Upon viewing NST online this morning (Oct 4th 2008), I came across an article titled 'Racial harmony has to begin with the young' in the column by Johan Jaafar. The more I read, the more I believe in what he has written. It is truly the best, honest and sincere article that I have ever read on race relations, and at once, my thoughts takes me back to my wonderful childhood days.
From Johan's article, I somewhat have a similar experience as a child. If Johan had the Chinese families and their children as his friends, I had Indian families and their children as my neighbours and intimate friends throughout my schooling days.
I started school prior to independence, and I was enrolled in an english school in Kuala Lumpur. In that sense, I was more urban than Johan. The class had no more than 30 pupils, and I can recall that there were more Chinese students than Malays and Indians added together. I certainly don't remember anyone taking about race and religion in school. We played, ate and walked home after school together.
My house was about 4 kilometers from school, and walking home in the afternoon after school those days in groups, was a wonderful experience. It wasn't hot like it is today. There were lots of trees that lined the street, and that provided us the shade as we walked home.
I remembered having to punch a punjabi student after school, not because of his race or religion, but because he bullied my younger brother. Honestly, I wasn't the hero type, but somehow having to come to the defence of my younger brother, I was compelled to develop enough courage to ward off the bullying of my brother.
On another occasion, I almost fought with an Indian student because of an argument that I had with him earlier. Although I waited for him outside the school, I somehow did not have the courage to punch him because he was much larger than me. I only managed to threatened him, and fortunately he walked away. Had he accepted a fight, I know I would have been trashed to smithereens.
The Indian friends that I had as my neighbours, are still today my close friends. In fact, they all treat my aged mother as their mother as well. This is because as kids, they would frequent my house and ate together with us. Likewise, I would just go to their house and walk into their kitchen and eat whatever I could find. They all have never failed to call me and wish me during Hari Raya, despite them being all over the country. Some have even migrated overseas.
Although I have lost contact with my Chinese classmates, I have somehow been in close contact with some of my juniors who had known me, because I was a prefect in school. And each time we meet at the yearly Old Boys Association dinner, it is truly a heart warming experience. Jokes and laughter will fill the room, and nobody talks about politics, let alone touch upon the issue of race and religion.
When I joined the Armed Forces, my intake had a number of Chinese and Indian cadets. They all are in touch with me till today, and I have a complete dossier of their whereabouts, of those who are still alive. I would be their reference, should they want to know the addresses of so-and-so. And certainly we don't talk about race and religion. And I could proudly say that the Armed Forces is the most racially integrated organisation in this country; a reflection of what a truly Malaysian society should be, and seriously something that the politicians can learn from.
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