Sunday, November 3, 2013

Eyeing Datuk Ahmad A Talib's thoughts on his friends during Deepavali

DOWN MEMORY LANE: Back in the day, our ethnic background and class in society had no effect on our relationships

IT'S Deepavali again. Yesterday, Hindus celebrated this festival with much merriment and joy, not to mention the usual fare of mutton, chicken curry and muruku.
Belated greetings to all Hindu friends, old and new, near and far. I hope all of you had a meaningful day yesterday. Deepavali is a time for friendship and devotion, for family togetherness.
I remember Deepavali as a time when friends would gather and visit each other from early morning. My childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s was spent in Bangsar with Indian friends whose fathers either worked for Keretapi Tanah Melayu or the Central Electricity Board.
Those were carefree days, open and innocent. Maniam, a driver with the CEB, now Tenaga Nasional, would switch on his radio at full blast from as early as 5am to set the tone for the day.
Being my next-door neighbour at the CEB "down" quarters, Maniam would send his son Apu to my house with muruku and other goodies well before sunrise. This went on for years until his tragic death in the 1960s.
Another friend, Muthukaruppan, would gather other friends and we would then raid house after house searching for Green Spot, a bottled carbonated drink. Green Spot was a popular brand in those days, the other being F&N's ice-cream soda.
The name "down" quarters was derived from the fact that most of the people there worked as labourers. Just across Jalan Pantai, where the TNB headquarters is, was called the "up" quarters. It was where technicians, clerks and office workers stayed.
Class distinction was quite obvious in those days, but as children, none of us took notice of this. Children from the "down" quarters played better football than the "up" quarters boys. But the "up" quarters always won at hockey while those from the "down" quarters learned how to play cricket. Of course, they always won at hockey because they practised with actual hockey sticks. My teammates practised using makeshift hockey sticks and most couldn't play in actual games using borrowed sticks.
But there were no barriers between us. Our parents never discouraged us from mixing with each other, despite the distinction in class. Neither were we discouraged from spending nights in each other's houses, given the racial mix then.
My Hindu friends were always welcome to spend the night in my quarters and vice-versa. I remember being fed warm milk when it was my turn to sleep in one of my Hindu friend's quarters.
Unlike today, where racial difference is upon us from every corner. There seems to be growing racial polarisation now and they seem to start at an early age, too. Is it politics? Religion? The neighbourhood?
In the early 1970s, my friends and I never made an issue of each other's ethnic background. Sunderaj, a dear friend who has since departed, would bring his motorbike from Brickfields to fetch me in Jalan Lornie (now Jalan Syed Putra) to go to his house for Deepavali breakfast. Waiting there would be Puvi, who, by then, had sold his motorbike and bought a Mini Clubman, the iconic British two-door car. It was in Puvi's car that the three of us would drive to Puchong to Mr Singam's house for mutton curry and fried chicken.
For Tony and other like-minded guests, Mr Singam would serve his potent toddy, an annual offering without which Deepavali would be deemed incomplete.
We had our differences, of course. But they were openly discussed and always ended with handshakes and a race to the Dungeon, a famous pub located where the Sogo shopping complex is now. The more adventurous among us would make a beeline for Kowloon Hotel, for some serious night clubbing. We called each other names, too, then. But never with malice and always with fun and mutual respect. It was only when Anchor beer took control of their senses did we end up with a black eye. Sometimes, that is.
If we are not careful, racial polarisation among us will get worse and threaten the nation. Back then, we were able to differentiate between politics and friendship. Politics seldom got in the way of friendship in those days.
Happy Deepavali Puvi, Kamal, Apu, Tony, Dash, Vani, Ragu, Ravi and all those dear friends whom I can't possibly list here. If we all can teach our children the value of true friendship, regardless of race, creed, colour and faiths, we should be able to stem the tide of racial polarisation in our country.

Read more: Deepavali brings friends together - Columnist - New Straits Times

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