Home is where the heart is

AS the year draws to a close and race and religious relations inch towards possibly intractable levels, the question on most minds is about the direction Malaysia is taking.

We seem to be as divided as never before with some communities and religious groups pulling in entirely opposite directions.

This may, perhaps, be overstatement on my part but it surely bespeaks my concern and that of many of the state of affairs in the country.

Central to this is the need to do something urgently to prevent a further degradation of race and religious differences. We cannot reach the point of no return.

How did we get to be so fractious?

What happened to plunge Malaysian society to such unimagined depths?

These are questions that need to be answered by both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. Mutual involvement based on the reality that any one side cannot resolve the matter is crucial to problem solving here.

The clergy from all faiths, academics, representatives from civil society and moderates from all communities must be involved. Everyone has to claim ownership over the issue of national reconstruction.

This may appear insuperable due to the current political chasm that has racial underpinnings following a Chinese exodus to the opposition in the May 5 general election and an arguable return of the Malay vote to the BN. The Indians are almost equally split between the two.

But try we must, and try we should at bringing everyone back to the table of discussion.

I think we should all take a moment to remember that we are family – a fractured one maybe – but nevertheless one that calls Malaysia home.

And like any family facing issues that could rend it asunder, it is imperative that we remember where we once were and where we may be heading.

It is also important that we recognise the severity of the situation and agree that this country needs strong medicine to emerge from the rut that we find ourselves in.

A new beginning for Malaysia can only come from a common acceptance of the fact that Malaysia is indeed home to all of us and that none of us can truly call another country home.

I have been asked many a time as to why I have not migrated to another country where things are regarded by some as being "better" for non-Malays, and my answer is that I am too long in the tooth to relearn the art of living elsewhere.

The societal dynamics that we were so good at cannot be enjoyed elsewhere.

But that's just my considered opinion, coming as it does from my particular frame of reference.

In any case, and definitely on a lighter note, where can I get a teh tarik in the wee hours of the morning or the smorgasbord of epicurean delights as one can only find in Malaysia?

As I sit in a Chennai hotel room writing this column, I am reminded of my roots in India which my great grandfather left in 1906 to journey to the Straits Settlements to be a pastor for the expatriate Indians settled there.

Mind you, there were thousands of Tamils living "temporarily" in an adoptive land which they did not yet call home.

Home in Madras state was a difficult land at that time which many were leaving for a better future across the Indian Ocean to a land of milk and honey.

Many of those who came under the kangani system found to their dismay, we are told, that all was not rosy in a land that was lush with greenery but generally bereft of kindness from employers.

Generations languished in estates with many returning home before independence in 1957 as they wanted the security and comfort of their village and the warmth of kith and kin.

But many remained to make Malaya their home. It was generally the same for Chinese immigrants who stayed back after Merdeka.

I am the fourth generation on my mother's side to call this land my home.

I have travelled often to Chennai to, among other things, visit my cousins, enjoy the cheaper clothing accruing from a lower cost of labour and enjoin in the fabulous food.

But after a week or so, when the novelty of the holiday dissipates, I find myself pining for home, with the truism "home is where the heart is" coming into play.

It's not that I love Chennai any less: it's just that I love Malaysia more. Nothing can replace the land where I will go to my grave and where my parents, grandparents and one great grandfather are buried.

Quite melodramatically, I sometimes feel like kissing the ground on landing at KLIA after visiting any number of countries with vastly superior economies, social structure and comfort level.

No place can replace the security and comfort of this land, warts and all, which gave me my unique world view.

India is a great place to visit but it will never be my home. Ditto, I believe, for the Chinese and China.

Be that as it may, I am compelled to record my increasing concern about the social fabric at home. The peace and unity enjoyed by our forefathers and us until not too long ago appears to be fraying at the seams.

I also worry about an increasing sense of intolerance over views that are not mainstream. What happened to the tolerance (for want of a better word as I feel it gives an impression of a deeper conflict of views that is being glossed over in the name of expediency) that we have enjoyed for decades?

Call me naive but can't we all learn to live peaceably in a nation that has been the envy of many in the past.

We need to pull together, to keep this great place intact. There is simply no other way. It cannot be winner takes all.
The sooner we realise this, the better.

And so my wish for 2014 is that we take a relook at our home, thank God for placing us here and together chart out a course for the Malaysian family to enable us to be on a firmer footing to face the challenges ahead.

I still think we have a fighting chance of creating a great nation, one where truth, justice and fair play reign supreme and everyone has his rightful place under the sun.

Balan Moses, executive editor (news) is always nostalgic for the halcyon days of his early years when peace and harmony in their truest sense prevailed in the country. Can we return to our glory days? What do you think? Feedback: bmoses@thesundaily.com