Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Goddess Durga and Navratri

Navratri (nav - ratri) or nine nights of the Goddess starts today and ends next Wednesday on Oct 24. Generally Navratri is seen as a festival of women, where Hindu women will flock to temples attired in their finest clothes.

From what I have been told, Navratri is considered very important to married Hindu women, it is the time of the year (though not the only time of the year) when they will pray for the well being of their families, the longevity of their husbands, the welfare of their children, good fortune, prosperity etc.

As for unmarried women, they will pray to the Goddess for a fine husband. Once they are married, because I doubt the Goddess would disappoint her devotees, they will pray for all the things listed in the paragraph above, as such the happy circle of life will continue.

I would like to humbly say that I am no expert on Hinduism, but I do voraciously read everything that I can lay my hands on, offline and online. Based on what I have read thus far, it appears that the majority of festivals centered around women, involves them praying for the well being of their husbands, children, and the unmarried ones praying for what the married ones have.

Goddess Durga, the warrior goddess, who is the principal deity worshipped on the occasion of Navratri, is the goddess whom women pray to for marital related matters, for which they do "Durga Pooja". In this way, she can be associated with the Greek Goddess Hera, who governs marriage.

Interestingly though, the characteristics associated with Goddess Durga resembles Athena the Greek Goddess of war more than Hera. Both are powerful warrior goddesses and operate as independent entities.

Origins of Goddess Durga

Once there was a demon called Mahishasura, who undertook great austerities until Lord Brahma finally appeared before him, pleased with his penance, Brahma offered him a boon. The demon then asked that he be made immortal, to which Brahma retorted that " He who is born must die!" Mahisa then asked that he should only die at the hands of a woman. The arrogant demon was confident that in this way no one would be able to slay him, as no woman would be capable of the task. Brahma readily granted his boon.

Mahisa then proceeded to wreak havoc on heaven, earth and all the realms in between. He drove Lord Indra and all the devas from heaven. The defeated devas then approached Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

As they listened to the stories of Mahisa's atrocities, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu grew enraged, their anger transformed into a brilliant divine light, from Indra and the other devas too issued a great light, this combined force of energy melded together. From it emerged the form of a woman, radiant and glowing - she was the Goddess Durga.

To Durga each of the gods gave their weapons - trident, disc, conch, mace, axe, discus, rope, bow arrows, spear, thunderbolt, bell, sword, shield, staff, string of beads, a water pot and a drinking cup ever full of wine.

Thus armed, the Goddess seated on her lion let out a terrible roar and proceeded to the Vindhya mountains. Hearing of her beauty, Mahisa sent emissaries with a proposal of marriage. Durga responded that she would only marry the man who could defeat her in battle.

Naturally Mahisa thought it would be only to easy to conquer the haughty beauty and make her his wife. So he proceeded to the Vindhya mountains not knowing that he and his whole army were marching to their death.

A fierce battle ensued for nine nights and at the end of the nine nights, Goddess Durga slayed Mahisa. The nine nights came to be known as Navratri and the tenth day was called Vijayadashmi - the day when good triumphs over evil.

What Goddess Durga represents

The name Durga means fortress, the impenetrable one. By virtue of the fact that she was born of the radiant light that issued forth from all the gods, Goddess Durga is seen as mother of the universe and most powerful of divine entities. No God equals her in might. Though she is also seen as a manifestation of Goddess Parvati and hence consort to Lord Shiva. Goddess Durga is an independent Warrior Goddess and a fierce protector of her devotees. Within her lies all power, she is complete on her own.

Considering her origins and what this powerful Goddess stands for, I find it interesting, that she has become associated with marriage and fertility, and propitiated for luck in these matters. Should she not be worshipped for the qualities she represents? Independence, courage, might, justice, honour, the ability to stand alone and fight for what is right? For did the Goddess not take on Mahisa on her own and defeat his ego and arrogance?

Goddess Durga is beautiful, but the beauty that attracted Mahisa, turned into a terrible force that vanquished the demon. And the goddess did not achieve this victory through covet means, she battled him face to face and claimed victory on the battlefield. So complete was her victory over him, that it was acknowledged by all the three worlds.

Goddess Durga in the 21st Century

The days when women needed men to provide for them are long over. In the old days, when a woman prayed for the longevity of her husband ( the head of the household), his long life would sustain hers. Naturally on both sides of the equation everyone would like to see their spouses prosper and live long.

However in this era more than in previous times, women are assuming more male dominated roles and operating as single entities in their social and professional lives. As such the Goddess should be approached to bestow qualities that will enable us to function and prosper in a very demanding 21st century.

I would like to see Goddess Durga become the patron Goddess of the independent 21st century woman, one who is forthright, courageous and not afraid to stand alone, and Navratri to be seen as the festival where the might of a courageous female force triumphs over the inflated male ego.

Let Navratri become less the soiree of married women, and more a gathering of women (married and single) who believe that the female force is one to be reckoned with. For after nine nights of intense battle, Goddess Durga proved just that!

Om Shri Durgayai Namah

Monday, September 17, 2012

A teetotaler vents.......

I'm a TEETOTALER, those who know me from way back in the mid 90s to the earlier years of the 00s will know that this was not always the case. Way back then, especially as a young reporter whose office was conveniently located in Bangsar (everybody's favourite watering hole), I spent many 'happy hours' trawling the many interesting joints located along Telawi1 and Telawi2.

My students days in Australia were also quite a delight, alcohol was so......cheap! We Malaysian students were constantly gushing about this.

So as you can see, the 'culture of drinking' is not one that is foreign to me. Being the proverbial observer that I am, and also because I was always "never that high", there were many things that I observed about human nature in those dimly-lit smoked filled joints where glasses were raised literally every second of an hour.

I'm not gonna start by saying that intoxication does strange things to people, because that's something most of us are aware of, c'mon, who has not come across a gibbering drunk at one time or another. Even those who don't frequent pubs would have come across a misbehaving uncle or relative at some family function.

What I'm talking about is the - cool factor associated with the consumption of alcohol. There are many people out there for whom alcohol is water. They don't give two hoots about the setting, it's the drink that matters. And if it's cheap, all the better! You will find them at coffee shops guzzling beer or at dinghy watering holes, having their 'regular whiskey.' At some point or another, their liver will start to complain, but I'm not going to go into that.

There's this notion that people who drink are cool, and those who don't are rather strait-laced. Drinking is also associated with fitting-in, if you go drinking with your work buddies or college mates you're cool, and if you don't you aren't cool or not one of them.

Those who make it known that they are not into drinking, not used to it etc, will constantly be ribbed about it. They will constantly be told that they need to loosen up, or not be so....afraid, coz it won't kill them.

The culture in Drinking-Zone

So it's pretty obvious that the non-drinkers will always get it bad from those who do. However among fellow drinkers too, there are several behavioural norm that has never failed to rub me up the wrong way. When you're at a table in a social setting with several friends, acquaintances, there will always be one person at the table who sees it as their duty to ensure that everyone else 'drinks-up'. Naturally these Joes' don't get the point that not all of us drink like a fish, and that some of us just like sipping our drink a little at a time.

This particular variant of a person will also insist on ordering more drinks for everyone, however they won't always offer to pick up the tab. Oh and if there are pretty girls at the table, they will make it a point to keep forcing these pretty ones to keep drinking. Pretty pathetic huh? Considering most of us know where this would lead to if the girl/girls actually keep drinking.

