February 27, 2013
The word conveys the meaning of “Hearty Welcome” in the Malay language and I think we all need such hospitality when travelling to different countries and meeting new people is becoming very common. This word inspired me so much that it forced me to sit down and write a few of my cross border thoughts that I experienced during my recent family holiday to Malaysia & Singapore.
For years I have heard that many Indians migrated to these two nations to earn a livelihood, many of whom were taken by the British to work in the rubber plantation and the railway tracks during the 17th and the 18th century. The Chinese migrated to these lands even before the Indians did and therefore, the society predominately is a mixture of three distinct cultures….the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians (Tamil majority).
On the day we landed in Malaysia, we were welcomed by a Tamil driver who was very happy to explain the features of Malaysia that he called as his country. Very vocal in his approach he surprised us by saying that he was a part time dog trainer and reared 22 dogs in his lush 11 acre green land. Apparently, this profession had been passed down to him by his father who was also a dog trainer. Moving forward, although I was happy to meet a Malaysian Indian, my mind was not willing to accept that by nature they were more Malaysians than Indians. My inquisitive mind was asking for more as I could not settle for just being a tourist. The following days I spent in Malaysia discovering the culture and the essence of unity in diversity. A Tamil taxi driver mentioned that his great grandfather came here 200 years back. Wow! that was a long time ago, I replied, what were they actually thinking when they thought of stepping their foot in a foreign nation so long ago? I began to wonder.
Over these long years, the cultures have blended so well with each other that festivals are celebrated in harmony. Tamil is spoken by majority of Indians and is officially used in many public places. An elderly Chinese taxi driver told us that he could speak some Tamil and a Malaysian Indian man boasted his skill to converse in four different languages including Malay and Mandarin. The Chinese man with his mandarin accent tried to prove his ability to speak in Tamil by telling me that grandmother means “Patti”. Oopps! I said, quickly jumping to correct him “Its Paati not Patti”, I am sure the grandmother would not be very happy answering your call Sir, I jokingly replied.
What surprised me the most was that the Indians there still have a very strong and deep rooted culture that have been maintained over all these years. Very religious in their thoughts and approach and some of them start their daily duty with a prayer at the local temple. The rituals performed at the temples were very heartwarming and I did not feel I was away from home. But I learnt that a good number of people have not visited India even once! Therefore, one question started to haunt me and I started to question whether strong cultural beliefs was a part of their struggle to prove their ethnicity and existence amidst the strong Chinese and Malay population or was it a matter of pride. Slowly but steadily it sank into me that the country has integrated them so well into the system that they were Malaysians by nature and Indians by origin. Although occasionally I came across a few disgruntled citizens, at the outset, the country seemed to have a well-structured cultural mix.
Moving on to Singapore I was lucky to have been there during the Singapore National Day. The evening started with the fighter jets flying over our hotel room and geographically that is how small Singapore really is. But it is worth mentioning that the milestones achieved by this tiny nation is worth a huge applaud. We then visited the place where the national day celebration was in full swing and here I was surprised to hear part of the patriotic song being sung in Tamil. The army also included the Indian regiment which was a matter of pride to me and there I understood that the Indians have selflessly fought for the nation during the Japanese invasion.
I began to realize the true meaning of national integration as it was a proud moment for every citizen of Singapore celebrating the glory of their nation. As much as they were proud celebrating the existence of their adopted nation, what built their individuality were the roots and identity of their mother nation. Although Indians have embraced these nations as their home they were proud of their ethnicity and would definitely be proud of carrying on this legacy to their forthcoming generations.
An old Singaporean Chinese man who has been serving as a city taxi driver for over 28 years was very kind to have a long chat with us. He mentioned that increased interest in westernization was affecting the Chinese culture and this was clear by the diminishing interest of the Chinese youth to converse in Mandarin. He said that China was soon becoming an English speaking nation which is clear by the fact that young Chinese passengers preferred to reply only in English even if he spoke in Mandarin. Well I said, this is now a common observation amongst Indians too and globalization has caught up so rapidly that people living outside India are seeing this as a serious concern and making all efforts to retain the language and culture.
This makes us wonder that the ill-effects (or may I call it side effects?) of globalization does not only haunt us but all the countries deep rooted in their culture and tradition. The older generation have so far made every effort to retain the tradition of their respective country(s) but it is now for us to see how much of this effort will be retained by the present generation to make a difference in the future.
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