Thursday, October 23, 2014


For some reason this time around my mind drifted back some 45 years ago and I remembered the excitement which filled the air as Deepavali approaches. Now that may sound strange to today's generation, as why would a Malay boy feel excited about an Indian festival. Back then my late father was an officer in the Royal Artillery Regiment of the Malaysian Armed Forces. The "Askar Meriam" as it was fondly called then was one of the several multi-racial military units in the Malaysian Armed Forces, the others being the Rangers and the Reconnaissance Corp (short form Reccee Unit) which today has morphed into Armoured Division.

Being multi-racial of course meant that every festival was as important as the next one. So our father would troop us to Uncle Raj (Sargent later Captain, I think he retired Major) to feast on the various sweets, muruku, various types of curry, apam, tosai, dalca and the whole works. That is how I got to educate my palate to the repertoire of Indian dishes. Of course my mother would exchange dishes and recipes with Uncle Raj's wife . Those festivals then were a raucous affair as celebrating them was nothing short of serious. Apart from Indians and Chinese there were also the East Malaysian Officers and Troopers, Iban, Bidayuh, etc, and of course the compliment of senior British Officers. To cut the long story short there was no shortage of excuses to get drunk then. But Malaysia was different then. I grew up in an era where Uncles and Aunties comes in various colors, shapes and sounds. Nothing was strange. Everything new is something to be discovered, not shunned and then you make up your mind. Did I grew up into anything weird, don't think so. Life being multi-colored was so interesting and exciting. Have you ever watched black and white TV? People take the trouble to learn about the other side. I remembered my father receiving letters from Colonel Webb, his former C.O. (Commanding Officer) written in Jawi (Arabic script) and in classical Malay. Or the sight of  a British Officer making his way through the Padi Fields to attend the wedding of one of his Malay troopers.

Yes, by today's standards the Malay Officers and troopers then may not be very good Muslims, what with the Messes always overflowing with all kinds of liquor. But as human beings the camaraderie, friendship and loyalty they shared remains strongly etched in my mind. They pain they shared when one of them gets injured or killed or the joy they felt when good news catches up with one of them, be it a new born and promotion or a son or daughter getting good grades. Or the care and attention shown in the regular visits made by the officers to families of soldiers who are out on operations to make sure that everything is in order and taken care off. To be sure, most of them in their later years try to be better Muslims, foregoing the liquor an such and this is my personal opinion, due to their varied experiences they became better Muslims with a better perspective of things and not too quick on the draw to pass judgment on others. They have been there, made their marks and now know the score. They were humans who erred and found they way back. Never for a moment did they thought themselves Angels in human form.

In my teen years I had the privilege of attending the Royal Military College. As luck would have it one of my instructors was a Sergeant who used to served under my father. In my really younger days I would play with him and called him Pak Cik Idris, but in College he showed no sign of recognition. One day my father came to take my back for the semester break. On the road out of campus we saw Sergeant Idris leading a group of cadets on a road run. Seeing the car he stopped dead on his tracks and gave a snapping salute. My father got out of the car returned his salute and exchange some words which I could not hear. What I did see was the gush of emotions in the faces of both men whilst still maintaining their composure. Then with the slightest hint of a smile he acknowledged my existence and continued with his cadets. I learned then the meaning of camaraderie and professionalism. No favor was ever granted to me by Sergeant Idris throughout the 4 years in RMC, though I suspect his eyes was always at the back of my neck.

Later in life through my international colleagues I learnt of the festival Diwali or Divali, which turned out to be the Deepavali as celebrated in in India. So the provincial Malaysian has finally come to the world. Diwali or Deepavali seemed to me then the only festival which celebrates light, what with all the lamps being lit up. And that was that.

But later on I discovered that the light theme is common in all religions. After all did not the Bible say "Let there be light" and did not Sidhartha Gautama Buddha and his followers aspire for enlightenment. And the Holy Quran is replete with references to the "Light". Every living thing, human or otherwise, prosper, strive under light. In fact light is the precondition of life in itself. Plants under shade tend to get stunted and my fish without sufficient light do not grow as fast as they should. Just as light is a source of life and joy, darkness means death, decay and the unknown. No wonder almost every living thing fear the dark

So light in its physical form is essential for physical growth. But there is also another dimension. There is the spiritual light which is a precondition for spiritual growth. And this light is not made of photon particles no does it travel at the speed of 186,0000 miles per second. It is the light which enlightens, the light which illuminates the criterion, attaching values to things and establishing everything in its proper places, the rights and the wrongs, the proper versus the profane. The light which establishes the balance. This is the spiritual light which enables the spirit to grow, to see the world in the right perspective, to appreciate every aspect and facet and by doing so enables the person to perform his duty on this earth true to the letter. Alternatively absence of this spiritual light results in a stunted spiritual self with all the attendant issues.

And where does this non-physical light come from. It is inspirational, whispered by the Almighty to the hearts of men who care to listen, whose inner ear is open to perceive and the heart open to receive. When the heart opens up each wave of light exposes a new vision of the thing we thought we already knew, light upon light.  

"In the Name of God Most Gracious Most Merciful"

"God is is the Light
Of the heavens and the earth
The parable of His Light
Is as if there were a Niche
And within it a Lamp:
The Lamp enclosed in Glass
The glass as it were
A brilliant star:
Lit from a blessed Tree,
An Olive, neither of the East
Nor of the West,
Whose Oil is well-nigh
Though fire scarce touched it;
Light upon Light!
God doth guide
Whom He will
To His Light:
God doth set forth Parables
For men : and God
Doth know all things.

- Surah An-Nur verse 35

Or (the Unbelievers' state)
Is like the depths of darkness
In a vast deep ocean
Overwhelmed with billow
Topped by billow,
Topped by (dark) clouds :
Depths of darkness, one
Above another : if a man stretches out his hand,
He can hardly see it!
For any to whom God
Giveth not light,
There is no light!

Surah An-Nur Verse 40

Verse 35 is most celebrated with volumes written on it to elucidate its meaning the most notable being Imam Ghazali's Mishkat -ul-Anwar. In the West, Imam Ghazali is know as Al Gazelle. So I shall not even attempt to compete with Imam Ghazali.

Seen in this light (no pun intended), Divali is no simple festival. If the Divine Light is synonymous with the truth, the Divali is the celebration of truth and God is Haq (Truth).

So we see some common ground, so where then lies the differences which saw oceans of blood spilled from memories now dimmed. Perhaps the differences lie in the definition of the truth. Such contradictions, that truth in itself can have so many interpretations. But like Agent Mulder would always insist, much to Agent Scully's consternation - "The truth is out There".

So to our Hindu friends have a blessed Deepavali/Divali and may the light of enlightenment shine on us all.

Pak Din Uluhati