Being 'high' is not funny

Have you ever been out with friends, where some people in the group keep saying that they wanna get you 'high'. For anyone who has ever been 'high' you would know what being 'high' will cost you the next morning. At the risk of sounding like the biggest party-pooper in Christendom, people who are your true friends will not want you to puke all over yourself or into a toilet bowl, be so intoxicated that you  need help getting home and the list goes on.

Being drunk is no fun at all. Plus not being in control of yourself or your faculties can be a very dangerous thing. And I don't see the logic of forking out all that money on alcohol so that you can feel terrible the next day.

You're a teeto......what??

When you're a non-Muslim and don't come from a very traditional background. A lot of people tend to do a double-take when you tell them that you don't drink. Some will actually ask why? And some would venture further to ask if my reasons were religious in nature. Only religious people don't drink is it?? Must one have a reason not to drink alcohol? Some actually have the cheek to say: " You don't know what you're missing" Well I know,  and I'm glad of it.

I have no issues with people who drink and enjoy it, puking into toilet bowls and all notwithstanding. But I do find it highly patronising when people actually venture to ask why someone doesn't drink, or force more drinks down the throat of someone who is not too comfortable with consuming more than a certain amount of alcohol.

When you do stuff like that, it just means that you're plain rude and have no respect for people and their values. Plus I don't see how drinking or smoking amps up a person's cool factor at all.

The real cool people are the ones who aren't afraid to be themselves and stand up for their values, even if it means drinking water when everyone else are drinking the 'cool stuff'.

End of rant.........

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Ideal Malaysia

This post was supposed to be written and published by August 31, but work dictated otherwise, while most of you were probably enjoying the start of the long weekend yesterday, yours truly was slogging it out at the office, furiously uploading photo after photo of Merdeka Day celebrations, and scrolling the newswires for stories on how the nation celebrated our 55th Independence Day - That in short is the stuff we newspaper people get up to on all the siesta/public holidays.

Being exhausted as I was, I did entertain the thought of saving this post for next year, but then the thought occurred to me, that things might be a lil' different then. The last elections brought a lot of changes, and I think many of us are expecting more changes to follow, once our esteemed Prime Minister decides to dissolve Parliament and call for elections.

So......the best time to write this post would be now I dare say. The contents of this posting is a result of years and years of observing the "Wayang" that is the Malaysian political scene.

My ideal Malaysia is place that is colour blind. A country where its people don't see each other as brown, white or yellow, especially in politics. A place where people are judged based on their opinions, not ethnic origins or gender.

A place where people don't go on Facebook and accuse each other of supporting a "Keling" for instance. I am referring to the aftermath of Bersih 3.0, where people of a particular race ranted on Facebook against those who supported S.Ambiga. They wanted to know why all these people were supporting an Indian woman.

So if Ambiga came in the mould of say Anwar Ibrahim, then it would be OK to support her? Cos then it is like fighting some kind of Jihad? It would be great if Ambiga and others were judged on their conduct, opinions, brand of politics - instead of gender and ethnicity. In this information age, we in Malaysia are still pretty narrow when it comes to such.

It would also be absolutely lovely if those who are inducted into the hallowed halls of Parliament, actually take the task bestowed on them by the rakyat seriously, instead of trading insults and making petty comments.

My apologies for sounding like a feminist, but the sexism of Malaysian parliamentarians is legend! Especially in the treatment of female politicians from the opposition.

However for Parliament to be treated like the serious forum that it is, we have to have quality candidates standing for elections in the first place. Like in Singapore, where those who aspire to political office have to be qualified up to a certain level.

I recall that at one point in time, former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggested that those who join Barisan Nasional and aspire to be chosen as election candidates should have a degree at the very least. This suggestion was met with strong opposition, I wonder why.....? Is getting a degree such a mammoth task?

Issues and the Candidate

Why don't our election candidates campaign based on issues? By that I mean real issues, not promising to build 10 Chinese schools for instance, or a bigger mosque. This is what you call dangling the carrot to the masses.

In some remote village in a poor country, people will vote for you if you promise to hand out extra sacks of rice or fix a water pipe in the town square. But this is Malaysia! We are not a poor country. Most of our citizens are pretty well educated, even our kampungs have modern amenities.

In other countries - the more developed ones, candidates campaign on issues like taxes, education, healthcare. Here it is all about carrots and threats.

It gets a little lame, when decade after decade, we are told that if we don't vote for a certain candidate/party, the country will slip into chaos, because they are the only ones who have the magic amulet to keep the rakyat together.

But wait a minute, maybe it's actually a veiled threat, if you don't vote us back into power, we will unleash our hired thugs onto you and make life difficult for the incoming government.

Don't play Santa Claus

When our politicians look at us, what do they see? A people desperate for goodies and freebies? Do they seriously think the way into the hearts of voters is doling out money to school children, Ang Pow to civil servants etc? And whose money is it anyway.........ours I'm guessing.

Enough of Dynasties

When a Japanese politician becomes the object of scandal, he will bow many times before the public and media in shame. Then he or she will slink away from politics and public life. And in America, when politicians are caught behaving badly, they will make a public apology to all those who have been hurt by their conduct and from then on, there would be no more talk of aspiring to higher office.

But here in this land of warmth and forgiveness, the only thing our politicians will apologise for is being caught. If it is not possible for them to stand for re-election, a son, wife or daughter will stand in their place and be miraculously elected to the seat, keeping it warm until they can come back to claim it.

Maybe in future we should re-name constituencies after the candidates. Since they have such a hold on their seats decade after decade, even though said constituency remains in shambles.

Scandal = The End

Why is this not happening here? I hope that in time to come, we will have a government that will not tolerate even a whiff of scandal being attached to any of its members. And I also hope we will have a highly discerning electorate that will demand that candidates be squeaky clean on all the aspects that matter.

I still pinch myself each time I come across the words: "MCA President Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek". So what is it that happened here hmm? In a country that demands the highest from its politicians, this guy would have been a "has been" but not in "Bolehland" it appears!

Democracy means.........

We don't have to see the same faces in government decade after decade. The President of the United States of America gets one four year term and has to present himself as a candidate once more if he seeks a second and final term. Many people have said that one four year term is too little a time for a President to prove himself to the people, but that's democracy for you.

Even in ancient Rome, way before Julius Caesar became dictator, the Romans were fierce adherents of the democratic process. History tells us, or at least the version that I came across, that Caesar adored democracy but that the political climate at that point in Roman politics gave him no choice but to assume the dictatorship.

Before Caesar, Augustus, Nero and all the crazy Emperors that followed. Ancient Rome was a successful and democratic state. The head of the Senate/government were two elected consuls (Two so a balance of power existed). Consuls reigned for one term, after which elections would be held to elect new candidates.

I quote the Roman example, because I believe that for our country to be rid of the taint of dynastic politics, corruption and cronyism, the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet should have a fixed number of terms in office. Two or three perhaps......?

This is one of my more political post, I believe that for Malaysia to become an ideal palace where mature mindsets thrive, we first need that kind of leadership. Good parents mould sensible children and the same goes for the kind of leaders that govern a country.

It is decades of divide n rule that has resulted in a Malaysia that is more racial today, where hudud law has become such an issue, and where the silliest things take centre stage instead of more serious issues.

