It is the long weekend here in Malaysia. The Chinese New Year is a big festival here. I remember watching dragon dances in Kolkata in my younger days when there was a large and vibrant Chinese population in Kolkata. Even today, I am told the New Year is celebrated with great fervour in Tangra, but ever since the heart of Chinatown moved out from central Kolkata, I have really lost track of it. Mummy’s Kitchen is now a memory; the many evenings we spent eating out there for practically nothing now part of a Kolkata that is now like a fading photograph. The last time I was there, the Chinese temple still existed, and the school also seemed to be functioning, I wonder if it still does. Those of us who spent the seventies and the eighties as students, interns, housemen and postgraduates in the Medical College of Bengal will know what I am talking about. When I returned to my alma mater as part of the staff in the nineties I realized that the Chinatown had shifted its focus from Central Kolkata to Tangra and most of Chinese population was trying to shift to greener pastures.
Possibly at the same time that Chinese were coming to Kolkata , their cousins were moving to the Malayan peninsula. Many years and many vicissitudes later they are an important part of this multiracial nation. The Chinese spend their New Year with their families. So the weekend before the New Year is associated with a mass migration of all Chinese back to their hometowns. I was returning to Kuala Lumpur from Ipoh on Friday evening and the highway was jammed with Chinese driving north to Penang and other States which have a large Chinese population. A similar procession was moving southwards to Johor Baru which is also a Chinese bastion. Kuala Lumpur is empty of its Chinese residents.
It is traditional at this time of the year to present friends with mandarin oranges and I have been inundated with loads of oranges. I wish my daughter was around to do full justice to these presents.
The New Year coincides this year with our Republic Day so that we are off on this day. To my mind this is this the most important day in our calendar. This was the day when we gave ourselves a constitution that prescribes universal suffrage. It seems natural now, but nobody had dreamt of such things in those days. The concept that illiterate populations of the size of India could be allowed to vote and choose their own rulers was revolutionary and still remains an achievement that no other country dreamt of. Remember we are talking of times when even all European countries did not allow women to vote. We should not allow any aberrations that have crept in subsequently to let anybody to take away the sheen from a political revolution that no other country could have conceived in those days. It is a pity that we are always so apologetic about India. Barak Obama can rehash the same talk of American Values without blinking an eyelid, and nobody reminds him that the values he is talking about are the ones that sanctioned the use of Nuclear weapons on civilians and destroyed the world’s environment in a mad desire to satisfy everybody’s greed. And our European friends now lecture us on values that they conspicuously failed to demonstrate when they were ruling our countries for centuries. If Germany is to atone for the Nazi atrocities even half a century after they occurred, there is no reason why the British should not be apologizing for their Opium Wars when they forced drugs onto the Chinese for the sole purpose of making profits.
Lets face it, we are doing badly on many fronts, but we are also the most vibrant democracy in the world and if things keep going on as they are on the economic front we will , in my students’ lifetimes , if not mine, overtake most of the sanctimonious nations who now advise us on human rights. Only I hope that when this happens we will not become as sanctimonious and hypocritical as them.
Let us raise a toast to the Indian republic, Jai Hind!


Nipon said…
The Opium war... yeah... one of the many crimes by the west. In this connection let us not forget the infamous Plassey plunder...the loot from Bengal actually sponsored the industrial revolution of Britain.

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