Read Part 1 here.
Mahendran @ Mahendran Mathavarayan’s “Karupaya” won consolation prize in Hadiah Cerpen Malayan Banking-DBP I and published in Menara (1988). The main character, Karupaya, is an old widower and has long retired from Public Works Department (JKR). He has five children but they decided to send the senile old man to the old folk’s home.
Names such as Karupaya, Muniammah, Ravi, Kamala, Kumar, Vijayan, Janaki, and Jayanthi are clear signs of cultural elements. Data from the Department of Statistics (Jayanath Appudurai & G. A. David Dass, Malaysian Indians: Looking Forward, 2008) indicate that 84.1% of Malaysian Indians in 2000 are Hindus, alongside Christians (7.7%), Muslims (4.1%), and Buddhists (1.2%).
Ethnically speaking, 87.6% Malaysian Indians are Tamil, while the minorities are Malayali (2.25%) and Telugu (2.45%). Therefore, it is not surprising that most of the Indian characters in these short stories have Tamil and Hindu names. Karupaya, for example, means “dark-skinned man”.
Saroja Theavy Balakrishnan’s “Putih Mata Putih Tulang” clearly portrays more Indian cultural elements compared to the previous stories. This short story was awarded the second prize in Hadiah Cerpen Malayan Banking-DBP II and published in Menara 2 (1989). The main characters are Vadivoo, a widow, and her son, Ramachandran @ Rama @ Ram.
The parents’ love and attention towards their children is part and parcel of the Indian values, norms, practice, and culture. They want their children to become “good” people. These elements are also prominent in Thirukkural, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, besides numerous folktales which are told and retold from generation to generation.
In the above short story, her dying husband reminds Vadivoo to take care of their son and make sure he grows up to be a person with good values and manners.
Ramachandran’s name is also unique. Suresh Kumar N Vellymalay and Sivarajan Ponniah in Budaya, Adat dan Ritual Penganut Agama Hindu di Malaysia (2019) explain how Indians usually choose a name for their newborn baby.
Besides the date, time and place of birth, names are also chosen based on their sound and meaning. When Vadivoo was pregnant, her husband has already suggested the name “Ramachandran” based on the main character in the Ramayana who is characterised as a symbol of righteousness and filial piety.
Vadivoo also often thinks, thanks, and asks for God’s guidance. When thinking of getting his son married, Vadivoo says: “Oh, God! Would my dream come true?” It is also mentioned that “only Vadivoo and God know” how hard it has been for the single mother to raise her son.
Vadivoo raises her hands and prays towards the sun. As explained by N. M. Idaikadar in Latar Belakang Kebudayaan Penduduk-penduduk di Tanah Melayu: Bahagian kebudayaan Hindu (1978), even though it’s originally practised by Hindus from the Sauram sect, sun-worshipping or praying towards the sun is also common among all Hindus regardless of their sect.
Vadivoo teaches Ramachandran about Hindu elements and Indian beliefs, such as karma and sin, since he was a little boy. It is very clear that “Putih Mata Putih Tulang” successfully portrays Indian cultural elements in a very creative and natural way.
Rajendran Rengasamy’s “Suatu Pengorbanan” won consolation prize in Hadiah Cerpen Malayan Banking-DBP III and published in Menara 3 (1990). The story takes us back to Heng Keng Estate to see how Maniam tries to help the community.
His mother was a rubber tapper, just like many of the Indians. Andrew C. Willford (2014), Ravindra K. Jain (2011) and Muzafar Desmond Tate (2008) have documented the rubber estate life in their books. The life of the characters in this story is similar to what has been written and documented about Tamil rubber tappers in Malaysia in the 1980s, a critical time when oil palm trees were replacing rubber trees, Indonesian workers were brought as cheap labours, and many Indian youths from the estates were becoming unskilled factory workers.
Saroja Theavy Balakrishnan’s “Kandasami” was awarded the first prize in Hadiah Cerpen Malayan Banking-DBP IV and published in Menara 4 (1991). The story takes place in Kedah in October 1950. Kandasami @ Kanda is a railway porter and lives in an overcrowded barrack where more than 100 families share eight communal toilets.
Kandasami left Tamil Nadu, India when he was 16 years old and started his life as a rubber tapper. Now, he plans to go back to his “homeland” and start a new life.
In the beginning, Kandasami is portrayed as a patriot who loves Malaya. But soon, he is revealed to be a hypocrite. He has purchased a ticket to sail back to India on Kapal Sri Lakshmi. Later, he would arrange for his wife, Theivanai, their five sons and a daughter to follow suit.
What this short story portrays is partially true about the culture, history, experience, dilemma, Weltanschauung, and the reality of the Indians (especially Tamils) in Malaya in the 1950s; after India has gained her independence but Malaya was still in limbo.
Kandasami always seeks God’s guidance. For example, he exclaims, “Oh God, am I doing the right thing?” Later, after he gives his ticket to an old man, Kandasami thinks, “Oh God, is this Your answer to me?” This clearly shows the mindset of the Indians who always think of God; when in trouble or when successful.
Mahendran’s “Sementara ke Neraka” won consolation prize in Hadiah Cerpen Malayan Banking-DBP IV and published in Menara 4 (1991). A corrupted Ganesh has passed away and his spirit comes back to haunt his wife, Manjula.
Indian cultural norms, folk-ways, and practices are obvious when Ganesh’s body is taken to the graveyard to be cremated. As per custom, only men are allowed to attend the cremation ceremony.
Suresh Kumar N Vellymalay and Sivarajan Ponniah (2019) explain this practice clearly and in detail. Mahendran has managed to portray the cultural elements clearly in his short story. (Read Part 2 here)
Cover image by David Vilches on Unsplash
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