Because on my own I think I can't fully understand another person, I in turn feel insecure when I give out my thoughts. My mind would be plagued by the 'what if's' of people not being able to comprehend me in addition to the insecurities I already have about myself such as my unnaturally fast-paced speech, unintelligible words in between, among many others.
Maybe I'm all of the above.
I personally had spasmodic encounters with racism from preschool until lower primary and a little more during my upper primary school years. Being the sensitive lass that I was, I would often come running home with teary eyes and would gibberishly recount the awful instances the best I could to my mother. She was like my superhero during my growing-up years. Emotional though I was, I was most of the time absent-minded whilst my whole blurry and small world revolved around me. That said, I usually took no heed of what some nasty schoolmates had to say about me. I've heard the common racial slur directed at us Indians all too often - the 'Keling' word. I guess I had developed some sort of tolerance for it back then when I heard of that word every so often - directed towards my Indian teachers, fellow Indian friends, and myself. Besides, it didn't take me long to realise that the word had little to absolutely no meaning at all. I like to think of it as an 'empty' word.
There were two instances however, that really affected me and sent me home tearing for the rest of the day. I still occasionally think of those unpleasant days and would tailor words in my mind and recreate that bloody moment virtually with a bolder me in the picture.
I'll start with the lesser unpleasant one. One quotidian school day when I was in Year 4(10-year-old), I entered my class to a bunch of classmates playing their flutes to a discordant melody. The second period was Music lesson and my music teacher had assigned each of us to get ourselves flutes for that day's music lesson. I sat down next to my classmate who was busying herself with her own Yamaha flute. I pulled out my purple, translucent flute from my bag and started scrutinying it with my 10-year-old sense of awe and wisdom to not play the flute and add to the cacophony. The girl next to me,well let's call her Iman. Iman turned to take a pause and look at my flute. Seemingly curious, she asked if she could have a look at my oh-so-fancy instrument. I obliged and handed her my flute. She then proceeded to place her mouth at the tip of the flute and begin playing a note. Another guy, let's call him Izzul, who was seated in front of Iman turned around and gaped at Iman. His face was contorted in some sort of disgust. Well I would have to admit that maybe Iman didn't have a knack for flutes. But that was not the case. Izzul went on to jeer at Iman for being silly to place her mouth on a flute that tentatively had my saliva in it. Well, really I wouldn't mind if he was apparently concerned over Iman's hygiene. I was wrong yet again. He went on to tell Iman that she was actually playing a flute that had some Keling's saliva in it and that it was dirty, for that reason and not in a more general fact that anything with another person's saliva is unhygienic. Iman then went all dramatic in drinking and gargling her mouth with water. She went so far as to call me "najis". Having little knowledge in the Malay language back then, I could hardly fathom what she had meant. I asked her to Barney the meaning of the word to me. She nonchalantly explained that najis meant feces. I was perturbed. She gave little to no regard about my feelings and how it would tear part of my confidence as soon as I understood what she had meant. I tried to muster a bit of boldness to knock some sense into her head but with my gibberish language, I don't know if I had anything more than a mesh of hand-signs and nervous errs enter her head. Needless to say, I sulked with her for the rest of the day. We did end up becoming close classmates though through Year 4 and Year 5 after an instance where I had sensed her seeping guilt and blatant suppressing of the need to apologize to me.
My by-far-the-worst discrimination came when I had least expected. The long-awaited ring of the school bell marked the end of class lessons for the day. I was in Year 5, one more year and I'll be graduating from primary school. One could already call themselves 'semi-senior' or so once they're in Year 5, I guess. It could be said that my upper primary school years were generally a blur but relatively peaceful. Peaceful was not what it seemed on that particular day, however. I walked to my school van with my twin sister and settle in an old seat on the second row of the van. We were exhausted and sweaty and the stuffiness inside the van only exacerbated the uneasiness we felt. Not long after, a group of Year 6 guys that were well-known for their talkativeness in our small van community enter and sit in the the row directly behind us. There was one peculiar guy in the group who always stared blankly at my sisters and I. I think it's worthy to note that my sisters and I were the only Indians in the van. We usually dimissed the guy as being strange and maybe just maybe curious about us in some odd ways of his own. Just as the van started moving, one of the five who was right behind me put out his entire arm through a sliding window and held up the formidable middle finger on my side of the window whilst bellowing "fuck, fuck, fuck..". It went on like a mantra. Bear in mind my sister and I have not been exposed much to this word or any other profanity prior to this but exposed enough to know that it was a bad word. It immediately struck my 11-year-old mind that it was a horrible word and that that guy was evil for saying it. I retaliated by mustering some courage to back my sister and I. I apparently did what I would call now, " turning the other cheek". I naively told the verbal abuser that he shouldn't be doing so and that it was a sin to use such profanity, in hopes that he would repent. Instead of retreating like what I had expected, his other members joined him in jeering at the two of us with a myriad of racial slurs. I turned to look behind and the guy whom I thought was quiet and peculiar was showing up a middle finger and yelling profanities at my direction. It was unbearable. No one bothered to back us up or offer to knock some sense into those offenders. Not even the van driver. My whole journey back home that day was a living hell.
