Lingswaran Singh Musings on love, religion, and Article 11 over Penang delicacies – scored with a soundtrack too.
Hi, my name is Singh. Last month I was back in Paradise Island (I truly believe Penang is heaven on earth). It was a fine Saturday evening, and I was taking a stroll down Gurney drive. As I was recalling sweet memories shared with the love of my life, when the evening breeze drowned me in bliss. I slipped on my head phones and fast tracked to track no.786, Govinda by the band Kula Shaker.
I was getting into a trance like state chanting the sweet name of the glorious Lord Govinda, when like a revelation from heaven it struck me, Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution – freedom of religion. Just count the odds, there I was a bald Punjabi so called Sikh, listening to a British psychedelic rock band chanting a Hindu God’s name as I hear the beautiful call for Asar prayers on the streets of Pulau Pinang.
Holy cow, now who on earth said that we have a Freedom of Religion issue going on? I am Article 11(1) personified, the essence of it in living practice. Nobody stopped me, nobody arrested me, and nobody threatened me. As I reached the end of the drive, I got myself a delicious mouth watering non-halal char kway teow . As I was blissfully chewing on the big, succulent tiger prawns, I continued to search for some divine intervention in understanding the depth of this sacred article . The track switched to Ramli Sarip’s Doa Buat Kekasih. I was swayed by this very special song, it marks a new beginning in my life. The authentic tune of Malay music artistry, takes me way back to 1998, back in primary school, when love was innocent and pure, when it wasn’t about religion or race, or status.
As I finished my heavenly dish, I chanced upon my dear friend and long time crush, Farah Lee Randhawa. At first sight, she greeted me with a warm hug and smile and then caressed my bald head while asserting that I looked very sexy. She just stopped by Gurney Drive before heading to Dhammikarama Temple – Penang’s sleeping Buddha temple. She sat down and called for another sacred dish of Penang, the ambrosial Penang curry mee. It is dogmatic for me that I accompany her in savoring the magnificent curry noodles, so I called for the Penang white curry mee.
While waiting for the dishes to arrive, I took a good look at my old friend and she looked very beautiful in her cyan baju kurung .
You see, Farah or Falira as we would call her is from a mixed parentage background. Her mother is a devout Bahai (not the common term used to refer to a Sikh man) of Sindhi ancestry, while her father is an agnostic Deist of Chinese ancestry, while she is a Hindu Buddhist who drags me to the annual Saint Anne festival in Bukit Mertajam, also the annual mega packed Thaipusam on the hill top Murugan Temple. I remember having spiritual conversations with her Dad, as he told me stories from the Quran, the Bible, and the Guru Grant Sahib (yeah he used to tease me for not being able to speak or understand Urdu), ironically the 60 year-old criminal lawyer claims he doesn’t believe in any of those texts (yea right, dude’s a big fan of the Surah Al-Rahman recitation; he has the MP3 in his flash drive.) Coincidentally my track changed to Heaven by Live.
Falira snapped me out of the trance like mesmerising state that I was in, evidently due to her goddess like enchanting eyes (it’s either that, or she was getting a little uncomfortable with my stares). Oh well, as usual I got dragged along to the temple. I was fixing the seat belt when I heard Jacky Cheung’s Wen Bie which brought back wild memories of love (Ouh, the intoxicating pain of a broken heart!). Driving through the streets of Penang on a beautiful Saturday evening, with the company of a good old friend and listening to Jacky Cheung, after two bowls of Penang’s cuisine specialities – now that is a worldly experience no heaven can match. It’s just the perfect combination!
We arrived at the temple. As I trailed behind Falira, my attention quickly caught the view of some monks harmoniously chanting words of bliss, serenity, and peace (well at least that’s what it sounded to me like). What was interesting beyond that was that there were monks of Indian origin, Chinese origin, and I believe Thai origin too, were sitting together, meditating and harmoniously repeating sacred mantras. As I was deep in observation my phone rang, for one moment I felt like I was going to get hurt real bad, because you see my ring-tone was Sami Yusof’s Allahu, and it was blasting loudly in a Buddhist temple. I quickly answered the call as the assembly looked at me with smiles on their face – much to my surprise.
The call was from another high school sweet heart of mine, Syahida Nawar. She called to inform me that the Kula Shakers will be in Kuala Lumpur coming August, she was a fan herself. I was in disbelief. Whoa, a Caucasian Hindu rock band in Kuala Lumpur!? The following were questions bustling in my head at that point:
1. Could this concert be deemed as an act of Proselytizing to Muslims?
2. Is the concert subject to Article 11’s limitations in sub-section(4) wherein there is a restriction of propagating any religious doctrine or belief to Muslims?
3. Would Pemuda PAS or Perkasa organise a demonstration to call off the concert?
4. How on earth are my Muslim friends going to attend this concert?
5. Would there be lots of Hindus at the concert?
It then dawned upon me: Fear – because of fear, questions like that overshadowed the excitement I had. Why do I have that very irrational fear? What is going on in this country? Why is there so much fear? Why is there so much emphasising on ones identity to belong to a particular race and religion? How does my race or religion make me any different from another fellow human? Why does the Constitution prohibit religious doctrine or belief to Muslims? Would they be less Muslim by knowing what other people believe in? Why it is necessity for a race and religion based segregation? Are these double standards and segregation of any benefit?
I felt icy soft fingers caressing my head again, she was done with her rituals and so we headed home. I told Falira about the concert and she was very excited too, and she did ask the same question I was wondering about; would Pemuda PAS organise a demonstration to call the concert off and if our Malay Muslim friends could attend? I just said, “I am not sure, but it would be fun if they did, it’s their right anyway.” She asserted, “It’s just good music, art! Why can’t they join us in appreciating music? Even music got religion ah?”
She asked me if there is any law stopping our friends from going? I said, “I don’t think so, but well it depends on how you look at it.” She rolled her eyes and said “Lawyers!” with a big sigh. I replied, “I?m not a lawyer yet, because I’ve not been admitted to the Bar yet.” She went, “My point exactly, my point exactly…”
As she drove through the Penang Bridge under the beautiful night sky, my track changed to Linkin Park’s Crawling. “Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal, fear is how I fall, confusing what is real?” As I relived memories of the painful separation from love, because my race wasn’t what her father had imagined for her future, because I wasn’t Chinese… Falira snapped me back to reality, “Oi! Missing your beloved ex-girlfriend is it?” I replied with a faint smile “No? I’m missing her mother” and we both cracked into laughter, and she said “Don’t worry Singh, racism will die, I assure you of that, someday.” At the point where my Allahu ringtone went off again, my smile grew, it was my Bugis Princess.
Till I write again, remember my name is Singh, and I’m not a racist.
This was first published here.