Yang Tu Yang Ni
I have taken “Yang Tu Yang Ni – this ‘n that” – the title of Ismail Hashim’s exhibition of his paintings and photographic works as the title for this column. I remember Ismail, wispy hair, a small man with a big heart. We would sometimes shoot the breeze at Koay’s gallery (Galleri Seni Mutiara, Armenia St, Penang) over a beer or two. He was at one time the Director of the Arts Centre, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
The late Ismail Hashim like many Malays of his generation spoke excellent English. He was a liberal and had a “live and let live” philosophy.
I have always maintained that there was never any deep-seated racial divide between the diverse communities in our country. We had our grumbles but never the rancour that we see today in certain quarters.
However, it has been argued that the view many of us still hold of a Malaya/Malaysia which was harmonious and where the different races mixed freely is nothing but sentimentality. The facts prove this it contended.
This is correct of course only if one chooses to look only at statistics. But statistics tell you what you want it to, anyway. At the best of times it doesn’t tell the whole story.
It is a fact that nationwide there was little mixing between the different races. But this is because the Malays were mostly in the kampongs, the Indians in the estates and the Chinese in the towns. Therefore, there was little interracial mingling on a national scale. But if you look beyond the demography you get a different picture.
Few as they were in the urban areas, the Malays got along well with the others.
In the rural areas and on the East Coast, there were pockets of Chinese who integrated with the Malay society and spoke Kelantanese or Trengganu Malay like a native.
I grew up in a block of shophouses with two Malay families, a Mamak, a Sinhalese and a Tamil. The rest were Chinese. The Malay boys spoke excellent Cantonese. Race and religion was never an issue.
There is another way to look at the racial position in the past. Put together did the different races get along? And the answer is YES. Demography is the result of circumstances and not always of choice. By itself it is not a good gauge of the racial relationship in our country. But how they got along when they were put together is.
The point is this: Whenever there was racial mixing, the different races got along and in the rough and tumble of their daily lives they sorted out their differences.
Usman Awang, the late poet laureate, in his poem, ‘Sahabat Ku’ castigated the government for dividing the people with one stroke of the pen.
“My friend the one free race we dream of seems so distant from reality. My anger turns to sorrow when they drive a wedge between us. The distance grows, I get the title ‘bumiputra’ and not you.”
As I wander around Tanjong Rambutan (we are allowed out once in a while) I sense that muhibah is alive and well. Just the other day I went to look at a mulberry plant in the market and picked one. The Malay lady who was watching tsk tsk-ed me and said I had picked the wrong one. She made me return it and picked another for me. We laughed at my ignorance of plants and we chatted. An Indian man who passed us asked if I live in Jalan Tambun . . .”you look like someone I know”. People are friendly and relaxed in TR.
Malaysians are inherently decent people but are often misled by those with their own selfish agenda. If we listen to our heart and ignore the religious and racial bigots our country will be a better place.
Left on our own to mix freely without political interference, this will be a better country.
The racial mix of TR is somewhat like Malaysia’s. But unlike the country this little town is in many ways the “one free race we dream of”.
Cynics and skeptics will call this an insane dream. If so, Usman Awang must have been insane when he wrote:
“Meeting you in youth when the people’s anger begins in cities which resound with new voices. I knew a generation of undergraduates passionately holding onto idealism, helping me to strengthen confidence, friendship and equality among the people. The dream of creating a new world. . .”
Lately, we have senior politicians and even a prince calling for race-free policies so that we are one people as was intended by the founding fathers of the nation.
Is this another insane dream? If so, let insanity rule okay!
(the man from TR)