In the flurry and bleat of celebrating Independence, we need to reassess what does and does not count , for nation-states, as they exist today. Religion or the lack of it ? Ethnicity ? Language ? Leadership ? Ambition-Foolhardiness-Selfishness ? Economics and Money ? Or just plain all or none of It ! And does it matter, when the buzz-word is globalisation ?
So the erstwhile USSR still has the annual grand parade at the Red Square, even as what is today the CIS, was till fairly recently its veritable ribs; it’s over two decades since the physical as well as symbolic Wall between two of Germany got broken, for the nation to become one, and now that very same Germany appears to shore up both the EU and the Euro to face up to global economic realities, and naming those less-fortunate countries in Europe may be less than fair on my part, when many millions in my own country, and if numbers count, more than any of the specific countries in Europe, face the challenge of day-to-day living where the predominant concern is still where the next meal is going to come from.
So it was that when I went to Malaysia once again – and I had lost count of the number of times I had that privilege – and which privilege came to me on the day subsequent to the Anniversary for the leading deity Lord Krishna in India, which ensured that the contingent of 42 people of which I was part of, consisted of half the number professing the Islamic faith. So close to 70 years on, were we on an eclectic path where all could prosper, or closer to being thumb-sucking juveniles where only individual pockets could be lined?
On the aside, I would venture to say that Malaysia appeals, not just because the wide variety it has to offer the visitor, combining nature, modernity, history, heritage – the works; but is a functioning and prosperous democracy, that permits criticism and a free press and a fair judiciary, that (hmm, I hesitate to put this forward) is the envy of neighbouring Singaporeans, ( common history notwithstanding ) the wealthier among whom take weekend breaks across the border, to buy groceries, essentials, or merely to savour the air that tastes of greater freedoms. So it was with considerably awe that we, the forty-odd of us assembled at the threshold of the hotel near Chinatown, on the robust morning of the 31st August, a bare fortnight after the unfurling of the flag of Independence of India ( or Pakistan for that matter) witnessed the supersonic fighter jets that flew across in tandem one after the other, with ear-splitting extra-terrestrial sounds, leaving a single straight column of smoke that dissipated in a few minutes, leaving us to take in the rest of Kuala Lumpur with its people celebrating an event of their freedom on that day in 1957, no doubt acquired with blood, sweat and tears ( apologies to Sir Winston ) and as much perseverance and self-belief, as any other nation-state.
The day preceding Independence Day, 30th August, was Jummey Ka Din, and in this Islamic state,which if I remember right, was just about the last stop-over for V.S.Naipaul in his “Among the Believers”, the weekly holiday continues to be a business-like day of the Sabbath, though that by itself is a bone of contention, ( whether it ought to be Saturday or Sunday, when did the Lord exactly rest ? ) and my motley crew, a melange and pot-pourri of the sub-continent, proved to be the very amalgam of the positive pluralistic concepts that the Chacha espoused, whether in our out of prison, elevating him at least in my mind, a notch above Bapujis, Mahatmas, Netajis and Shaheeds, and even Quaids; and the excoriating, searing, boldness of his statement ” I wish to declare with all earnestness that I do not want any religious ceremonies performed for me after my death. I do not believe in such ceremonies, and to submit to them, even as a matter of form, would be hypocrisy and an attempt to delude ourselves and others “, makes him deserve a permanent thumbs-up from the vast majority who inhabit the same sub-continent
Scarce did it ring the half-hour after one in the afternoon, in the sprawling area of Genting, styled as a latter-day Las Vegas, possessing a gambling-area with round-the-clock activity which die-hard faiths would pronounce as haraam, did I have to indicate to those whose dedication to Time was exemplary, where the Hall for Namaaz was. Even as every hotel room in every city and town in the country has on its ceiling an arrow indicting the direction of the Kaaba. In an entire country, following the tenets of Islam, where the roll of dice, flip of card, and swirl of roulette was banned, this Highland had got it by statute and gubernatorial permit. And over the past year, Singapore emulates with a Bay Sands. No doubt it is business interests that drives the activity, but, alas, the writing is on the wall : it’s may prove detrimental to the Singapore psyche ( meaning economy too ) whether or not it does to the Malaysian one. And whether or not the Singapore GDP and Prosperity Index is going to be affected, the earlier that Singapore forges the historical link with Malaysia to become one entity, the better for it.
After Namaaz, and a slightly belated lunch, we moved on to Batu, that boasts of the largest worldwide figure and statue of Lord Muruga / Subramanya, with size and dimension that the with-it crowd of gals and guys of today would describe as “aaw-some”. Aside: the gold paint, simply tons of it, came from Thailand, and very assiduously put on the statue for a permanent glow, and the ethereal background lighting as dusk sets in, does make one hush out that description that the gals and guys of today vent out, imposing enough by day.
And now, got the summoned up gumption to make things add up.
The pic below is of the National Mosque in Malaysia. Although I had passed by it as a “photo-stop” on several occasions in previous years, this was the first time that the guide thought it befitting to make a grand entry into its precincts. Grand certainly it is. As I clambered up its august stairs, after circumventing the ritual cleansing of feet, with my socks on, felt no doubt this was occasioned by the fact that my troupe of 40, all Indians, consisted of close to half professing the Islamic faith. When we were at the threshold of the sanctum-sanctorum, a large board said ” NON-MUSLIMS NOT ALLOWED “. Now, as a novice to all forms of absolute faith, I was personally befuddled. But the extensively bearded, skull-cap-clad Muslim gentleman, pulled in the other Hindu guys, into this Hall of Peace, all but jeering at the couple of young volunteers that were expected to keep the uninitiated out.
I took this opportunity ( yeah, God-given ) to check with those volunteers where they were from, and both said ” Iraq”. I was and am, familiar, with that particular part of the world, because the unfortunate ( some of whom become dead too ) come to the city of my domicile for medical treatment, with their kith and kin,, and as oft as not, the kith/kin return with body-bags that are filled up with human remains. Luckily, that young Iraqi stripling at the entrance, said that he had nothing against non-Muslims, except that they should enter the prayer-hall, clean in body and spirit. I recited the Kalima to him promptly.