DEC 30 — My uncle talks about forks on the road of his life — and how he taken more than a few wrong turns.
My brother brings back the stories. He’s not an uncle as much as a cousin to my mom, but since she grew up in the home his father, her uncle built, talking about Alangudi in the Sivaganga District would be wrong if not taking in local ways.
He’s my uncle, but then again, does it matter? Because fifty years ago, my mom was an untouchable living her life as a carefree girl along the paths, ponds, forestry and lanes which make the dry centre of the Tamil state. She married, lived her life in Malaysia thereafter and died here.
So he, my mom, their parents and obviously their offspring — like me — emerge from that caste reality.
I been hankering to write about this for the last week or so, after my brother and I had a sit down and chat about where we were from.
My brother said that the reason why the family home is just by the main road is because we, as in my class of people who are the majority in the country, had to live at the fringe of townships run by those from higher castes.
It is one thing to theorise about being culturally inferior, it is another to know that for centuries — if not for several millennia — my ancestors lived in such a fixed structure.
And it was no walk in the park migrating it to the unknown peninsula, the one Tamil’s named “Malai-Ur” or country of mountains.
Yet there is no denying for some, like my granduncle it provided a new reality and in it new opportunity.
And his children have gone on to better things, and it would be impossible for their children to talk about what their social class was in India.
This is not to say that for hundreds of thousands of ethnic Indians in Malaysia, it has been all rosy but it has been a place where a substantial number of broken the glass ceiling of a caste system.
Without inheriting too many opportunities, my own parents had to choose on how much they can hope for their children.
So let’s put one thing to bed, Malaysia has truly been a land of hope. For all its frailties, and historical baggage, there is no discounting our collective leap.
Even the funds travelling back from cousin, uncles and granduncle, over decades have resulted in a family of untouchables having their own land, orchard and water processing plant in the same vicinity they were expected to remain without any economic power. To live as serfs.
Just factoring that is a humbling thought. It is a powerful thought.
But, this is where I, unlike my uncle, fork out and hope to have the resilience to stay the course.
I’m grateful, but it is built on the hard work of others, and everyone should be careful when they stand up to take credit. It is a bit of a mini-sport in Malaysia, credit taking.
I choose to remember that it has not been a fair exchange for hundreds of thousands of Indians, if not millions, for they to survive worked, and their toil is part of our collective heritage, not just ethnic Indians.
They could have been treated better, and you can say that without being crude about those who did make it. One can appreciate success stories without having to ignore the rest who had not the same lucky breaks — because it is stupid to assume all of it was predestined. Everyone needs a break.
And offering a break to the ethnic Indians in Malaysia, not as some kind of tokenism or election gimmick, is long overdue. This is not to argue the same principles apply to so many other Malaysians of all heritages.
But I cannot ignore the personal stake in the story.
My cousin, my late cousin, with the assistance of the Congress Party — he was affiliated with them — managed to find a grant to cement a space by the village with sitting arrangements, to hold community events. My uncle, my mom’s brother who lives in the family house, is very proud of that achievement. It would look insignificant for almost anyone here, but to him, and to other family members it is a monument of how far we have come.
It’s the new year, and I thought I share that.
I’m a lucky man. I have so many who would not see me for the social designation I originate from but rather for my personal dysfunctions while clumsily falling off bar stools. It’s a true achievement, to be laughed at for the right reasons.
See everyone in the new year.