01 April 2014

Valar Morghulis

So yes: Papalee dies.

And the week leading up to his state funeral (for what else would the Pater Patriae deserve?), it seemed that all of the poisons that have lurked in Singapore's mud came out.

Various ministers, eager to preserve their authority and popularity in a Papalee-less era, moot for a national monument of some kind. Various netizens, aware that a Papalee-less era is at hand, insist this is the final step towards legitimising the unofficial personality cult of Papalee. An enterprising general turned minister tries to show there is a grassroots demand to commemorate Papalee. Not commemoration but deification, not grassroots demand but a massaged survey, the netizens rebut. And so on.

Anonymous hacks the PM's website for real this time while Gopalan Nair, from his safe house somewhere in Fremont, California, starts calling for riots and civil disobedience. Someone eventually firebombs the PAP HQ in Bedok. Drunk workers from the subcontinent are officially blamed.

And so on the eve of the state funeral, Sinagpore's leaders are understandably worried and on edge. Where is their divine authority to rule? Why have the people grown a backbone, and worse, a terrible temper? Best hope the televised state funeral will do some magic given that today, the broadcast will be the only thing showing on every television - including the 2 cable networks. State monopoly has its privileges.

Yet an hour before the state funeral, Minilee calls in the cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He gestures them to an envelope and a photograph on his desk.

The Istana security chief had checked all the security tapes and there was no evidence of anyone breaking into Minilee's office but there: an empty table one second, an envelope on the table the next. The security chief verifies to all present that no explosives were detected in the envelope. No poisons, no spores, nothing. Aside from a photograph of Papalee.

The official biographer (of course they appointed him early on, 10 years ago when Papalee had his first fall) verifies the photograph is authentic; though curiously, he's never seen this one before in the archives. It's unmistakable Papalee in his early PMship, a black and white photo.

And yet there's something so wrong with it, that Minilee has called the entire cabinet and joint chiefs of the army. It's young Papalee in what looks like rural Malaysia, but there's something about the photo that's off. And wrong. And troubling.

The photo expert looks at it and confirms its authenticity. From the background, the foliage, the dirt road, he identifies the location as a road leading to Papalee's favourite vacation spot in Frasier's Hill. But Papalee is wearing a PAP badge that spouts a 2013 redesign. Other than that, it's a completely authentic photo, as far as the technology available to us can tell - and we pay top dollar for the best on the market.

Minilee says, "Well, the appearance of this fishy yet authentic photo in this envelope that has appeared so mysteriously that even our surveillance can't tell who sent it when, is surely a cause for concern. Someone might be trying to send me a threat, about something that will happen at the state funeral of my father.

He tells the cabinet: all those who haven't got a PhD or Masters, please step out. So those who are left (and it shouldn't surprise you) are mostly the generals, rear admirals who got their degrees on government-paid "civilian conversion courses" when they were parachuted from the civil service to serve the PAP. The men in the room scrutinise the photograph over coffee and whiskey.

"If I may speak." It is Dr A___. He has to strike while the iron is hot, for if he solves the puzzle, the next Prime Minister of Singapore would be him or someone of his choosing, and not another BG or RM.

Tentatively at first, then with confidence, he points out. "The badge and the 2013 insignia are red herrings. They serve to consecrate the out-of-the-ordinary quality of this photo but they are not the message; the message lies elsewhere. The suspicious details concerning the appearance of the photo serve to point out the importance of this event, but it is again not the message. We must look at the signs and the system of signs within the photo. What is it trying to tell us? We need to conduct a practical criticism of the photo.

"Observe: Mr Lee is carrying a chicken under his right arm, flanked by a goat on his left, and carrying a haversack on his back. I believe that is the message and we must decipher it. I believe that our dear leader (PBUH) has, in his wisdom, foreseen the difficulties the PAP and our PM will face following his departure. You can say this message is from beyond the grave. i'd rather say this message a sort of last will and testament.

"Observe: it's a chicken... but a male rooster, to be more exact. The rooster is a strong symbol of benign occult power in our tradition (and my friend Abdullah can vouch for it). It ties in with the 'mystery' and sets it in the occult arena. The rooster as you know is a sacrifice. Clearly Mr Lee wants us to conduct a ritual. The feral-looking goat signifies the dangers of this ritual and the need for expert guidance (again my friend Abdullah can help procure one for us). The bag is an empty signifier: it signifies not itself, but what it contains: tools of the trade necessary to carry out the ritual once we figure out how to conduct it safely.

