Sticking together through cobwebs and rendang

By Dyana Sofya, Political Secretary of Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang

PrintSeated in the passenger seat, I try to collect my thoughts as old memories flash by. My eldest brother is driving the car and we are cruising steadily on the North-South Expressway en route to our hometown of Ipoh to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Now that all four of us siblings are grown up, it is a rare occasion for us to travel together. Hence, this particular ride was a proverbial trip down memory lane.

Prior to his retirement, my workaholic father would refuse to take early leave before Raya. As a result, it was always a frantic rush back to Ipoh on Raya eve. However, our manic moments would disappear the instant we arrive home to be greeted by the smell of wonderful, aromatic rendang. As usual, my mother would return a few days earlier to make preparations for the celebration.

After devouring our traditional late supper on Raya eve, my brothers would start spring-cleaning the house while I would devote myself to kitchen duties to prepare more (last minute) Raya goodies.

Sleep is always a commodity on short supply on Raya eve, but all the trouble would be worth it as we welcome Raya in the morning with a clean house, fancy jars filled with freshly-baked cookies, new clothes laid out and most importantly, my mother’s signature dish – a laksa johor-curry mee hybrid.

In short, Raya has always been a time of gathering for the family. It is when we reminisce old stories, update each other on new ones, argue over which Raya TV commercial was the best that year (Yasmin Ahmad comes to mind), savour delicious home-cooked food and sweat together through the annual spring-cleaning routine.

For me, this is what family is all about. Sticking together through thick and thin, good times and bad. Whether it was to clean cobwebs at the furthest corner of the ceiling, or to share a ladleful of very spicy rendang, the most important thing is that we are all together and no one is left out.

This year, as we dig into mother’s rendang, our conversations have understandably evolved. Yasmin Ahmad is no more, and Teluk Intan happened. Rather than the usual family gossip, we talk instead about the homeless in Kuala Lumpur, and how they were unceremoniously told to leave, whether they liked it or not. Worst, their only reliable source of food was denied to them when volunteer soup kitchens run by socially conscious Samaritans were given marching orders.

So cold is the treatment given to the homeless, I told my family, that metal bars have been installed on benches in the city to prevent the homeless from lying on them. I could not help but stare in disgust as I did my Raya shopping on Jalan TAR (Tuanku, not Tunku) this last week. What has our society degenerated into, when our public officials seem hell-bent on making life even more difficult for those already in difficult situations?

However, as with all good stories, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Following a certain minister’s arrogant remarks about the homeless dirtying “his” city, many Malaysians stood up to rebuke him. The city belongs to the people, and that means every human being, regardless of whether he is rich or poor, roofed or roofless.

Another inescapable topic, of course, would be the two national aviation disasters that happened this year. First, the MH370 that went missing and then the MH17 that fell victim to a civil war that had nothing to do with us. How brutal and unfortunate it must be for the friends and families of those who were on board. Feeling helpless, we agreed that all we can do is to keep them in our prayers, provide endless support and encouragement, and continue the push for justice.

Lastly, we also cannot help but discuss the security breaches that have been occurring in Sabah. Grief is replaced by frustration as we discuss how porous our borders are, and how an invading force could remain for two weeks before a counter-offensive was launched. While all of us were confident that Malaysia Airlines was still one of the safest airlines in the world, we could not say the same about Sabah after the series of abductions, murders and territorial violations that have happened over the last year.

As the last dollop of rendang is licked clean, I cannot help but realise that everything we discussed over supper only reinforces the importance of the struggle for a better nation.

If there are homeless Malaysians, it is because the system is broken. While the Prime Minister boasts about achieving high-income status by 2020, there remains millions of Malaysians left behind by this progress. We have the highest rate of income inequality in Southeast Asia, and this is proven by the fact that more than two thirds of Malaysians are BR1M recipients. Meanwhile, the high-handedness of our leaders in dismissing the homeless as unwanted vermin only goes to show that they are either ignorant of the social problem at hand, or too arrogant to care.

As unfortunate as the two national aviation tragedies have been, they have at the very least succeeded in bringing together Malaysians of all ilk, regardless of political persuasions, skin colour and background. Against the backdrop of irresponsible quarters provoking race and religion at every opportunity, such unity amongst Malaysians is sorely needed.

Be that as it may, both socio-economic prosperity, better governance and national unity can only be achieved with good intentions. Therefore, this Aidilfitri, let us seek forgiveness and start over. Each of us can do this, by visiting our families and our friends, sharing our food and our homes, and sticking together through cobwebs and rendang.

Salam Aidilfitri. Be safe on the road and eat sensibly. Maaf zahir dan batin.

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