Another thing I would like anyone to note is that my sisters and I were very, very quiet and needless to say, peaceful individuals. In retrospect, I think it was that quality about us that had made way for informal truces between us and the notable racists we had in our lives. None of the aforementioned instances or whatever racial discrimination experiences in between and henceforth have been prolonged any longer than an hour by the same individual. There were random spikes of racism by different individuals across different situations, to put it concisely.
In hindsight, I don't know what to make out of the racial intolerances I experienced as a kid. Those unduly racism I had experienced in the later stages of my childhood had a considerable mar on the already thin sheet of confidence I trumpeted around as a child blossoming into the early days of my teenhood. I would often find myself obsessing over a lighter skin shade so I can be likened to a person of a more 'dignified' race, similar to those of my lighter-skinned counterparts. I tried ways to hide my identity as an Indian, making use of the unintelligible fact that most of my peers bought into, that is the notion that Christianity, is a race. I knew for a fact, that this was, as obvious as it sounds, a stupid belief. This is sadly, still a widespread notion. And as sadder as it gets, racism is still on the rise, incongruent with the trend that statistics show of Malaysians today, that there are more literates today as compared to yesterday.
This leads one to wonder, what is the cause of the widespread racism among society today, especially among Malaysians who have long witnessed a heterogeneous society? What is this deep-seethed, directionless hatred that our younger generations are harbouring toward their brothers of different races? Where is it coming from? What measures are the older generations taking to curb racism and nurture goodwill and promote unity instead?
Back to the phone call, I thought to myself, why not another chance to prove ourselves good caretakers of kittens, right? I obliged to get a packet of milk powder on the way back to my hostel. I was surprised to see that it was a freakin' newborn kitten. Of course, I fell for its cuteness at first sight. My roommate was all dramatic in her recount about her first-hand experience on rescuing the kitten from a ".. viscious, big fat murderer cat who was biting at the poor little thing's neck". It hit me that it was very likely the mother cat but being the equally dunce person as my roomie, I found an excuse to keep the kitten.
The first night(lol) was so-so as we were both a little pissed by how the kitten, whom we named Marmalade, would not drink it's milk. We had no syringe or teats to feed it milk and so we tried our best to feed it milk with a teaspoon, but to no avail, pathetically. We decided that we would go out the next morning to the nearest pet shop to get syringe or teats through which Marmalade can feed. The next morning came, we took a Uber to the nearest town where two pet shops were situated in. And to our disappointment, both pet shops were closed. What a bummer. We then thought that the next best thing to do would be getting a syringe from a clinic nearby. We couldn't afford to let our trip go waste.
We returned with the syringe, beaming with a bit of hope on our way back. Marmalade did swallow the milk a bit when we force-fed it with the syringe. Not long after that, I found out that we were feeding it the wrong milk. We learnt that cow's milk gives it stomach upset and that orphaned kittens, or in this case, this 'orphaned' newborn kitten can be weaned earlier but it must be fed some formula milk, not ordinary milk that we humans consume.
Long story short, I was soon hunting around the vicinity of my hostel, for the presumed mother-cat. From the eye-witness accounts that were my hm's, she recalled that there was a plump tabby by our apartment door on the night of the kidnapping. It was meow-ing loudly, as if it was asking for its baby back. I knew which cat she was referring to. I’ve seen her by the stairs often. Exam’s in 5 days time and I had to be plagued by the guilt and dread of bringing a newborn kitten back.
Troubled, I embarked on a search for the queen cat, in hopes of reuniting her with her baby. Searched high and low, but to no avail. My mind then hatched the idea of leaving Marmalade down stairs in what I call the ‘maids coven’. Needless to say, the maids were distinctively hating me for having placed a noisy newborn kitten in their rest place. I felt bad for the very hasty move but I really had no other choice. My roomie had gone back for the weekend, leaving me alone to chaperone the kitten. I went downstairs not long after, to do my laundry at hostel block 3 when I found two girls cornering another kitten that bared a striking resemblance to Marmalade. But unlike Marmalade, it’s tail wasn’t stripped so I figured it was Marmalade’s sibling.
The girls were looking for the mother cat too. I told them that I’ve seen a similar kitten at block 1 and that I know who the mother cat was. I was walking back to my apartment when I caught sight of the mother cat carrying Marmalade by the neck. I beckoned for the two girls who were carrying Marmalade’s sibling around to come over to where I stood. We then waked over to the mother cat to reunite yet another one of her litter but she was afraid we were after Marmalade and so she took off running with Marmalade dangling from her tiny mouth. The two girls seemed excited about going after the mother cat while I on the other hand had my mission accomplished – getting Marmalade united with her momma. I bid the two girls a bye and set off back to my apartment to resume studying.
That was the last time I would think of kittennapping ever again. Ever.
Labels: campus life