CommentaryOPINION

Deepavali and Raya

Connexion

By Joachim Ng

Zappy Malay colleagues wore trendily designed Kurta or Baju Kurung with peacock-motif trimmings, and two Chinese songbirds belted out Kuch Kuch Hota Hai — an evergreen Hindi number. Poppadom and other mouth-watering Deepavali favourites were contributed by employees who included non-Indians in the main.

The fun celebration two months ago in October was one of many lively events held in the premises of big commercial firms, including government-linked companies that employ culturally diverse workforces. And just three months before that – during Hari Raya festivities in July – Indian and Chinese employees donned colourful Baju Melayu and tucked into rendang and lemang. Some even qualified for ‘best dressed’ catwalk.

Similar happening scenes are rolling out, though on a smaller scale, these four December weeks in thousands of retail outlets as non-Christian store assistants spread Yuletide cheer in their bright red-white costumes and eye-catching Santa caps. Oh, by the way, there is nothing fearfully religious about the Santa costume: the white accent signifies winter season and the red signifies the gift package. Christmas is the season of giving and forgiving.

Our 60-year-old nation has the vibrant commercial sector to thank for carrying high the torch of multi-ethnic unity and keeping it lighted forever more. It’s the Malaysian way; our unique style of connectivity to make diversity work for everyone’s enjoyment and benefit.

The motivation for large business units to organise festive celebrations — usually Hari Raya, Deepavali, Christmas, and Chinese New Year — is, of course, workforce morale enhancement. Team spirit goes up two or three notches when everyone makes it a point to join in the camaraderie, especially when the boss is called to sing. It doesn’t matter should rain fall immediately. Festive fun is a cool way to break the ice barrier separating managers from the juniors, and company old hands from the new younger employees.

Smaller firms may lack ethnic diversity on a substantial scale; nevertheless, many of them co-opt the festive mood with ketupat dangling from the ceiling during Raya, kolam on the floor at Deepavali, Christmas tree with twinkling lights and tempting gift boxes (empty lah, just for show) in December, and red angpows on the table at lion dance time. The customers love it, and it builds esprit de corps among the staff when they do things together for the joy of it. Simple gestures; big returns.

These seasons of joy present opportunities for every Malaysian to do something positive, something jovial, something that goes a long way to reduce communal divisions and build connectivity.

Let down your hair and step into another person’s cultural world for the occasion. It will open your mind and soften your heart when you discover from experience that the underlying unity is fundamental in nature and far more significant than the surface differences. Come to think of it: ‘light’ features prominently as a decorative theme in both Raya and Deepavali traditions symbolising the victory of good-heartedness and wise understanding. May the light dispel the darkness in our lives.

And with the year-end festivities just beginning, is there something you can do that’s a little bit out of your normal routine?

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Joachim Ng

A veteran interfaith researcher and science enthusiast, Joachim Ng has acquired more than 45 years of research experience in studying the world's scriptures and harmonising them with latest scholarly findings in many disciplines especially science and spirituality. In the 1980s, he penned a weekly interfaith column that won him a Promotion of Unity award from the Malaysian Press Institute. In addition to five earlier books, he has delivered papers at international conferences held in New York, Los Angeles, Seoul, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Assisi near Rome. A Master's degree holder from the University of Hull, UK, he is a former chairman of the Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship and the recipient of an Ambassador for Peace award conferred by the Universal Peace Federation.

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