As one who is no "pendatang" by any means and Malaysian to the very core. This has always been my favourite national day song since primary school days.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mehrunissa the forgotten empress

A classic love story always ends with both lovers dying together, one partner dying, and the other living on and eventually dying of a broken heart. As myth, legend, folklore and history will tell us. The other half of a truly loving relationship will find it inconceivable to go on in normal fashion, once their partner is no more.

In most of these 'classic' love stories,  the woman is always the epitome of feminine beauty, and the man is always dashing and every ounce the virile hero. Which is why the story of Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mahal, and the monument of love he commissioned in her memory - the Taj Mahal, has fascinated the world for centuries.

Because of her marble mausoleum and the story of 'great love' which led to its construction, Mumtaz Mahal became and is the most famous Mughal woman of her time.
The Mughal woman I'm more fascinated with however is Nur Jehan or Mehrunissa. The 20th and last wife of Emperor Jehangir, the father of Shah Jehan.


 Nur Jehan's original name was Mehr-un-nisa. Her parents were Persian immigrants, and she was born to them while they were journeying to the Indian Sub-continent. Though her forefathers were affluent men who served at the Persian court, the poverty they endured on their journey to India, almost caused her parents to abandon her on the way. The history of Mughal India would have been a little different if they did.

Mehr-un-nisa grew to be an intelligent young woman with a flair for poetry and an independent nature. She was said to be quite beautiful too, porcelain skin, jet black hair and inky blue eyes. It was the desire of her parents to marry their daughter to a man who would understand and appreciate her intelligent nature.

However as her father served at the court of Emperor Akhbar, naturally the decision of the monarch who had the right of life itself over his subjects held sway. At the age of 17, she was married to Sher Afghan Quli Khan, a man many years her senior, and a soldier who had impressed Akhbar with his prowess in war. Sher Afghan was subsequently made the governor of a city in Bengal.

There are two versions to the story of Mehr-un-nisa and Jehangir. In one version, Jehangir knew her in his youth and wanted to marry her. But Akhbar decided to marry her to Sher Afghan instead.

In this version, when Jehangir becomes emperor, he makes his intention known to Sher Afghan that he wants Mehr-un-nisa for his harem. But that an angry Sher Afghan refuses, goes against the emperor, and dies in a skirmish.

The widowed Mehr-un-nisa then enters the harem as a lady-in-waiting to Jehangir's step-mother, Ruqaya Begum. And the couple marry several years later.

In another version, both Jehangir and Mehr-un-nisa only meet when she attends the palace meena bazaar. He is said to have been utterly infatuated with her, and they marry shortly after. However in both versions, the widowed Meh-un-nisa serves at the imperial harem for several years as lady-in-waiting to Ruqaya Begum before marrying Jehangir.

Regardless of how long Jehangir knew Mehr-un-nisa before marrying her. Their marriage shocked many. At the time of their wedding, she was 34, a widow with a young daughter. Considered old by the standards of the age in which she lived.

She was said to be very beautiful, but there were many far younger beauties around. Plus when emperors marry, politics and future alliances play a strong part in the union. Mehr-un-nisa had nothing to offer in that sense.

So naturally Jehangir's choice of bride shocked many. What shocked people further was that he showed no inclination to marry again after that. Mehr-un-nisa who subsequently came to be known as Nur Jehan, a title Jehangir bestowed upon her. Was Jehangir's 20th and last wife.

Jehangir's love for Mehr-un-nisa was the stuff of legend. But it was also a mature love not without its trials and tribulations. At the time of their marriage, Mehr-un-nisa was 34 and Jehangir in his 50s. Their marriage lasted for 16 years until the death of Jehangir. Mehr-un-nisa lived on and died at 68.

The personality of Nur Jehan

Nur Jehan is the only empress in the history of Mughal India who held a strong sway over the affairs of the empire. Jehangir had coinage struck in her name - a first for an empress. Jehangir's addiction to opium and cocaine was also a factor that led to Nur Jehan becoming the power behind the throne.

She gave audiences in her own right ( something only the sovereign did) and ministers had to consult with her on affairs of state. This unconventional aspect of her personality did not endear her to many. Especially the emperor's close associates and the women of the harem.

Early in their marriage, as loving a couple as they were, she was also known to have sparred openly with the emperor, to the horror of many. But the marriage thrived. The emperor accepting Nur Jehan for the strong minded and unconventional woman that she was.

Unencumbered by the ordeal of having to bear children again and again (Mehr-un-nisa had one daughter - Ladli from her first marriage. Her niece Mumtaz Mahal who married Jehangir's son Shah Jahan, had 14 children, and died shortly after the last child was born.) She pretty much had time to cultivate other talents and pursuits.

She is said to have set the standard in fashion among the women in the imperial harem. Even before her marriage to Jehangir, Nur Jehan designed fabrics and fashioned her own clothes. She was also well versed in the art of making perfumes. She wrote poetry, and loved gardening.

During her time as empress, she designed many Mughal gardens. She was also very interested in architecture. It is said that the design of the Taj Mahal closely resembles the tomb of Nur Jehan's father in Agra. Known as Itmad-Ud-Daulah's tomb. She also commissioned the construction of her own mausoleum in Shahdara Bagh in Lahore, Pakistan near the tomb of Jehangir. The monument has since become quite a tourist attraction.

Nur Jehan was not without her faults, her plan to hold on to the reigns of power after Jehangir's death, led to her downfall. She intended to put Jehangir's youngest son Prince Shahryar whom she had wed to her daughter Ladli, on the throne.

The rightful heir, Prince Khurram later to be known as Emperor Shah Jahan, staged a revolt and took the throne by force after Jehangir's death. Wary of his wily stepmother. Shah Jahan had her under house arrest until the end of her days.

During this time, Nur Jehan wrote poetry, created scents, and designed the tombs of her father, Jehangir, and herself.

Novelist Indu Sunderasan gives a superb account of Nur Jehan's life in 'The Twentieth Wife' and 'Feast of Roses'. Sunderasan also shows the reader another side of the famed Taj Mahal lovers - Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mahal.

 Nur Jehan was no angel, she was a real woman, a survivor, a person who carved her own unique niche in a time  and age that didn't afford women a chance to shine, beyond marrying well and bearing children.

And for that I consider her a true heroine of her time.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Curly Haired Indian

 Last Friday I walked into a shop at Amcorp Mall that sells hair products and accessories. As I entered, I heard a customer whining to the sales staff at the counter about her hair. Said customer was a middle-aged Indian woman with long freezy hair down her back.

When she noticed me, she gave me a look and told the staff at the counter: " You see lar, we Indians all have this kind of hair only." I was quite amused that she was putting me in the same category as her, considering that I don't have a huge lump of friz bobbing down my back.

If only someone had given this woman some sage advice about managing her thick mane, maybe she wouldn't be whining and hankering after silky-smooth stresses - which she naturally cannot have unless she resorts to rebonding and rebonding till death, by which time she might no longer have any hair left.

If only someone had told her that maybe she should not have her hair that long! And that perhaps she should trim it a little, every few months, a little layering perhaps.....? A hair mask twice a month, a leave-in conditioning treatment for nights, oh there are various ways to manage hair like that.

It will never be utterly silky soft to the touch. But hei the notion that hair should be like that, was sold to us by shampoo manufacturers. Tried those shampoos.....? It does not work ok, unless your hair is naturally like that.

Just like how everyone has different skin tones, body-shape, personality, so does hair type vary too, so don't crucify your hair as bad because it does not cascade like silk, coarser hair can be fun too, for one it can hold a style longer than straight and fine hair.

