WHATEVER he touched, they say, turned to gold, in the 1980s onwards from a high-flying career in the construction industry to leadership in multiple sports, like hockey and football, Raj Dev Singh was widely hailed as the ‘Man with the Midas Touch’.
He literally moved the proverbial mountains, some critics say sometimes by hook or crook, but end of the day, his overwhelming generosity and kindness even got him to get his detractors to envy the way he got along in life with a remarkable streak of successes, both in business and in sports.
“Without a doubt, he had a heart of gold. Raj Dev made a fortune at the height of his business popularity but when he went through bad times, personally and professionally, he lost a fortune, too, and later just faded out of the scene,” says Raj Dev’s closest kampong-mate T. Ashok Kumar, a former hockey international striker, who played in the Junior World Cup, France.
Fighting a bout of multiple illnesses, the 60-year-old passed on at his Johor Bahru condo-apartment on early Sunday morning. The cause of death was certified as “kidney failure” by paramedics, confirming a prolonged kidney dialysis treatment he underwent for at least three years, says his eldest daughter, Raj Nita Dev, who goes closest to his name.
“He was a legendary father who unfailingly helped family, friends and almost anyone without expecting anything in return,” says the 38-year-old private teacher at the wake which is held at Block 130A, Canberra Crescent.
“He will live on in our hearts and minds forever as someone who has tremendous willpower to overcome any setback, personally, professionally or financially. Even in medical setbacks lately, he gave his best shot and even when he was in excruciating pain, he barely moaned to anyone but took the setbacks in his stride. Truly amazing!”
Nita, who is also known as Dolly, says her dad was at his “happiest” last month when he returned from obscurity after a long period of absence, to spearhead one of the biggest upsets in election-history at the Singapore Indian Association (IA), where with a token team of six candidates, they wiped out the highly-fancied incumbents, which numbered a dozen personalities.
Nita says: “Hockey and Indian Association were closest to his heart from his schooldays at Rangoon Road Secondary School and when he was 14 years he was almost always at IA Balestier Road, indulging in his favourite sport of hockey.
“I’m so proud that he stands on record as the longest-serving IA Vice-President in the 1990s. But somewhere in 2009, he gave up his business and moved to Johor Bahru, and in the process he lost touch with sports and the club. I know his election-comeback last month as a humble committee member made him the happiest man as he never expected such an awesome result to literally turn the tables.”
PASSION FOR HOCKEY
Lawyer and Raj Dev’s childhood friend, Mahmood Gasnavi, who is Singapore Cricket Association (SCA) President, says: “Raj Dev was widely misunderstood. His passion for hockey was so intense he sometimes was seen to have overstepped the boundaries. Those who knew him knew he meant well and propagated fierce sportsmanship.”
Ambassador K. Kesavapany, the Past President of IA, salutes: “It is on the long and dedicated service by the late Rajdev Singh that IA, in particular and the community in general, were able to move forward.”
Newly-minted IA President Vishnu Pillai, who stood together with Raj Dev in the recent club elections, played goalkeeper in the title-winning IA team. He said: “He was a man who passionately put hockey before everything in his life. A man personally responsible for raising the level of the sport. He’s a genuine and kind man who will be deeply missed.”
The bosses of the two neighbouring Balestier Plains clubs – Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) and Ceylon Sports Club (CSC) – praised Raj Dev’s “exemplary contributions”.
SKA President Hernaikh Singh said: “I have known him since the 1980s. He loved sports so much that he would go the furthest mile to make things happened. He managed the Indian Association team and I played as a goalkeeper for the team. He took care of his players and they, in turn, played their hearts out for him. Everyone know that Rajdev was a highly competitive person. He has so many trophies to show for his successes in the 198s and 90s. in this regards. But off the pitch, he was a jovial individual who got along with everyone.”
CSC President M. Lukshumayeh lauded Raj Dev’s “outstanding leadership and the extraordinary fighting spirit to win”. He said: “Truly a remarkable leader who leads by example and his hockey wins with multiple clubs, during different SHF seasons, are testimony that he demands the best from his players and rewards them equally, too, in success.”
Raj Dev’s biggest trademark, if not trump-card, was in amicable player-management and in Ashok Kumar’s words, “he took care of his players and they, in turn, played their hearts out for him”. His string of hockey successes was not only at IA but with Chenab Hockey, Hougang Constituency and Punggol Sports Club.
