By Iswari Nallisamy
Iswari is studying Plant Science in Cornell University. She is a spiritual daydreamer who has a soft spot for animals, especially puppies.
When I was 5, I told my parents that I wanted to go to a Chinese kindergarten. They listened to me. I spent 2 years of my childhood learning in a Chinese Methodist kindergarten. I will not forget those days of playing along the church aisles and singing ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ on the altar. That was the time when I spoke fluent Mandarin and almost no Malay.
Then, I turned 7. I told my parents I wanted to go to a national school instead of a vernacular Tamil school. Again, they chose to listen to my young mind. Those 6 years taught me a lot about life. I met people who refused to be around me or let me touch their belongings just because I touch puppies, and that is wrong in their culture. I met people who told me I’m stupid for praying to pictures and statues. This would make more sense if you visit the rural and conservative small town I am from. At the same time, I also met people who drank from the same cup as I did and happily enjoyed my home cooked Indian food for lunch. My school had absolutely no Chinese and very few Indians. This was when I forgot all the Mandarin I knew and spoke Malay with an incredible Malaccan accent. I even spoke in Malay with my siblings and cousins! We used to get stares from the other Indians, but none of it mattered. Those 6 years were hard. I learned to hold onto the good things and say good riddance to the bad. I thrived, matured, and moved on.
High school was my transition from a very Malay-driven life back to my own roots. I started falling in love with Tamil and learned it with determination. My friends from the kindergarten were in the same school and our friendships rekindled. After 9 years of schooling, I finally found a balance of culture in my life. Those 5 years were filled with beautiful friendships and meaningful conversations. I proudly read ‘Berita Harian’ daily. I was very delighted with my country. It was like the honeymoon stage in a relationship. Everything was perfect and I couldn’t help beaming when I looked at how amazing Malaysia was.
I was 18 years old when I was offered a full, corporate scholarship to study abroad. Here I am, beginning my third year of college in a freezing corner of upstate New York. These 3 years abroad have been eye opening, to say the least. When my feet touched the magnificent energy of New York, the perfect relationship I had with Malaysia wilted away. As I turned to online newspapers to be up-to-date with the happenings back home, I realized that I had lived with a false image of Malaysia in my mind. There was such a strong sense of betrayal in my heart as I read about the racist comments and actions portrayed publicly by certain people. Some leaders that I really looked up to crushed all the hopes I had for them. It hurt me to see my religion being insulted again and again. I believed that Malaysia betrayed me and started pulling away from all the good memories we’ve had in the past.
When you lose your trust in someone, whatever that they do will seem wrong to you. That was the case for my relationship with this country. I forgot to look at the good things and dwelled on all the imperfections. I built a strong wall around me and refused to let the memories of Malaysia in. But as all other true loves last, mine did. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t throw such a big part of my heart out and shut the door. Good memories of home crept in during the coldest hours of winter when I snuggled under my comforter and tried to beat the cold. There were days when I would involuntarily listen to ‘Kau Ilhamku’ and sadly think of all the people I was missing.
Yes, involuntary. That’s what love is. You never know when you start falling for someone or how to stop loving. There’s neither a beginning nor an ending when it comes to love. For me, Malaysia is love. It is not perfect, but neither am I. Nor are you. Amongst all these flaws, we can still find it in our hearts the will to love. We can look past the betrayals and forgive. I choose to believe in a better Malaysia. I choose to hope.
My flawed, beautiful Malaysia, home is whenever I’m with you. I will return for good in a few years and we will together carve a better future. I know we will.
Pic credits: Sun in My Hands by khattaway