KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 — Minister M. Kulasegaran today shared how the simple dish of curry chicken became the ticket out of poverty for his family when they were still living in the estates.
Kulasegaran, who grew up in an estate in Sitiawan, Perak, said his favourite dish of curry chicken had great significance for his family, as a chance encounter involving his rubber tapper father and a foreigner changed their lives.
“Because when I was young, my mother told me, in the estate, they were at the house, when one day, a manager — an Orang Putih — passed by my house and saw my father and said, ‘That curry chicken is very fragrant, very good’.
“So my father invited him to eat it. While he was eating and having a conversation, my father asked about an empty plot of land that no one was using and whether he could use it,” the human resources minister said in an interview with national broadcaster RTM that was broadcast “live” on Facebook.
Kulasegaran said the manager agreed that his father could use the empty plot of land, adding: “That was hope for my family because with that, we could invest and participate in the arena of agriculture.”
“And we are among one of the families that were the earliest to come out of the estates,” he said, explaining that the fruits of their labour from that land belonged wholly to them and enabled them to move up in the world.
“To me, curry chicken is something important and until today, I like to eat it,” he added.
Kulasegaran, the second youngest of eight children, shared how his humble background taught him to work hard in life.
“In the estates, it was not easy. We all know, when we were young, that there was no time to play. Whenever our parents saw us, they would ask us to work.
“In the mornings, we took the cows and goats out to the pasture to graze. After or before that — my father was someone who worked hard and brought newspapers around — we sold newspapers.
“And after, we went to school and returned home. At the time, I was still very young. It was my parents or elder sister or elder brother who tapped rubber. We helped them too. But the lesson is that we were forced to work hard to fill our stomachs. Nothing comes free, that is the policy I use,” he said.
Kulasegaran said that he did not even go to a kindergarten and went to school without shoes, adding that his Malay and Chinese friends also had a hard time.
Noting on hindsight that many Malaysians were also very poor like his family, Kulasegaran said that now, many were earning better pay and should see such conditions as God-given, but stressed the importance of hard work: “We must make as much effort as possible. Don’t say you got it for free.”
Kulasegaran said he had wanted to be a lawyer since young and managed to achieve his ambition.
“In my village and in my estate, no one had a degree, let alone a law degree. I never saw a lawyer until I was 20 years old,” he said, choosing to congratulate Malaysia for providing Malaysians like him with the space to succeed through pure effort.
Kulasegaran, who was a lawyer before being appointed a minister, shared his passion for representing the poor and labourers in court cases despite knowing that such legal work would not be rewarding in monetary terms.
“It makes me happy because I can do for those who are truly poor, where their claims are usually only RM2,000 or RM3,000, where would there be lawyers who would take such cases? But that is what a lawyer in this country should do,” he said.
He said such cases in the Labour Court or Industrial Court usually take up more time than others and caused lawyers to be less inclined to act for such clients.
“So as minister, I am cutting short the whole procedure to expedite cases in the Labour Court and Industrial Court. And I have also asked the Bar Council for its assistance by providing voluntary aid to those who need it,” he said.
For more on Kulasegaran’s story, including how he sold nasi lemak as a child and how his flight ticket to the UK for his studies was funded by the sale of pigs, click here.