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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Death amid dirt – and where were we?

There’s a heart-breaking story in TNP of a man who died alone in his squalid three-room flat in Toa Payoh. His body was found last month after neighbours thought that the stench from his flat was extra terrible. He’d been living in squalor for more than 10 years it seems. Even a month after his death, his flat still stinks because his NOK can’t be contacted to clean up the place. The Cat Welfare Society entered the unlocked flat to rescue seven cats. Would that someone had stepped in to rescue the man earlier…Nobody seems to know the man’s name. He’s not old, in his 50s, it seems. Neighbours know him as Din and says the ex-postman sometimes sleeps at the void deck. Looks like something happened to Din after his mother died 10 years ago.

It always amazes me that in a densely-packed place like Singapore, people can still die un-noticed – amid a 10 year stench. Neighbours spray insecticide around their homes and say that they have complained to their MP (not named). One regretted that nothing was done for the man earlier. I guess we’ll all be pointing fingers at the grassroots organisations who should have known what was happening in their environs. We’ll ask “Where’s ComCare?’’, “Where is the MP?’’, “Did the town council know?’’ We’ll wonder why nothing was done in that 10 years when the man was alive, and in the one month after he died. What happened to the official and social/community support structures in his case? I wonder who buried the man and whether he had his last rites.

I suppose it will be too much to suggest that the neighbours themselves might have done something beyond complain to the authorities. We are all so good at minding our own business. Maybe the man had declined help from official or community channels over the years. How he lives in his flat is his own lookout; his house is his castle after all.

I don’t know why I feel extra terrible reading this. We’ve read such news reports before. I guess it’s because Christmas is nearing. Malls are crowded and people are spending a whole lot of money buying presents and decorating their homes. People are thronging department store sections which tout gift ideas. Young people are holding hands and taking selfies in front of mall decorations. All hustle and bustle.

Then there is this man who dies alone, in a flat which probably hadn’t been cleaned in 10 years. I think about those news reports of people who volunteer to make over a person’s home, and the happy faces of the owners when it’s done. I wonder what Din would have said if these wonderful people approached him to do the same. Thing is, he fell through the cracks. And I somehow feel that all of us are responsible for this.

Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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