“The world is in such a mess because of the evil men and stupid women running it – when we have a better balance of good men and intelligent women in the equation, paradise will return as the Creator intended it to be.”
- Ivy Singh-Lim, The Gentle Warrior
Farmpreneur, Owner of Bollywood Veggies
Right outside the Bollywood Veggies farm stands a sign made of corrugated metal, with its words boldly capitalised and hand-painted in yellow: HOME OF THE GENTLE WARRIOR. It is the first thing that greets visitors to the farm, and the first indication of the bold character that runs it.
It is easy to see why Ivy would call herself a warrior – for one, she definitely looks the part. With her cowboy hat, cargo shorts, and even a knife hooked to her belt, she looks every bit the tough new age warrior at age 63. She acts the part too. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, candour and feistiness have become words synonymous with Ivy Singh-Lim over the years, and in person, that image definitely holds up. As I inform her that everything I write will be sent to her to be checked before publication, she waves it off, saying, “You don’t have to do that. I stand by everything I say.” It is with this same conviction that Ivy has faced most of the hurdles in her life, whether lawsuits or the challenges of setting up a farm in agriculturally underdeveloped Singapore.
Bollywood Veggies is Ivy’s labour of love, which she set up after her retirement. Nestled in the Kranji countryside and boasting a ten acre farm, a bistro, a Food Museum and a fully equipped kitchen for cooking lessons, it is not just a place for nature lovers, but also the average person looking to relax and unwind. Everything about the place is lovingly rustic, from the sunny yellow walls of the bistro to the multiple loaves of banana bread on the counter, from the hat-toting stuffed scarecrows to the untidy rows of fruit trees with their names painstakingly written on little markers stuck into the earth. There is a distinctive handmade quality about everything on the farm; a charming warmth and humanity that is reflective of Ivy herself. She is hands-on about everything – as she shows me about the farm she is also pulling weeds out of flowerbeds, and cutting dried leaves from plants. Watching Ivy interact with her farm and the people who help to run it, it is clear that the farm is not an enterprise for her but a product of her love for the land, and a great source of pride. And despite the aggressive, almost combative demeanour that so personifies Ivy, Bollywood Veggies is also borne out of her love for the people, with Ivy employing adults who are older and disabled. In her own words, “Anything that walks past my doorway, and has life in it and a heartbeat, I try to do something about it.”
Make no mistake; Ivy is one iron lady. But she is more than just uncompromising strength. She is, more than anything, a person of great love and extraordinary fearlessness. Whether you agree with her views or not, you cannot help but admire her remarkable passion for life.
What is Bollywood Veggies about, and why agriculture of all things?
Basically, I’m a fortunate Singaporean. It all starts from that fact. I’m a fortunate Singaporean, I’m very wealthy, and I was brought up to love life, to do something useful. I didn’t have to study hard because I’m a genius. (laughs) I didn’t have to work hard because I had plenty of money anyway. So when my husband and I retired, we looked to what we were going to do for the rest of our life. We wanted to retire on a big piece of land, and do what we love to do. And what we love to do is planting, fishing, raising animals, that kind of carefree life. At first we were all going to go Perth, but then my friend Michael had a heart attack and passed away, and on the plane back my husband and I read about this other farmer down the road and the land that was available – it was as if the universe intervened. So Bollywood Veggies is really about the universe intervening, and instead of retiring in Perth, I stayed in Singapore. Our plans changed from starting a farm in Perth and retiring there to finding land here and retiring here. That’s all. Bollywood Veggies is about a fortunate Singaporean who was born in this country and wants to die in this country. Because I’m not Indian and I’m not Chinese. I am Singaporean.
What do you love about Singapore?
The greatest thing I love about Singapore is the fact that it’s the country I was born in. A lot of people don’t understand that, they don’t have this bond with their country. But for me, I have a very strong bond to my country, to the land. My father was a landowner when I was born and we owned big tracts of land; as a child I used to run around my father’s land, building huts, hunting, camping. When you’re brought up on the land, you form this attachment to the land. And I will never live in any other country, because I don’t have an attachment to that country. An attachment to your country means you feel you can do more for your country, be it the people or the land. You want to beautify the place, make it into paradise.
