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Warganegara : Malaysia Bangsa : India


There are certain moments you never forget. For some, it may be during a holiday with their family or their 16th birthday party. Beautiful times that will always bring a wide smile to your face, even on your worst days.

Let me tell you this: these moments, no matter how sweet they are, may eventually be forgotten. However, the embarrassing and shocking ones, stay with you forever. Somehow, they just refuse to go away. And why? It’s because of the relentless grip of negativity bias, a well-documented phenomenon in psychology. Thanks to this, our brains give exaggerated importance to bad experiences, often overshadowing the good. It’s likely they’re etched into our minds, replaying over and over again. 

So, why am I writing this? I thought it would be interesting to talk about some of these experiences that I have had while growing up, which have constantly changed my views on life and people. But let me be clear about something before going into the details. This isn’t going to be a very pleasant read as it deals with some uncomfortable issues but it is, somewhat necessary.

“Kling kling kling kling klingggggggggg”. 

Eight-year-old me was confused. I had no idea what was happening or why the kids kept chanting it in school. When I asked them, I was only met with laughter. Nothing made sense to me. What was this new obsession with the sound of bells? I had no idea. Being the kid that I was, I didn’t care about it just yet. Weird sounds? Okay, cool. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what it really was, at a McDonald’s.

My family and I found ourselves in a town where, let’s just say, there weren’t many Indian people. I don’t exactly remember the details as to why we were there but well we decided to go to a McDonald’s for dinner in this town. As always, we were in a queue to get our food but this time, with a couple and their little daughter right in front of us. She was an adorable little thing, not older than five, standing close to her parents. You would even believe me if I told you that she was a princess. As we were talking, this little angel gave us a good stare and had something important to immediately tell her mother.

“Tengok mak, ada Keling”. 

Several heads turned towards the little girl and towards us. I’ll never forget the moment of silence and discomfort as everyone turned to look at her and then at us. Many of them just stared, a few giggled and the rest just whispered to each other with their eyes fixed on us. The tension in the air was something that I had never experienced before and no, it wasn’t pleasant. Her parents were quick to shush her but the damage had already been done. My parents looked ashamed and stopped talking entirely. But why? For something that was said by a five year old? I was young but swiftly understood that something was wrong.

Amma, what is Keling?” 

I sensed the same discomfort and awkwardness reemerge. My parents probably knew that they had some explaining to do, no matter how awkward it would get.

“Keling is something people who don’t respect Indians would call us, Abi. You need to be patient if people call you that from now onwards. It isn’t worth being emotional about.” 

I listened as my mom went on about being the bigger person and not reacting to provocation. 

I didn’t think much of it then. I was eight years old, it was just another piece of new information, something that I wasn’t exactly bothered by… just yet. It was when I went to school the following week that everything started to click. 

Kling Kling Kling Kling Kling…..Keling.

Just like that, the innocence in my life started to slip away. Little Abishek probably thought nothing else like that could happen again but then, the worst thing that could ever happen to mankind, happened to me as well. I started getting older! 

For most of us, as we age, we gain common sense. With common sense, I started to realize that the word was only hurled towards me when racial hatred was involved; when they wanted to insult the colour of my skin. Soon enough, it wasn’t just ‘keling’.

‘Hitam, paria, apuneneh, enggeporingge, balik India’ and random Tamil phrases from a TV2 Tamil advertisement began to recur in my life. 

Talking to my teachers about it brought me nowhere. You would be surprised to find out how easily they brushed off my complaints. It just made me wonder though, if the tables were turned and if it were I, an Indian, who hurled an insult of the same degree towards a person of another race, would it be taken as lightly as well?

My mother always told me stories about how it wasn’t always like this. 

People used to be much nicer, there was almost no prejudice. We were all equal and didn’t care about the colour of each other’s skin.” 

However, over the past few decades, politicians have resorted to playing the race card, diminishing the contributions of non-Malays who have been integral parts of Malaysian society for generations. It didn’t help that our ‘Bapa Pemodenan’ decided to label us as ‘pendatang’. It certainly didn’t help that an influential politician just recently decided to validate the use of the word ‘keling’ in front of thousands.

No matter what, life has to go on. I went to school, made a lot of wonderful friends of all backgrounds and passed my SPM with flying colours. Thanks to those results, I was offered a scholarship by JPA to further my studies in France.

2017 was the year I joined MFI, for a preparation program before leaving for France. As nervous as I was, I met many wonderful people here and formed quite a bond with several of them including Mr. X (real name not to be revealed). 

The 9th of May 2018 is known as the day when the long-time ruling party of Malaysia was famously toppled. Decades of power crumbled as a new party, with an extremely familiar face, took over the government. Prior to the confirmation of the winning party, the MFI WhatsApp group turned into a never-ending forum. 

Amongst the conversations, one was about Johor, where the opposition party was leading in the number of votes. The votes were still in the process of counting when Mr. X expressed his discomfort. Without any filter, he stated that the opposition party taking hold of the state was bad news for Malays and that other races would start to gain influence. I was quite taken aback by that, especially that it was coming from him. Almost instantly, I asked him what’s wrong with other races gaining influence in Johor.

Johor belongs to us Malays, Abi…….

I stared at my screen. The WhatsApp group that was buzzing with at least 20 messages per minute, went silent. I turned to look at my friend next to me, who was shocked as well, reluctant to say anything. The message swiftly disappeared, leaving behind “This message has been deleted”. And then messages started coming in, pleading innocence towards Mr. X’s statement. An Indian friend of mine started expressing their disappointment towards the statement, followed by a few others, but that was it. Swept under the rug, not a word was said about it when my other friends returned to the hostel later that night.

Due to previous experiences in my life, I had brought myself to trust very few people. I mean, they can’t stab you in the back if you don’t give them a knife right? In my case, the knife was the fact that I considered him a friend that I could confide in. The several deep conversations that we had before this instance, became meaningless, thanks to a five-word sentence. The statement kept echoing in my head in the days that followed. Do these people around me even consider me a citizen with equal rights in this country? As nice as they are to me, will I always be seen as an outsider in their eyes?

A few years have passed since then, and things have improved significantly in my life. Don’t get me wrong; some of the nicest people I have ever met are not of the same race as me, and I know for sure that a very large percentage of them aren’t racists, at least not under ‘normal’ circumstances. However, whenever I recall these memories, a lingering sense of unease remains. It’s a reminder that prejudice will never vanish among us, despite the kindness of many individuals.

“Kalau tak suka, balik India lah.”

Writing this isn’t going to change anything. The truth is harsh, it is what it is. I may never truly feel like I belong. I’m not an Indian citizen, that’s something I’m sure about. I was born in Malaysia, my IC says I’m Malaysian and Malaysia is the only place I’ve ever called home. But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel like I should just listen to them and balik India.