A netizen shared this well written note about being Indian-Pakistani while growing up “Malay” in Singapore.
It’s the eve of National Day and perhaps it’s timely that I’ve been thinking about the Presidential Elections (which I was supposed to be on duty for until I decided to leave the service). This whole PE debacle seems to sum up the story of my life. “Pakistanis” and “Indians”, running for a spot reserved for a “Malay” President.
My dad is of Pakistani descent (even though he registered himself as Indian in his IC), and my grandparents were born in Ipoh, Malaya. My dad himself, was born in Singapore and grew up in Geylang Serai, the heart of the Malay kampong. His family speaks English and Malay, though our primary language is English.
My mum is of Indian heritage. Her father left India as an orphaned young man, and came to Singapore looking for work. She grew up in Macpherson, speaking English and Tamil.
My parents are both Muslim, born into Muslim families.
Growing up, half Indian half Pakistani, Muslim and learning Malay in school, you slowly learn that conformity is lauded. Your wavy hair curls in all the wrong directions, it is too frizzy, your skin colour too “black” for your friends (and more-than-friends). You don’t fit in with the Indians because you don’t speak Tamil, and while you eat at the Malay stall, you don’t fit in with the Malays cos .. you know .. you’re not Malay.
I struggled with this my whole life. Where’s the line that makes you Indian enough? Where’s the line that makes you Malay enough?
People comment that I shouldn’t forget my Pakistani culture – I should learn Urdu. My parents don’t even speak it. Being Pakistani meant Bollywood movies (SRK Kajol love), chappatis (on a rare occasion – more so when dadi was still around), and that one trip back to the village when I was in primary school. Does that make me Pakistani enough?
People comment that it’s a shame I don’t speak my mother tongue “Tamil”. Just because my mum speaks it. I spent six months working in an NGO in India. We eat chicken curry, muruku and I wore a saree once (for my cousins wedding). Does that make me Indian enough?
People comment that my Malay is too proper, it sounds unnatural. I didn’t grow up speaking Malay, yes, my tuition teacher made me speak in bahasa baku. Yes, I got a distinction for my Malay oral for ‘O’ levels. Yes, my Malay grades were better than my English grades. Yes, I like pantuns of empat kerats and peribahasas but I also love rock kapak. Yes, I grew up reading Pak Pandir and Gila-Gila. Yes, we eat masak merah, sambal goreng and rendang at home. Nasi lemak is my favourite local dish. Does that make me Malay enough?
I am all and yet I am none.
Our whole life, we recite, regardless of race, language or religion. And yet time and again, they try to box us in.
Why do we look at how well a person fits into a box? Why not see how good of a person he/she is? How good of a human being?
A righteous leader will stand up for his/her people – his/her people being EVERYONE in their nation. Not just people of the same colour, language or religion. We don’t need a figurehead to be inclusive, we don’t need to seem inclusive, we need to BE inclusive. We need to make sure that ALL our children have sufficient opportunities to rise and chase their dreams, no matter their background.
And yes, we teach them our culture and our languages, but we also teach them the beauty of others. We teach them to be kind and to be open, we teach them to care. We teach them to strive, alone and together.
I’m tired of being boxed in. I contain within me multitudes. I am what I am what I am.
First posted on Aneesa Fazal’s Facebook.