Saturday, December 22, 2007

Muslim Malay praises Indian hospitality and Hindu tolerance

Muslim Malay Praises Indian Hospitality and Hindu Tolerance

Warm Delhi's hospitality on a cold December day


THE last time we had a family holiday abroad was in December 2004 and we spent it mostly in a little northern town in India.

This year, we are in India again. We are in Delhi where my eldest son has finished serving with the Indian army as an officer, and we are here to meet and thank his senior officers, and his friends both in the army or those who are civilians.

My husband and I felt it was important for us to come here and meet them all, for without their friendship and support, our son's life would have been very lonely and hellish.

Since arriving here in 2003, our son hasn't noticed any perceptible slights or been excluded from social functions and daily activities with the other officers because he's a foreigner and a Muslim.

He's been living in the mainly Hindu-populated cities of Jaipur and Delhi.

Back home, we are comfortable because we live in a country where majority of the population is Muslim.

In India, it is the opposite – the majority of the population is Hindu, with Muslims making up perhaps the second largest group.

And then there are the Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and those of other faiths. What always impressed me most about the Indians is how accepting and tolerant they are of foreign peoples and those who do not share the same Hindu faith as them.

Being in Delhi again is both familiar and bewildering.

It isn't like having a holiday in a Western country where the people are blonde and blue-eyed.

Here, I am aware of being a tourist, not a local, but at the same time I know that we, as Malaysians, share the same Asian cultural values as the Indians. Most of the locals have black hair, and the colour of their skins ranges from light to dark brown.

There are also some very fair–skinned men and women who are of Aryan descent. They have travelled from the north of India to live or work in Delhi.

And, colour of hair or skin aside, the other common denominator is that almost everyone here owns a mobile phone. This also means that I am never out of touch with what is happening at home.

News channels, such as Channel News Asia of Singapore, also give updates of events in Malaysia and around the world.

Once, while stuck in a traffic jam, I multitasked: I was responding to messages from volunteer groups and friends who were updating me about the floods in Johor while listening to the driver who was giving us information about the buildings we were passing by and a sprinkling of historical events.

At the same time, I questioned our friend, Vijay, about current events happening in Delhi. We could see armed and uniformed men on the roads. Were they part of the army, I asked? No, they were the New Delhi police.

The city was also on a high danger alert for possible militant attacks. Thus, there were both police and army presence everywhere, even in hotel lobbies.

I have always admired the physical and mental strength of the Indians, as well as their stubborn optimism in the face of incredible odds: there is apparent poverty here as well as wealth.

I could sense that many changes had taken place in Delhi since my last visit here. There is a lot more construction going on – roads, buildings and public transportation – now than three years ago. And it's mainly because Delhi is getting ready to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

It is getting colder by the day and everyone is wearing thicker woollen clothes.

That's a novelty for us Malaysians who are used to the hot and humid climate at home, so while we are here, we'll try and enjoy the weather.

The thing is that no matter how cold it gets, the warmth of the Indians' welcome, their hospitality and friendliness, are not affected.

The writer is Royal Fellow, Faculty of Language Studies and Linguistics, UKM, and holds an MA (Oxon) in Chinese Studies.

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