Indian and Curly

There are two types of people who will denigrate an Indian with curly hair - another Indian and Chinese hairdressers ( Does this sound a little racist? But it's true, so there.....)

Once a nice friendly Indian man, who naturally thought he was all that when it came to fashion, told me what a fine looking person I was, but pity about the hair. "You should do something about it, it looks bad." To which I blinked and said:"Oh? But I deliberately styled it like that." And he went like uh...oh? Naturally I was too polite to tell him that he should brush up on his manners and social skills.

Rarely will you find a Chinese hairdresser who will compliment you on your curls. If they do, they are not that hard-up for business, and have been exposed to many hair types, as should most hairdressers.

The majority will keep telling you, how thick!!! and unmanageable your hair is, and keep pushing the idea of rebonding down your throat, until you actually start entertaining thoughts of it, not because you want straight hair, but because you just want them to stop!

At this point an image of you with long straight hair, clad in a white dress, running across a meadow with sunflowers, and smug hairdresser in the background - RM300 richer, floats before your vision, then you snap out of it, pay her RM35 for the wash n cut, and vow never to go back there.

 Hair type and ethnicity

There seems to be this common perception that all Indians have frizzy, curly, thick manes. Not true. I don't know if all Black Americans, Africans are born with frizzy hair and small tight curls, but that is definitely not the case with Indians.

Our hair type varies. It has got nothing to do with skin colour either as some more ignorant people might assume. There are many dusky toned Indians with very straight hair, or soft waves, and there are fair skinned Indians who have thick, coarse or curly hair.

Seriously when will these Chinese hairdressers break out of their circle of ignorance.....hmm?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ageism in Malaysia

A conversation between two women in their mid 50s

Madam X: So how have you been keeping? Not seen you in ages!

Madam Y: I'm fine, sorry I could not find the time to catch up until now, been busy, what with work and all.....

Madam X: Working?? Why so old ready still must work....? At our age, we should be resting. Let the children support us.

Madam Y: Well the children do their part, but I enjoy keeping busy and active. Don't see myself quitting anytime soon!

Madam X: Wow really? Do they still accept people our age at the workplace?

I'm glad to say there are many men and women in their 50s and above in the Malaysian workplace today. However ageism is also rife, not just in the workplace, but in society at large. And the ones guilty of this are younger Malaysians - the ones who should be more modern in their views, but who sadly are not!

At one of my previous workplaces, some colleagues were hiring for their department, and going through resumes, it was a huge joke to them that several of the applicants were in their mid 40s. "Why does anyone that age need a job?" one girl snorted. I'm guessing her mom's a housewife for life, hence her narrow minded perception.

Sometime after at another organisation, a new hire walked in. A pleasant middle-aged lady, her appearance instantly created a sensation among some of the junior staff, they were terribly amused, and walked around pointing the woman out to other colleagues who had not noticed.

Now which is more amusing? The fact that a new hire ( for a position that requires a substantial amount of working experience) is someone older, or the behaviour of the junior staff members. Maybe someday, when they are several decades older and still in the workforce, they might not think it's so funny after all.

Is Hilary Clinton a joke then? Someone who has had a successful career as a lawyer, First Lady and Senator, and who is now America's foremost ambassador as Secretary of State, a global joke for not wanting to spend her menopausal years knitting quietly by some fireside and harping at Chelsea for not producing grandchildren?

I know there is still talk of ageism in the West. But it is much better there than over here. During my student years overseas, I encountered senior citizens behind the counters at McDonald's, as tour guides, working at libraries and many other places.

Ever seen an older person behind the counter at McDonald's here? Everyone would pity them, saying their kids had either abandoned them, or they never got married and had kids, hence having to suffer in old age.

No doubt things are changing, I increasingly see many older people going about independently on their own, and even opting to come out of retirement to work again. Kudos to these folk.

I don't know whether it is an Asian thing or not (I'm guessing it is). That if you're older and still working, it is because you desperately need the money, and it is something to be looked down upon. Well some older people work because they need the money, and some because they enjoy what they do.

With regards to the former, I don't see it as something to be ashamed about. Better to be independent and earn your own keep at any age than to be dependent on other people. To be honest, I very much admire these people.

In an age, where there are so many young and able bodied people who come up with many excuses not to get jobs and build careers, but try to find other means to live luxuriously, these men and women who still get up in the morning and go out there to contend with the rat-race are shining examples for us the younger generation to emulate.

I dedicate this post to all the older people out there who never let ageism stand in their way, whether is it pursuing a career, learning something new, or embarking on some adventure or another.

Age is only a number, a physical marker of our time on earth, in no way does it confine us.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Compassionate Journalism

This is something that I have mulled about for years as a member of the profession, and I've finally decided to give words to those fragmented thoughts that have cropped up on and off in the course of work.

There's this common enough perception, that in the quest to garner readership and sell newspapers, we in journalism would resort to sensationalising issues and digging up the dirt on others. First of all there is no way we can sensationalise anything, if there is nothing to sensationalise in the first place, and if there is no dirt to dig up, we certainly would not be putting our spades to the task!

So to all those who keep grumbling about sensationalism, and the media giving them a hard time - usually all those so-called 'Important People', how about keeping your backyard clean first and not saying silly things - which of course will be reported!

When you're that high up, we assume you're smart, it goes with the territory, so when you let slip that you're not, it becomes news naturally.

My point is, when one is in the limelight, the light of the media will shine upon you mercilessly, that's a given. It is our job. Nothing personal. It sells, we tell. Plus the public have the right to know what you get up to. The problem with this country is that we don't do enough of that.

On the other hand, as a member of the profession, I strongly believe that our job is not solely about selling newspapers or getting hits for our websites. Sometimes a dignified silence is necessary. There are times when compassion is required. It wont gain us sales, but this business is not all about money. Anyone in this profession who thinks it's about $$$$$ all the way, is in the wrong line of work.

When silence is required

When Nayati Shamelin Moodliar was abducted, the police issued a gag order of sorts on the media. Understandably so - it was a kidnap case - a precarious situation. Literally every media organisation complied except one.

They played up the issue to the hilt. There were Nayati stories everyday, it irritated the police and inflamed the boy's parents. But what they cared about was sales. Not Nayati. Said paper would not have been any poorer if they opted to remain silent like the rest, but they went to town with it!

Yes I know they run many stories of poor suffering folk with numbers to call, for the public to donate. But when it comes down to it, they were not compassionate or understanding to Nayati or his family. These folks were just $$$$ to them.

There are things that the public needs to know, but there are things if not reported, will not make anyone the poorer for it. In my early days as a journalist, we had a part-time writer whose father was found dead under rather strange circumstances, some said he was murdered, others said he committed suicide.

Upon hearing the story, my editor assigned one of my colleagues to call up and interview the part-time writer, there was a possibility that the story would go on the front page. My colleague naturally was upset. What she wanted to do was visit the family and pay her condolences, not interview them for a front page story.

When she told our editor that she did not feel right doing it, he chastised her for being emotional and said there was no two ways about it. When she finally called the guy, he pleaded with her not to run the story. Said that the family was already grieving, and that further highlighting the matter would only cause tongues to wag and embarrassment to them.

She decided not to write the story and most of our other colleagues agreed as much. It was not merely because he was our colleague. His father was not a public figure, none of the other papers knew about it, it was not a public interest story at all.

