Karpal: From cowherd to greatness

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GEORGE TOWN: Every time April 17 comes around, Baksis Ram Singh will fondly remember the wonderful moments he shared with his late brother, Karpal Singh.

Today is the day the prominent lawyer and politician met his untimely death in a car accident with a lorry near Gopeng. He was 73.

“Being the eldest of 10 siblings, I was the disciplinarian. Karpal looked up to me but I respected his views,” Baksis said, adding they got along very well with the former DAP chairman regarding him as a confidante.

They often met at Baksis’s home in Brown Garden or at the Wadda Gurdwara in town.

“We would confide in each other, and speak on a variety of topics. We could talk for hours. We spoke freely with no holds barred.

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Baksis Singh holds up a photograph of Karpal and his siblings.

“We kept no secrets from each other. We spoke freely, gave each other good advice.

“Three years on after his passing, I still miss talking to him,” Baksis said.

According to Baksis, Karpal was also very much like their late mother, Kartar.

Baksis said his mother was very smart, strict, very good in managing money and an expert in raising a large family.

He also shared how Karpal was a very creative and innovative person, making use of his free time to make contraptions, toys and kites.

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Ram Singh and Kartar Kaur with their children. Karpal is in a black turban, standing at the far right.

Baksis, who worked as a Penang Hospital radiologist for more than 35 years, said when Karpal sought his advice about joining politics, he gave his strongest support.

Karpal was the fourth of 10 siblings, which included three sisters, and used to help out in the family’s business of herding cows and selling milk when he was young, after school.

According to Baksis, his parents were able to earn about Malayan $200 a month by selling milk at 50 cents a bottle.

“The income was more than enough to meet the needs of the family,” he said.

Talking about his family background, Baksis said his father came from Amritsar, Punjab, in the 1920s and first worked as a watchman. He died in a road accident during a trip back to India in 1974, when he was 73.

Ram Singh and Kartar Kaur.
Ram Singh and Kartar Kaur.

“My mother was very brave. In Punjab, she had beat up people who threatened her.

“But my father, Ram Singh, was the peacemaker. He was often called in to settle fights. He was known as ‘Gandhi’ back then,” Baksis said.

He said his parents first bought a female cow named “Lakshmi”, which later produced more than 20 calves.

“Lakshmi was with us for a long time. We kept her in our home until she died of old age.

“She was, in essence, responsible for the success of the Ram Singh family today,” Baksis said.

Baksis said the family had lived at various places in George Town, with their house at 7, Herriot St, being the residence where they had lived for the longest period.

Baksis said once Lakshmi bore more and more calves, they had to move out from their small grazing ground behind the Simpang Enam mosque on Macalister Road. Today, the spot is a car park across from Komtar.

He recalled how in 1945, dozens of his father’s cows grazed in the open plains of the Sungai Pinang area, close to the estuary of Penang’s longest riverine in the east of the island.

Baksis said they had to move out to even bigger grounds at the Thean Teik Estate near Batu Lanchang Lane, Air Itam, in 1954.

“This was where the teen Karpal met his future wife, Gurmit Kaur, for the first time. Gurmit’s family was also in the same business of cow herding and selling milk,” he said.

Baksis said Karpal had become a role model to his eldest daughter, Jasbir, 59, who is also a lawyer. Baksis has six children with his wife, Narenjan Kaur.

Baksis Singh,83, and his wife Narenjan Kaur, 80.
Baksis Singh,83, and his wife Narenjan Kaur, 80.