Do you think you’re successful, and how would you define success?
I actually wrote an article about this. People always think that money means success. To me, success is being able to be true to yourself. It really doesn’t matter what others say – be they your relatives and friends, your business associates and your political leaders, other Singaporeans and the international community. At the end of the day, you ought to live your life the way you want to.
What advice do you have for the young people of Singapore?
You know I hate this phrase “active aging”. It’s so irritating. If we had another campaign we should call it “active living”, because we should encourage children to appreciate life when they’re born. To look at what they have and what more they can do to make it worthwhile, instead of telling them to work hard, study hard and make plenty of money. My father always told us that we were special, and that we should think why we were created special. So every morning I look at the sun and tell myself, I’m special. And then I go to the bathroom and take all my clothes off, and then I say, I’m special. Of course now I’m not so special, my tits are hanging down here and my stomach is a bit big (laughs), but when I was your age I was superlatively, fabulously, beautiful, you know?
So basically, I think we should promote this thing about active living to kids. I have a staff member working here, May, who has cerebral palsy. They did a television programme on her for Tuesday’s report. Now in that report she said that when she went to school, they all called her an alien. Imagine growing up like that – what would motivate you to go to work everyday, to go to school everyday? I also have a three-quarter blind boy working for me. What motivates him to take a train and then a bus all the way from Toa Payoh in order to work here? I think telling your children that they are special and that they should appreciate life, no matter what, whether they’re blind or disabled, is very important. We should not bring young people up in a culture of fear, but in a culture of active living. We should show them that there’s so much we can do. The culture of fear is the worst thing that you can do to children. Remove the culture of fear from young people. Tell them life is beautiful. Don’t tell them life is hard, and it’s really all about hard work. That’s bullshit, you can go swimming everyday if you want to. Just eat a piece of bread and a piece of chicken and you can still be alive. Of course, it depends on what you want – I mean if you want air-conditioning, you want to drive a car, then that’s a different story. But you could buy a bicycle too if that’s all you need.
For women, especially, they grow up fearful. But I was brought up to be a warrior. I’m not frightened of anybody or anything. If God is very merciful and kind, why should I be frightened of God? And I’m not frightened of the devil. The only devil you should be afraid of is the one looking at you in the mirror. (laughs)
Do you ever feel tired from having to fight so hard for all these things you believe in, even after retirement?
I’m a warrior, darling. I don’t get tired, I just get even. Whenever I speak to someone stupid, I tell myself, “forgive him, he’s a halfwit”. You just have to take a little bit more time to explain to the halfwit what you’re trying to do. And if that halfwit still doesn’t understand, I know I don’t have to deal with him, I can go to his boss. So because I’m not fearful, I’ll just phone the minister and tell him he’s got a halfwit working for him. I’m never tired, I’m never afraid. If I don’t intentionally do something to harm somebody, if I’m honest and genuine, why should I be afraid?
I don’t need inspiration. My fortunate life inspires me. As I said, I was brought up as a young, beautiful child, and everybody loved me. If you’re brought up as a secure child without the element of fear, then you do not have to look to somebody in order to be motivated.
I’m a highly self-motivating person. I used to walk along Raffles Place in front of all the mirrors and I’d be like, “Who’s that beautiful woman?” And then I would realise, oh, it’s me! (laughs) What more do I need to motivate myself?
Wealth is often said to make people complacent about what they have, and comfortable with the status quo because it has served them well. How have you avoided that complacency in your life?
Money is only paper. I was not brought up to understand money, I was brought up to understand life. So when I look at land, I see life. I don’t see money. When you see life, you try to make something out of it. Someone once asked me how I practiced diversity in my company. How I do it is that anything that walks past my doorway, and has life in it and a heartbeat, I try to do something about it. People have not been taught about life. I think critical to producing people who can make a difference is to tell them that life is beautiful, and to do something that makes it better.
Profiled by Natalee Ho