Heart and Soul: Life and times of top cop ACP Kulasingam Sabaratnam

Born in Seremban, Kulasingam Sabaratnam was very enterprising. At the age of 11, during the Japanese occupation, he planted vegetables in tins and reared chicken at the back of the shophouse where our family lived. He would mop the house or massage mum’s legs to earn a few cents and race off to see a movie, sitting in the cheap front rows, later acting out Lone Ranger, Zorro, Tarzan etc. for me, his younger sister.

In his teens he earned $75 working in my father’s hardware shop in the afternoons. As such, when in 1949, a lorry bringing supplies from Kuala Lumpur arrived late one evening after the shop was closed, he had to help unload large glass canisters of nitric acid. One broke! Acid splashed on both his lower legs as he was in shorts! He ran the full length of the shop, screaming in agony.

Rushing downstairs, I rang our family doctor, then, crying in terror, tried to fan away the terrible pain with several sheets of paper. Kula and I were afraid to wash away the acid because, when my mother accidentally spilled some boiling hot water on herself a year earlier, my older sister had ladled buckets of cold water over her.

The doctor who came later said that pouring cold water was the cause of the severe blisters which took several weeks to heal. It was thesame doctor whom I had called and he did not say that, in the case of acid, I should wash it off with cold water. I shudder, even now, when I think of the half an hour or so Kula and I agonised together.

As a result of this accident, Kula was retained in Standard Eight (now Form Four). There are frequent articles and documentaries about Kula stating, mistakenly, that gangsters threw acid on him, prompting me to write this article.

In 1951, Kula joined the police force as an inspector. Due to his fearless nature, he soon rose to be an ASP. He was sent, as a field force officer, into the deep jungles of Grik where he fought the communist guerrillas.

So undaunted was he that he was sent to Sarawak where he lived with the Ibans and outshone all expectations, capturing or shooting and thus, together with other field force officers, defeating the insurgents, earning several letters of commendation.

Finally, appointed as Deputy CID chief in Kuala Lumpur, Kula went all out to curb serious crime in the city and successfully ended the reign of terror by several armed gangs.

He was always the one in the forefront during raids, telling his officers to stand back as he was a bachelor and could afford to risk his life.

One gang leader, commonly known as Botak Chin, knowing that he was on the brink of being captured, ambushed Kulasingam’s car at a traffic light. Botak Chin and henchmen shot 11 bullets at Kula.

Kula ducked down on his side thus, only one bullet hit him. Bleeding profusely, Kula gave his attackers the slip and courageously drove almost a mile to the nearest police station in Cheras. He was on the brink of death for weeks as the bullet had shattered one rib, ripped through his liver and one lung before lodging close to his spine. While he recuperated at my home in Seremban, his officers captured Botak Chin and his men.

Barely more than a month back on duty, Kulasingam was shot while raiding the hideout of a gang that had robbed a jewellery store. The bullet tore through his abdomen and yet he only left after giving orders to his men to carry on (which they did, with great success).

The bullet ripped his large intestines and his chances of recovery were faint. However, Kula recovered after a long period of recuperation.

Kulasingam has always been an honest, fearless officer who was steadfast in his service to the nation. The mere mention of his name sent shivers down the spines of thugs; several gangsters surrendered voluntarily, handing in their weapons.

He was always kind to those who had served their sentence, going as far as to entertain ex-thugs in his home, believing that, as they had already paid for their crime, they did not deserve to be treated as outcasts of society. Thus he earned the respect of the underworld.

Kulasingam earned a reputation as an exemplary police officer, and his name kept cropping up in the local newspapers at regular intervals. Years ago, one paper referred to him as Walking Tall, a title that well befitted the six-foot, powerfully framed Kulasingam. He was very handsome and several young women proposed marriage to him, even when he was middle-aged. I teased him about this. His reply: “Even when elderly, a man is still eligible!”

He was a good son, a loving brother and a much adored uncle to his nephews and nieces and was always respectful towards the elderly. Once, while attending the last rites of an old acquaintance, the grieving widow fainted. Kula promptly carried her to a seat where she could receive attention.

Kula had a beautiful singing voice and could captivate an audience when he sang Tamil film songs. When asked why he was a bachelor, he replied that he was married to the force! Prior to retirement, Kula served in Johor Baru. He continued living there till he expired in 2007, at the age of 76.

When he passed away, police outriders escorted the hearse all the way from Johor Baru to my home in Seremban. He arrived with sirens blaring, to the astonishment of the neighbourhood.

Before the hearse left my home, he received a final salute. Clicking their boots together six policemen shouted, “Salam tuan!”

He remains forever enshrined in our hearts.

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ACP Kulasingam Sabaratnam PGB , AMN


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