The Curious Case of Md. Mukul- Glass ceiling to Migrant Art in Singapore

I first met, Mukul- a well groomed, almost metrosexual Male very unlike a migrant construction worker at the Banglar Kantha- Dibashram way back in February 2015 at Rowell Road in the heart of a bustling artery in Little India (or Bangladesh) in Singapore. He used to be at that juncture a regular member of the artists and writers group at Banglar Kantha mentored by Community Activist, Editor and Writer, Mr. AKM Mohsin, who has spent three decades to build a voice for the workers in Singapore.

Mukul was one of the folks attending the cultural group, but along with time as the Banglar Kantha Dibashram Group-splintered he being politically savvy aligned himself with the group who realigned with the a breakaway faction, who had the support of a known anti government non profit, and slowly worked in to the good books of a medical non profit for migrant worker as a volunteer at one of the clinics. He become friends with well known non profit workers and consultants at the same time.

Mukul as I spoke to him many times, gave the air of a person who worked hard to create a new identity for himself, not as a construction worker but as a cultural worker, a writer who rightfully belonged to a different echelon of society. He networked with prominent Singaporeans in the arts space, and made his presence felt in every occasion that he would well possibly attend, impeccably dressed, and soft spoken.

He used his limited cultural and social capital well, packaged his socioeconomic vulnerability as a migrant worker to project himself as a voice for the voiceless, an act of performance which is credible in itself as an entrepreneurial initiative. He used his contacts to bag a poetry book translated by a known poet, came on TV shows and got invited to cultural programs.

As a CNA Documentary on his journey mentioned, that he got the blowback as well from peers, supervisors and employers, and lost jobs and struggled to come back to Singapore as he was as per official visa status, a construction worker from a middle class family in the global south. All the art, did him little professional good. The cultural elite too veered away with time.

Mukul realised that he has to up skill as any other worker in Singapore so he is reading to be a Construction supervisor to survive. All the fame, could not buy him a meal. That is the tragic reality of life, as reality is grounded in materiality.

In the case of Mukul, two aspects need to be acknowledged. Singapore is a pragmatic state, it will encourage anyone who contributes to the economy. Mukul on the other hand, become too ambitious. In an interview to the seminal Economist, mentioned that he would like to be a Singaporean. The privilege of being Singaporean lies in the hands of the government and people of Singapore. Action speaks louder than words, Mukul should have built his case as thousands of others who have eventually made Singapore their own home.

I wish Mukul well, in his dream of becoming Singaporean.


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