HARESH SAYS: 'Thank you, Malaysia'

As published in Malay Mail today 

Haresh Says
By Haresh Deol

TAMIL songs greet you the minute you open the door.
There stands M. Nagarajan with several strands of hair neatly combed on his balding head. The 53-year-old never fails to flash a smile at his customers as the scent in the barber shop — a combination of sweet smelling hair tonic and coconut oil — fills the air.
It is never easy finding a barber you can ‘trust’. But with Nagarajan, I am able to sit comfortably and close my eyes as he whips out a good old straight razor and places it just above my Adam’s apple before he starts shaving.
Nagarajan hails from Tiruchirappalli, 333km south of Chennai, India. I have been his loyal customer for six years. My last visit to the barber shop where he works in Lembah Jaya, Ampang made me a sad man.
“I’m leaving Malaysia for good in August,” said Nagarajan in Bahasa Melayu. His command of the language is admirable; able to shame Malaysians who remain ignorant about the national language.
“I’ve spent 17 years in Malaysia and it is time to go home.”
He clearly remembers the first time he entered Malaysia in hope of seeking 
greener pastures.
“It was Aug 28, 1998. I worked at a barber shop in Felda Sendayan (near Seremban). It was a week before Malaysia celebrated Merdeka, the same year (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) was arrested, the new airport (KLIA) started operating and Kuala Lumpur hosted a big sporting event (Commonwealth Games).”
He has worked in several places since. He said his close to two decades in Malaysia have enabled him to send enough money back home to put food on the table.
“It’s not been easy but nothing is easy. With what little I have been sending home, my children have managed to pursue their education and my three daughters were able to marry.”
“Here, I go back to an empty flat. When I am sick I am all alone. But I’m lucky I’ve been generally healthy. Come end of August, I will be returning to my family and hope to play with my grandchildren and see them grow.”
While he is a barber in Malaysia, he will return home as a proud husband (his wife Saroja turns 51 tomorrow), father to four children aged between 25 and 33, and tatta to six grandchildren.
His children have done well. One of his daughters studied pharmacy while his youngest child, a son, has a Masters in Business Administration.
“I’ve been searching online to see if there are jobs for my son in Malaysia and Singapore. If you do know of any jobs suited to my son’s qualifications, do let me know,” he said. 
Nagarajan said there are ample job opportunities here.
“Look at Malaysia now … you have Indians, Indonesians, Bangladeshi, Myanmar nationals, Nepalis, Pakistanis and so many other nationals working here. They come because there are so many opportunities.
“You can’t say there are no jobs. There are plenty. But maybe Malaysians don’t like to be barbers or waiters.”
 “If Indian nationals decide to leave tomorrow, almost all the barber shops and mamak restaurants in Malaysia will close.”
He was spot on. We are so overly dependent on foreign labour that businesses and even industries will collapse if they decide to leave the country overnight.
Foreigners go great lengths, including coming in through illegal means, just to make a living in Malaysia. Sadly, our locals do not appreciate such opportunities. As an acquaintance working in a job recruitment agency crudely said: “Locals tend to be disillusioned thinking they can secure big money by shaking legs.”
And this explains why these hardworking foreigners are able to operate businesses, raise families and can even afford to buy decent vehicles. They remind us of the struggles faced by our grandparents or great-grandparents.
Some of us tend to take our opportunities for granted. If foreigners are bold enough to leave their homes and families only to start afresh in this country, why can’t we do the same in our own backyard? Why can’t we venture into the many opportunities out there and work our way up?
I’ve had many friends seeking greener pastures abroad only for them to admit “there’s nothing like Malaysia”. 
We are not perfect, I admit. Abuse of millions, if not billions, of taxpayers’ money often hogs the headlines. The man on the street shouts corruption at every level. Our politics is a complete circus. Despite laws and regulations, we are lax in enforcement.
Many of us want the best for our fellow Malaysians and the country. But the nagging negative sentiments have turned us into a blinded and angry society.
Perhaps we need someone like Nagarajan to remind us about the beauty of Malaysia. His motivation was to provide a better life for his family and he aced it. He has also served many Malaysians along the way.
“Malaysia is beautiful and has provided me many opportunities. I am thankful and happy,” he said, ending the conversation by clasping both hands as a sign of gratitude.

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


  1. It is understood generally those who come hear are supposed to be from countries which are unable to provide employment and better living,

    This is because of the failure of their government to govern righteously and put the peoples welfare first.

    However, this unfortunate people with uncertainty back in their own country seemed to forget the hardship they faced back home, once they get here.

    No disrespect to them, but the fact is, they really take things for granted and rape our society and the environment with their bad values and practices. They happened to bring along with them not only the good practices but also the bad ones - whenever i bump into them i, always give them the due respect, at the same time remind them of the right social behavior which they must own up to, when living and working in another country - when we go to someones house we must first remember not to dirty the house which welcomed us.

    We don't need to look very hard to notice it, its an everyday matter happening around us. The Indonesians and the Indians who are involved in the retail food business and the other nationals in the small time retailing and trading business are the ones littering and dirtying our land at big scale compared to our locals who are also at times own up to the same behaviors.

    There are so many places around us are terribly deplorable when comes to cleanliness, because of their action and total disregard to societal values. They will not show any remorse and self respect and does it as though it is not a big deal.

    As for Mr. Nagarajan, who could be different, and make the differences for others like him to learn and follow.

    Good luck to you, and God bless.


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