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Book Launch - "Completing The Singapore Story?"

Updated: Jan 25, 2022


MAHADEVA, the founding secretary-general of the Singapore National Union of Journalists (SNUJ), suddenly found himself in the news when he was arrested in 1963 under Operation Coldstore. This is his story, told posthumously by one of his brothers, who delved into the rich collection of Maha’s documents and publications he kept over the years.

Imprisoned without trial as a security threat with more than a hundred other political and union leaders, he had no recourse but to subject himself to six years of unjustified detention.

These memoirs not only chart Mahadeva’s life and beliefs, but also question the orthodox Singapore Story that now conveniently frames and justifies his and his cohort’s imprisonment without trial – some for as long as nearly two to three decades.


ARUN BALA is one of those scholars with an uncommon breadth of interest. With an M.Sc. in Physics, and an M.Sc. in Logic and Scientific Method, he went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Philosophy. He held teaching and research appointments in philosophy in the National University of Singapore and the University of Toronto. As one of Maha’s younger siblings, Arun wanted to discover the role played by his brother in Singapore’s anti-colonial struggle. Over 20 years this led him down a path of discovery—not only of Maha’s journey, but also the birth of post-colonial Singapore.


This is a moving story about a good man. Mahadeva (Maha) was an accomplished journalist, a passionate trade unionist and a democratic socialist. He was unfortunately caught in the bitter clash between the PAP and Barisan Socialis. As a result, he was detained twice. After his release, he was forbidden to do the things he loved: to write, teach and represent the workers. ~ Tommy Koh, Professor of Law, National University of Singapore

Maha was ahead by a year at Victoria School. We became friends late in 1949, through editing magazines we deeply shared. But our interests were different: his broadly social-political, mine literary-cultural. He founded our Civic Club to look at how Singapore families lived under colonial rule, testing the conditions by renting a stall in Katong Market. At the University of Malaya from late 1953 to 1955, English Literature brought us together. But larger non-academic concerns kept us apart, though our intimacy was lifelong.

~ Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo, Faculty of Arts, National University of Singapore

Arun was ‘nearly 16 years younger’, says the Preface. But this is not a kid brother’s nostalgia. It is the fruit of an academic’s painstaking dedication to writing the biography of Maha. The course that Maha had charted wended through the era’s anti-colonial struggle. Destination: His vision for post-colonial society. At a waypoint, he led the trade union that got Straits Times Group journalists a significantly better deal. But his destination remained out of reach. With academic precision, Arun retraces the voyage. ~ Peter Lim, former Secretary-General, Singapore National Union of Journalists, and Editor-in-Chief of the Straits Times Group

This book is an important contribution to history. It brought back memories of my very deep friendship, not only with Maha but also with other friends who are no longer with us but remain in our memories and will remain in our memories because of this book. The one thing that strikes me most when thinking about the events of those days was the intensity of our ideals and moral courage to live it out with our friends irrespective of the price we had to pay. Mahadeva’s life and his relationship with his friends will keep these memories alive for generations to come. ~ Dato’ Dominic J Puthucheary, one of the former Big Six trade union leaders

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