I went to a Ramadan bazaar in Kulim a few days back. It was swarming with people streaming into it from all directions. As I squeezed myself into the flowing crowd, I felt I was being watched.
Almost instantly, my eyes caught that of a man with Bangladeshi features, staring at me from afar. He may not have had the good looks of Shah Rukh Khan, but my God, he had a piercing stare and a captivating smile.
As we swam towards each other across the sea of people, I could almost hear Kuch Kuch Hota Hai playing in the background.
“Tum paas aaye (you came near me)
yun muskraye (you smiled in such a way)
tum ne jane na kya sapne dikhaye (what kind of dreams have you given me)
ab to mer dil jage na sota hai (now my heart stays awake and won’t sleep)
kya krun hai (what shall I do)
kuchh kuchh hota hai (something is happening within me)”
I blushed. As a girl, it’s a nice feeling knowing you’ve caught the attention of someone from the opposite sex. Embarrassed, I made a feeble attempt at looking elsewhere, but his stare was so all-consuming I was drawn back to it.
My heart pounded more furiously as the distance between us slowly lessened and I could see his face, getting bigger and clearer by the second.
Soon our paths crossed. And there he was, standing right in front of me, our eyes locked.
I did not know who he was or what he was doing in my small town, but in that split second, nothing else mattered except the almost palpable chemistry between us.
As the Kajol in me fumbled to return his smile, I suddenly caught sight of the popia goreng stall behind him. In a flash I realised my greed was overwhelming and I abandoned my Shah Rukh for a dozen chilli popia goreng.
As soon as I happily made the purchase, I turned around looking for my Shah Rukh – but he wasn’t there. I tried looking for him at the murtabak stall and the ayam percik stall – but he was nowhere to be found.
Saddened that my Bangladesh-Malaysia love story only survived a mere minute, I headed home soon after, crestfallen.
That night, after berbuka puasa and Maghrib prayers, my family and I had our usual ginger teh tarik session in the living room when dad began his story. “I feel so sorry for the Bangladeshi boys around here…”
I almost sprayed my teh tarik all over the room.
“People never treat them well. We tend to make them feel as if they do not belong,” dad continued.
My heart pounded, echoing the pounding I gave the ginger in the kitchen for the teh tarik.
“Is dad talking about my Shah Rukh? How could he know?” I wondered.
“The other day, a few people and I organised a ‘moreh’ (feast after prayers) in our masjid. So right after prayers, I invited some Bangladeshi boys who were praying next to me to join us for the moreh. They declined and left.
“I’ve been observing them for a few days and they never touch any food at the masjid – they only come to pray and leave right after. I tried to persuade them because I know they don’t earn much and this food is a rezeki for them – but they were very persistent.”
“Perhaps they are shy…” I said, secretly thinking of my Shah Rukh.
“No. I spoke to a masjid friend – I asked him why the Bangladeshi boys who join us for prayers never join us for moreh.
“He said, they did sit down to eat once, however, some village folk scolded them. Told them the food was meant for Malaysian Muslims and not Bangladeshis.
“Embarrassed, they apologised and walked out. Since then, they come to the masjid only to solat and then head home.”
I felt terrible right then, wondering if I too had inadvertently made my Shah Rukh feel insignificant.
“It is rude, unkind and cruel to make someone feel insignificant,” said dad as if he could read my thoughts.
“We now live in a society where people discriminate against not only those of other religions, but even people of the same religion. This goes against the spirit of Ramadan. It is so sad to see how unholy people have become during this holy month of Ramadan.”
As dad ended his story, I could almost hear the sad version of “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” playing in the background.
Although I did not discriminate against my Shah Rukh in any way, I wondered if he too was subject to the ill treatment the other Bangladeshis received from those in my village mosque.
Working away from home in a foreign land (as I have experienced) can be quite challenging and lonesome. Sometimes all one needs to brighten up one’s day is a smile to make one feel welcome.
Sadly, as our society becomes more boxed in, we tend to alienate others ever so often.
“What’s on your mind?” asked dad, seeing me dreaming away.
“Popia goreng. I think I will go to the Ramadan bazaar in Kulim for some popia tomorrow,” I said, determined to find my Shah Rukh and give him my Kajol smile.
Sigh. Kya krun hai (what shall I do), kuchh kuchh hota hai (something is happening within me)…
Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.
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