5 Things You Don’t Know About… Krishen Jit
Krishen Jit lives. More than a decade after his death and still sorely, rawly missed, he lives. Through his words and his work, through the students he taught, the actors he directed, the friends who were always welcome in his home. Through a performing arts grant that encourages experimentation and the pushing of boundaries. And through Marion D’Cruz, who knew her husband better and has more stories about him than anyone else. Here she shares a few about:
1. A man of the cloth
Krishen Jit was an unmistakeable figure, someone you recognised at once. And even though he always “looked a bit bedraggled”, Marion reveals that “actually, he was quite a vain man” given to odd clothes phases – “fetishes, almost” – which seemed to come out of nowhere.
“He would purposely wear socks that didn’t match,” and one day, for no apparent reason, he suddenly started wearing hats. “I’d been wearing hats since forever, since I was a child,” says Marion. But for Krishen it came out of the blue.
“He had these two straw, wide brimmed panama hats, and also a blue felt fedora. He would sit in a conference wearing his hat, refusing to take his hat off.”
“He had this amazing t-shirt collection,” continues Marion. “He would look for interesting shirts, shop for interesting shirts….
“He started wearing long-sleeved shirts again when the doctor recommended that Krishen stay out of the sun. Then again he looked specifically for unusual, interesting shirts. And once he started doing that, people started buying interesting shirts for him as well.”
2. A man of taste
Krishen was a serious foodie, meaning he’d go to specific places for specific things.
“So at 10 o’clock at night he’d say, ‘Okay, Marion, let’s go eat the beef noodles in Imbi Road’.”
“You want to go to Imbi Road now?” Marion asks the question as she might have then, incredulous but already, resignedly, thinking about where she left her car keys.
“‘Yeah, you don’t have to drive, we can take a taxi.’ And I’d be in my pyjamas, but then I would drive to Imbi Road.” (Krishen never had a driver’s license. When he was very young he was in a bad accident so he never drove.)
Marion herself started taking food more seriously because of Krishen. “I’d always enjoyed my food, but it was because of Krishen that I became a foodie too and learned all about all the best places to eat.”
Krishen was also a very good cook, and enjoyed cooking for his many friends. “Curries, his specialities were chicken briyani – very good chicken briyani. He made very good fish curry laksa from scratch. And his briyani rice had all kinds of secrets and tricks.“
3. A man of letters
“I think he really managed to straddle academia and practice in the most fascinating way. He had incredible intellectual rigour.”
Of course, he loved books. “He could just read and read and read and read and not talk to anybody for days.” Marion says that his tastes in literature spanned “the sublime and the ridiculous; He would read Derrida and he would read trash. Some of it is still in my house; the Derrida and the trash. Ten years later, I’m still clearing.”
Krishen devoured films as voraciously as he did books. “He was a movie addict. Not the go-to-the-cinema-type, but he used to buy videos in the days of videos, and then dvds.” So in addition to books, Marion found herself in a house stacked with movies: “Old movies, Fred Astaire, all the musicals, all the Gregory Pecks, all the old movies, Bollywood, indie movies, porn… but also Notting Hill. He watched it at least ten times and would always cry.”
And as with books, his enjoyment had an intellectual element. “He was very interested in cinema studies. He watched but he studied it as well.“
Mark, Janet and Krishen, Unfinished Business Conference, 2015
4. A man of the people
“He would sit for hours somewhere like Alexis, when Alexis first opened, he would sit there for hours having a cup of coffee, with his Time magazine. And then someone would join him and sit and chat, and then that person would go and somebody else would come. And he would just talk to people.”
Marion says that he really enjoyed sitting and talking to younger people. “He went through a phase of sitting with his contemporaries, but later, he really enjoyed that one-to-one time with younger crowd; Jo Kukathas, or Huzir (Sulaiman) or Ong Keng Sen…
“There was a time when our house was like Grand Central Station, and people would come in for tea. And he’d be there for part of it, and he’d enjoy it, especially young people and he would talk to them. And then when he’d had it, he didn’t think it was rude, but he’d go upstairs. Not necessarily to sleep but because he was ready for his alone time.”
5. A man of dreams
There are many stories about Krishen falling asleep in the theatre, which Marion assures me, are all true.
“And many people tell this story. He would be watching something and fall asleep, really sleeping, almost gently snoring, but the student would be carrying on and then suddenly Krishen would open his eyes and ask ‘But how can you say that?’ and it was always spot on. I don’t know what was happening…” again, that fond incredulity.
“One of his actors also has a story where he was sleeping during a rehearsal, then waking up and suddenly asking ‘why did you move your hands, there is no reason to move your hands.’ So there was something going on there.”
Marion thinks that perhaps the reason he liked young people so much was because he saw a life he didn’t have. Not that he had serious regrets about being a historian and an academic, but “I think if he could start again, he would have gone into theatre from the age of 20.”
“He was happiest on the rehearsal floor.” Marion believes that directing was all he really wanted to do. “He went to get his degree and he taught at UM because he could not conceive of just directing.” Eventually he retired, and taught theatre in ASWARA for a few years, then after he quit, “he just went from directing one play to the next to the next to the next, either in Singapore or here.
“Those last five or six years of his life were his happiest. When he was just directing or watching something he directed… so, yes, he was happiest on the rehearsal floor.”