Of Courage and Character – The Story Behind the New Sociology Scholarship

We are pleased to announce that the new SP Shotam and Sarojini Shotam Scholarship has been up in memory of Mr SP Shotam and Ms Sarojini Shotam at the FASS. The Scholarship will be awarded to students majoring in sociology, with preference given to candidates who double major or minor in social work.

 

The following article on the courage and character of the Shotams was kindly contributed by the donor.

This scholarship is in memory of Srirekam PuruShotam and Sarojini Shotam, who gave generously – materially and otherwise – to their families and friends, acquaintances, and even strangers who came into their orbit. S. P. Shotam was a British Subject, and passed away before Singapore attained independence.  Sarojini Shotam, born British Malayan, embraced Singapore’s independence with a glad heart.

Both of them provided all who were blessed to be connected with them with real-life lessons of courage and daring; of staying steadfast in times of immense difficulties; and of enjoying, with gratitude, the gift that Life is.

Two aspects of their lives suffice to illustrate this. S. P. Shotam was interned and suffered terrible tortures at the time of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. He survived, to live on without rancor nor bitterness of any kind.  He rebuilt his business, S. P. Shotam & Company Ltd at 12 Orchard Road.  He set up home at 21 Balmoral Road.  He loved the challenge of his work and balanced it well.  His hobbies included communicating globally via the ham radio system he set up in his home, at a time when wireless communication was relatively new.  As a member of the Royal Singapore Flying Club he would fly over his house to the delight of his children. But the war had taken its toll on him: he died five days before his 44th birthday.

Sarojini Shotam was 38 years old when she became a single mother to eight children. The eldest was in her teens and the youngest was five months of age.  She was a phenomenal role model to all who knew her.  A prime aspect of her character was understanding the power of resources which went well beyond the material.  Her home and her table – filled with the amazing food she always provided – was always open to all and sundry despite her having eight children to feed!  She glowed with an inner strength and compassion that is hard to describe. Her gentle firmness and her certitude about the Truth, came from her deep interest in philosophy and history. Nary a day went by without her spending some hours in the afternoon studying the Bhagavad Gita.

It is hard to abstract the potency of their lives in a short brief. S. P. Shotam, to give one example, was skin and bones, terribly ill and severely in pain after his internment.  His wife was not yet back in Singapore:  He had insisted she take the last boat out, with two young children.  There was to be no communication between them thereafter.  Her ship was bombed and he presumed she had died.  She, similarly, had no clue he had been accused of anti-Japanese activities, imprisoned and tortured.

But S. P. Shotam had made an impact on people that would be repaid to him at this time. Former servants returned to him to care and tend him back to life after the Japanese Occupation. Indeed, one of them had saved him from death in the ‘camp’:  he took a job there and risking his own life, surreptitiously provided him with extra food and nursed him whenever he could.  Others returned to take care of him after the occupation:  nursing him, feeding him, providing for him at a time when he was physically unable to work, hire anyone to help him, nor be fully aware of what was being done for him out of the love he had engendered among former servants. He never forgot their love and kindnesses:  a gratitude his wife shared, when she finally returned to his side after the war.  His plight was still unbearable to see, but he had survived despite all the odds.

Sarojini Shotam also had a character that drew people to her. After she passed away, one of her children had called for a taxi to take her from her mother’s home to work.  The taxi driver, a Chinese man who was mostly conversant in Mandarin, said, “Oh I know the woman who lives here.”  “My mother” she replied.  “Oh how is she?” he asked. “She passed away”.  On hearing this the cab driver, who had already driven some way off, asked to please return to her home so he could his respects to her.  She had such an impact on him that he went before a framed photograph of her, prostrated before it, and using incense sticks like Chinese joss sticks, did what devotees at a Chinese temple would do.  When asked how he knew her, he said they talked when she had used his cab, three or four times in all!

Through a marriage arranged early in their lives, S. P. Shotam and Sarojini Shotam, shared a sense of direction and purpose. They were independent of thinkers, beyond the times they lived in, and their lives provided the example of living not by what others thought and did, but with an inner compass of a Spirit within.

The recipient of this study is thus chosen with respect to sociology; preferably paired with social work. Sociology harbours a project similar to the way S. P. Shotam and Sarojini Shotam were in their thinking if the potential of its intellectual daring is recognised.  It asks questions of assumptions that are considered unquestionable and it refuses to allow one the comfort of living merely by received knowledge.  Social work underlines the importance of lived experiences connection to varied lives and a recognition that when we give generously we are also simultaneously being given in return.  Both can lead to that most amazing gift of all that both the Shotams had:  the beauty of the silence within which gave their lives that Light that this scholarship celebrates.

The Department of Sociology has selected one scholarship recipient in Academic Year 2016-17. For more details on the Scholarship, please click here.

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