Sunday, 12 August 2012

In memoriam.

It should have been a Sunday like any other.

Rising that morning, the joyful chaos in their homes as they prepared for Gurdwara. They would have stretched out their turbans, ironed their dupattas, braided their daughters' hair, tied colourful patkas on their sons' heads.

Got into their cars, checked their rear view mirrors, pulled out of their driveways.

Arrived at their Gurdwara, slipped off their shoes. Maybe there was a cup of cha before they walked in. Maybe they went straight into Guru's Darbar.

And suddenly, this was not a Sunday like any other.

Suddenly there was a man with a gun; and neither the man, nor the gun, discriminated one life from the next, taking lives at random. Blinded by hatred and discontent, this man could not see that here was a sanggat, a congregation, gathered in peace, to worship the One that holds all of us, including this man with a gun.

I am a believer of will; my own, and that of God's. But there are times, like these, when the ways of the world and its maker are beyond my understanding.

I think of Satwant Singh Kaleka, and how he reminds me of the many Uncle Jis surrounding my life. Uncle Jis that I see on motorbikes around Kuala Lumpur, that pop by the Gurdwara before heading to work in the mornings, that sit in coffee shops sipping teh tarik, that pool together to make the langgar for the weekly hospital visit. To think that one of these Uncle Jis confronted this man with a gun to protect his wider family. That it was instinctive.

Is it possible to thank such a man? And Lt Brian Murphy? We try. We write articles, we 'like' a Facebook page, we hold candle vigils. There is a simple beauty in these small ways, to show them and their loved ones that we have carved a place in our hearts for them.

And what now? What links do we draw from this?

Gun control? Random act of violence? The right to pray in peace?

Many have written about this incident (incident? Help me with a better word here, please). I have cried over the words of Valerie Kaur and other journalists, writers, bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers, saying that today, we are all American Sikhs. Those bullets did not just pierce the bodies of an innocent Six, they pierced all of us who believe that first, before culture, race, religion, or nationality, first, we are human.

Every Sikh prayer ends with these words: "Sarbat da Bhala". Poorly translated, they mean well wishes and goodness for all.

These words has been very difficult for me since Oak Creek. I come to these words at the end of my prayer, and I struggle.

For it is difficult to include this man with a gun in my prayers. It is difficult to pray for the peace of his soul, and for the peace of the souls of others who share his cold intentions. It is difficult to place them on the same plane as bringers of peace and hope.

And yet our prayer asks it of us. It is a full circle; for it reminds us at the end, what it says in the beginning.


God and me, me and God, are one. You and me, me and you, are one.

It is always the simplest message that is the hardest to live by.

For now, I know that we are together in praying for the peace of the innocent Six, and those who hold them dear. That those traumatised by injury or experience heal from their ordeal.

As for the 7th, our prayers will take some time. Forgive us, for our wounds are still raw from your bullets, and our eyes sore from tears.

Friday, 10 August 2012

We've got our Gold, thank you very much.

It’s Olympic season, and it just seems to be the time to talk about national pride.

Malaysia is my home; indeed it is where my family tree took root almost a hundred years ago, and where we continue to live and grow to this day. That is enough reason for us to love it as our own, and to come home to it over and over again.

Saying that, my sense of national pride is fluid – its comes and goes (oh alright, let's be honest; it 'goes' more than it 'comes'!), swayed this way or the other, depending on either the latest national policy (it seems our soil is fertile enough for new policies to be born at breakneck speed), contact with socially unacceptable behaviour (hold the door open already, use your indicator already, throw it in the bin already, join the queue already, it’s a long list, yes), the English-Malay debate (someone just seems to be flipping a coin with that one), and the media’s (mis)representation of the rallies for clean elections (no parentheses should be required here – we are all too familiar with this one).

But there are some days, some days.

Badminton days, mostly.

I would like to say that the children of Malaysia are given badminton racquets along with their pacifiers, or that their cribs are laced with badminton nets – but that would be a bit of an exaggeration. A more honest comparison would be to say it is what rugby is to the Kiwis, baseball to the Americans, cricket to the Indians, and football to… well… a lot of the world these days! 

