If you’re a 90’s kid, chances are you’d probably have heard Divian Nair’s voice on the radio. Just early this year, he made waves on social media with his impactful video titled “I Will Not Die For Singapore” which triggered a conversation among Singaporeans; and last month, he played host to The Best of You’s Finale Exhibition, a social movement that seeks to reinforce the spirit of appreciation within our communities by offering a platform for people to reflect upon their experiences, challenge stereotypes and break down barriers between communities.
We caught up with the bubbly media personality to chat about his involvement with The Best of You, his current initiative We Are Majulah, and the future for him.
Tell us more about your recent involvement with The Best of You social movement.
The Best of You social movement by Julie’s has always been an amazing platform for people to both share their stories and learn through the hardships and successes of others. My involvement was no different, save for the fact that I had the privilege of hosting its on-site exhibition. Being very much in line with the work I do with my company, Storyteller Productions and We Are Majulah, I felt a strong sense of purpose as I interacted with the team that put the movement together, the movement’s founder as well as the amazing people featured this year. I also learned valuable lessons about the importance of principles and commitment from my personal exchanges with some of the people involved.
You shared a touching story on your brother with The Best of You. What’s your fondest memory growing up with your brother?
I think it would be impossible to pinpoint one memory that would stand out as the fondest but the moments I treasured the most were our family trips to the zoo, Orchard Road during festive periods and definitely the airport – just to watch planes take off after dinner!
Growing up in an interracial family, how has this influenced you in your personal life and your work?
Growing up in an interracial family left me racially blind to a certain degree. I didn’t see my father as an Indian man, or my mother as a Chinese woman. They were just my parents. I also never identified myself as much by race as I did with my environment and culture. This proved to be very useful for the relationships I formed as I grew up because I didn’t identify people I met by race and took them for the people that they were. I have an inner circle of friends who represent all the major races of Singapore and it never occurred to me it was anything valuable.
What was difficult however, was seeing the stark contrast presented by people who were conditioned to identify themselves and others by race first. In a country where the balance of races are not equivocal, the mentality represented by some proportion of the majority race does not reflect a perspective of equality. This is inevitable and can cause some amount of stress through misunderstandings which still frequently occur. I myself have been subject to racist behavior on a personal and professional basis many times.
What are the challenges you’ve faced with your interracial background? How has this played a role in you founding We Are Majulah?
The primary challenge of growing up in an interracial family is feeling like you never really belong anywhere. To many Chinese people I’ve met, I have always been more Indian and vice versa to Indian people. In a country where the proportion of races are not as equal as my genetic make up, I’ve also realized, that even though I am exactly half and half, I’ve only ever been labelled as the “Indian Guy”. This naturally put me on a quest to find something bigger than race that I could belong to and identify myself with. Singapore, as a country, as a culture, became that for me. And so, We Are Majulah was born. “Majulah” (To move onward, to survive together) became a fundamental concept I felt could be shared as a non-contradictory belief on a micro and macro scale.
Your video titled “I Will Not Die for Singapore” garnered half a million views on Facebook alone. Are we expecting more “surprises” in the near future from the team?
I don’t know if the first video was ever intended to be a surprise! But we are definitely striving forward with what little resource we have to continue our efforts. We are currently developing an initiative to help combat the rising number of suicide linked cases from young adults between the ages of 10 and 19. We are also looking at putting out another video sometime next year. Apart from that, it’s really the daily grind of brick laying that we are focusing on.
In your opinion, does Singapore have our own identity?
In my opinion and experience through visiting over 20 countries while running We Are Majulah for almost a year, I’d have to say it’s there and it’s growing. Identity is hard enough to find as an individual. It usually grows the most during a period of struggle. It is also something that is extremely complex and delicate, plus it doesn’t always grow the right way. I know that the work my team and I are doing is a small fraction of contribution, necessary for a concrete identity to solidify but we feel that it’s better to do something constructive than sit around and complain all the time.
You’ve received your fair share of criticism on We Are Majulah being a propaganda tool; what is your response to detractors? With We Are Majulah, can you prove a point to your critics?
To the critics I say, lets discuss. Discussion is key for constructive growth as a people. What happens when one sides slams the other with no avenue for recourse because they think they are “right”? You get Brexit and Trump. The point is not to win an argument. The point is to not show that your side is smarter and everyone else is stupid because they don’t share your view. The point is understand each other so we can grow with compassion.
When we launched the video, the objective was to incite discussion. Everything from the title of the video, it’s level of ambiguity, the tone, the colors – it was designed to make people “feel” and thereby find it in themselves to say something about. We just sat back and watched it all happen. We saw how the media took different sides on how to portray the story. Critics and supporters alike weighed in. We also saw the phenomenon of the “silent majority” unfold. As we sieved through every comment and share, we found something interesting. While the impression formed through the headlines of some media articles and comments on the Facebook and YouTube video gave the impression that it was largely criticized, we found that most of the positive comments were written as personal posts through the video share.
We are Majulah still stands as apolitical and nonpartisan, like we said from the start. While we have collaborated with government-linked agencies for messaging that is in line with what we are trying to push out, we are not backed financially by any government or private party. To date, we have produced almost 50 episodes for the Good Word Project (a video series collecting advice from everyday Singaporeans), garnered almost 13,000 followers on our Facebook page, participated in events, had an event of our own and built a small community of writers – all in less than a year.
What are your thoughts on race and racial harmony in Singapore?
I think race and racial harmony is a work in progress. I heard Senior Minister of state Dr Janil Puthucheary once say that it is, and always will be a work in progress. I cannot agree more. If we consider that in our grandparents’ generation, not stabbing each other was not being racist, then in our parent’s generation, working together was not being racist – we can see how much we have progressed in a short amount of time. It is arrogant of us to think racial harmony is something we have already achieved and don’t have to pay too much attention to. We must continue to work at it.
What are your hopes and aspirations for 2017?
All I am hoping for in 2017 is that the escalating conflict overseas doesn’t reach our shores. And if it does, I hope that we will standby by each other and move on together, no matter what.
The Best of You is a social initiative by Julie’s Biscuits running in both Singapore and Malaysia that aims to create a positive change to the community we are living in. Since its inception in 2014, the movement has collected and shared thousands of inspiring stories from the public, artists as well as social organizations. Visit The Best of You’s official website to be part of this meaningful cause.
We are Majulah is a social enterprise that aims to provide community based solutions to improve civic consciousness for a better tomorrow. They are focused on the fundamental concept of “Majulah” (to move onward, to survive) as a belief that can be owned and shared by the individual and the community alike, to build a society that is inclusive, tolerant and compassionate.