Monday, 8 April 2013

Ties That Bind Us


Good and bad people exist in all segments of society regardless of race or religion.

MY MOTHER always said that one should never judge a person by his or her ethnicity and faith.

“Don’t equate a person’s race with the type of person he is,’’ she would advise us especially her daughters.

“Be wary of strange men and they include even men of our own race, because they may have bad intentions,” she would remind us.

I was born and raised among Malays. Ours was the only Punjabi household in the police barracks that housed about 20 houses. My father was a policeman and we lived in the area for 13 years.

My favourite person in the area was the makcik (aunty) in the fifth house whom I could relate to easily. Everyone in the neighbourhood called her “Captain” because she led the police wives’ club.

Belying the ‘indolence’ conferred on her race, she was an industrious woman. She sold local teatime kuih and she made them fresh every afternoon.

I helped her willingly. In return, she would give a few pieces of kuih ketayap for me to eat. With her gold tooth flashing, she would also regale stories of her life under the Japanese era and sing Japanese songs to me.

I didn’t like the makcik in the seventh house because she wasn’t a nice person at all. She passed disparaging remarks about me, and, out of jealousy, would say hurtful things about our family.

We did better than her children at school and I think this irked her. I avoided her.

TV time

The makcik at the end of the block was very amiable and loved Hindi movies. We had no television at home, so I appreciated the makcik allowing me into her house to watch TV.

However, her eldest daughter made it very clear that my presence was unwelcome.

The minute her mother went to the kitchen, she would suddenly find an urgent need to sweep the house! Sweeping around me, she would demand that I “move here” or “move there” while making sure the broom swept my body too!

I always used to wonder how a lovely person like her mother had such a horrible child! Needless to say, I disliked her daughter.

When my father retired from the police force, we moved into a Chinese neighbourhood in Ipoh where I picked up Cantonese.

It was here that I made friends with a wonderful girl whom I shall refer to as L.K.F. Her parents were not fond of me and had often remarked that she should find friends of her “own kind”.

L.K.F. lived in a huge, double-storeyed house but I was often out of place and uncomfortable especially when her businessman father was in the house.

However, that didn’t stop L.K.F. from being friends with me, or for that matter, deter me from cycling over to her house to deliver her copies of the English essays she had asked me to correct. Being good friends, she would often asked me to forgive her parents for their narrow-mindedness, saying that one day they would see what a true friend I was.

In contrast, I loved visiting Mei’s house because her mother was a gem of a person. The moment I entered her house, she would instantly make me a hot drink and serve my all-time favourite — peanut biscuits. We could hardly communicate for she only knew a smattering of Bahasa Malaysia, but she exuded warmth and tenderness that I always felt at home there.

Mei also had a grandmother who lived with her family. The old lady could barely see but she would hold my palm in hers and smile warmly. I can still remember the jade bangle she wore on her tiny wrist. Still, I was somewhat envious of Mei for she was able to bond with her grandmother — an opportunity that I did not have with both my paternal and maternal grandmothers as they had passed on. Mei’s interaction with the old lady only reinforced the fact that filial piety was very much observed in her family.

When I went to University, many Indians streamed into my life. I met some wonderful Indians. One was Gurmeet kaur, a good-natured girl who happened to be of my own race. She was also my roommate.

There were many others who made an impact on me for their kindness, and others who could have done better with some lessons on tolerance and understanding.

Creating barriers

Many Malaysians have used their ethnicity as an issue to create fences, walls and barriers.

I worked as a teacher for many years and I must say that the worst type of teachers and administrators are those who use race and religion to colour their perceptions and make decisions about others. Such people incite hatred and cause conflict.

When teachers and principals live by a code of fairness to all and are humane, they are respected especially by their students.

When racial slurs and remarks are made, I am constantly reminded by my mother’s words about appreciating the goodness in people. They may be of a different race or faith, but they should be kind, tolerant and fair in all that they do.

Let me relate the thoughtfulness and love that my Malay friend Sham showered me while we were still at varsity.

Once when I was down with fever and curled up on my bed, she came by to see if I was well enough to attend lectures. Being away from home, I was so thankful that she came by to see me.

There was another instance when I sat on Sham’s bed waiting for her just before an exam, while she was on the floor, all garbed in white saying her prayers.

When she was done, she said that she had prayed for me too. At that moment, I felt blessed for having such a wonderful friend.

In fact, there were many times later that we often prayed for each other’s success.

Like me, I am sure many of you must have friends from different ethnic backgrounds who have touched your lives in different ways. Be thankful for these blessings. Selamat Hari Merdeka to all.

Article from The Star newspaper 

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