Side Views

Why the rift? — Nitya Kamalanathan

JUNE 16 — I am currently a PhD student in the United Kingdom, my first time in England. When people ask me about Malaysia, I beam, telling them how wonderful our country is and our food!

Oh that is my favourite topic of discussion. We come from a country bursting with flavour, warmth, culture and diversity all of which have been the building blocks of the country.

The three representing races of Malaysia each have rich traditions and cultures, which have blended together to produce a Malaysian culture of which I am proud to say I am part.

I remember as a kid celebrating the lantern festival with my neighbours, buying little lanterns and watching them float away into the darkness of the night. I remember in school making ketupats for Hari Raya and hanging them around school and I remember for Deepavali having little girls dance bharata natyam in school, and sharing murukku and mixture with my friends.

As I grew older, I felt a rift between the respective groups. What caused this? I remember as a child being told by my parents that I am not to forget my heritage, my culture, where my ancestors are from. I was sent to classes to learn my native language and to learn classical singing.

All this was expected of me, to ensure I did not forget my nativity. In this rush to enforce remembrance of heritage, some parents, in my perception, have been distracted by the need to preserve their culture and have forgotten to show their children the importance of intermingling among the races.

I am sure a variety of factors exist causing this rift and dissecting each factor would probably be like working on another PhD thesis.

While having a little chat with my friends over here in my research area, one particular friend (a foreigner who lived in Malaysia for several years) mentioned how evident it was that the races are struggling to preserve their own individual identity.

This triggered a recollection of memories and encounters in the past which too made me wonder if being caught up in preserving one’s unique culture and traditions people have drifted from embracing the uniqueness of Malaysia and the rich diversity in cultures, traditions and ancestry.

I understand the pressing dilemma of culture dilution, and the striving to maintain each group’s uniqueness and identity. However does mingling with others dilute mine?

I have grown up with exposure to people of all walks of life and yet I enjoyed listening to my grandparents stories of their childhood and how things were then, I also enjoyed learning to sing classical songs and learn to read and write my mother tongue, but that never caused me to want to surround myself only with people of “my own kind”.

Personally, I have valued the time spent with my friends learning about their culture, traditions and experiencing the difference. Recently a string of my best friends got married; one was a fairytale Christian wedding, one was a dazzling Malay Nikah ceremony and the other a bright and colourful Indian wedding.

Each of them was beautiful and special in their own way and wearing different outfits according to the different ceremonies was exciting. We are so gifted to have the opportunity in Malaysia to experience such a variety of traditions that bring two people together.

Embracing the diversity of the cultures, tradition and their food has always been a delight to me, everyone has some good and some not so good to offer. At the end of the day we are all human and we all have some good and some not so good to offer.

Mingling with others and participating in their traditions has never threatened my own identity, as at the end of the day I am aware of who I am and who I want to be.

I was also told by someone I looked up to once, that a culture can best be defined in relation to other cultures.  It is the differences in cultures that make each culture perceptibly different, and therefore unique and individual.  So, experiencing the differences between your own and other cultures leads you to recognise the good and bad points of your own.

This shouldn’t, of course, mean that you are liable to reject or neglect your own cultural traditions. Globalisation has made us all “citizens of the world”, for better or worse.  This gives us all more opportunities to see other cultures, to compare them with our own and to share in their traditions.

At the same time we can appreciate our own culture and traditions more realistically, without having to abandon them.

So to all Malaysians like me, I say let’s celebrate the gift of diversity presented to us. 

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.

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