Gopal Baratham's Political Critique

Lim Siew Yea, M. A.

Gopal Baratham, an outspoken critic of the Singaporean political Establishment, believes that the artist can play a crucial role in society as a devil's advocate. Questioning received views of Singapore's regulated and pragmatic democracy, his fiction shows how even an efficient political system has many weaknesses. Thus, in his four collections of short stories -- Figments of Experience (1981), Love Letter (1988), People Make You Cry (1988) and Memories That Glow in the Dark (1995); three novels -- Savana (1991), A Candle or the Sun (1991), and Moonrise. Sunset (1996) and a non-fictional work, The Caning of Michael Fay (1994), Baratham consistently assumes a subversive role, revealing the effects of repressive politics upon the individual.

In his three collections of short stories, Love Letter (1988), People Make You Cry (1988) and Memories That Glow in the Dark (1995), Baratham portrays characters who are perverted by a political culture of concealment and containment and who have assumed the negative characteristics of dissimulation and exploitation of their culture. The trilogy also demonstrates the extent of psychological injury caused by the regulated and pragmatic political culture, which eventually perverts, stifles, and enervates even idealistic individuals. In the end, those who desire greater personal autonomy lose hope, creativity, and zest for change.

[This essay has been adapted, with kind permission of the author, from Politics and Self: A Study of Gopal Baratham and Suchen Christine Lim, her 1996 National University of Singapore Master's thesis. GPL]

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