My brother and I, like most other children in our neighbourhood, spent almost every childhood evening smashing shuttles over the gate (our net equivalent) at our Mamma. As a family we huddle in front of the TV during the Thomas Cup, at the edge of our seats, in nail-biting tension. We exchange insults with our loving Indonesian helpers whenever our nations meet on the court. We continue to stay glued, as we battle our greatest others – Denmark, Indonesia, and of late, China. 

Through all the medals (or lack thereof), the annoying commentators, the pumping fists of victory, the awful shuttling,  the Anak-anak Sidek comics – we remain glued. SMASH! is just another word in our local tongue.

If you ask me about who plays, who wins, and the final scores, I will scrunch up my face and say: I have no idea. The passion is born and lives in the few minutes of a game, the exhilaration (or disappointment, as it may) may stick around for longer. 

You see, for me it is not about who, or when, or by how much. It is the flame of the moment; a moment of heartfelt Malaysianness. In that moment, we are no longer the Alis, Balas and Chongs of our primary school textbooks; we are Malaysians. And in that moment, it matters not whose fingers grip the racket; for our eyes are fixed on the flag that is printed on the player's shirt.

So it would be pretty accurate to say that my sense of national pride is heavily concentrated in a court measuring 20’ x 44’.

I am irrational in these moments. It is not about who the better player is, don’t be silly. Only one team deserves to win when we play: well, ours, of course. We may be brilliant, or utterly rubbish. This game is ours, you blasted (insert name of opposing team here).


Enter Lee Chong Wei. A hero in every Malaysian heart, but plagued with his own demons of late. The most painful (for him, anyway) being the final Olympic singles match just Sunday gone. 

Due to unavoidable circumstances (or poor planning, have your pick), I was travelling during the time of the match (how will I ever forgive myself), AND was additionally crippled with remaining battery power of 8% on my phone. My wonderful girlfriends kept me updated and the phone survived through the first set, which we won, and died shortly after. The agony I went through for the rest of the journey, I will not attempt to describe. I arrived home just in time to watch the other guy receive the gold medal.

Now I too had joined many other Malaysians and joked about a public holiday (which we would have expected had we won our first ever gold in the Olympics), and free ice-cream (which Baskin Robbins pledged to us). But that was all pre-match fun. The rules change once the first shuttle is delivered – the jokes end and the irrationality takes over. 

He had tears in his eyes when he lost the match, and this Malaysian nation of mine cried with him. I cannot speak for my entire country – I do not know what their tears represented. But this is true of my tears, and of the tears of my loved ones.

We didn't cry with him, over a lost medal. Rather we cried for him, as a Malaysian who felt that he had his nation's hopes on his shoulders; a nation he thought had let down.

It was this great dream of his, to have Negaraku echo through the walls of Wembley. It was this great dream of his, to bring a gold medal home to us. And when he didn't, he felt that he owed us an apology.

Well let me tell you this, mister. Take your apology back, we don’t want it. And this medal you speak of, well we don’t want that either. We will take the one you have brought home any day, because it comes with the one thing that seems to have unified this country much, much more than any form of 1Malaysia propaganda – you.

All we see is gold.
Watch this videoespecially from 3.42 onwards.

Bursting pride – that is what we feel towards you, Lee Chong Wei. Chest-expanding, rib-popping, heart-soaring, pride. This ignition of spirit is a philosopher’s stone of sorts - it takes the silver you hold, and turns it into gold.

I scrolled down my Facebook newsfeed with a huge smile. Every post and comment (bar those from a few gits who have been shortlisted for ‘unfriending’ – I warned you of my irrationality) congratulated you and showered you with support. They say it was as if you played to a home crowd; and what greater salute is there when the Games take place so, so far away from home?

Welcome home, fellow Malaysian. I hope you have your ears open, for there is this cheer so loud, it drowns the voices of the 1 billion from further east, and it is for you.

You are our gold, LCW, and we need no other medal.