National

A ‘Little India' comes into being in Malaysia

SHOWCASING IDENTITY: Members of Malaysia's ethnic Indian community listen to a speech by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Brickfield area during the launch of "Little India" in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP

SHOWCASING IDENTITY: Members of Malaysia's ethnic Indian community listen to a speech by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Brickfield area during the launch of "Little India" in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP  

Nearly every country has a Chinatown that accommodates the traditions and cultures of the Chinese who had migrated several centuries ago. But Indians who left their country to work as indentured labour or as professionals have seldom had a part of a city where their lives and ambitions are showcased.

This changed in Malaysia on Wednesday with the inauguration of a boulevard named “Little India.” It was once a congested and smelly neighbourhood called Brickfields. “The Malaysian government's decision to dedicate the area of Brickfields, one of the oldest Indian settlements in the country, as ‘Little India' is a tribute to the contribution to nation-building of all Malaysians of Indian origin,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged while declaring it open along with his Malaysian counterpart, Md. Najib.

Indians dominate “Little India,” but the two major communities — the Malays and the Chinese — also share space with them. Shops are stacked to the brim with goods familiar in India — Sakthi Rasam, Parampara incense and Gold Winner Sunflower oil. There are desperate attempts to keep one cultural mooring intact — vegetarianism. “Restoran Chat Masala” offers ‘Pure Veg North and South Indian' along with “Pure Chinese food without onion or garlic,” which helps to keep the ‘mind, body and soul healthy.'

Tamil movie CDs on offer

Shops are full of Tamil movie CDs, with a few offerings of Hindi films. The local Tamil newspapers crowd the shop entrances. Liquor shops too try to bring back nostalgia with a never-seen-in-India elongated bottle of Old Monk and a Black Mischief Rum which plays on the popular White Mischief vodka in India.

An enthusiastic crowd of about 8,000 Indians, with a sprinkling of their Malay and Chinese neighbours, waited for four hours to catch a glimpse of Dr. Singh. While Malaysian security was light, Dr. Singh's minders played the spoilsport by ensuring that the audience and the visitor never got to see each other.

Najib's gesture

On the other hand, the Malaysian Prime Minister, whose party was largely forsaken by voters of Indian origin in the last elections, utilised the opportunity to the hilt. After Dr. Singh left, enveloped by his security and waving feebly to the crowds he intermittently glimpsed on video screens, Mr. Najib plunged into the masses, shaking hands and being affable. And the first ‘India town' was born.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 10:47:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/A-lsquoLittle-India-comes-into-being-in-Malaysia/article15794433.ece

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