MR B. Jeyaprakash, a bus driver working for a government transport company in India’s Tamil Nadu state, has never been to Singapore and, until last month, had never heard of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
But he was so moved by the outpouring of grief over the Singapore leader’s passing that he named his newborn son Jeyaprakash Lee Kuan Yew.
Mr Jeyaprakash, 37, lives in the town of Mannargudi, which has a population of 70,000.
Soon after Mr Lee’s death, placards with photographs of Mr Lee were put up across the town. On the day of his funeral in Singapore, more than 300 people from Mannargudi and nearby villages marched silently for 4km behind a wreath for Mr Lee. The procession stopped in the centre of town, where people bowed and prayed before a photo of Mr Lee.
The tribute moved Mr Jeyaprakash so deeply that he decided on the spot to name his son after Mr Lee. “I wasn’t planning to give him that name. I had gone to the bazaar to buy milk and saw this procession and memorial for Mr Lee. So I stopped and heard people talking about all the great things he had done for Singapore. There was so much respect for him,” said Mr Jeyaprakash.
“That was the first time I heard Lee Kuan Yew’s name. I didn’t even ask my wife, I just decided on the spot that my son should have an auspicious name. So I put Sir’s name in the hope that my son will do very well in life.”
His son was born at 1pm on March 23, the same day Mr Lee died.
In Tamil Nadu, parents sometimes name their children after international and historical figures, including Josef Stalin, Karl Marx, Nikita Khrushchev and Winston Churchill.
Mr M. Karunanidhi, leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, named his son M. K. Stalin.
Mr Jeyaprakash’s mother is unable to pronounce her grandson’s name. But his wife, Ms Bhagiyalakshmi, 27, has no such problems.
“It is the name of a great man and leader,” she said, smiling broadly. “Lee Kuan Yew!”
The baby, dressed in pink, sleeps peacefully in his mother’s arms as people talk around him. “He doesn’t cry that much and he is much easier to take care of than my daughter at the same age,” said Ms Bhagiyalakshmi.
Mr Jeyaprakash has been reading up on Mr Lee in the local Tamil newspapers.
He cut out a photo of Mr Lee from a newspaper and plans to hang it on a wall.
“If I have a photograph in the house, I can point to it and then tell people about my son’s name.”
He is also donating 10,000 rupees (S$220), nearly his month’s salary of 12,000 rupees, for a museum being planned in town for Mr Lee.
Still, the grandmother looks doubtful about being able to pronounce the name. “I just cannot pronounce the name. I call my son ‘thambi’, so I will call my grandson ‘thambi’ too,” she said. “Thambi” means “son” in Tamil.
But Mr Jeyaprakash has a solution for that: “I told her to call him ‘Mr Lee’ for now, and then we will see.”
I heard people talking about all the great things he had done for Singapore. There was so much respect for him… I didn’t even ask my wife, I just decided on the spot that my son should have an auspicious name.
– Mr Jeyaprakash, on naming his son Jeyaprakash Lee Kuan Yew, after the late Singapore leader