Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Kling People

I wrote 2 posts yesterday and this blog had 222 hits after that. Those were the two 'geram' articles I wrote. Sometimes I get this geram (angered, angry) mood and I write fast and strong, and I breathe like a bull or a bison when I'm just a swan. Sometimes I have no story to write about as my hands won't write even though the story unfolds in my grey matter. Today, I will write for you about the Indians. Everybody calls them 'Kling', a supposedly derogatory word, pointing to a lesser status of the dark skin people. Let me begin this story of the Kling people in my own words and in my own experience, unbiased by what other people have viewed and written about the Kling people.


Kling is not killing, keeling or kneeling. Kling is Kling, Keling or Kalinga, but not Klang or Kelang. The word Kling or Keling has many meanings, depending on what the context is. Here are some of the contextual meanings as I understand the word.

Type 1 context:
When someone shouts angrily at you and says 'Awak Keling kah?', then that means 'are you stupid?' or 'are you a fool?'. It implies that one must not act silly and, it is also an indirect order to ask you 'to do something better next time and not act foolishly'.

Type 2 context:
When boys are naughty and they play noisily around the elderly and irritate them, then the elderly will shout to them 'Hei, budak Keling!' which translates to 'hey, you naughty boys!' It does not mean the boys are Indians at all or that all Indian boys are naughty and noisy. It is just an expression.

Type 3 context:
When someone meets you and asks you 'Awak orang Kling kah?' or 'Awak orang India kah?' or 'Awak India mari?', then there are many shades of meanings. (i) Awak orang Kling kah? can be asking whether you are Indian from a Kling settlement (ie, a locality) or the Kalinga group of Indian people (ie, ethnicity). (ii) Awak orang India kah? can be asking whether you are Indian, and therefore assumes you speak and can comprehend the Indian language. (iii) Awak India mari? is directly asking whether you hail from India. It does not ask whether your ancestors were Indians or were from India. It only asks your status.

Type 4 context:
The racial group Kling or Keling refers to the many groups of Indians in Malaya, Malaysia and Singapore. Kling or Keling is an ethnic label for all Indians. Because the unlettered lay Malays do not understand Indian migrations and the geography of the vast Indian sub-continent, they group all the Indians as Kling or Keling. This is the weakness on the part of the Malays. So the educated Indians (Kling or Keling) must enlighten the Malays on this aspect.

If you look back into Malacca history, there is a place in Malacca called Tanjung Keling, supposedly where the Indians came ashore in Malacca during the Portuguese era, and also during the Dutch era. Whether the Indians came as traders or forced labour, I don't know, presumably both. Maybe they came as forced labour (convicts and coolies) first and then as indentured labourers later, and eventually as seekers of fortune. But the phenomenon of the Indians arriving and building an Indian settlement at Tanjung Keling is real, and that has lasted till today. But I don't find many Indians there. There is however, Shah's Village in Tanjung Keling in Malacca. Shah's Village was owned by H.M. Shah, an Indian relative of my father (my father was descended from a clergy Arab-princely Minangkabau lineage). My father recalled his uncle H.M. Shah's wife as 'rich with bangles'. So the Indians (and thus Kling or Keling) of Tanjung Keling, were actually rich and successful traders. If you study the H.M. Shah empire, you will be surprised to find that they own a lot of the assets and some of the prime lands in and around KL, Selangor and Malacca. A lot of hotels and resorts are theirs. So that is how powerfully rich the Kling or Keling can be and are today. So, don't belittle their status if you are not a millionnaire or billionnaire, or earning RM30K per day. The Kling or Keling are richer than all the Malays today, despite their humble origins as Indian migrants from 1511 onward (Portuguese era), 1641 onward (Dutch era), or 1824 onward (British era)) - as convicts, coolies, indentured labourers, fortune seekers, traders, etc. They have successfully found a new home here. The Malays cannot match the hardworking Kling/Keling who are able to persevere everything and make their way out of their misfortunes within 5 generations (if I take 1824 as the index). The Kling/Keling have every right to demand respect for their present status as the rich and powerful among the 28 million Malaysians we have today. So the Malays must use the word Kling or Keling rightfully, and respect the Indians who have made it successfully.

