The two make a striking pair – young men with slicked hair, tattoos and ear studs to boot. Pals from Khalsa College in Amritsar, in shirts and jeans, you would have mistaken them for undergraduates anywhere. Except that Manbir Singh (left) and Jhorar Hardeep Singh (right) aren’t in Singapore for leisure. They are migrant workers who once had work permits.
Jhorar, 23, had only been in Singapore for several months before falling off scaffolding while carrying 15kg of cement at a condominium project along River Valley Road in December last year. The fresh-faced, soft-spoken worker shares how he was brought immediately to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where he was told that he had a spine fracture as well as injuries in his arm and leg. After receiving a month’s worth of medical leave, he continues to receive ongoing treatment. The job’s gone. He’s now on a Special Pass.
A month later, as if connected by fate, Manbir, 26, who was working at a different project – a building that was undergoing renovation – slipped while coming down a staircase . That was in January this year. Though Manbir’s back was injured, he was sent back to the dormitory by his supervisor, and only received medical attention when a Bangladeshi friend intervened to send him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). There, he was given two and a half months of medical leave. The job’s gone too. He’s also on a Special Pass.
In happier times at Khalsa College, Jhorar studied engineering and Manbir, hotel management. Their lives parted after graduation, but came together again in mutual misery here in Singapore.
Meeting them, one is struck by their brotherly chemistry. Manbir’s body language signals a protective responsibility towards the younger friend. And while Jhorar is reserved and cautious, it is Manbir who takes charge of the conversation and situation, speaking freely in carefully accented fluent English, occasionally pausing to engage in some wisecracks or to exchange a reassuring glance with Jhorar.
Though the pair live from day to day – “we’ve still got savings for three to four months” – Manbir’s insouciant tone belies the uncertain future both face, given their injuries. To while away time on their hands, they take daily trips to the Khalsa Temple in Farrer Park, or traverse the aisles at Mustafa. However, both draw strength from each other, and when Manbir ends off the conversation with a jibe – “Jhorar, be thankful you’re not dead!” – his counterpart breaks into a sheepish smile, trying to stay positive too.