Not everything is fine everywhere every time. We can only roughly speak of the average expected scene. Standard deviations characterize every homogenous sample. Statistics is all about this small but strategic variance.
Our time in Malaysia saw us celebrating Diwali in this south east Asian nation: 1997-2001. Exactly two decades before.
Malaysia is a potpourri of cultures. So much diplomacy is involved in maintaining the delicate balance naturally. Three mutually exclusive ethnic groups with nothing in common except for humanity. How do you keep going
There are injustices inherent in the fabric of any society and Malaysia is no exception, but that is made up for with the industriousness of the population. Malaysian citizens make conscious efforts to overcome the differences in the interests of their nation.
Malays, the bhumiputras (going by ironically the sanskrit name) are the sons of the soil who have reservation in universities to government positions. They are licensees for businesses without whose shareholding stake, you cannot run a profitable venture. You can of course keep your malay partner dormant opting to merely transferring a ‘cut’ which is kind of regular practice there. This is how things operate in this country. Indians and Chinese were brought to this tropical nation to work the rubber plantations and palm and tea estates, by the British.
In 1969, Malaysia saw civil war and blood ran like a river in KL, they say. With that our friends told us that they swore never to repeat the bloody saga again. For the motherland’s sake the malaysians decided to go for peace and harmony.
Malaysians interwove new national customs and traditions into their social calendar rug to keep themselves warm and snug in friendship and cordiality. One such invented local and original custom was hosting ‘Open house.’ Not limited to a particular community, all the three ethnic groups of Malaysia viz., Malays, Chinese and Indians would have open house for their major community festival. It meant, the Malays threw open their houses to the public for Eid (called Hari Raya in Malay), chinese for the Chinese new year and the Indians for Deepavali. An open house meant, any stranger could walk in to the host’s place and he/she would be toasted to a feast. Malaysians would have a lavish spread of their native cuisines as also continental to suit every palette. Mostly the open houses began as brunch and extended well into late evenings. In kumpungs or hamlets, the crowd turning out wouldn’t be excessive. You could expect a number. In cities it was always a challenge for the hosts. The chinese and malay open houses were popular for their meat and seafood fare. The Indian homes were famous for namkeens and mithais, our traditional laddoos, jelebis, murukkus etc., apart from the curry masala.
In 1998, we were invited to one such a Diwali open house by an affluent chettiar family in KL. Their extended family were in Bangsar, Wangsa Maju and Klang. As I could not still bring myself to host big parties, I was exempted from having an open house in our place. But the three families did give me a date and once came home together to my utter daze! That was the first time I had to cook for over twenty guests at a time single handedly! Anyway, our chettiar friends’ open house used to be very popular. Queues would form in front of their gates in those days and aunty and uncle would routinely send boys and girls to fetch more groceries and provisions to keep the kitchen fires burning as the crowds would show no signs of relenting! It is only in last five years or so, we have lost touch with these good friends.
Open houses had malays and chinese eating at Indian homes for Diwali, malays and indians eating at the chinese for chinese new year and indians and chinese eating at malays’ for Hari raya (Eid). That somehow always moved me. It was one time the malaysians put aside their differences and got together as one family. That kind of bonhomie, even if forced, was practised with good intentions. It got put paid with years. Despite increasing differences and widening gulf, open houses united malaysians three times an year beyond all doubts and uncertainties.
Never did I see a single fire cracker light up the malaysian skies – their economy was better than ours way back. I am not sure about current scene. Diwalis in Malaysia are more memorable to me for totally different reasons. Malaysian Indian (Tamil) women are very efficient. They would cook up a feast in no time. For Diwali they would start a week earlier and do dozen tins of murukkus and tins of cookies and pastries. The last would be the Indian sweets and other savouries. Diwali day would see cooking grand festival specials. Hospitality thy other name is Malaysia. If you are a non vegetarian, then the sky could be your limit! As a vegetarian I had a tough time in Malaysia, I agree, but Indian homes and restaurants had vegetarian cuisine keeping in mind our veggie sensitivities. Food dissolves many a wall of separation. Food mellows men.
There is also the culture of street food for supper in Malaysia. It is usually by 6 to 8 pm in the evenings -a good time for working staff to together and relax and relieve tensions. This is one time and one place where you can see the dignity of labour preserved: there is no class or community divide in the hour after work, a big takeaway for all of us from all ranks of life.
The Malaysia of 2021 is not the same as the one we left in 2001 say friends. My heart feels heavy hearing this. I hope the open house custom continues to flourish in their green plateaus. Malaysia was the envy of many world nations for preserving communal harmony in those days. Let not that magic go wrong.
In Terengganu my Malay muslim friend (woman) drove me once to a Hindu temple. She did not sit in the car. She came in with me and had a darshan of the deity! Every time she drove to her kumpong near Penang, she would come back with ‘kuihs’ – the steamed sweet dumplings for vegetarian me. So would my hubby’s chinese colleagues who also remembered me when they came across something vegetarian. I received tins and tins of cookies and pastries for chinese new year and hari raya.
The malays were muslims, the indians mostly hindus and the chinese mostly christian. Three totally different ethnic factions with equally different belief systems fused into single entity called Malaysia. Race and tongue hardly mattered in this hearty union. Malays and chinese pierced ‘vel’ in their tongues and body for the Hindu god Muruga in Batu Caves carrying ‘kavadi.’ Diwali and Thai Poosam are national holidays in this islamic nation. Tamil is one of the national languages and also one of the three mediums of instructions. Malay friends used to tell us they were extremely proud of their Hindu ancestry. They do retain many Hindu customs even now. For instance they light the diyas like us hindus for Eid! They have not completely got ridden of their Hindu roots and unlike our Indian muslims, have no problem admitting to their Hindu heritage.
The spirit of festivals lies in sharing and caring, not keeping everything to ourselves. There can be no fun in hurting nature. I have done that in the past. I wouldn’t want to repeat it now. It is ok to revise our stands with age.
Very much critical of the conversion mafia, I spare no words when it comes to condemning terror either. Love for your motherland is love for nature and wildlife, to me.
Visiting places as tourist or guest is different. Living in various and contrasting places is an experience. This gives one a chance to learn and unlearn and relearn things in life. We become aware of our own merits and shortcomings. We also discover others’ pluses and minuses. We discover there is peace and harmony in unity. The universal goodness finally finds a place in your heart. Nothing can stop me from imbibing the best from other cultures. I have tambram friends here whose kids fast for ramzan on their parents’ advice. To that extent we grow spiritually and emotionally when we live in hostile territory (by hostile i mean here a third country than ours). When in comfort zone, we have no reason to consider uncomfortable reality. We forget that millions and millions of Hindus are gainfully employed in middle east. Ask any Indian citizen including orthodox Hindu, he/she will vouch for the safety and security we have come to appreciate in our second home in this part of the world.
This Diwali let us light up our hearts with broadmindedness. I don’t have to feel the same way I felt five years back or even five days back. I can reevaluate my options and review the past. I can make changes. I don’t erase past records because, they are a proof of how I mature into an individual. Self contradiction is natural. My blog is a reflection of my changing moods and revised thoughts.