HARESH SAYS: What Deepavali?

As published in Malay Mail today


Haresh Says
By Haresh Deol

“BRO, if all the Indians left the country, no one would actually miss them.”
I smile sarcastically, knowing very well what Samy was about to say next.
“Maybe they will miss our thosai, vadai and the barbers ... but that’s about it,” he continued.
Samy, a neighbourhood friend, quickly moved on to another subject but I could sense his bitterness.
A visit to a hypermarket in Ampang on Monday evening strengthened Samy’s perspective.
There was not a single reference of Deepavali anywhere except for a small booth that sold twinkle lights and some decoration pieces (pic). There were several cheap-looking greeting cards bearing the faces of famous Kollywood actors and actresses for sale. That’s it.
A quick stop at another hypermarket in Petaling Jaya yesterday saw Christmas decoration items for sale. Once again, no reference of Deepavali — not even an Indian song played during my 30 minutes there.
Deepavali will be celebrated on Nov 10, that’s next Tuesday, six days from today. Yet, some people are still wondering when Deepavali is.
Last week, an elderly gentleman called Malay Mail. Without mentioning his name, he wondered if Malaysians had forgotten about the Indian community and the festival they celebrate.
“I don’t see Deepavali anywhere, young man. What happened to the spirit of togetherness and celebrating festivals together? Why is everyone taking the Indians for granted?” he said.
Once again, I sensed frustration.
This has nothing to do with fighting the cause of a particular race. This is simply about appreciating and respecting what is supposed to be another major Malaysian festival. Our celebrations are not restricted to just Hari Raya and Chinese New Year. 
And we have many other celebrations, too, like Hari Gawai, Vaisakhi and Wesak Day. How much do we know of them? Why must such celebrations be confined to a particular community? 
But perhaps stereotyping is why many tend to overlook Deepavali.
“Indians generally do not have buying power. Even if they do, it is difficult dealing with them as they tend to haggle. The Chinese and these days, the Malays, have plenty of purchasing power. So, it only makes monetary sense to spend on advertisements for markets that cater to them,” said a marketing executive, who has been in the business for decades.
“Just look at magazine covers. Some do not put an Indian face on it simply because they feel it does not bring value,” she said.
“But if you need a good (medical) specialist or a lawyer, get an Indian,” she joked, perhaps trying to make light of the situation.
Critics will argue even political parties have failed to uphold the community’s identity. MIC, just like MCA, lost the trust and faith of the community a long time ago. The infighting and power struggle seem to be more important then the welfare of the Indians. 
I am blessed to be in a family where we pretty much celebrate all the major festivals. We often buy lemang and rendang and have family or friends over during Hari Raya; Chinese New Year is spent with the in-laws; Vaisakhi and Deepavali provide a good excuse to light oil lamps and eat barfi and jelebi while the 6-foot Christmas tree will stand tall at the corner of our living room throughout December.
To us, all the major festivals are important. It is a good excuse to cook and have family and friends over. It is about setting the right mood to ditch the daily worries and soak in some fun.
It would mean a lot if others can join in the fun and spread such cheer. I have seen people tap their feet and shake their heads when an Indian song is played in a hypermarket. Don’t we love listening to Sudirman’s Balik Kampung during Ramadan? I know I do.
The Gong Xi Gong Xi tune never fails to excite the young and old ahead of the Chinese New Year and those beautiful Christmas songs ... how I wish we had snow here for just one day.
Let’s start embracing each other’s festivals and spread the love of such joyous occasions. It should not be restricted to a particular community — it is a celebration for all.
Allow me to wish Malaysians a happy Deepavali. Go easy on the muruku and mutton curry, and have a great time with your loved ones.

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol

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