My mum was taking a stroll with my dad around the neighbourhood last week, because there was a new housing estate being constructed just next to our home. Early home adopters already have much to complain about because of the government’s oversight in approving the construction of a highway right in front of our houses.
As my mum was walking past one of the newly occupied houses, there was a young boy playing outside the house. Being my mum, she tried to be friendly by saying hello. The young boy didn’t reciprocate the greeting, but instead stared intriguingly back at my mum. However, it wasn’t my mum that he was interested in, he was instead interested in my dad.
Boldly, he asked my mum: “Why are you walking with this indian man?”
At this point, if you were my mum, how would you have responded? Whatever ideas you may have come up with, I assure you, answering the young boy’s question was harder than what it appears to be.
You see, the boy had spoken to my mum in mandarin. This little detail adds a whole new layer of complexity to the situation doesn’t it? It takes away the innocence of the little boy, and it adds the weight of intention to his question. Maybe he was asking my mum in a language that he was most comfortable with. Maybe it was because my mum greeted him in mandarin. But what if, the reason the little boy spoke in mandarin, was because he knew, or at least hoped, that my dad would not understand his question.
In a sense, he wasn’t just asking why was my mum walking with my dad; instead, the question behind his question was why would my mum want to walk with my indian dad.
If we spend some time pondering on the entire incident, we may begin to appreciate the nuance of the situation. We may begin to understand the young boy’s mindset, thought, and appreciate that his question highlights what seems obvious but is hard to put into words. It’s hard to digest, and describe why this boy would ask my mum such a question.
My mum was taken by surprise when the question was posed to her. Though it may have seemed apparent and simple to explain that the indian man was her husband, my mum would not have answered his real question. In fact, I don’t think she could have said anything to help the boy understand.
The boy’s question, his curiosity and his understanding echoes loudly of the mindset that we Malaysians have today. It shows us that our children are being brought up in an environment that makes interracial marriages seem illogical. Furthermore, I wonder if the child would have understood better if my mum had instead explained that my dad was just her friend. Can the boy understand friendship that transcends race? Can that then be extended to help the boy understand marriages which transcend race?
Actually, all of us were once like the young boy. We may all still have a part of us that wants to ask why people would choose to marry someone from another race. Can racial and culturul differences be overcome in marriage? Will we ever understand the weight of our questions, and will we ever understand the answers that we discover?
Today, my mother conveyed all that happened to me while she was looking out her window. She pointed the young boy out to me, while he was trying hard to carry a big stone across the road. While she was telling me about the incident, two other boys came along, also carrying big rocks. They were trying to pile the rocks together to bury something underneath the ground. The two other boys were, surprisingly, little indian boys, his neighbour’s sons.
Maybe the little boy has since found the answer to his question. Maybe he has finally understood something that many of us don’t. Maybe the answer to his question, came in the form of my mum and dad. My mother didn’t answer him that day, and in my opinion, she didn’t need to. Maybe, just maybe, he saw my mum and dad, and finally understood.
Maybe today, if he saw my mum and dad walking together, he wouldnt ask my mum the same question anymore. Maybe today, he might ask my mum if she has any children that he can play with.
Maybe today, we as adults, will learn from our children the lessons that we were not able to teach them ourselves.