Mind you this was not a story that was going to make a sensational court trial the way the Canny Ong or Noritta Samsudin case did. So why cause further grief to the family by splashing it on the front page. Well at least that was what we reporters thought.

When my editor came out of the evening meeting, he was pissed when my friend said she did not want to proceed with the story. It ended with her leaving in a huff. The story was carried as a news brief.

At that time, it made me wonder, if something had happened to me or one of my family members, would it become front page news too?

Well a few months later, a relative of the said editor was found dead under mysterious circumstances. A rival newspaper carried the story as a news brief. Many of my senior colleagues made a big hue n cry about it. Saying it was malicious and cruel, and that it would cause humiliation to the family.

It made me wonder why they failed to show the same compassion earlier, when a member of our own staff had to beg them not to run a story, and they still did - even that news brief was unnecessary.

Ideally our duty is to spread awareness on the issues that people should know of, matters of public interest, and also to keep public figures on their feet. But there are things if not known will hurt no one. Sometimes a dignified silence is of the utmost necessity.

Cultivating goodwill

People might pick up a newspaper or log on to a website that is dishing up the dirt, but they might not necessarily like you. And if you think Selling is more important than cultivating goodwill, you're wrong.

Some examples - The NST has not been doing as well as it used to in years yonder. Despite many revamps it still lags in sales. Why? Cause it can't shake off that image of being subordinate to the ruling party and the government.

During the recent Bersih 3.0. People on the street grumbled about the coverage of both The Star and NST. theSundaily and the Malay Mail received many kudos for what many deemed was balanced coverage about what truly happened on the ground.

The NST and The Star might seem like giants today, they are big organisations after all. theSun and Malay Mail might seem smaller outfits in comparison. But giants have been known to crumble when they are no longer relevant.

In journalism I believe, the future belongs to those who serve the public, versus those who bow to big corporations and the strong arm of the government.

In my opinion, serving the public means telling both sides to a story, we give you the facts, you make what you will of it. No spin doctoring. When something is not right, people deserve to know.

Restraint is also important, as in the case of Nayati. It gives us dignity and tells people that we are compassionate.

Call me idealistic, but I believe that the media organisation that succeeds in the future - is one that is liked and respected by people for the brand of journalism that it practices.

This ain't the old days when you just had the NST and The Star. In print and online there's much to choose from. Everyone is vying for a share of the pie, competition is tougher.

Of course I'm aware of the necessary evil of pandering to advertisers. But advertisers also want to advertise with media that has the higher circulation no? And even if you can't or don't want to fulfill some of their demands, can they afford not to advertise with you if your circulation figures are high....?  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Radin the brave princess

When it comes to myths and legends, most of us grew up fed on a diet of beautiful princesses and their dashing suitors. The prince was brave, the princess had milky white skin, ruby red lips and was the epitome of what women should be - shy and sweet with a voice as sweet as a nightingale's.

Which is why I consider Puteri Gunung Ledang one hell of a kickass character. Spurned all her suitors, even the Sultan himself, and preferred to live all by herself up on a mountain. For the record I don't believe the faerie princess had any ties with Hang Tuah, hence Tiara Jacquelina's big budget on-screen depiction of her is at best a fairytale and at worst plain lame.

Well I digress, I have always felt that the stories worth knowing have been shrouded in obscurity, and what we have been fed time and again is cheesy crap. For instance, who doesn't know the story of Cinderella? The moral of that tale? If you need rescuing, wait for a fairy godmother, or a knight in shining armour. Not very good advice I dare say.

So a couple of Fridays ago when I came across the story of Radin Mas Ayu in theSundaily -  http://www.thesundaily.my/news/407197

 It made me wonder why I had never heard of her when I was a kid. I loved myths and legends, still do, and devoured every book on local folkfore that I could find, but somehow I never came across Radin's story.

I read countless re-tellings of the legend of Mahsuri, came across many tales of Hang Tuah's bravery, but never came across the story of the young princess who sacrificed her life to save that of her father.

The article did not contain much information on Radin's origins and the events that led up to her death. So I googled up the stories on her and have summarised it here for you.

The princess from Java

Radin's father was of royal blood while her mother was a court dancer. The marriage of her parents was met with dissaproval by her paternal grandparents. The name of Radin's father was Kanjen Gusti Adipati Agung Radin Kusomowijoyo Diningrat ( he was better known as Radin Mas). Her mother's name was Mas Ayu. Hence they named her - Radin Mas Ayu.

Tragedy Strikes 

Determined to put an end to their union, Radin Mas was sent away on a hunting expedition by his parents. When he returned, he found that his palace had been razed by a fire which also claimed the life of his wife. Distraught, he left Java with his baby daughter.

In another version it is Radin's uncle the king who is angry that her father marries a commoner, and orders for the palace to be burned down when her father is away. In this version a loyal follower saves the baby princess Radin from the flames. Angry with his brother. Radin's father takes her and leaves for Singapore.

Singapore Beckons

Father and daughter then settled down to a quiet life as commoners in Teluk Blangah, Singapore. Then one day the village was attacked by pirates. Radin Mas fights bravely and defeats the pirates.

A Second Marriage

When the Sultan of Singapore hears of this, and also upon discovering that Radin Mas is of royal lineage, he decides to give him the hand of his daughter Tengku Halijah in marriage. A son Tengku Chik was born to them in due course.

The Step-mother Syndrome

In time Tengku Halijah came to hate her step-daughter. Two factors led to her feeling this way. Firstly she could not bear the closeness between father and daughter. Radin was naturally the apple of her father's eye. Secondly Radin had inherited the good looks of her mother, and this too jarred at her young step-mother.

The Plot Thickens

Tengku Halijah had a nephew - Tengku Bagus who did not like Radin Mas. He also desired the hand of the young beauty in marriage. Radin however could not stand him. Tengku Halijah at this point, decided to engage the help of her nephew to get rid of Radin.


To get Radin's father out of the way, Tengku Bagus invited him for a meal and drugged his food. When Radin Mas became unconscious, he imprisoned him in a well. He then forced Radin to marry him, threatening to harm her father if she did not.

During the marriage ceremony when Radin was asked if she had obtained her father's permission to marry, her step-brother Tengku Chik came forward and informed everyone present that his father was trapped in a well by the evil Tengku Bagus.

The whole wedding party then rushed to rescue Radin Mas. As soon as Radin Mas came out of the well, Tengku Bagus rushed forward to stab him with a keris. Radin who saw what was about to happen, rushed forward to shield her father. She died from her wounds in her father's arms.

Tengku Bagus was caught. One assumes he paid for his crimes. As the story goes, Tengku Halijah tried to escape, but was struck down by lightning. Radin's father I imagine, died of a broken heart.

The year of this tragedy was 1511. Radin's tomb, draped in golden yellow as a sign of her royal lineage, lies at the foot of Mount Faber in Singapore.

Makam Puteri Radin Mas Ayu
 She is indeed an unsung heroine in the annals of Malay history. A brave young woman who lay down her life to save her father. Combing back the centuries, I imagine that as much as Radin Mas must have grieved the loss of his daughter, he must have been proud of her too - her story is one of ultimate filial piety.

Father's day was sometime last month, but better late than never, I would like to dedicate this story to my father who raised me to be more than just any other girl. Thanks to my father - I'm independent, forthright, have no qualms about being true to myself and have the courage to go it alone when necessary.

