AUGUST 6 — It was right behind the house. The gurdwara. Though we had to snake along the lane behind the outhouse into Lorong Tujuh from our Enam. Into the Indian Settlement of Kampung Pandan.
While they gave free laddus, the six-year-old me was happier playing Police and Indians — Native American, when I got older I was schooled, and later still, evolved it to Apache — complete with plastic rifles and knives with Syabu, my best mate in those days.
Plus, his Sikh family always had laddus, and chapatis.
I only knew Sikhs as people. It took a while to recognise their small minority within the small minority status in Malaysia.
But do not misunderstand me, while the numerical assessment remains, the Sikhs were and are always giants. It’s typical of Sikh culture.
They are still forced to earn their spurs.
The thing is in boys’ schools, even children — blessed with colour-blindness — see the physical distinction because of the small turbans. It becomes a conversation piece; not deep introspective discourses into the nature of multiculturalism but shallow callous ones.
It’s why I’ve always admired them. One or two in a batch of 200 kids, and they hold their own. They do better than hold their own.
Because there’s fight in them, the cold resilience of having realised they have to deal with being different from young. To endure. In which they learn to adapt better than most. But there is the other side too, the steely side if a proper punch-up was asked.
One of my favourite stories is where this Sikh lady drives around Klang with her half-Tamil son looking for the lads who hit him in school. Once she found the two of them, she asked them to fight her son one after the other. She did not intend to raise a coward.
The column does not intend to provide definitive information about the Sikh community here. It certainly won’t rationalise Sikhism. But does want to, if possible, to highlight Sikh fingerprints in our nation-building. And certainly do so in the Merdeka month.
I’ve ruminated about this since I met Ramesh last year in Europe. At our training retreat in Germany’s North Rhine over coffee, he shared how his family stayed on in the wrong side of Punjab for a Sikh after Partition.
His grandfather had a best friend, an influential Muslim, and while their world was going up in flames in the frenzy of religious carnage, he asked his friend to remain. So, he did. Pakistani Sikh with a good Pakistani Muslim friend.
In January, his grandson’s term in the Pakistan Punjab’s State Assembly was renewed. Ramesh Singh Arora, MP.
His journey suggested to me that I should celebrate Malaysia’s Sikhs.
Malaysia is not short of Sikh legislators, as early as 1959 with Mahima Singh Thaliwal as Port Dickson MP. Long before, Baba Budh Singh Ji was MIC’s second president in 1947. Karpal Singh was not only an MP, but a bulwark of Malaysia’s Opposition for over 40 years. His sons, Gobind Singh and Ramkarpal Singh continue his crusade in Parliament.
Set the personalities aside, add the numerous members of parties, civil societies and grassroots movements who are Sikhs, it’s clear there’s been a firm commitment.
In the chapter of service to the nation, the volunteer work from the community is massive. I began with the chapatis, and their food kitchens have served all who need, including in the ongoing stages of the movement control order (MCO). National crises are met with Sikh volunteerism, not the least during the floods across Semenanjung in 2015.
Charity makes great TV, but Sikhs perform the role all year round without needing the adulation.
The Sikh affinity for service by donning security services uniform is well recorded, and second to none. More than a third of the defence forces facing Japanese invaders in 1941 were Sikhs.
The battles at Grik Road, Kampar, Kluang and Muar among others shed Sikh blood. And they continue to serve with valour. Names like Major-General (Rtd) Datuk Ranjit Singh Ramday, commander of the army’s East Malaysia’s 1st Division, and presently Lt Col Jagjit Singh Inderjit Singh, chief of staff for the 7th Infantry Brigade, line up with thousands of others.
There’s a gurdwara beside the Kuala Lumpur Traffic Headquarters, built in 1898, at a time half the force was made up by Sikhs. It excites people to recollect the former Kuala Lumpur City Chief Amar Singh’s forays into former PM Najib Razak’s residences to recover cash, luxury bags and watches in 2018, but the true tribute would be Amar’s maternal grandfather who was a constable at the turn of the 20th Century. They’ve been around.
In sports, our only test cricketer ever was Lall Singh in 1932. And in hockey till late, a conveyor belt of Sikh players in national colours, including the scooping national captain Sarjit Singh in the 1980s, and along with free-scoring Balbir Singh for the Royal Malay Regiment.
In a personal capacity, a special thanks to Kelab Aman Sports Association for letting non-members utilise its field and futsal courts for years in the middle of the city.
In a broader capacity, to applaud their unwillingness to let go prime land in the middle of the city for financial enticement, so developers can build another grotesque mall, condo or both.
Yet a community’s value cannot be measured by a list. There’s no perfection. Kuldeep used to terrorise my school-bus with his bangle in fist, and there’ve been bar squabbles after happy hour before.
However, the consistency and longevity of service from the Sikh people cannot be ignored or overlooked.
The Najib administration was the first to allow adherents to take unrecorded leave for Vaisakhi, and that should be applauded.
Today’s August 6th, the 75th anniversary of the bomb on Hiroshima. It reminds of unimaginable pain, duty and the need to go on. Even more the ideas of pacifism. Despite the military associations Sikhs possess, they cherish peace more. Bravery is meaningless if all it does is extend misery.
My Pakistani MP friend Ramesh asked me if I’ve visited the gurdwara in Kuala Kubu Bharu. He goes there when he’s in Malaysia. Just outside the city at the edge of the state, lays a reminder of the community and the receding numbers of Malaysian Sikhs. Kuldeep has calmed down and lives in Melbourne, and noticeable numbers of Sikhs have left.
The Sikhs, like many other small minority groups, teach us that Malaysia becomes better for the diversity it has. And the Merdeka wish is for that to permeate into the thinking of our leaders when they speak about Malaysians.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.