live down this anti-Western or anti-American reputation.


The second anecdote is quite personal and speaks reams for his sense of giving, even to people he had not much in common with. Ananda had a flat up in Circular Road, between the General Hospital end and Pasar Road, actually the entire upstairs of an elegantly cloistered stone bungalow with ivy stealthily creeping up the walls and peeping through finely-twirled iron-bars into open un-curtained windows. I was back in KL on a research grant from Heidelberg, in 1961, to research and publish an anthology of Malaysian writing. (See Bunga Emas.)


One not-so-humid morning, around eleven, at the “Spotted Dog” (the formerly, exclusively white Selangor Club), I spotted him engrossed in a book with my mug on the back-cover while his coffee got cold by the second. Naturally I made a bee-line to his table but pretended not to notice him while brushing past in a hurry. He lifted his eyes and as though he had for the first time then seen the Light, in person, he couldn’t resist the temptation to bid me share his table for a double dose of brandy. I naturally protested but found myself sitting across him in less time than it took me to say “Howdee!”  


Ananda was all smiles, and yet his brow knitted up once too often. He turned the pages of my book of poems (Tracks of a Tramp) back and forth and said:


“Bloody good, lah, but I can’t make head or tail of …of…”


“You are not supposed to understand poetry,” I said while I looked up and down the aisle for the boy with the tray. He read aloud a few lines. I was embarrassed.


“Not so loud, Ananda,” I said and stretched out a hand to close the book, “lest some smart Ali bring a charge of plagiarism against me.” Ananda winced, put the book down, and his calculator-machine started ticking.


“How much can you get for a book, I mean, for this?”


“What? You want me to get into trouble with the income tax people?”


“No, no, really. How much?”


“Normally, not much.”


“Then, why do you write poetry?”


“Because it’s free and lots of fun and people take it into their unconscious, into their dreams and dream away the world when it reeks with pain and plunder and pestilence…”


“You can’t live on poetry,” said he, his mien both a challenge and a solicitous frown of pity.


“So true, yet only as true as not being able to take with yourself all your possessions when you’re gone.” 


“Look, Wig, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you a piece of land, a choice piece of land.” I pretended I was not interested, probably I wasn’t really. “You know where?”


“Okay, where?” All casual-like came the query while I gulped down a stengah [half a peck].


“You’re not even listening.”


“Okay, where is this piece of land?”


“Actually, I’m not giving it to you for nothing. That wouldn’t be legal.” I thought there was a catch. I sat up and watched him operate. “I bought the land for twenty thousand dollars. It’s in the Lake Gardens. Even the American Embassy wants it. If I waited a few months…a year…I could sell it for fifty or even a hundred thousand.”


“Then, why give it to me?” I could see he was going through great difficulty trying to make me understand but he didn’t give up.


“Just give me two thousand dollars for the transfer of the title…” I stopped him short.


“Where the hell can I find the dough?”


“…the rest you can pay me when and if able.” He looked me in the eyes and held his breath. He must have been sizing me up, his sense of business acumen probably hurting him over the meaningless deal. “But one thing I must warn you: don’t sell the land until after at least ten years. You can then make a million or more!


I changed the subject. I had just then been up to Kota Bahru, up the long, hot tortuous drive along the coconut-coastal road with M. Shankar who was on a mission for Shearne & Delamore in KL.


“You know, Ananda, that whole stretch from Kuantan upwards could be easily developed into a flourishing tourist seaside resort – hotels, restaurants, gambling dens…”


“Don’t waste your breath. Right now that’s out of the question. No adequate roads, no flights, nothing to link the western coast to the east.”


That’s simply as close as I ever came to becoming a millionaire! Ananda made a couple of more attempts to convince me before the boys (Zain Azraai and K.T.Ratnam [then foreign servicemen, later ambassadors] among them) from the Secretariat Building poured in for lunch, but he couldn’t have guessed how much of a bodoh [fool] he was talking to – or could he?.


T.Wignesan  December 2, 2002, Paris, France


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