Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It Can Grow to Define or Destroy You


"An idea is like a virus.  
Highly contagious. 
And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow. 
It can grow to define or destroy you"

..goes a quote from a movie which used to be among my favourites
because of how it rings so very true.

the dirt poor still dream of becoming filthy rich.
the crippled for life still dream of walking once more.

Highly contagious..." 

Ideas become part of one's identity,
integral to one's cognitive existence; as blood is to flesh.

Ideas make a human being..human.

"...And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow..."

Conceived in the mind of any one of us,
it is able to spread far and wide.
Over not just space, but also time.

Generations of minds infected by a single idea
powerful enough to become a shared Dream.

The Dreams of nations:
the American Dream of equal opportunity
the Chinese Dream of sustainable development
the Palestinian Dream of freedom


But what is the Malaysian Dream?

I grew up with a vague awareness of it.
(Maybe, you could even say, "indoctrinated" with it)
But then again, how could I not..
when I was brought up by a Malay dad and a Chinese mum?

For me, that Dream
is the eternal tale of the three quintessential children:
budak Melayu,
budak Cina,
budak India.

The Petronas commercial; the annual doctrine of the Merdeka and Raya period;
the stereotypical plot:
three kids who are
classmates at school, neighbours at a village;
getting into trouble, growing old together;
the best of pals.

Yet the classic story so familiar, so often repeated to the point of being typical
is, somehow, still potent;
still able to pull on the heartstrings of the typical Malaysian.

The dirt poor still dream of becoming filthy rich.
The crippled for life still dream of walking once more.

And Malaysians still dream of unity.

"...It can grow to define or destroy you..."

Define us it has, this Dream of unity.

But destroy us, it also may;
for the psyche of this nation suffers also from a cognitive dissonance:
a contradiction in belief and action.
A tug-of-war
between the Dream of unity
..and a reality which is far removed from it.

The reality acted out in the canteens of schools and National Service Camps nation-wide:
Budak Melayu duduk dengan budak Melayu,
budak Cina dengan budak Cina,
budak India dengan budak India.
Budak-budak Kayelle and "speaking" (like myself) sit with our own gang in a corner.
Parallel universes.

Fact of the matter is, there is no one Malaysia,
but many Malaysias existing in one land.

And I'm sorry.
But mere coexistence is not unity.

As we live our lives in parallel universes,
the Dream is just that.

A Dream.


Yet once in a while - but only once in a while - a glimmer of hope appears
in the shape of events or places where suddenly this nation is one.

Bukit Jalil Stadium, AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 final: Malaysia beats Indonesia 3-0

"I’m a huge Manchester United fan and I celebrate every goal they score with enthusiasm and joy. 
However, it is a totally different story when your country scores. 
I am Malaysian and therefore I am connected to my national team in a way that no other team will ever be. Every goal the team scores is for us, all 26 million of us."

The author of that article was caught in a traffic jam on the way back from that epic victory against Indonesia. He says this about the experience:

"I rolled my windows down as my cousin hoisted the Jalur Gemilang. And we proceeded to high-five anyone that walked by as I honked all the way home... 
Motorcycles and cars usually do not get along on the road. Tonight, even the vehicles came together as one as we shared Malaysia’s triumph."

Two years later the setting is London: Dato' Chong Wei's struggles against China's Lin Dan,
and unites Malaysians - at least for 79 minutes

Never mind that Chong Wei lost...we had a common hero for a while, a common cause.

In those moments, suddenly,
"being Malaysian" felt almost tangible
like the smoke of fireworks burning in the Bukit Jalil air
or the gold medal of London 2012.


But just as abruptly the mirage clears, and we wake up from that high.

And once again, the traffic jam is no longer an euphoric after-match experience shared with fellow Malaysians;
it is a torturous ordeal to escape - to get away from the irritating presence too many of your countrymen hogging your road.

This Malaysian wonders, desperately:
Do we depend ONLY on sporting successes - or near-successes
for this country to be one?

And even then...only for 79 minutes, over two halves of a match??

But my Malaysian-ness will not allow me to let go of that Dream.
Though outside I put on the "skeptical Malaysian" mask.

As the dirt poor still dream of becoming filthy rich,
the crippled for life still dream of walking once more
this Malaysian still dreams of unity.

*                         *                         *

But the Malaysian Dream is not the only one which has infected my mind
because these past few years another virus has been "indoctrinated" into my conciousness.

I remember where I was the first night I read the meaning of 49:13 in the Quran.
And wondered, subconsciously maybe:
"why did I not know about this before??"

That memory is from a phase in my life where I was being introduced (by a Higher Power?)
to another Dream.
Bigger even than the Malaysian Dream.

Like the Malaysian Dream, this Dream I was being introduced to
is also resilient, highly contagious
and has entered my mind through distances of space and time;

but seriously, it is waaaaay more awesome.
That Islam.
I was born into it, but it took me decades to discover its beauty.

Don't get me wrong:
This doesn't make me any less Malaysian.

Deep down I still hold on lovingly to childhood memories of
football matches on rainy evenings at the muddy neighbourhood padang
playing with a bunch of pals of every race (seriously, there was even a Punjabi and a few Eurasians)

That classic story so familiar, so often repeated to the point of being typical
but, somehow, still potent;
still able to pull on the heartstrings of the typical Malaysian...
I am a part of that story!
And that story is very much still a part of me.

And I want with all my heart for that scene to be a regular occurrence in every neighbourhood and kampung across our nation.

And you may agree or disagree with me about how we reach that Malaysian Dream.
But the only way I see that 49:13.

My entrenched belief: only a set of shared values can unite us all - for good.

And that's where my two Dreams
(not clash, but) intertwine:
the Malaysian Dream of unity,
and Islam.

There is no conflict,
no incompatibility,
no cognitive dissonance;

these are BOTH my dreams; part of my identity,
integral to my cognitive existence; as blood is to flesh.

It has grown to define or destroy me.