IM this article to a friend!

March 1, 2003

Grieving in a silent world

From: Straits Times, Singapore - 01 Mar 2003

Crane operator Tan Chun Seng will hang for bludgeoning deaf mute Krishnan Sengal Rajah to death. But that is cold comfort to his wife, Madam Neelachi Singaram. She tells ARLINA ARSHAD that she has yet to accept her husband's death

EVERY evening for 17 years, Madam Neelachi Singaram would sit in the living room and wait for her husband to return from work.

'He's dead, but I still hope he can come home to keep me company. I'm very lonely.' - Madam Neelachi, on her husband. With her is son Naresh.

When Mr Krishnan Sengal Rajah, a general worker with an aviation company, came back at 11 pm, the couple would tuck into his favourite mutton curry, watching wrestling on television.

After the meal, they would sit opposite each other, their hands moving vigorously as they told each other about how the day had been in sign language.

But now, this nightly ritual is a thing of the past.

Mr Krishnan, 44, was bludgeoned to death with a wooden pole on the night of June 30, 2001, on Dunlop Street in Little India.

The assailant, crane operator Tan Chun Seng, 28, was angry that a person accompanying Mr Krishnan had hit the window of his car and gestured to him to get out.

On Friday, Tan was sentenced to death for murder.

Although the incident happened two years ago, the 46-year-old widow has yet to come to terms with her husband's death.

As usual, she waits in the living room each night, hoping he will return.

When he doesn't, she stares at his photograph on the wall until she falls asleep.

'He's dead, but I still hope he can come home to keep me company. I'm very lonely,' she told The Sunday Times on Friday in sign language.

Her children, 16-year-old Shamini and 15-year-old Naresh, acted as interpreters.

Love had blossomed between Mr Krishnan and Madam Neelachi at the Singapore School for the Deaf 20 years ago.

The couple were inseparable. They were each other's first loves, meeting at the Singapore School for the Deaf 20 years ago.

Mr Krishnan had shown interest in her by approaching her while she was walking to a friend's house one day.

'He winked, approached me, and said hello. I was so scared. He was very dark and big, but he had a kind heart,' she said.

Initially, they went on group outings with friends, but later went out together to watch movies, eat or stroll in the park.

Their favourite place was East Coast Park, where they would sit on a bench and trade jokes.

Madam Neelachi, who was better at sign language and could voice a few words though she was deaf, would also coach Mr Krishnan, who was both deaf and mute.

Mr Krishnan started saving up. He also got himself a hearing aid, which helped him to hear her, though very faintly.

About two years later, in 1984, they decided to tie the knot.

They rented a one-room flat at Commonwealth Crescent and Mr Krishnan connected the doorbell to light bulbs in their bedroom and living room. The bulbs would light up when visitors rang the doorbell.

When Madam Neelachi was pregnant with Shamini, their families were anxious to know if the baby would be normal. Their apprehensions were misplaced.

Less than two years later, the couple had Naresh, who also turned out to have no handicap.

The family moved in 1999 to their own three-room West Coast Drive flat where they still live.

The children were taught sign language when they were in Primary 1.

Mr Krishnan was a family man and strove hard to be a good parent, said Madam Neelachi.

On her husband's funeral day, she refused to let him go, holding on to his cold body.

'She pushed us away. Her hands were moving frantically and she gestured to him, saying: 'Wake up, wake up, I'm making coffee for you.' We broke down when we saw that,' said a relative.

She lights up whenever she speaks about the good old times. But mention death, and her face turns black with bitterness.

On the murderer's death sentence, she said she pitied the man.

Making a fist with one hand and placing it at her nape, and making a strangulation gesture with the other hand, she said: 'I want to ask the killer: 'You hit my husband from the back, and now you are going to get hanged. Is it worth it?' '

She added: 'I now live in total silence because my husband is dead.'

© 2003 Straits Times