A Time When We Were Malaysians


 

An old friend said he missed the Hari Raya Puasa of earlier times, when he was a teenager.
Choosing to use “Hari Raya Puasa” of yesteryears instead of the currently more popular “Hari Raya Aidilfitri”, he said it was not just that the 1960s and 1970s were a more carefree time as he had no family responsibilities to worry about, it was also about the nature of the celebration.
“Today, we tend to spend so much more money on the celebrations. We’ve become too consumerist,” he said.
Also, he said, the multiracial element was missing in not only the celebration of Hari Raya Puasa but also the other festivals. According to him, celebrations these days are more confined to family members and friends of the same race.
“Only some individuals invite friends of other races over or visit friends of other races during festivals. You remember how it was in the 1960s and 1970s? Our houses will have a healthy mix of people of various races on festival days.”
His words had a ring of truth to them. As a society, we are no longer what we were in the earlier days.
His words also transported me back to my teenage days. On the day of Hari Raya, I would cycle about 5km or so from my house to my classmate Jamil Ahmad’s place in Aulong, Taiping, where he would be waiting to give me a hug.
His family members would welcome me as if I was one of them. After walloping some of the dishes his mother had prepared, we’d chat for a while or he’d bring out his guitar and we’d sing a couple of songs. Then we would cycle to Aziz Salleh’s house, which was about 8km from Jamil’s.
Aziz’s mother made the best laksa I have ever tasted and I’d dig into it with gusto. In fact, she would tell me to inform Aziz early if I planned to visit anytime so that she could prepare the laksa.
I would also visit Masood Zainal Abidin, whose wide grin at the doorstep would tell me he was happy to see me. Even in those days, he had a very firm handshake. His mother was a friendly woman who made sure I had something to eat whenever I visited him. I remember his father as a quiet man but someone who would insist that I eat well.
I would visit other friend’s too if I had the time but I rarely missed visiting these three. I can’t remember a time when they did not visit me on Deepavali day. My mother would serve them freshly made thosai, hot from the flat iron pan.
The thing is, there would be a good mix of friends of various races at our open houses in those days, although we didn’t call them “open house” then. In fact, every day was an open house and whenever we visited each other, our mothers would prepare some food or at least a drink for the visitor.
Other Malay, Chinese and Indian friends would visit Jamil, Aziz and Masood on Hari Raya too. During Deepavali, my house would have an equal mix of people of all races coming to wish us Happy Deepavali.
When it was Chinese New Year, during my school days, I would cycle to the houses of Ong Kim Beng and Lee Fook Leng, among others. Jamil would often join me. In their houses too, there would be friends of other races. On Christmas day, we’d visit Raymond Edward and here too there would be a good mix of races.
Those were innocent times. We were youngsters who enjoyed each other’s company purely based on the fact that we liked each other as human beings. Although we followed different religions and cultural traditions, there was immense respect for the other’s religion and traditions.
Our parents did not forbid us from mixing with friends of other races and religions, in fact they encouraged us to do so.
It was a time when politicians out for power and preachers out for a bigger flock had yet to pollute the minds of Malaysians with considerations of race and religion.
I feel sorry for today’s teenagers who not only grow up in racial and religious cocoons but who also spend so much time on the internet that they have little time to go out and mix with those of other races and religions.
On a few occasions, I have wondered out loud if perhaps, as a teenager then, I hadn’t been able to see the actual race relations situation or that I was colouring it somewhat with my own pleasant memory of those days. Each time this happened, my friends would quickly disabuse me of the notion.
Like me, they believe that harmony, togetherness and the sense of moving in the same direction were stronger in those days. That was, after all, a time when we were truly Malaysians. - FMT
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.


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