Side Views

Don’t knock the Bangladeshis ― Ice Cream Seller

May 22, 2013

MAY 22 ― We have been hearing far too many negative stories about the Bangladeshis in the run up to and post GE13. Many Malaysians have freely vented their feelings and I can’t help but notice the enormous amount of ignorance being demonstrated in the process.

How many actually know that their country was formerly East Pakistan? How many know that it has a secular constitution? Do you know that the nationals are called Bangladeshis (as opposed to what has become a derogatory term here ― Bangla)?

Do you know that they are 98 per cent Bengalis? (Our dumb history books teach our kids that Bengalis are the people with turbans ― referring instead to the Sikhs who are Punjabis.) Do they know that their (Bangladeshi) language is Bengali ― probably centuries older than our BM and with a script of their own? Do our history books teach and our bigots know that Punjabis have various faiths ― mainly Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims (as amongst Pakistani Punjabis)?

We have many foreign workers here ― and I have seen them all on the payroll. Indonesians, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Thais, Indians, Bangladeshis, Burmese, Pakistanis. We hear stories of crimes committed by foreign workers. The Bangladeshis formed the second largest contingent of foreign workers at one time but their numbers involved in crime were disproportionately lower than the biggest group ― no ice creams for guessing correctly.

Many employers will tell you that they got their money’s worth employing Bangladeshi workers compared to many others (for the relevant sectors)

In my humble operation in Australia, I had the good fortune to employ two of them ― a young couple. Rima, approached me out of the blue when I was idling in a mall and asked for a job. She had just arrived with her husband who was doing his Master in Engineering at a leading university. I had no vacancies at the time. She still came regularly. Almost three times a week. On one of her later visits, she brought her husband, Atif; the two would not have looked out of place in Bollywood.

Rima was a graduate in Electrical Engineering, like her husband. When there eventually was an opening, I took in Atif instead. The vacancy suited a male better but eventually, I was able to hire them both. They worked well with the other staff ― Aussies, Koreans, Japanese, Singaporeans, Indonesians, French and a few others.

During the fasting month he continued as usual. I remember an incident once when he said he could not taste the ice cream while it was being made because of Ramadan. I related to him an incident in the past where I had an Indonesian production manager who said that it was alright to taste it as that was part of the job ― he would just rinse his mouth after that. He said he was not consuming it for pleasure (half a teaspoonful). Atif thought about it, and thereafter did exactly that.

They were like children of my own to me. He would come in at 7am in the dead of winter on some days and run off at 9am ― to catch the bus for lectures. Whenever I was out of town, they collected the cash and banked in every cent. When I gave them money for taxis (on days when they worked nights), they would take the bus and return the money ― without deducting bus fare. I gave them both my credit card to use when they went to buy supplies for me.

Some customers thought that we were family ― true in a sense. She sent food for me once in a while. We shared meals often at work. They were both popular with customers ― she for her warmth and he for his neatness and efficiency. When my late brother was hospitalised, they went frequently to visit him ― despite having to prepare for exams and juggling work shifts.

What also set them apart in comparison to many of our own spoilt kids was that they needn’t have done it. Rima’s father was a professor in a university back home. Atif’s father was one of the most senior officers in the air force ― post retirement, he was still provided with a driver and bodyguard. They could have just relaxed on their parents’ provisions but chose not to.

When Atif graduated with his Masters degree, he brought the certificate to the workplace after convocation and had a photograph taken with me. On their return from Australia, they stopped in KL ― and we had the opportunity to bring them home and go sightseeing.

Rima refers to me as her Malaysian father and I call her my Bengali daughter. I am sometimes father and sometimes father-in-law to Atif ― depending on the situation!

So, the issue before us is that we not paint them all with the same broad brush. I can relate very similar situations with the various other nationalities I have had the good fortune to have interacted with over the last 30 years.

The fact that foreigners were used by unscrupulous politicians during GE13 should not be their cross to bear in isolation. Instead of going after them alone, we should go after the hidden hands behind all these shenanigans ― even if the trails lead to Kerala.

* Ice Cream Seller reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.