Singapore:  Indian-origin Singaporean poet and writer K T M Iqbal will be awarded Cultural Medallion, the country’s highest cultural award by, President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

It is the highest recognition for the 74-year-old Tamil poet whose achievements include more than 200 children’s songs written for Radio Singapore in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as seven collections of poetry.

Iqbal said he was “delighted” to receive the award which was “an incredible honour”.

“My first love is poetry. We have been together for 60 years. I never imagined this would bring me the Cultural Medallion award,” The Straits Times quoted Iqbal as saying.

Iqbal learned the basics of Venpa, a form of classical Tamil poetry from a poetry-writing workshop. “I would sit on the street in the evening to write or an idea might come when I was on the bus,” said Iqbal.

The poet, also a retired bank executive, has received recognition in the education system of Singapore also.

Iqbal’s compositions are studied in schools and some of them have appeared in the subway stations as part of efforts to bring the arts close to the community.

Iqbal migrated to Singapore at the age of 11 with his father from Kadayanallur in South India in 1951.

A Tamil newspaper Malaya Nanban, which is now defunct, introduced him to the simple but evocative compositions of Tamil poet Mathithasan. The poet’s vivid depiction of people and values in society inspired the young Iqbal to start penning poems.

The retired bank executive continues to pen poems and hopes to produce an edited collection of his best Tamil poems and an English translation of it.

Along with the award, Mr Iqbal will get 80,000 Singapore dollar grant, which can be used to fund artistic endeavours  over their lifetime, according to The Straits Times.

“The money once spent is gone. But to have the nation recognise your contribution is great and it will encourage people to keep writing poetry,” said Iqbal.

The award will also be given to sculptor Chong Fah Cheong, 68, and 51-year old Alvin Tan, the artistic director of a theatre company, The Necessary Stage.

Recipients are each eligible for a 80,000 Singapore dollar grant.

The award, instituted 35 years ago, has been presented to 115 artists to date, including Iqbal, Chong and Tan.

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Free Press Journal