Type 5 context:
The historical word Kling or Keling is just a geo-ethnic label which western authors used for writing about the early Indians who arrived in the British settlements and outposts. We have to deeply think about why the British thought of the Indians as a lowly group of Indians and therefore discriminated them based on skin colour, etc. If we are humans, then we know that it is every human's right to live and be treated as human, as equally as other humans. We cannot treat others as lowly animals or treat them inhumanely. So that brings us to the question of 'why did the British discriminate the Indians?' I don't know. We all know the Indians tend to have dark skin shades while the British have fair skin tones. If you read the Quran, it tells us that the skin and ethnicity do not make us better humans. What makes us better humans is the faith we hold within. So why did the British discriminate and ill-treat the Indians? I guess, the Indians are gentle people and they take anger within, they don't show anger. They practise Yoga and are able to deal with a lot of insults, especially those arising from skin tones. The dark skin tones may make them feel inferior but the Great Creator has given the Indians something that no other ethnic group has. What can that be? The Indians are bestowed with the best brains for mathematics. Their brains are specialised for this very high mental capability. And because there are Indians in this world, we are blessed with things related to numbers. What are things related to numbers? What if I told you these facts: Silicon Valley is dominated by highly educated Indians; NASA is highly dependent on Indian scientists who all have PhDs; France and India have the best mathematicians; and there are many more evidences of the geniuses of the Indians. So, don't belittle the Indians just because they have a darker skin tone compared to you. Remember, you have a lesser brain than any Indian and you cannot see that. This is what I call Rahmatullah (rahmat Allah). So, be thankful that we have Indians in this world and especially a lot of them in Malaysia and Singapore. What would the world be without the Indians? Without the Indians, we won't be counting money, we won't be able to fly to the moon, we won't have holidays, and we won't be enjoying holidays overseas as nobody knows how to even schedule flights. All things dealing with numbers are from the Indians, including the money changer. There was even a big double-storey Indian Mercantile Bank in Kota Bharu before the Japanese invaded Malaya; Kota Bharu only had a small defunct Bank Pitis. So be very thankful that we have the Indians with us today.

The Indian money changer's box. Photo from Penang Museum.

Pre-war Indian Mercantile Bank in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. This is now the WWII Museum (Muzium Perang Dunia Ke-2). I used to follow my mother to this bank - I was 11 years old. The bank officers spoke English.

Go to Little India in Penang and Singapore, and you know what I mean. Even the flower shops near the temples (kuil India) are a delight to visit on weekends. I even bought flowers for my wedding from the flower shops by the Indian kuil in Dato Keramat Road in Penang. 

Indian flower stalls in Penang

And remember the oh-so-good roti canai, capati, murtabak, nasi briyani, kurma, and everything else Indian, the Indians have made this world a more colourful place and added so much variety to Malay cuisine.

Nasi briyani served in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. This plate costs RM8.50.

If you admire Indian materials (kain sari) then you have every reason to thank the Indians for the beautiful sari materials, both the feather-weight and heavy sari materials. They go well with Indian gold accessories. Oh! So wonderful life is with all these sari and gold and perfumes.

A beautiful purple Indian sari material from Bangalore, India, made into a Malay baju kurung for Aidilfitri. This is my daughter's baju kurung. She bought the material in Bangalore for RM80. and had it sewn in Kubang Kerian for RM30. This type of sari baju kurung sells for approx. RM300-RM500 in KL boutiques.

Masjid Kapitan Keling in Penang is a beautiful mosque. When I prayed there I had tears because the mosque is so lovely. It is an Indian mosque and is the cleanest of the many mosques I have been to. The grounds make you feel like you are in the palace when actually you are in the mosque. So please visit Masjid Kapitan Keling next time you visit Penang. Reasonably priced nasi kandar is served outside by the front gates. You can order the rice and that goes down well with air limau ais or teh limau ais. You can eat under the payung and watch the afternoon traffic pass by. Bon appetite!

Masjid Kapitan Keling, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Penang. This is a beautiful mosque within the World Heritage Cities (of two cities - Penang and Malacca).

I think that settles the long introduction to the Indians whom we call Kling or Keling. Be happy!