Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Malaysian moment - The Sun Daily

AS WE awake to the sound of the Takbir Raya this Hari Raya morning, I am prompted to remember who we are as Malaysians.

We are a polyglot nation of three main communities with many other smaller groups calling themselves sons and daughters of this nation who have lived peacefully together in the past and have the potential to do so in the future.

Whatever the commonalities, we cannot, however, gloss over our differences in the way we think as a community, the intra-community dynamics and our individual worldview founded mostly on our childhood and growing years.

It is indeed difficult to divorce ourselves from the past and, indeed, the future but try we must if we want to remain intact as a nation as myriad challenges threaten to pull us apart and destroy the very fabric of our society.­

I grew up in Brickfields where almost all my friends were Indians with a large number of Indians and Chinese in school. There were few Malays in my young school with my interaction with Malays limited to the kindly old nasi lemak lady outside the coffee shop in Jalan Brickfields.

My first true understanding of the Malay psyche came about after I was posted to Alor Star, Kedah, in 1980. I left Kuala Lumpur with a heavy heart for the Malay heartland worried about how I, a Brickfields-born city boy, would survive in a predominantly Malay environment and culture sans, to a large extent, the Indian and Chinese influences that had coloured my worldview thus far.

It worked out fine with me coming back to Kuala Lumpur with a Kedah accent to my Bahasa Malaysia which helped me get stories from Kedah-based politicians. I also developed a love for cakar ayam (don't even bother looking for it here as it cannot be found) and durian dodol.

But these are stories to be told later.

Of course, I had Malay friends in Universiti Sains Malaysia in the mid-seventies but they were few compared to the Indians and Chinese who basically grouped together to embrace their commonality as non-Malays.

These were the early days of non-Malays fending as best as they could for themselves in a social milieu where the Malays predominated under the umbrella of the newly-minted New Economic Policy.

And so the Malays generally kept to themselves as did the Chinese and Indians with occasional convergence at hostels and canteens.

And before that I had Malay friends in Form Six from whom I learnt to smoke (I dropped the habit on Aug 31, 1981) and sing Malay songs (D.J. Dave's albums helped).

But it was in Alor Star and most of Kedah and Perlis that I learnt to understand what Malays are and, for some, can be: kind, considerate and helpful.

I remember infrequent forays into the Malay heartland in the rice bowl of Malaysia where I was the only Indian sharing a late lunch with a hoard of kampung folk who had probably never eaten with a person of a darker complexion.

To be sure, some of them were so sunburnt that they were darker than me. But in the main, they looked different, spoke differently and practised an almost alien culture to mine.

After the initial awkwardness, I took to them and they to me as I tried out my new Kedah loghat which gained traction as I went along.

I learnt to eat from a huge common tray with each person diving in from the space in front of him until everything was finished. The chunks of beef (there was the occasional chicken dish) were heaped on top. I learnt from them and they learnt from me.

They were surprised that I used my fingers to eat, asking if that was how all Indians ate.

At the end of my four and a half years there, I was at home with the Kedah Malay and his cousins in Perlis.

The point I am trying to make is this: the Malays, Chinese and others need to learn from each other, accept our idiosyncrasies and differences and willingly engage in acts of love with one another.

I became emotional yesterday when I read a repost on Facebook about someone standing to pay at a supermarket counter noticing a Malay girl working at the counter without a break as it neared time to break fast.

The person asked the girl to take the cold drink and biscuits he was buying to break fast himself. He asked the Chinese man behind him if he minded that the girl take a minute to break her fast. The man smiled his consent.

She took all of 30 seconds to break her fast under the counter before resuming her task.

It was a typical Malaysian moment of understanding, kindness and love.

This Hari Raya, Deepavali, Christmas or Chinese New Year, let us all remember that we stand strong as one and will fall if we are divided.

Not all Malaysians will subscribe to this notion of how to stand strong as a nation. There will always be the nay-sayers who will argue otherwise with historical backing no less to prove why their particular community should be pre-eminent in politics, business or in any other sphere of human endeavour.

To them and all other readers, I have this short story. A man was walking along a beach when he noticed a child throwing starfish back into the sea.

He told the child to stop as there were hundreds of starfish on the beach and throwing back a few to live would not make a difference to those that did not make it.

The child replied that what she was doing was making a difference to the starfish that benefited from her act of kindness.

I think the moral of this story, apocryphal as it may be, is clear. Our acts of understanding, kindness and love to one another as Malaysians of various races will carry meaning to those doing so and the recipients.

Never mind those who are not inclined to love others of a different colour, race or creed. They will know the benefits that accrue in time to come.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all my Muslim brothers and sisters.

Balan Moses is executive editor (news) at theSun. He almost kisses the ground everytime he lands at KLIA. For him, there is no better place than home. Comments: bmoses@thesundaily.com


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