Tuesday, March 22, 2005

lah-zee blogging

The excuse to post this was that part of the reason for my long blog silence was the junket to Malaysia... So here is a sneak preview of what I wrote, soon to appear in the April issue of Outlook Traveller...

… burn, burn , burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…

Not just yellow, but the whole vibgyor spectrum, not just spiders, but sea urchins, jellyfish and whole galaxies, spiraling, blazing down their welcome arms to earth – as visiting Indians are inspired to write the purplest of prose, and the crowd oohs and aahs at each mindbending explosion of light. The spectacular fireworks come towards the end of a spectacular evening. The celebration of the Chinese New Year Open House at Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. To where a Sikh guide has led us, in a ceremonial field in the heart of town, next to a Hindu temple that would seem right at home in Tamil Nadu. The evening is a carnival fair, a mela with a few high tech rock-concert screens thrown in. People come out for the big night dressed as informally as only Malaysians can. (Formal wear often means colorful Batik shirts that would make Mandela blush.) People laugh, talk, eat and drink and watch the show. It is crowded but no one pushes and shoves. Chinese girls have tikas on their foreheads, probably from the nearby temple. The opening act is the a heady percussion mix that Trilok Gurtu would have been proud of; Chinese, Malay and Indian drums melding different rhythms into a harmony. As the evening progresses, a lion dance is followed by a rendition of Asha Bhonsle’s ‘Yeh samaa, samaa hai yeh pyaar ka’ with Malay and Chinese boys and girls doing the tango in the background, dressed in bolero costumes…

The ‘Open House’ is a recent initiative of the Malaysian government, to celebrate the diversity of the country; and its many different ethnic groups. Every year, one province is selected to host the festival of one community. So last year, Penang hosted the Diwali Open House. This year, Seremban hosted the Chinese New Year. The Open House is a concept that that is meant to operate at an individual level too, with families opening their houses and their festivals to their friends and neighbours…

Malaysia is a historical land, but a very new country. Bahasa Malaysia was born out of local languages interacting with Arabic, Sanskrit and Chinese as they came in with the Indian Ocean trade a long time before Europeans sailed to this part of the world. But the modern Malaysian nation was born out of the melting pot created, perhaps unintentionally, by the politics and trade of the nineteenth century British empire; the coming of Chinese traders and Indian plantation workers. In Malaysia today, Malays make up a simple majority of the population at just over fifty percent of the population, an dominate the government and administration. The Chinese are about thirty percent of the population, and dominate business and trade. Indians, largely Tamil, make up ten percent of the population, and dominate the plantation business. To create a modern nation out of such disparate elements could not have happened without strife and tension, but that is remarkably absent from what the visitor sees. The visitor sees a society gloriously, obviously multicultural and tolerant. A society where mixed marriages are common enough for their offspring to have specific labels. Mixed Malay-Chinese children are ‘Nyonya’ (female) and ‘Baba’. Malay-Indians are ‘Chettiars.’ And Indians and Chinese are ‘Chindians’. One of Malaysia’s most famous designers, Bernard Chandran, is a Chindian....

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