Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Lessons in life

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.


hanitha said...

salam bro, saya pernah berjiran ngan sebuah famili hindu n kitorang mmg kamceng..setiap kali deepavali, mesti g umah dier..masa dulu maner ader open house nie..redah je ehehehe...n kitorang makan aper aje yg dorang hidang..masa tu la, saya kenal idli..tose selain dpd the usual roti canai..mmg trpikir pon, ble mkn atau tidak sebab mmg yakin yg dorang tau aper makanan yg kitorang ble makan atau tidak...
so, semoga kite semua ble bersatu padu mcm kite kecil2 dulu kan...

VersedAnggerik said...

Kudos to you for being such an open minded kinda father.

Its attitude like this that will be imprinted in the memory of our kids. The unprejudiced and racial tolerance that you exhibit now, will take your children far!

jabishah said...

I felt the warmth of your friend in this post. Any idea where he is now?

Oldstock said...

Salam Hanitha,

Kira beruntung juga la kita yg dapat berjiran dengan bangsa lain. Mudah-mudahan semagat muhibbah itu dapat kita amalkan dengan ikhlas dan berterusan, dari kecil hingga dewasa.

Oldstock said...


When my kids were in primary school here in JB, they didn't have any non-Malay classmates. We are staying in a Malay kampung, so no chance of neighbours from other races. I was a bit concerned about this. Later when we stayed in KL for a while, I was glad that they were beginning to have Chinese and Indian friends.

Now that we are back in JB, their secondary school has a sizeable number of non-Malay students. I hope they'll learn well about race relations, both the good and bad aspects.

Oldstock said...

Hi Ja,

I've completely lost touch with my friend. But once in a while, I do hope the chance for us to meet, would come. Mana lah tahu, satu hari nanti terjumpa balik kat Facebook ke atau mana-mana lah.

HLiza said...

I remember talking to a pharmacist friend who's a Filipino and a Catholic few months back about the discrimination and segregation in this community. She related to me how heartbroken she was that one day when she brought a home made cake to office and no Muslim friends dared to touch it..fearing that it's not halal when the cake is just a plain homely thing she wanted to share. And she said she won't bring any food for the Muslims anymore..she feared of more rejection. To me, sticking to our religious values is not about offending others. Thanks for putting my link here!

Patricia said...

This is such a sweet story, Oldstock. And you are right, most non-muslims are sensitive to the needs of their muslim guests. I think if you just carry on the way you are doing, your children will grow up without this irrational fear of us ;)



Jarod said...

hati terharu dengan article encik. Ya, dah lama tak dengar kisah benar yang betul-betul menyayat hati. Disebabkan penghalangan yang keterlaluan, ia telah menjejaskan persahabatan yang baik. Janganlah biarkan makanan menjadi halangan utama. Setiap orang pun mesti memahami adat-adat setiap agama. :)
Harap yang Malaysia akan dengan lebih maju.

Oldstock said...

Hey Jarod, no need to be too terharu lah... just an old story that I thought was worth sharing.

There are actually many kind and considerate people out there. It's only that these people are generally humble and low-profile. It's the loudmouths that always get noticed.

Oldstock said...


Unfortunately, many Muslims think people of other religions need not be repected. I've had many discussions with learned Muslim friends on this. They forgot (or chose not to remember) the sifat `Ar-rahman' of the Almighty.

I should thank you first for linking me ;-)

Oldstock said...

Hi Pat,

Perhaps the most difficult task of all is to raise our kids to be good human beings. I hope to have done well. I'm sure you have similarly too.

Jarod said...

yes, the loudmouths is getting louder this days.

Have a good day!