Why faith in the poor works

SEPTEMBER 27 — I’ll tell a story.

Since you might think, that it is all politics with me.

My uncle Thangga died years ago. Quite a while after my dad, but it’s been a while. I can’t say I miss him, in a traditional Tamil family we never know each other too much. There are no long nights, chatting. Labourers need their sleep.

Anyhow, he died.

Before he did, he was a young man, and one who had dreams. I know, because when he was young, he drew portraits and made kites. He was artistic.

I may not tell this story in an order, a familiar order, but he was younger and a middle child. Which is far more accentuated when among 15 other brothers and sisters.

He was a junkie who had two wives, because he never divorced the first one. Children from both marriages, he never lived to see any of his children marry. Junkie means a drug addict. He was in and out of prisons, more out in his later years, and then passed away.

Maybe I remember him because he was inexcusably involved with the robbery at my house when I was five.  Apparently my brother, as a nine-year-old told my uncle where the jewellery was and they — his gang — made a bid for it when we were away at my grandma’s house 800 metres away. 

It is an urban legend in my home, along with the fact all of us lost our birth certificates. For the benefit of non-Malaysian readers, losing documents as a non-Malay Malaysian is code red. 

You are at the risk of being a non-citizen. More so because my mum was an Indian citizen back then. Wrong steps and I’d not be a citizen anymore, despite only knowing Hulu Langat all my life.

Fortunately, our papers were not at risk.

Let’s put things in order. In some order so the reader understands.

My dad was part of the kids line-up from my grandma from three husbands. If you think it is scandalous in the twenty-first century, imagine the first half of the twentieth century. It was Rihanna meets the Osmonds.

Anyway, my uncle, my father’s brother was influenced by the wrong kind.

He became an addict. To echo the point, he and my other uncle were real close. They even married sisters. But one went the better way, and the other did not.

Perhaps I am reminded of this because members of Geng 08 were sentenced today, or perhaps it is down to meeting Eddie today, who regales about stories of the longhouses in Sarawak’s interior. If you are ever lucky to be in the Tataw area, between Bintulu and Sibu.

It is the feeling that those with less going for them, and failing ultimately, have no sense of the game or the consequences.

My dad was in Geng 08 more than 50 years ago, which tells you about his past, and also informs those adamant about birth-rights that those without benefits can rise above their stations. Because I have. More of us could have made it out with a little help.

Speaking of my father, after his departure from the gang via the military, he was upset that my uncle, his half-brother was unable to break free from the social class trap.

My uncle could not break away from his addiction. He brought his wife down, and later on acquired another in India with the misguided notion that marriage solves problems. 

Both sets of children are saddled with his problems, but to their amazing credit they love each other even if from separate mothers. They assume responsibility for each other, and I can’t express my admiration at their resolve to be right by each other. Maybe my uncle did get something right, when he was alive.

The thing is, they are walking examples that if the state had a bit more faith in its people, it would be worthwhile.

There are so many stories about what is wrong with our society that there are few precious stories about how our confidence in the downtrodden can have dramatic effects on the overall outcome. There is so much government can do.

I am living embodiment. If there was no subsidised public education or the state government willing to back me, I’d not have a degree. I’d be shut out of opportunities. I’d be an outcast.

Which is why I fight for the less privileged. It may not be noticed, but we are nasty to those born on the wrong side of the track. I’d be at my old school’s homecoming dinner this weekend, but I do not forget where I come from. There is nothing which will make me forget where I come from. It defines me.

But what I do argue, and I do so regularly is that many Malaysians need a hand up, but not pity from their fellow Malaysians.

A country is about the potential and not about reality. And if a country is about what is possible, it realises we have done really badly for those who should have had assistance to sort out their bootstraps a long time ago.  The real error is that we did not do enough so long ago.

This is where I stand, this void, sometimes in the impression it is a lonely stretch. A very lonely stretch.

There is so much we can do, really, so much. But the fact we are encumbered by history, a sense of entitlement and the burdens of history, leads us away from the real things, the opportunity to lift the most deserving from the weight of the world. Actually, to lift even the most undeserving from the filth of the world.

That unfortunately requires higher order thinking. Not spelling higher order thinking or repeating it, but those who internalise it. Those who believe in people more than they do in their political futures.

Unfortunately, there is a dearth. Unfortunately for Thangga’s daughter, my cousin, her daughter is not going to get enough of a leg up from this government. As I have said repeatedly, it is time for Malaysian leadership. If only we can find leaders.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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