For his services to sports, particularly at Punggol Constituency Sports Club, government awarded with the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal). He was also decorated by the Ministry of Education for services rendered to West Sprint Secondary School.
Former national coach Harbhajan Singh Loomba, a retired educationist from Whitley Secondary School, praises: “As an individual, a very kind person and devoted much of his time for the promotion of hockey in Singapore. Raj Dev will always be remembered for his dedicated work, on and off the field.”
The long-standing hockey rivalry between IA and Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) from the 1980s was tantamount to a Manchester United-Liverpool derby. None ever wanted to give an inch or a goal and SRC coach V.K. Chelvan says: “In all my many years of involvement in hockey, I have never come across a single person who was so intent in wanting to raise the level of our local competitions as Raj Dev. He was fiercely competitive and he made the IA-SRC confrontations real thrillers all the way.”
Chelvan, a former international striker and national coach, adds: “A successful businessman, he brought many top Malaysian national players to play for his teams, spending thousands of his own money. It certainly helped challenge our local players to raise their levels of play and this made the competitions of those years some of the most interesting and entertaining. I was coach of SRC during those years and in spite of our very intense rivalry, we became good friends. RIP Raj Dev, my friend.”
Besides firing up hockey, through his company Chenab Contractor, where he was billed as “Golden Fingers” because of his astronomical sporting successes, Raj Dev also supported football and was one-time President of Sembawang Sports Club, a NFL (National Football League) club. The club had aspirations of making it to the S-League. He once even dangled a $1million “carrot” to convince the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) that he was serious to start a professional football team.
An amazing rags-to-riches turnover for Raj Dev from his childhood days. His father was an ordinary milkman from Bendemeer Road, who plied his milk-delivery trade on a bicycle. Ashok Kumar, who grew up in the same neighbourhood along Kempas Road, says: “We were friends over 45 years and played for Singapore Combined Schools from the late 1970s, when he was an excellent fullback from Rangoon Road Secondary School. He later played for Singapore Under 23 team, too.
“But he was a very street-smart lad, without much academic education, and after we served National Service (NS) together at ITD Sembawang, we kept in touch very regularly. But I must acknowledge that Raj Dev worked very hard, seven days of the week to move up the career ladder. He went to the construction business and almost single-handedly started Chenab Contractor, which handled multiple Singapore-India work and labour contracts. The hard work paid off as he struck it rich and made a fortune and built a big name in the contractor-business.”
Former regional hurdling champion Osman Merican, a police officer who won three medals at the 1965 SEAP Games in Kuala Lumpur, acknowledged Raj Dev as a “good friend, generous, friendly and kind hearted”. He added: “He would master no one and he would be mastered by none. May his soul rest in peace and God ever give him grace.”
Singapore Cricket Club’s John Fernandez, a former football international defender, hails him as a “great guy full of life and enthusiasm, always had a big smile and good heart”. He adds: “His association with hockey has helped youth and senior players at various levels of hockey. He was especially inspirational to young players and got their utmost respect.”
Past President of the Football Referees Association of Singapore (FRAS) Ravi Krishnan remembers contesting against Raj Dev in an IA election many years ago. But he admired Raj Dev’s humility, in victory or in defeat. He said: “He’s a very sincere sports lover. A true humble gentleman who could inspire almost anyone to rise to the occasion because he was such a gutsy sportsman who always enjoyed winning.”
Former Malaysia Cup striker D. Devaraj, a long-standing IA member, best sums up Raj Dev in six words: “The man with the Midas Touch.”
Perhaps the most touching at the Canberra Crescent wake was an awesome multi-coloured wreath from “Hockey Buddies” (a group of 70-odd former hockey stalwarts in Singapore and Australia). The powerful farewell message read: “Ducks swim together…but Eagles soar alone. The ‘Hockey Buddies’ salute an extraordinary hockey ‘eagle’. RIP Raj Dev Singh, PBM.”
Raj Dev leaves behind wife Jagip Kaur (Baby), daughters Raj Nita Dev (Dolly), Alnishyia Raj (Chandni), Sharon Kaur and son Akash Raj. The body is resting at 130A Canberra Crescent, Singapore 751130. The cortege leaves tomorrow (Tuesday, October 22) at 6.00pm for Mandai Crematorium. – By SURESH NAIR
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has known Raj Dev Singh for more than four decades. They played hockey together in the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) Division One league in the 1980s and 1990s.