Malaysian Indian: Masala Patriotism At It’s Best

Recently, the Indian community in Malaysia was miffed when the ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir Mohamad, remarked that Indians here are not patriotic. Naturally, there were angry retorts.

That he had long been the old man who yelled at the clouds in the country should rightfully be ignored. And he too, should crawl back into his cave and expire peacefully. Yet he is determined to go into his century-old age screaming and kicking.

Disassociation

Our current, newest prime minister (we had enough prime ministers the last six years to form a boy band) called Mahathir’s statement “irresponsible” and “irrelevant” and said it was “nothing new.” I mean, for someone who danced to an MGR song and called himself a Rajinikanth film character on stage to win the hearts, minds, and votes of the Indian community here, his comment err … reeks of sincerity. That the Indian community received jackshit from him after becoming a PM is something else altogether.

Coming back to Mahathir. Once he shot off his mouth, some coalitions which used to be associated with him were told to avoid the former two-time, longest-serving prime minister at all costs by concerned analysts.

But you’ve got to understand something: when there’s smoke, there’s fire. One thing you got to give credit to Dr. M for is that all it takes is one bark from him, and you’ll find his own allies and ex-friends scurrying away, not wanting anything to do with him. And voila! You will see the crumbs of truth which the deniers have scampered away from.

Yet, it’s not what he is talking about that’s at times start the peat fire of disgust and rebuttal, but it’s how he puts it that err…bugs everyone.

So, are Malaysian Indians patriotic?

I have sort of explored this question and have personally noted the disparities within the Indian community, whereby the members are so engrossed with differences that they are certainly not making any room for patriotism. If you read my post there, you’d be wondering who the heck are actually Malaysian Indians, besides the ones you see converging in places like Brickfields, Batu Caves, Jalan Masjid India, Klang, and Rawang in Klang Valley. Or Sai Baba centres. 

What is my own argument on the lack of patriotism among the Malaysian Indians generally? It could be because of …

The rise of : Indian content

Let’s take my own experience. Growing up, my exposure to Indian popular content was limited to two radio stations (we could access the Singapore one), several TV stations with a few hours of news, and one Tamil movie every week (bonus if you can get the Singapore TV as we Johoreans did).

Now it’s everywhere. We know that pop culture is usually a reflection of society. What is the size of the content for the Indians here, as far as this popular form of entertainment and art is concerned? About 80% (my own conservative estimate) are from India, specifically Tamil Nadu—songs, films, film soundtracks, pop outings, TV shows, social media platforms like TikToks, and other forms of visual and audio clips sharable on other platforms like Instagram’s Reels.

I have friends and relatives who kept sending me TikTok and WhatsApp clips from India, which I can relate to the same way slugs relate to sodium. Not only are they totally unrelatable, but the number of cringeworthy moments can kill the most elusive fugitive viruses (“Cringe” or “krinjju” is the popular catchphrase in that zone now).

The most popular local stars or celebrities that the Indians here, especially the older generation, know of, are the likes of P. Ramlee or Alleycats. The former, because there’s something that’s always magically appealing about him across cultures. The latter is because they are comprised of mostly Indian dudes, and the traumatizingly unforgettable Afros. Some may like the late Sudirman, and the unavoidably radio friendly Man Bhai (his Kau Ilhamku did tap Malaysians hearts, no matter which background). Otherwise, the rest do not know or care about our other superstars and gals with powerful vocals.

Then, you get social media contents on politics, which are nothing but complaints, bitching, and more complaining. They complained during the period when Barisan Nasional ruled with iron fists. They are still complaining with the new coalition that’s ruling with .. err … fists.

Hindu Fundamentalism

Speaking of fistful of ruling, ever since the right-wing Hindu nationalist party BJP started gaining a strong foothold in India, Hindu fundamentalism has been on the rise there. The popularity, and the money made from items surrounding Hinduism, may it be the prayer items, the classes, and by the sex-starved gurus erupted (sorry) to Himalayan proportion.  

I currently live in Rawang, right above a shop selling incense sticks, sambrani (benzoin resin) and camphor (soodam, in Tamil) – all the right ingredients to burn down the shop faster than the owners can finish saying, “ayoyo samyy”.  Come weekend, the place would be packed to the hilt. Shop pavements are filled with goods (flammable or not), and if you want to avoid it, you have to weave your way through haphazardly parked cars outside of the shop lot rows. This is perhaps the only place in the country where pedestrians and incense sticks contribute to the traffic jam.

Oh, what was my point? Big business is there catering to local Indians who have, over the years, been hanging on to too many revived traditions (thanks to the factors mentioned above) requiring shitload of spending on those stuff.  And that those are not going to contribute to the nation building, as most shops are run by those with one leg here and one leg in India. (With patriotism dangling in between)

Tamil Nationalism

What is Tamil nationalism?

Tamizhan endru solladA, talai nimirnthu nillada” (Say you are a Tamilian and hold your head up high)

Udal mannukku, uyir Tamizhukku” (The physical body goes to earth, but the soul belongs to Tamil)

Those are some of the battle cries of the Tamil folks everywhere, and here.

Look, I love this beautiful language. When I was younger, and was afflicted with the spiritualism, I went out and bought books by poet Kannadhasan, specifically all the ten volumes of his Arthamulla Hindhu Matham (The Meaningful Hindu Faith). I bought Tamil newspapers on Sundays. Thanks to my familiarity with the language, I have been making some pocket money doing translation work. I love Tamil language, but I not slicing my wrist for it.

And then, you have the touchy subject of Tamil schools. I am a product of Sekolah Kebangsaan, where you sit right in the middle of group of students from various racial, class backgrounds and languages. But I shan’t delve into the thorny Tamil school issues. I don’t want hordes of Indians in white veshti carrying torches (electric and fire, their choice) and the scythes outside of my window.    

Glorification Of Other Countries

Many Malaysian Indians work in Singapore (I dare say almost half out of 900,000 plus working there), and not only do they bring back Singaporean English accents and slangs (Singlish), they also tend to glorify everything and anything there. I have worked on that island for five years, and though I do agree that their spick and span-ness and their combination of authoritarian, and perpetual Courtesy Campaign, are worth emulating over here, and yet all my years there, I was Singlish-proof as hell. Yet, it’s tough to emulate Singaporeans, most of whom see themselves as Singaporeans first.

Of course, the major glorification of another country by the local Indians is centered around India itself, specifically the state of Tamil Nadu. The Tamil-language media in our country is filled to the brim with news from India and, especially, from Tamil Nadu. Most Indians here are more knowledgeable of Indian politics and entertainment where, for example, the reality TV show Big Boss is talked about here the same way we talk about our cousins, aunties, or neighbours’ meddling pets—though not necessarily in that order of preference.)

Let us not even talk about those who migrated from Malaysia …. bitching about racism here, they have gone to other countries to experience racism there. More glamorous racism with winter wear.

Patriotism? Yes please

I won’t speak of other non-Malay folks here, but I am convinced that not all but a growing number of Malaysian Indians are less than patriotic. What about me?

Well, here’s an incident: It was in Singapore in the early part of the 1990s. I was 23 years old. I got myself a TV for my room, and you do get the RTMs and TV3 there if you manage to set the internal antenna the right way and shower it with profanities. And on 31 August, I switched on one of the channels, and there it was: the National Day Parade. The flags flying, the multi-cultural shows … I froze. I watched, and then tears started welling my eyes.

I knew that as soon as my employment pass expired there, I would come back to my own country. And here I am. – NMH

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