This article was published in tabla! and on asiaone.com on June 25, 2010.
HE IS normally clean-shaven. But when I met him, Mr Viswa Sadasivan had something close to a french beard.
He had lost his father a few weeks earlier and, as part of the mourning ritual, Mr Sadasivan had grown a beard.
When the mourning period ended, the beard gave way to the new look.
"Maybe it will be gone by the time I return from my holiday in Melbourne with Audrey (his wife) and Maya (his daughter)," he said with a laugh on the eve of their trip to Australia.
For nearly two hours we chatted. He spoke about his maiden speech in Parliament, his plans as a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), his work as a consultant, his family and his late father.
Mr Sadasivan had created a stir in Parliament last August when he tabled a motion for the House to reaffirm its commitment to principles in the National Pledge when debating national policies. In a rare intervention, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew rebutted Mr Sadasivan's arguments but after a wide-ranging and vigorous debate, an amended version of Mr Sadasivan's motion, proposed by People's Action Party MP Zainudin Nordin and modified by MM Lee, was accepted by Parliament.
"I was quite surprised how a lot of my friends were very concerned for me after MM's reaction to my speech. The truth is that when I decided on my maiden speech and when I worked the text of my speech, I would have been naive if I didn't anticipate a reaction... if MM had not entered the debate, it wouldn't have made the front page, it would not have gathered so much discussion and debate," he said of his maiden speech.
He revealed that many people ask him why he agreed to become an NMP and wonder whether he can make a difference.
"My response is very simply this: I don't think I can make a significant difference in my speeches in the chamber in changing policies then and there. What I want to do, and I think I am beginning to make some headway in that area, is by throwing up ideas as moot points which then force discussion on the ground. First it forces discussion within the political system, which I believe my maiden speech has achieved."
He thinks that as an NMP he can bring up issues in Parliament that are intellectually catalytical. "You can catalyse new thought processes," said the 50-year-old CEO of Strategic Moves, which provides strategic consultancy and coaching sessions for key decision makers in the private and public sector.
One of the issues he intends to raise in Parliament is whether or not Singapore should have a bicameral system. He feels that, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago, Singapore has a sufficient number of people with wisdom who can form an upper house.
"The advantages of having an upper house is that bills with long-term implications can be well thought through before they are passed. The other being that not everyone who is highly talented will be interested in party politics. India would have lost the contribution of its prime minister Manmohan Singh if India did not have an upper house," he pointed out.
Mr Sadasivan is very clear in his focus.
He does not see himself seeking the role of a hero in Parliament.
"I see a certain sense of anticipation in the front bench whenever I stand up to ask questions. This I take as a compliment. I constantly check that I am clear in my mind, that I am not making statements for self promotion," he said.
So how does he do that?
"I have my wife and some close friends who I have empowered to keep me clean.
The moment they sense that my ego is getting the better of me, they tell me. My wife is one of my closest confidantes," said Mr Sadasivan about Audrey, a freelance editor and writer, who he met when both were students in NUS. They got married in 1987.
"We have known each other since 1980. As husband and wife, you have your usual ups and downs but then we have a different level of friendship. She has seen me through my various ups and downs in life. She is a very critical part of my life.
More than a confidante, she is my conscience and when you are involved in things like this, especially as an NMP, your conscience has to be clear because it is human to be led astray by ego, by other motivations."
Their daughter Maya, 10, is a Primary 5 student at Haig Girl's School. The little one looked every inch the apple of doting Dad's eye during the time I was at the Sadasivans' home.
Talking of doting Dads, Mr Sadasivan had this story to tell about his father who came to Singapore in 1930 with a "few dollars in his pocket" and raised a family of six children. Mr Sadasivan is the youngest.
In the 1960s, as a young boy, Mr Sadasivan would accompany his father to the Kerala Malayalee Association. While playing cards, the seniors would talk about poor Malayalee families here and how they could help the children in their education.
This, he claimed, shaped his viewpoint.
"My father used to tell me: 'I am educating you not for yourself. I am educating you so that you will use that education to help others. If I see you using it only for yourself, you will be the greatest disappointment'," recalled Mr Sadasivan.
His father was an upholsterer with the British army and earned only $250 a month. But in the community, he was known as the poor philanthropist. The senior Sadasivan had a habit of giving money to the needy, even though he had a big family to support.
"Some years ago, my sister and father shared with me that the older three siblings and my parents had only two meals a day on some occasions so that the younger ones could have three. They shared this with us when we celebrated our parent's 40th wedding anniversary.
"I am very much a shadow compared to what my father was but, as I said in my eulogy, if I could be half the man my father was, I would be a whopping success. I love my father a lot. He was not perfect but that makes him human," he said, his voice almost breaking up.
Then he shared the last piece of advice he got from his father, a week before his death at the age of 91. Father and son were discussing the death of Mr Goh Keng Swee and the elder Sadasivan mentioned that the former DPM was a nice man and, in the same breath, reminded his son that he is an NMP not for himself but for the people.