If you know me, you will know that traditional and religious values have never been something I keep close to myself. My belief is that the archaic, pre-historic notions set in stone hundreds of years ago, the same values that shackle us to pretending to be morally acceptable human beings, should be revisited and updated with the current times.
However, (and yes, you may go ahead and call me biased and hypocritical), Deepavali has always held a special place in my heart. There’s always been something magical about it. Maybe it’s because, for a day, everyone in the family can put aside their differences and just be there for one another in my grandparents’ home. Or maybe, it’s because the magic lies in the memories from my childhood, preserved and kept in the back of the freezer that is my mind. In the folds of my mind is where memories of this auspicious day are tinted in sepia, where things were better than they are now.
When I think of Deepavali, I think of firecrackers, sparklers, muruku, tosai, sambrani smoke wafting through the halls of the house, disgruntled and hungry children moaning and groaning for the prayers of honoring the dead to end so they can eat and receive money packets. As humans, we commit to rituals to hold onto the stories of our ancestors, and with that, our identities too. I believe it is imperative for us to hold onto the rituals that help define one’s own individual identity.
This yearly ritualistic practice of mine used to be so sweet and dear to me. But as the years pass, and I grow into the adult that I never agreed to become, the sweet taste that I was accustomed to, slowly became bitter. Call it “the breaking of childhood innocence”, but I see why the bitterness and anger linger in my grandmother’s voice when she tells me that the government is shoving us aside yet again, in the upcoming new year. I see it for what it really is now. I have been shoved into this position as a third-class member of my Malaysian society. The Malaysia which I love so dearly over any other place in the world does not see me for how I see her.
I see how everyone cherry picks parts and pieces of my culture and shoves my community aside once they’re done leeching. The racial prejudice, unequal job opportunities, police brutality, and the ridiculous notions that I can’t rent a place of my own because I don’t fit into a designated racial features wanted by the landlord. Because deep-rooted racism that has been casually passed off for years has seeped into the minds of everyone else that doesn’t look like me. People like me will always have to live in fear, anger, and bitterness because we get stopped and profiled by the police more than the rest. I will never know if I got hired to work in a company to fill up their diversity quota or if I really have the talent they want and need. People like me will never see the end of culture vultures donning sarees, kurtas, mehndi, and even bindi’s, all of which have deep cultural and religious links to Hinduism, whored out by everyone else for their aesthetical purposes.
There is never going to be real happiness and freedom until there is fair, equal treatment for all. There is never going to be real happiness and freedom until everyone is held accountable for their wrongdoings. We need to realize that we are all one. We deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. Until this happens, until there is real change, I guess this Deepavali, I am going to tame the bitterness in my mouth with every sweet treat I can find closest to me.