Front-row seats to a riot were the last thing on kitchen helper T. S. Mallika’s mind that night.
But that’s exactly what unfolded before her own eyes from her temporary dorm, located atop her workplace along Race Course Road.
From the confines of her second storey vantage, a peep through the curtains revealed thick smoke and a bantering crowd that was now beginning to grow by the hour.
Almost maternally, the 55-year-old empathises with the affected migrant workers—yet, not stopping short of chiding them in the process.
“It's tough being away from your family for so long. Having a good time with friends helps to numb the pain,” said the employment pass holder who hails from the village of Pudhupettai, Tamil Nadu.
“There is a saying in my hometown that drunkards are equivalent to wastrels,” she said. “There is no respect for anyone who is a drunkard.”
Those arrested have parents to take care of, sisters to marry away and young children to feed she said.
She asked, who will take care of them now?
“What about their families who have sold everything to depend on them to survive?”
Irene Yeo’s memories of the riot are as vivid as the shop that houses her and her extensive assortment of antique liquor bottles .
Having been in the collectible liquor industry for over four decades now, the 42-year-old Singaporean Citizen has had her share of drunk customers over the years.
But they generally mean no harm other than to have a good time on weekends, she adds animatedly.
Deeply saddened by the incident, she firmly believes that alcohol was not the main factor, and that it was definitely not a race issue. “Any one of any race would have reacted the same way if their fellow countrymen was in a similar situation,” she said, referring to the fatal accident that culminated in the riot outbreak.
“The accident happened at the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
Settled in the rustic enclave of Belilios Lane, business on a Sunday evening was taking place as usual when the riot began.
“But I’m very sure this is the last time this happens in Singapore, the government will make sure of that.”
Sokkiah Ashok’s eyes speak of hope.
The kind of hope one embodies to make ends meet—however difficult—in a foreign land for seven years.
Home for Ashok is a shared dormitory unit at the corner of Veerasamy Road while he works as a driver for a company based in Tuas.
Just as the Indian national was about to have dinner with a few friends, he remembers the strong smell of smoke that night.
“We all heard loud yells and people shouting.”
Crossing over from the intersection of Kerbau Street and Race Course Road, he sensed that this was no ordinary Sunday night.
His hands nimbly cheroot a brochure with a quiet uneasiness as he speaks about that fateful night.
“Even though it’s been a week, I still feel very emotional about what has happened,” the 28-year-old said. “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or if I will be able to work here for long.”
Rumors of fellow friends being removed from work and having to return home penniless has unsettled him.
“I feel like crying because there is nothing else I can do.”
Walking from Chander Road to Kerbau Road was restaurant employee Grace Rivera’s usual way of going home.
That night, the fighting and shouting made the Filipino retrace her steps back to Gurkha Palace Restaurant. They were screaming words in Tamil that she could not make out.
Back inside, her boss pulled down the metal shutters for fear of their customers’ safety. Elsewhere, bottles were hurled.
Grace, 36, then planned an “escape route” via the car park of Hotel Grand Chancellor.
On her way, she saw a drunk man lie flat on his face a few steps in front of the vehicle gantry—blocking off the only exit route.
Thankfully, another foreign worker who was nearby pulled him away onto the parapet, she adds.
“I could not help but laugh at the drunk man at a time when things were getting out of hand nearby.”
For Grace, a sense of humour is a sense of proportion.
It was a quarter past 11pm when a seemingly mild commotion along Kinta Road fell onto the ears of 24-year-old Mohamed Usman on a typical crowded Little India Sunday.
But this commotion however, was of a different nature and at a much bigger scale.
Despite the gravity of the event, Usman couldn’t help but break into a chuckle as he peered in between the grilles of his apartment – neck craned sideways to transform his ears into a panoramic inlet for the sounds below him.
“An old man was arguing with the riot police,” he said, “and you could tell he was really angry.”
An elderly cyclist was attempting to manoeuvre his way through Race Course Road when a detail of armed policemen stopped him short in his tracks – inciting a war of words.
“Immediately, I knew he was Singaporean,” Usman sniggered, adding that his well versed nature of the English language coupled with feisty vocals were dead giveaways.
The twenty minute debate saw the senior cyclist engage in an oratory fracas as thick smoke filled the air.
Like a seasoned debater, he put across a range of arguments like his rights as a Singaporean citizen and the basis of free society, among other things.
All this, in a bid to get across to the other side of the road.
By this time, Usman had quietly beckoned the attention of his housemates – each picking a spot in between the curtains to get a piece of the action.
To the utter disbelief of his room mates and himself, the police eventually gave in – surrounding the cyclist in a protective entourage of anti-riot policemen as he casually cycled through the violence-torn street and out of Little India.
“I guess he must have felt really special. Not everyone gets to cycle pass a riot.”