Earlier today, I read this lovely post about Deepavali from blogger friend Hliza who remembers her schoolmate from younger days by the name of Sumathi. Hliza's story reminded me of my own experience of having a close friend who was not of the same race. I narrated that experience as a comment in Hliza's blog and thought that I could share the story here too.
My best friend when I was in Standard Three of primary school was an Indian boy named Suresh Kumar. One day, Suresh invited me to attend his birthday party at his house after school. When I got back home, I told my mother about it but she did not allow me to go. The reason given was that I need to bring something as a birthday present and we didn't have time to buy any. I told mom that my friend said it was okay if I didn't bring presents but mom wasn't budging.
You can imagine how disheartened I was... and I was sulking the whole afternoon. Later that day, Suresh came over to my house, bringing a small tupperware containing a piece of his birthday cake and some other goodies. He wanted to know why I didn't come. I simply mentioned that I didn't have permission to go. For this simple gesture alone, I will remember Suresh for the rest of my life.
When my father returned from work that evening, he found out about it. He sort of chided my mom for not allowing me to go. The very least, my father said, was that my mom could've bought a box of chocolates for me to bring as a birthday present. It was the first time I remember my father backing me on something.
I suspect the real reason my mother forbade me to go was something entirely different. But I do not blame her for it. It was a typical mother's concern at the time.
Nowadays, when my own sons get invited to the birthday parties of their non-Malay friends, I have no objections at all. A few years back, when we were staying at Taman Melawati in Kuala Lumpur, my youngest son got invited to a birthday party of his Chinese classmate named Nicholas. As we dropped off our son in front of the friend's house, my wife began to remind him about being careful about what to eat at the party. I gently cut her off by saying that she should not worry. I was confident that there wouldn't be any issue about food on two counts... firstly, my son is mature enough to know what he can or cannot eat. Secondly, I was sure that Nicholas' parents, having invited their son's Malay friends, would be wise enough not to serve food that Muslims could not eat.
Race relations is quite a complicated subject in this country of ours, especially in the light of recent events. Despite all the government campaigns and slogans, the oft-repeated buzzwords of `perpaduan' and `muhibbah' may end up being just that... slogans with no real meaning. Why is this so? I think it's because we have a sprinkling of bigots in power... on all sides. It's very difficult to change the opinions of such people and I wouldn't deny them their right to hold on to such opinions. The very least I can do is to make my own children understand and appreciate the diversity of all the various races in Malaysia. If other parents can also make this small but significant effort, then there is hope yet for all of us.
Finally, my thanks to Hliza for sharing her childhood memories that made me remember about mine.
To Suresh Kumar, hope you are keeping well my friend, wherever you are. You're one friend with the heart of gold.