Packet drink, please, story by Aneeta Sundararaj

“Makcik sudah makankah?” (Makcik, have you eaten?)

The little Tamil who asked the question was standing behind the gates of her home.

The Malay lady, across the narrow drain which separated their homes, stopped feeding her chickens for a moment and looked up. Her smile genuine, she replied, “Belum lagi. Mak Leela masak apa hari ini?” (Not yet. What did your mother cook today?)

“Kari ayam, makcik. Nak sikitkah?” (Chicken curry, Makcik. Would you like some?)

“Boleh juga.” (Can also.)

The child turned and skipped all the way inside in search of her mother.

Twenty minutes later, a Tupperware full of food brought by the child was placed on the straw floor-mat of Makcik’s kampung style kitchen. She dished out a simple home-made meal for the child. Clear, from the gentle smile of the old lady, her graceful movements and the relaxed manner in which the usually rambunctious girl with pigtails sat crossed-legged on the floor, there was a prevailing sense of peace between them. The next day, to fulfil a promise made to the child, Makcik prepared her signature dish, laksa (noodles in fish-based soup), and brought it over to Leela’s home in a Pyrex dish; this time, they sat at a dining table and together relished a happy lunch.

***

Makcik died three years ago. Strange, but the lasting memory for me, for I am Leela, is not that Makcik crossed that drain and entered our Hindu home when she brought the laksa for me. It’s not that she ate from our plates and drank from our cups when in our house. It’s not that she fed our Alsatian when we went away from time to time. It is that the Tupperware was never returned; neither was the Pyrex dish. And, no one made a fuss about this. Then again, that was some twenty years ago. It was a different time, a different people and dare I say it, a different place altogether.

Today, I choose to live in Malaysia for it is the only home I have ever known. We do not know our new Malay neighbours nor do we care to find out. With hand on heart, I can tell you I am scared of inviting them into my home. It’s too complicated. Not tedious, not difficult but complicated. The possibility of unintentionally insulting their sensitivities and the horrid repercussions which may follow are too heavy a burden to carry.

Think me overly cautious? Let’s switch things around and perhaps you’ll understand my sentiments. Imagine this.

Let’s begin with the fact that I am Hindu and, therefore, not supposed to eat beef or consume alcohol. I have been invited to a Christmas Open House and the following is what transpires.

I attend the function as it would be discourteous not to. However, once I arrive at the newly painted bungalow, I stand by the gates as it would be most un-Hindu to participate in the celebrations of another’s religious festival. I refuse to shake the hand of my host as she is of a different race and practices Catholicism. I insist that I cannot take even a mouthful of a traditional Christmas pudding, imported all the way from London especially for this occasion, because it contains approximately one table-spoonful of brandy.

Somewhat in exasperation, I finally say, “Please, can I have a packet drink and a paper plate as I don’t want to eat off your plates and drink from your cups?”

When my host looks perplexed, I reply, “You eat beef-lah. I also don’t drink alcohol. I hope you understand.”

Sincerely, I doubt any host would understand.


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