I have a deep respect for life, not just human life. I'm no born humanitarian, if the plight of abused animals bother me today, it is because my father opened my eyes to it. He taught me that life in all it's forms deserve to be treated with dignity.

Father also taught me to see beyond the narrow confines of my own existence. He taught me to care about the wider world, he taught me that my concerns and worries are trivial in the face of greater suffering.

He also encouraged me to make the best of what I have, than to desire the things that I do not have. Yet this is the same father who is the reason that I return to a beautiful home everyday, and also the one who ensured that my line of work involves something I'm truly passionate about. 

Because you allow me to be so, though I am a part of society, I'm not chained by its narrow dictates.

Thanks to your ever present love and guidance, I'm finally growing into the person I'm meant to be. Thank you for everything Papa, love you always..........

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Killer Pit Bull eh?

Every once in a while, something will occur to turn the minds of Malaysians away from the "Sandiwara" of the Malaysian political scene.

Usually only a grisly crime would do the trick. Especially if the blood spilled was that of a beauty or even a slightly attractive woman. People love to hear of beautiful women who die tragically. We still speak of Mahsuri and the white blood that gushed out of her don't we?

This time however, the drama was played out in a different setting. The victim is a 74-year-old man, the setting a quiet suburban neighbourhood in Subang Jaya, the murderer.....? Now this is where it gets interesting.

The one who brought Yip Sun Wah down by literally going for his jugular was a dog, whose breed many Malaysians are still scratching their heads about, even the Veterinary Services Department. Pit Bull? Bull Terrier? American Staffordshire.......? A cross among one of these breeds? For the purpose of this posting, I shall refer to this dog as - the Pit Bull.

American Pit Bull

If Yip had met his end by any other criminal means, he would never have captured our imagination the way he did. Less than an hour after the news broke, it spread like wildfire. Ambiga and her Bersih gang had no choice but to take a backseat that day. Even good ol' Najib must have had a breather, it's not been all peachy for him for sometime now.

The nation had a new villain. A small-ish, snowy white, pointy eared canine whom we first knew as - the Pit Bull. The Star was the first to start the ball rolling - It's headlines and photo captions read: "Killer Dog", "Dangerous Animal", the other papers were quick to follow suit for want of an imagination or lack of creativity.

Soon photos of the Pit Bull was splashed across news portals and pages with these menacing descriptions. But at the same time, people started to ask questions, what made a house dog of all things, Pit Bull or whatever breed, turn on a random jogger.

The mystery deepened when it surfaced (thanks to some intelligent reporters who bothered to ask the right questions to the right people) that according to neighbours, the dog who has been out of the compound on its own had never bothered anyone or shown signs of aggression.

A further puzzle is that the dog never turned on the man and woman who tried to get it away from Yip by hitting it with an umbrella and stick. The moment the victim stopped moving, it ran back into the compound.

When personnel from the Veterinary Services department came to take the dog away, boy were they surprised! They went there fully expecting an aggressive and violent animal. What they saw stunned them.

The Pit Bull soon to gain infamy, was quiet and docile, frightened actually, according to some people at the scene. Like it knew it had done something wrong. I was actually shown a photo of the dog taken after the incident, while it was still covered in blood. It looked scared, confused, and lost. 

Newspaper reports of the incident, perpetuated the mystery by only stating that the dog was not known to be aggressive. As such people were left asking why..........??

A missing piece of the puzzle was not reported. Deliberate? Because it would cause offence to the victim's family........??

According to neighbours, Yip frequently passed by the house on his routine morning jogs, and he was known to have yelled at the dog on many occasions. Why would he scold someone's dog? It probably barked each time he passed by. Just like it would have done to others who passed the house.

Normal dog behaviour not? It was terribly unfortunate that on that day, the latch to the garbage chute was not locked, and tragedy ensued.

Dogs do not attack unless they are threatened, provoked, or in fear of its safety or that of its master. I did not look at the non-English dailies, but none of the mainstream English papers mentioned about the provocation.

They should have, not to put the victim in a bad light. But it would have been a great education to the very many people out there who are so very ignorant of the basics of animal behaviour.

You don't have to be a canine expert to know that dogs will turn violent when threatened or provoked. But many people seem to think it is okay to taunt an animal as long as it is in a cage or behind a locked gate.

But look at what happened to Yip. It's very tragic that he had to go that way. And the owner and her family should have done a better job in keeping their dog away from strangers. There are many dog owners who let their pets roam freely in the neighbourhood thinking that their dogs are tame.

Let this be a lesson to them too, to be more responsible. Whether tame or no, their pets should only be taken out of the compound on a leash. It makes people uncomfortable to have dogs running around the neighbourhood unsupervised.

This has never been a country for dogs, and on the whole there's a huge lack of understanding and acceptance of canines in our society. This whole incident is a stark reminder of that. But ignorant people only see one side of the coin - An innocent old man was mauled by a killer dog.

There's this general assumption that any dog who attacks must be put to sleep. But even a person accused of murder is given a fair trial no?

Should we not first determine what caused the animal to behave in that way. Or is the life of a non-human creature worth so little, that such an evaluation is not required at all. It is a shame when any animal for that matter, is put to sleep for the error of a human being.

If it is justifiable to put an animal to sleep because of the negligence of their master, maybe we should put juveniles to sleep too, citing negligent parents. My what a great way to clean up society no ?

Oh but human life is so.......precious right? Cannot just be cast away like that. Cause God created man and what not, but God also created Man's best friend and all the other non-human creatures that inhabit this vast earth.

Back to the Pit Bull incident, to date the dog is still under observation, and there's no decision yet on whether the owner will be prosecuted. To what extent the owner should be held accountable is a muddle and a puddle for the powers that be to decide.

But if that dog is put to sleep, and the reason given is safety in the neighbourhood, or public pressure, my next blog post is going to be on how to keep your dogs safe from people - stupid people who will provoke your pet and shorten its life.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Of SPM and Suicide

As of yesterday we have our first SPM casualty of 2012. E. Prem Kumar apparently consumed pesticide after getting less than satisfactory results. There have been others over the years, those who rather take their own lives than face their parents after getting their results. Some silently ended their lives in the privacy of their rooms after getting scolded for performing poorly, getting average results or just getting less A's! Can you believe that?

It seriously is insane, the kind of pressure parents put on their children to get top notch results. The thing is paper qualifications are not everything, and EQ (emotional intelligence) is just as important as IQ (intelligence). Many parents spend so much of emphasis on education, happily forgetting that imparting basic life skills - especially social skills is just as important.

Future employers are not just going to hire you because they are bedazzled by your academic results and fancy degrees. They will also be judging you on your - personality, character, how well you interact with others, your approach to teamwork etc. In short they will be looking for a well rounded personality, not a super nerd.

So how does one become a well rounded personality? A person who is able to function well in society and within an organisation without stepping on other people's toes and being a plain menace? Well with everything else, it starts from home. One word - upbringing!

The way a parent interacts with their child, very much determines the kind of person that child will be like as an adult. Many parents seem to think that spending a bomb on tuition, swimming, ballet, piano etc is a sign of love. "See how much of money I spend every month on all these classes, that's how much I love you!" 

If you truly care about the kind of person you're gonna someday unleash on society, you as a parent will spend more time communicating with your kid. Talk to them, they shouldn't be afraid to share their problems or tell you stuff. Children who have such an open channel of communication with their parents, are less likely to do "funny" things behind their backs or suddenly just commit suicide.

