Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (Language is the Soul of a Nation)

Saleh Mohammed | .

My own family reunion dinner happened on the fourth day of Chinese New Year. It was a happy reunion with my daughter who just celebrated her first wedding anniversary together with my other family members.

What I am about to write is how happy I was that evening. Not only about the dinner but what I encountered during the course of the dinner.

Actually, the day started not so well for me. You know, one of those days. Maybe for the superstitious it is because of the number four. As a Muslim I am not one of them but I have to put a caveat here.

Islam as a religion has an affinity for numbers. Muslims of the classical period spent a great deal of time playing and thinking with numbers, measuring and calibrating things, and classifying and organising lists of branches of knowledge. That was how Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (circa 780–850 AD), the ninth-century Persian astronomer and mathematician invented Algebra ( الجبر (al-jabr) ‘restoration’). It is a mathematical discipline that is independent of geometry and arithmetics.

Now, back to the reunion dinner. It was in a restaurant in KL and my family ordered Hokkien mee, mee Singapore and claypot mee. A Malay family ordering all food chinese-style. For that matter, the restaurant is halal-certified.

A couple of tables away were seated two Chinese couples. And for them was, food Malay-style. What a contrast...

That is not my point. The point is their conversation was in perfect Bahasa Melayu (sorry... we must not term it as Bahasa Malaysia). A rare occurence in today’s environment. Well, you could say I was eavesdropping. It is not uncommon today, for families to be conversing mainly in the English language or at least a good part of it. It seems we are shy to use Bahasa Melayu because of the perception that it is not equivalent to the position of English or even French. Fact is, the Malay language used to be the main language, the language of trade exchange and lingua franca in the Malay Archipelago .

For a moment I thought I was in Jakarta and not KL. For those who have not been to Indonesia, over there you could hardly hear people talking in English or Chinese. It is all Bahasa Indonesia. Be it at shopping malls, in public transport and also at airports.

These two Chinese couples were happily engaged in discussion about their daily life experiences and all on positive notes. I must admit my whole family was eavesdropping because we have never encountered this sort of experience before. Thoughts were playing in my mind when will be the day when all Malaysians and now including Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Pakistanis and others, all conversing in Bahasa Melayu. Will that happen in our lifetime?

Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (Language is the Soul of a Nation). Language reflects the culture and identity of a race and community.

The person I was talking about is Mr Jeffrey Gui. I had the chance to have a brief conversation with him after dinner. He is the owner of Polar Premium Gift at Taman Putra, Ampang. The other couple with him is his in-laws. The other thing playing in my mind was a what a good son-in-law he is.

The other person I know who did not speak Mandarin was the only son of a Malaysian statesman and MCA founder Tun Tan Cheng Lock. He was the late Tun Tan Siew Sin.

At the other end of the restaurant was a middle-aged Malay man with his Chinese wife and her family members numbering about sixteen of them (young and old), recounting the happy moments they had a few days earlier.

Talking about souls, I do believe Malaysia has got many souls/people with deep moral and emotional attributes to make our country reach greater heights socially, economically and politically. And of course, through the use of Bahasa Melayu.

So, Mr Jeffrey Gui, you made my day when it started not so well.

Now that I feel good, the monkey in me is thinking of going to a river in Penang or any river to pick up some mandarin oranges with names and telephone numbers inscribed on it.... but ohhh.... I already have an ‘Amoi’ (my wife’s pet name) at home...


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