Musings of a Malaysian
The New Straits Times - 10/05/1998
by Anusha Anantha

I was never the patriot. A girl, woman, daughter, sister, mother, wife, yes - but not a patriot. That, I believed, was for the soldiers, the Rakan Muda, the Bumiputera. Everyone who waved the flag and shouted slogans and sang songs extrolling the virtues of the nation was, in my eyes, mad. What could there be to love in a nation so small and insignificant on the world map? How could we possibly figure in world history? There were books that spoke of our history, politics, science, technology, art and architecture, but what had any one Malaysian contributed that I could be proud of?

`Merdeka' means a great deal to those who were part of the process, but the rest of us, I thought, saw it all as one big spectator sport. Nothing but another word to shout. Another procession to watch. A succession of speeches to applaud.

We had no Princess Diana, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi or Malcom X. I didn't think any of our achievements would go down in history. No one really cared enough to do anything really important. America so inspired Walt Whitman that he wrote. What was there special enough about Malaysia to inspire anyone? With these deadening thoughts, I walked around. I longed for immediate fame. Someone, somewhere - do something! Something really, really important! This is what beat in my heart and surged through my mind.

When I went away to America to study, I watched our students play on the college green. Their small brown bodies shot up to head the rattan ball. Tall, lanky American men stood by and watched the game with interest. Our girls walked on hurriedly, heads down, giggling. They wished our boys weren't so short. They wished the boys wouldn't bring out the rattan ball. When they dated American boys, they tried not to talk about home. What was there to talk about? Nothing much, I thought.

Still, I thought I'd come home. I hated what I thought Americans thought of us. They didn't have to say it. No one spelled it out. I just knew they thought we were little brown people. Some of my American friends, my age at the time, said we Malaysians made a lot of noise when we got together. Nothing they could understand. One American girlfriend made fun of my Tamil music. I switched the tape off. I did that because I thought I was angry. I thought she was being racist. I thought it was rude of her. It didn't occur to me that maybe she didn't know how to appreciate the song.

Then I met the poet Andrew Salkey in Massachusetts, He wrote the sad, painful poems of the exile. Jamaica was home to him. He had never left. Nor ever would. "Why do you leave a nation only to mourn your own death?" I asked him angrily. I thought it was selfish of him. I didn't think that crafting those poems was unselfish. I didn't realise he was giving back to the nation the only way he could.

Andrew Salkey took the time to teach me to write. He took the trouble to tell the truth. His words cut deeply into my heart. I did not want to hear him. I could not. "You come from a nation rich in culture and yet your poems lack imagery. Where are those pictures? Where are the dreams? What have you sleeping in the recesses of your mind?" I found Andrew invasive. He was forcing something out of me that wasn't there, I thought. Only Andrew must have known I wasn't ready.

Another mentor from America recently arrived to visit. Jim stayed two days with us. And suddenly it was as if the shame left me. I saw Malaysia though his eyes. He walked around with his senses alive. He marvelled at the ways our women dress and wear their coloured scarves. At the food, and how it was served by Malays, Indians, Chinese and others. He understood when I told him I had wanted to burn MacDonalds down when I returned and found the colossal structure there.

In America, he said, he felt the same way about Disneyland. The President of the United States, Bill Clinton, wasn't someone to be proud of, he said. He preferred Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter was one of those people who go the extra mile. Jim told me Carter builds houses for the poor. With his own hands, as part of a team. Some people go on, no matter what. They don't need a special office or fancy title.

Then I began to look around. I saw Malays, Indians and Chinese go about their work. It didn't matter to them what was being said about them. One man who owns a shop in Chow Kit, just where the Indonesians were supposed to be rioting, was laughing. He shared his table with us that Sunday morning and told us his wife had called to warn him about the rioting. She told him she had stocked up on rice and bought RM500 of additional groceries. She told him to be careful. He said to her, "Why you calling? I should be the one calling you to warn you of danger. I am right here in my shop and people are eating." He didn't think there was anything to worry about.

I thought we should worry all the time. Are we doing enough, are we saying the right things, are we achieving enough? And if we are going to call ourselves Malaysians, what did that mean? Aren't we all headed in the same direction? Now I know - no. The path for each of us is different. Like Andrew, some of us will go away and make our returns. Some of us will stay and do nothing more extraordinary than raise our children and pay the taxes. Some of us will be rebels and outstanding contributors. And some will just learn to live and love and be - Malaysian.

Anushka Anastasia Solomon was known as Anusha Anantha before coming to Jesus Christ.