Hobbies are important

Children should have other interests besides their studies, whether it is sporting activities, learning arts and crafts ( I highly recommend this, it enhances creativity), reading ( also super duper important) or any other hobby. People who have hobbies are interesting people. It adds another dimension to your personality. And in many cases, childhood hobbies have become future careers.

Reading and writing was my numero uno hobby when I was a kid. I wrote my first piece of poetry when I was 10. Right from primary school I was focused on being a writer. With such an early determination and focus on what I wanted to be, mum and dad did not waste their time trying to push the doctor-lawyer thing down my throat.

My brother loved tinkering with electrical gadgets and computers, today he naturally works in IT and is enjoying every moment of it. There are others like us too, who are blessed to have parents who allowed us to pursue our natural inclinations.

Unfortunately there are also those parents who decide from when their kids are in the womb, what they are going to be someday. Foisting your dreams on your young ones or expecting them to be like you is unfair. 

Sometime ago, I read an interview given by Malaysian astronaut Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor and his wife Dr Harlina Mohd Yunos to a Malay magazine. The couple said they wanted their daughter and any other children they had to become doctors. They said they would speak to their kids about stuff related to medicine from a young age, so their kids would desire to follow in their footsteps.

If your kid wants to follow in your footsteps, that is fair enough. Many children do see their parents as role models and some talents are genetic after all. But on the other side of the coin, children who constantly feel the pressure of having to live up to their parents successes do suffer psychologically.

Not every child is the same, some absorb knowledge faster, and some don't. This of course does not mean that the latter is stupid. They could be better at other things. A good parent will see this and try to get them to develop their skills in other areas. Instead of pushing them to be like their other siblings who are high academic achievers for instance.

When I was in school, my parents naturally expected me to get good results. But I also got to watch TV and do other stuff. My mother always emphasised that my results should be good enough to gain entry into university. But being good parents they also knew that I was better at languages and subjects that required reading versus those that centred on formulas and calculations like maths and physics. So there was no insane expectations that I should get distinctions in these subjects.

They always said that I should do my best, but if my results were not so great, it was OK. The important thing was that I had given it my best - and that was good enough for them. My dad also said that SPM was really just the beginning and he was more interested in how we ( my siblings and I) fared after that - for that is when life truly begins.

So yes, it is sad to see some students end their lives even before it can begin.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Safe in Malaysia

Early this month, tongues were wagging as to a certain piece of news. But this time it was not the bedroom scandals of politicians or the ownership of the word "God" that got people talking. Actually the news in question was rather positive, and should have warmed our hearts, but it didn't!

As good as this finding looks in terms of public relations, the reality is far different for most of us, and this is why we will not be popping champagne anytime soon.

  • Snatch thefts, snatch thefts, snatch thefts!! Many people have lost their lives to this rampant crime. 

  • Public transportation is not safe. Remember those taxi rapes? And those are just the reported cases. Malaysian cab drivers have also been known to rob their passengers! Things are definitely not looking good for us in this sector.

  • Rape by those in authority - Students have been molested and raped by teachers, National Service instructors and college lecturers.

  • The acid splasher - has the dude been caught??

  • Neighbourhood crimes - Many people have met a bloody end in their own homes. These days many housing developments are offering gated security with patrols and such. Gated communities will be a norm in the future I foresee.

  • Little children are far from safe, as we have read from the papers recently.

  • Security guards - you see them everywhere - but how trustworthy are they? Many crimes have been attributed to them too. Poor screening process, too many small time security firms. The end result is that the safety of the people they should be protecting gets compromised.

  • Drivers have been subjected to carjacking and armed robbery. Never stop for anyone is the safety motto.

  • To be honest I don't trust the men in blue. Do you? Cops have been known to peep on female detainees performing nude squats and even rape. While in uniform to boot! Sometimes it's not them but those who impersonate them! Is it that easy to get police uniforms, badges etc......?

When the findings by the Global Peace Index (GPI) was first reported, the reaction of most Malaysians was one of irony. Some said it was a paid for report by a corrupt government that wanted to make it's administration look good, and boost tourism among others.

However I doubt that the reach of our government is so great that it can influence the Sydney based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) which releases the annual GPI report.

About the GPI
Now in its fifth year, it ranks 153 nations according to their "absence of violence" and level of peacefulness. The GPI is developed under the guidance of an international panel of independent experts. Countries are measured based on 23 indicators such as - military expenditure, relations with neighbouring countries, percentage of inmates in prison, crime rates and political stability.

In relation to our Southeast Asian neighbours minus Singapore, we are definitely more politically stable. I mean how easy is it to stage a demonstration or riot in Malaysia? Before that can happen, the government will probably lockdown the whole country!

As much as I think this report is not corrupt, it definitely does not reflect how the majority of Malaysians view our country. Which kinda indicates that reports churned out by think-tanks and research institutes are rough indicators at best. You wanna know what people really think, what the real sentiment is, go on Facebook and Twitter. The truth is out there!

FYI the top 10 safest countries in the world are:
  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Japan
  4. Denmark
  5. Czech Republic
  6. Austria
  7. Finland
  8. Canada
  9. Norway
  10. Slovenia
Read the full 2011 report here:

Friday, March 9, 2012

To be offended or not?

The Star came under a lot of heat for the picture of Erykah Badu sporting body art offensive to Muslims in Star2 - the entertainment section of the paper. Three senior editors were summoned to the Home Ministry and the story did not end there.

Heads were destined to roll and they did. Star2 senior editor Lim Cheng Hoe and deputy editor for features Daryl Goh were suspended indefinitely. And to make sure the paper does not risk offending Islam again, associate editors Rozaid Rahman and Shah Dadameah were appointed to advise the daily on issues sensitive to Muslims.

I'm guessing that this was done to appease those who were baying for blood. But it appears that this decision has far from satisfied certain parties. Pas Youth are still not content, they want a dialogue with the paper to discuss the Badu issue and the coverage of Valentine's Day - because it also apparently rubs some Muslims up the wrong way.

In true Malaysian fashion this will all die down eventually. Maybe some other paper will rescue The Star from its plight, one of the Chinese dailies perhaps? Who are pros at hawking sensation. Do the top guns in Pas Youth know Mandarin I wonder? If they do, perhaps they won't be giving The Star such a bad time.

What irritates me with regards to this whole issue is that some people take offence because they have the luxury of doing so. Or perhaps it's all about gaining political mileage, being seen as the champions of Islam.

I do wonder if Badu or some other singer had done something that was deemed insulting to Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, would there have been such a hue and cry? If there was a petition from a group representing one of these religions to have a concert cancelled, would the government have swiftly acted upon it. Told the performer in question to go packing.......?

Is there some kind of unwritten consensus in this country that everyone has to be very careful not to insult Islam in any way because Muslims are the majority, but the same does not apply to the other religions? 

Temples have been smashed, churches have fallen victim to arson attacks - you think the people of these two religions are okay with it? They quietly seethe but know for sure that they have no champion in the government.

A Lack of Understanding

Whether it is Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism  - in today's world not many people truly understand religion. Their own and that of others. This lack of understanding gives way to disrespect in many instances. Sometimes it is unintentional - in the case of Badu. Sometimes people know but just don't care.

During my student days in Australia, my buddy and I once went shopping in downtown Sydney, we were surprised to find tight-fitting t-shirts and other clothes with the images of Hindu gods and goddesses printed on it. We even found a velvet satchel bag with Quranic verses on it.

