Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Mamak and Crushed Ice Dreams

A mamak stall near my house selling Cendol, the crushed ice dessert.

Cendol = Crushed Ice + Coconut milk + Brown sugar + red beans + corn beans


My grandfather came from India to Malaysia during the 50's to start a textile business in Batu Pahat, Johor. It was from his seed that brought forth my aunties and uncles, and most importantly, my mother.

Even though the Indian blood runs thick, my mom have a very fair-skinned complexion, which she told me that it must be from the Arabic descent. I didn't buy her logic.

Apparently by the time I was born,  the textile business has long gone bankrupt. Personally, whether you are Arabic, or Indian or pure Malay, it doesn't matter because if you have no money, you are poor.

I had my grandfather's dark skinned complexion. And so, during my teen years (age 13 to 17), I do not like to mix with Malay counterparts and choose to mix with the non-malays.

This is because the Malays will usually harp on me being "Keling".

Keling is a derogatory term to describe Indians, as Keling is the clicking sounds of chains that were used to enslave the Indian workers in the plantation back during the British days of colonisation. (cling! cling! the sound of chain attached to the Indian slaves)

My father, who is of pure Malays breed, understood my irritation and told me of a story which I shall share later on.

There's a hawker stall near my house, which is run by two Mamak. Mamak is a term to describe people of Indian Muslim origin. I like to stay around there for hours, reading newspapers and books before heading off somewhere else after finished reading.

And so one day, the hawker owner, told me he wanted to join UMNO. This was days nearing the Malaysian General Election 13.

I translate this to English :-

Me : What the hell? UMNO is United Malay Nations Organisation, a party for pure Malays! You are like me, a non pure! Why the hell you want to join UMNO?  For sure, they look you in the eyes of discrimination.

Mamak : Come on, now many Mamak joining UMNO, like those in KIMMA. And we can get business contacts...

Me : No, don't be stupid. You have to understand, deep inside, UMNO Malays harbours a deep sentiment towards non-malays, it's 50 years after merdeka they will say things of Chinese against malays, Malays are weak in their own fatherland. They use this inferior complex thing for their strength.

Mamak : But, we can be better off using UMNO to earn livelihood. (Actual word he said was "Cari makan")

Me : Bos, they want you because the election is near!

Mamak : Nevermind! The BN will give lots of gifts, presents, we take it. But votes are secret, nobody knows who we are voting for.

Me : Bos, believe me. We must follow the Chinese.

Mamak : What do you mean?

Me : Chinese build their business, their networks with their kins. After their network is strong, then they use their strength to influence politics. And also using politics to make more money. But we? No strength,just small business, if we stir the nest of politics, your small business will be crushed.

Mamak : (Silent)

Me : For you and me, we are like the Chinese, we will forever be looked upon as Non-Malay due to our skin complexion. No matter if we are married or have blood connection to a Malay, as long as our skin looks like this, we'll be looked upon indiscriminately.

Mamak : So what do you suggest?

Me : Fight indirectly.

Mamak : What?

Me : You heard me, we couldn't choose the race we are born, so against this, we fight indirectly.

And so I told him the story which my father told me, when I told him how I hated being called "Keling".

The story revolves around a Crushed Ice seller (Cendol seller), of a Mamak origin. The scene was of 1970's -1980's era.

This Mamak had a spot, where he conduct his crushed ice business, in a village whose majority population are Malays who still depend on rural agriculture.

His crushed ice stall, which he worked daily and religiously at his business spot, where the villagers used to spend time around, usually during the late afternoons, after they tended to each's business of chicken rearing, small farming, fishing, etc. 

The weather is spot-on hot and humid, and so a bowl of crushed ice sprinkled with brown sugar, coconut milk, red beans is all that they need.

The business is a spot on, after which in few weeks, there are already daily customers.

Upon those daily customers, are a group of Malay teens who used to hang around the spot, playing chequers, guitars, joking.

And so to drive the story further, in this poor rural village, there was a sweet Malay girl, whose age are the same of the Malay teens.

And on the crushed ice business spot, the Malay teens usually talk about this Malay girl, singing their hearts sometimes. Each and everyone in the group dreamt of this Malay girl.

One day, the sweet girl came with her siblings to buy crushed ice.

The Malay guys, whose head are over heels over the girl, started whistling. And each whistles loudly, to attract the girl. They called her name, whistling it and started singing of her beautiful attributes.
As usual, a girl being as shy as girl is, remains quiet and cautious.

Actually, she felt afraid, intimidated.

After a while, noticing the girl didn't react to any of their advances, the group started to become irritated. They felt the girl was too proud to even replied to their callling.

They started name-calling. And one of the curses they sprawl upon the girl is that one day, this proud lady will bear a dark-coloured skin sibling just like the Mamak.

"May one day this proud girl bears a dark-coloured skin baby, as dirty as this Mamak who sells this crushed ice".

And ever since, the Malay teens talk of the girl of this nature, even though each and everyone still harbours on marrying her.

Be careful of what you wish for.

As time pass by, the Mamak selling crushed ice, began to expand his business in the village by constructing a brick house, in which he started a shop selling household items and groceries.

In front of his shop, he maintains his crushed ice business. Only this time, he did not need to worry of the tables and chairs went missing as he could always keep it inside the shop.

One have to understand rural economics, that in the villages, when the fields are attacked by rodents and parasites, the fields wouldn't generate enough income for the season.

And so on, as time passes by, everybody in the village had a debt with the Mamak, as they kept buying things in credit whenever the fields "didn't make it". The debt are recorded in a small book called 555 book.

What the Mamak did, was to invest whatever loaned money that he got back, by building brickhouses which he rent out to anyone wishing to live in it.

There were lots of youngsters in the village migrated to the city looking for better prospects, including the Malay teens.

After they migrated, little did they know what happened.

By the time they migrated, the girl was in her 20's, she was the beauty of the village.

But the problem is, the girl's family had a huge debt with the Mamak.

The solution is, the girl's family married off the girl to the Mamak, and in return, the debt is cleared, they no longer need to worry about food as they now depended on the income of the rented houses, the shop, and the crushed ice business.

The family sold out their land and house, upon which a canned goods factory was built. The family stayed in the Mamak rented house free of charge.

And the Mamak further built more rented houses for the workers for the canned goods factory.

Then years pass by, when one day the guys (the previous Malay teen) went back to their village. They decided to have a group reunion in the crushed ice shop.

First, they were shocked to see the ways things are changing in their village, due to the canned goods factory.

By the time they arrive in the crushed ice stall, they were in for a big surprise.

They were appalled, when they saw the Malay girl whom they had their crush on, was working on the ice crushing machine.

The crushed ice were then served by her 5 year old dark skinned complexion daughter. They even watched how the Mamak taught her daughter on how to count the balance money properly.

"Not by speeches and majority votes are the great questions of the day decided, but by blood and iron" - Otto von Bismarck