"Hence: rooster, a message that a ritual sacrifice must be made; goat, a message that we study and better do it right; bag, that there exist available tools and we just have to figure out where and what they are.

"I have actually engaged the services of a learned man the night I knew our leader would pass on and we have done research on the internet. Both Mr Lee and Goh Keng Swee have left us clear signs from their days of building up singapore; the peculiar architecture and orientation of certain buildings, the location of the MRT lines... These constitute the map that points us towards where the ritual must be held and when they must be held.

"Sir, all we need is to agree on this and my keramat will prepare the ritual that will bring peace to this troubled land!"

Just then, an objection. It is the Major General (Ret.) Minister (Ag.) C____. "I am a God-fearing Christian and cannot believe that our late leader, so famously atheist and agnostic, would have us resort to silly superstitions, barbaric customs, and occult practices. There has to be a far simpler, much saner message the Father of the Nation wanted to tell us.

"Mr Lee has been called the best Englishman East of Suez. If he speaks in signs, it would be as a proper Englishman speaking in signs. That is, as a member of nobility discussing family heraldry. In heraldry, a cockerel is indicative of courage, decisiveness in politics.The goat indicates pragmatism and realism. Together, they summarise the philosophy of Mr Lee and Singapore itself. The bag on his back is a purse, which in heraldric terms refers to the purse of state implies within it, the seal of the state. This can only indicate that whatever the solution to our current problem, it's already here with us, for are we not the apparatus of the state? I believe it is no accident that most of us in this room are military men. Mr Lee in his wisdom knew that we would have to provide leadership in a troubled time."

(Dr A____. sniggers in his corner, sotto voce. And you in all your wisdom want to provide leadership in Minilee's weakest hour, think I dunno?)

"There is no reason to fear a rule by retired generals and rear admirals. Only we can bring calm to a crazed population ready to revolt during Mr Lee's state funeral, and that is by delivering a dose of good old fashioned law and order, and the whip. There need not be a coup, mind you. Just an effective, massive, and awe-inspiring display of might that shows everyone who's boss so they can get back to working for us. Of course it will be violence and blood will be shed. A few skulls may have to be cracked. This requires the courage of the rooster.

"It has been done before: Tiananmen, the crushing of the occupy protests, even in singapore's history in the 1950s. We just need to follow the script that has been written long ago, stick to it, control the media, reassure international investors, and we will be fine. To be honest, they're not stupid. and i think they're more spooked by this civil unrest and incivility than with the potential crackdown. And as Mr Lee himself has said: Repression is like making love. There are tinges of regret the first time. It gets easier after that. This requires the pragmatism of the goat.

"And so the pouch represents Mr Lee's assurance that a short, violent pacification is exactly what history prescribes, and that our legitimacy is assured because we are, and we hold the tools of the state.

"Mr Lee, i suggest you give the orders now. We have less than an hour to mobilise the units necessary for the crackdown, and to get cracking." Minister C___. smiles at his own joke. Everyone in the room laughs with him. Well, except for Dr A____. and the few civilian technocrats who scowl, having their victory stolen from them.

Then at the back of the room, someone clears his throat, He steps out of his chair and lumbers to the centre of the room, to the table, carrying in his fist a pipe filled with tobacco leaves. He takes his time to turn his pipe over, knocking the ashes onto the table and over the photo. People don't know whether to gasp at the ashes over the photo or the fact that this guy's been puffing away all this time in the room.

"Listen up, you young people are all making this too complicated." It's Lt-Gen (Ret.) Winston Choo. Yes, he's still alive and in far better health than any of the non-smokers in the room, Papalee's photo included.

"Whatever he was, whatever you say he is, KY is first and foremost a MAN OF ACTION. If he indulges in any subtlety, it's one that is direct and uncomplicated, designed to foil complicated minds.

"You. (he pokes his finger at the chest of Minister C___.) You're a BG and you don't know the first thing about the Army Order of Battle? Go read it up. I wrote it.

You're one of those 'internet ministers' some more, and you don't know you can find the SG Army ORBAT online? If you had bothered to do your homework or if you were any more competent as a minister in charge of the national archives, you would know that I've given an interview saying how I designed the ORBAT and made it such that no one, not even a cabinet full of retired generals, can marshall enough forces to launch a coup, much less mobilise a crackdown of our citizens.

"I wrote the ORBAT and you think i wouldn't have thought of your idea?" The old man harrumphs. "Gentlemen, all of you are too well-educated and book smart. You forget the generation KY belongs to. Which is why i'm here to tell you what his message really says, less than 1 hour before his state funeral.


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