I'm Hindu and my buddy is Christian, as Malaysians who were brought up to have a deep respect for religion and culture, we were a little disturbed yes, but not angry. I mean what to expect from people who don't have a strong religious tradition or even a wee bit of culture to begin with?

Did we think that the people who designed those apparel were disrespecting the two religions in question? Well I wouldn't give them credit for being that deep! I think they would have just as happily printed a picture of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary on those clothes. But not exotic enough I suppose.

That incident happened in 1998. But it appears things have progressed since then. Hindu deities have become so in demand that their images have also been printed on underwear and other skimpy clothes. It really does say something about the people who design these clothes, and even more of those who actually wear them!

People who do these things, insult themselves more than anyone else. So I definitely would not waste my time protesting or creating a Facebook group to condemn their doings. As a Hindu I believe in karma. You reap what you sow.

Closer to home, a few years ago, I went to the MPH Bookstore in Bangsar where I spotted a book with a picture of Lord Shiva and the divine ox Nandi on it, in the background was the snowy peaks of Mount Kailash. The book was a chic-lit about some woman travelling through India.

Now is that not kinda offensive? A non-religious book with a picture of a god and symbols sacred to Hinduism on it? If there was a chic-lit with the picture of the Kaaba on it, would MPH even be selling that book? Good Muslims would have launched a "Boycott MPH Campaign" for being anti-Islam.

Of Cowheads and such.......

I think most Malaysians should know that cows are sacred to Hinduism right? I mean if you don't, which planet are you living on honey....?? However Muslims are pretty big on eating beef. Cows to the slaughter on Hari-Raya Qurban etc.

No problem there, I don't expect them to start eating only mutton because there are Hindus in this country. But at the very least, they should practice some amount of basic sensitivity towards their fellow Malaysian Hindus.

There's this market in Setia Indah, Johor Baru which my mum frequents. There's this Malay butcher there who decorates his stall with bloody cowheads. Any day you go, the dude always has a couple of fresh bovine heads to um entice customers I suppose?

This to me is religious insensitivity. Setia Indah is in no way a pre-dominantly Malay neighbourhood. There's a good mix of Chinese, Indians and Malays. Like my mum, there are many other Indians who frequent that market too. You think they like it? I bet they don't, they just choose not to make a big deal about it.

As for that Malay butcher, I doubt he is unaware that cows are sacred to Indians. He probably just doesn't care. He is a Malay Muslim, he belongs to the majority race, Indians are a minority, so there you have it.

Well if you are a minority, does that make your religion any less sacred? To any non-Hindu reading this blog, let me give you an idea of the sacredness of the cow in Hindu religion. In most Hindu temples, the statue of the cow will face the main deity, be garlanded on special occasions and prayers are also conducted before it. So imagine what it would be like for any god fearing Hindu to have to look at a bloodied and butchered cowhead.

To wrap up, with regards to religion, the option is always there - whether to be offended or not, whether to make a big ruckus out of it. People who are true in their faith, understand that religion is all about peace. So when faced with the circumstances above, they turn away. It does not make them weak or meek in anyway. It shows that nothing can shake their faith, and that they are choosing the path of peace to that of aggression.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Malaysian Hypocrisy

Erykah Badu will not be the last international artist to be the object of controversy or have a concert cancelled at the eleventh hour. As long as hypocrisy prevails among certain sections of society and the government, this is bound to happen again.

We are always neck to neck in competition with Singapore over many things, but one thing we can never wrest from them - is being the centre for performing arts and culture in Southeast Asia. The kind of restrictions imposed on artiste coming to perform here is ridiculous at best - don't take off your shirt, don't lie on the stage, no short dresses, nothing skimpy........with all these conditions, one would think ours is a squeaky clean society.

Gwen played the good girl and decided to comply.
But that is not the case. If it were, then fair enough, we wouldn't want the "rakyat" traumatised by the sight of a bare chest glistening with sweat or a woman's naked thighs on public display which would be oh so "haram".

Beyonce decided to give Malaysia a pass. 
If you think Beyonce prancing about on stage is obscene, her famous thunder thighs exposed, just go to any Malaysian nightspot, what do you think the girls there will be wearing? And as I have seen myself, sometimes the skimpiest dressed would be a mere school girl. But of course when said girl goes to school the next day, the "tudung" would be part of her uniform.

Malaysian youths are not sheltered, they are as exposed as can be - whether they are covered head to foot or not. Just like youths in other countries, western or asian. So the masses are not going to get traumatised or wring their hands over the display of some flesh or body art.

The ones who are getting offended are a minority who bark the loudest. They keep harping on religion, religion, religion. But considering that elections might be just around the corner, the government obviously does not want to take any risk in appearing to be lax about the - "The Sacred Word". Remember those churches that fell victim to arson attacks?

Squeaky Clean?

I was reading the coverage of the Badu controversy on several foreign news websites and was highly amused. The impression given was that our government highly prizes decency to the extent that we are a squeaky clean nation, and that religious sensibilities dominate.

You know how Thailand is seen as the "Sex Capital" of the region? We are a bit like that too, it's just that it is all hidden under the veneer of "Squeaky Clean Muslim Nation", which is what makes us hypocrites.

What do I mean by this? Even in western countries which have so called lax moral values, there are only so many things that people can get away with. But here in Malaysia you can be caught out and still hold public office, or if booted out, still have enough of a thick skin to seek re-election.

Do Malaysian politicians who have been tainted by sex and corruption scandals resign voluntarily? Do their parties put pressure on them to resign? Are they depicted in the press as bad role models to the "rakyat"? From what I remember most of these politicians usually seem more angry at being caught than feeling ashamed for their misdeeds.

Ok forget the politicians, from as far back as I can remember, even during school days there were teachers who made sure each lesson had at least one dirty joke to go with it. And I don't think these teachers were unique to my school in anyway. So yes students get corrupted from school, from their very own teachers who think jokes are not funny unless there is some form of sexual innuendo in it. And after hearing these jokes, the students will march off to "Agama" and "Moral" classes.

Things are not squeaky clean in the working world either, those who laugh at the bosses' dirty jokes have a future and those who don't, um don't. It still amazes  me, the kind of subtle and not so subtle sexual harassment that is pervasive in the Malaysian workplace. It is as if the very notion of sexual harassment lawsuits has not made it to our shores yet.

So pornographic material is illegal and even kissing scenes don't escape the sharp eyes of the censors - but sex thrives in the Malaysian online world, especially in the blogosphere - It is amazing the kind of stuff the authors of these sites can churn out on a daily basis. And in daily life they are the epitome of good Muslims I suppose. It is interesting that such blogs/sites are written by those whose religion advocates such purity, as PAS Youth and other minority groups will keep telling the rest of us.

Ah well maybe the religious authorities are not cyber savvy enough to know what is going on in the virtual world. But guys have you looked at the newsstands, even the ones in the provision shops, all those tabloids with funny sounding names and weird stories in it - "Genie has sex with girl", "Man has sex with Pontianak a 100 times".

Where do they get these stories? Did they interview the Pontianak or the man? Does the genie have a penchant for young girls? Did he confess it to the tabloid writer over a cup of teh tarik....? I really wish I had taken  some photos of these magazines.

Oh you know what, the next time I head out, I'm gonna get a couple of these mags and share some of those bizarre stories and photos here on my blog ;)