We are all superior

This post reflects my limited experience. It does not offer generalisations about any of the issues I touch upon. My experiences are necessarily historical – the consequence of being ancient.

As a schoolboy, I heard some senior members of the Ceylon Tamil community in British Malaya assert that we were, by virtue of education in English, superior to all other tribal communities present. The Indians there then were predominantly rubber tappers and shopkeepers. The Chinese were market gardeners, tin miners, and shopkeepers. The Malays were kampong people. The Europeans? Beyond the pale! (My interpretation and terminology). They were not liked. Mutual tolerance did prevail amongst the Asians; we were inter-dependent.

The Ceylon Tamils did monopolise the public sector; administrative competence seemed to be innate (as evident to the majority Singhalese in Colombo). Focusing on education (sensibly), they were not particularly impressed by the visible wealth of a few Chinese and Indian businessmen; or the power of the British, or the pomp of the Malay ruling class. If anyone displayed their sense of superiority, it was only the British. The only display of caste I observed was when a Christian Ceylonese doctor had his Hindu Indian servant-boy sit on the floor of his car! I was disgusted.

Among our multi-ethnic peoples, socialisation was then within each tribal culture; but ethnic festivals began to include friends from other cultures. My close friends included Eurasians. Since I owned the soccer ball, from age 7 to age 13 (when the Japanese military arrived), I was everyone’s friend. I earned a bigger ball each year from my favourite uncle (the one whose spirit manifested to offer advice for my spiritual progress after my retirement) by topping my class at school. My point is that, in spite of education or wealth distinctions, a multicultural nation was evolving.

In any new nation being created by immigrants, there is little scope for any claim of superiority to find fertile ground. Australia has demonstrated this. We can all be as superior as we like, but who is listening?

The mirror of imagined social superiority was shattered in what is now Malaysia by the (reluctant) withdrawal of the British; as well as by the (later) presence of sandal-wearing Indians, said to be British-trained lawyers, in the prestigious Selangor Club in Malaysia’s capital. This is the club which, once, had a sign stating ‘No Chinamen or dogs’!

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