National Day Reflection: of race and lost ways
I grew up in a 1 bedroom HDB flat in Toa Payoh with 8 siblings and my parents. Being so young, memories are scanty but enough to remember the friends and neighbours we had in Blk 52.
They are prominent in our lives as we practically stay outdoors, for indoors are just too cramped. All doors are mostly opened and even when they were not, the windows were.
Aunties, uncles or our friends were within corridor sight. We knew almost everyone – even to stay away from the mad Apek on third floor. Wondered until today who he was.
After school or work the bigger boys would be with all their friends and kakis, kicking football at the roundabout. The late Nasir Jalil and my eldest brother were soccer buddies.
We kids play everywhere. The nearby temple was fair-game. Sneaking in and out, hiding and running when the caretaker were not looking, were legendary tales of growing up moments we share as kids.
School shaped us with hard knocks, turning raw stones into neighbourhood gems.
And National Day celebrations were the best. We had no red t-shirts and sang simple songs those days. Concerts were pretty lame. But the highlight was inter class games. All sorts. Basketball, sepak-takraw, football, netball, badminton et.al.
Because it was inter-class, we got pitted as is. This was when everything gets equalized. Even steven. The express class would get whacked by the normal class in soccer for obvious reason. Whereas the opposite happens for basketball.
But then there would be the odd class, like mine. We were a Technical Express class and had a few Malay guys, Indians and lots of Chinese. No one cared. Class pride meant that we whacked the normal class, Malay and all. It felt good to win.
Skin colour were the least concern. We played for class pride. And when it comes to school level, the same applies. When the school wins, the Malays cheered the loudest for the all-Chinese basketball team and the whole school cheered when the Malay boys brought back the south zone soccer trophy.
The divide, if there were, were literally academic and purely circumstantial and no one gave a damn. We were all happy to just be in school and felt sad when some got separated after graduation into new schools and beyond. We were doing fine.
But everything changed in NS. Suddenly, Malays, we became the odd one out. Something just weren’t right. But no one said a thing. My good recruit buddy Ming Liang wondered as much. We were separated just when we became blood.
Soon enough it became second nature. Malays go Infrantry, they say. But wrong postings do happen. They became awkward moments no one talked about. Being turned away at the guardroom from entry to ‘sensitive’ areas was worst.
It cuts deep for 2.5 NS years and a decade more in reservist but we learned to ignore, move on and mostly forget. The damage is done.
We learned to smile and simply accept the years of Malay-less parachutist on National Day. We still wondered why, protested none. Turned numb, swallowed our pride or whatever’s left of it, looked away.
The wounds remained.
Personally, they were painfully reopened when I visited my son in OCS on parents’ visit day. His Coy 2IC (a malay) told me on a whisper, nonchalantly, the fateful infantry only destiny my son will take for being of his same race. A cruel reminder that not much has changed for us. Still unworthy of full trust. An unjust label blankets my entire race till this day. Why O why, are we still done this way?
So 54 years on, Malays, still patiently wait for change, for we are of this land. We smell the sea, taste the soil, hurts, quietly took the shit, now sadly seeing our sons taking the same. Patiently betrayed.
Nonetheless, loyal we are to this only home we have. One day, when push comes to shove, we will be unafraid, willing to die for our motherland. Only then, my son, we shall rightfully claim our lost dignity and pride we fully deserved.
For now, our collective wish this day, is only to be treated the same.
Happy National Day, my countrymen.