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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Eh, my grandfather was no beggar lah!

FEB 7 — Just when you thought it was safe to go into a restaurant again, Chinese New Year (and its accompanying excesses) is upon us once more. Following on the heels of Christmas and New Year’s, one feels almost a little ashamed to be “celebrating”. Again.

I don’t know about you but I am already suffering from... how shall I put it? Celebration fatigue. Yes, Chinese New Year falls on Feb 14 this year but already I have had yee sang three times already.
So is it me or we are just overdoing this celebrating thing? I remember a time when I looked forward to Chinese New Year. It meant new clothes, angpows and mandarin oranges.
All those three things only ever happened during Chinese New Year. That’s why they were savoured, looked forward to... and yes, appreciated. These days when we have so much, we forget to be grateful for the fact that we can and do have so much.
I like to think that both my grandfathers who came here from China will be happy with how well we are doing now. After all, they both came here hoping to create better lives for themselves and their descendants.
My story is not unique. The same story of migration, hard work and dreams make up the personal history of many millions of my fellow Malaysians. So when I heard about the prime minister’s former special officer Datuk Nasir Safar’s comments at a 1 Malaysia event in Malacca on Tuesday, I was appalled.
He was reported to have said “Indians came to Malaysia as thieves and beggars and Chinese especially the women came to sell their bodies.”
Since then he has resigned and apologised to all Malaysians for his insensitive comments but the hurt is still there. Are there people out there who are like him? Who thinks our forefathers came across the seas to be thieves, beggars and prostitutes?
I have always thought that it is this very story of migration so many of us share that makes us appreciate our country so much more. Our fathers, mothers and grandparents CHOSE to come here because they dreamed of a better future.
Many of us are now living that future. Are we grateful? Yes. But not to those people who think we should be grateful to. No, we are grateful to our parents, our grandparents... those who have gone on before us to carve a life out for us in this country.
I remember interviewing Ashwin Valiram who is the director of the Valiram Group a little over two years ago. He told me about his grandfather Utumal Valiram who came to Malaysia — or then Malaya — in 1912.
He started a sundry business here but travelled back and forth between here and India until 1947 when the state of Sindh, where Utumal was from, became part of Pakistan after the Partition of India.
“That was when he moved his family here. And this has been home since,” Ashvin told me then.
Today Ashvin and his brothers run the Valiram Group which is one of the biggest luxury goods companies in the country. Think Coach, Giuseppe Zanotti, Shanghai Tang, Tumi, Godiva chocolates, and so on.
Now, you go tell him about Indians coming here to be beggars and thieves. By saying something like that, Nasir Safar disrespects the many, many migrants who came here and worked awfully hard to make a future for themselves and their families.
Even worse, he — and anybody who thinks like him — diminish our great collective history. And makes less of this country.
Well, I for one am not going to let him and others like him make me appreciate this country less. This Chinese New Year, I will remember to be grateful for all the excesses of eating, drinking and celebrating. My grandparents dreamed of this.


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