LIFELONG LEARNING: Catching up with former teachers is an educational experience
CIKGU Razak Osman, who taught me in school decades ago, called on the night of Jan 1 to thank me for the New Year greeting that I had sent via text message earlier in the day.
We keep in touch, Cikgu Razak and I; sometimes, we go for teh tarik. He said: "I'm sorry, I didn't reply earlier. I'm just coming out of the mosque and saw your message."
After wishing me a great year ahead, Cikgu Razak said he was trying to find a book on the Vedas; something short but clear.
I found that interesting. Not just that he wanted to read the Vedas, the Hindu holy books, but that he expressed this wish soon after he had performed his prayers as a dutiful Muslim in a mosque.
And believe me, he is a staunch Muslim.
Cikgu Razak's statement of intent told me he was confident of himself; that knowing something about the Vedas will not make him any less a Muslim.
We need more people like him in every religion.
How many Muslims, I wondered, had read, or had ever thought of reading, books on Hinduism to better understand fellow Malaysians of the Hindu faith?
How many Hindus had read the Quran to have a better understanding of fellow Malaysians of the Muslim faith?
How many Christians had read the sermons of the Buddha to better understand fellow Malaysians of the Buddhist faith?
How many Buddhists had read the Guru Granth Sahib to better understand fellow Malaysians of the Sikh faith?
And how many Sikhs had read the Bible to better understand fellow Malaysians of the Christian faith?
And if they had indeed read any book on some other religion, had they read it with an open mind or had they read it to find fault with it?
Before you ask, let me say that I have some knowledge of the various religions and I have books on the major religions at home.
I have, in fact, been to mosques, churches, gurdwaras and Buddhist and Taoist temples.
Would you believe it when I say I had gone Christmas carolling with my friend Raymond Edward, and that I had acted as one of the three Magi in a Christmas play?
Or that I had gone to a mosque to drink water that had been sanctified with the repetition of verses from the Quran by a mosque official?
Or that I had helped in cleaning and decorating a Buddhist temple?
These experiences, I believe, have made me a better Hindu. Wait a second, let me rephrase that. These experiences have made me a better person.
For, we are all human beings first. Religion came much later. Let's not forget that our earliest ancestors had no church or temple or mosque. They were simply humans. Period.
Since even a little knowledge about another religion would be beneficial, especially so in multireligious Malaysia, I would urge the Education Ministry to include the learning of all religions, in particular the commonalities, in the school curriculum.
But this should be handled carefully and transparently. Do we have the right administrators and teachers for this task?
Were teachers of Cikgu Razak's generation better at inculcating a sense of unity among students? Perhaps.
Talking about former teachers, I met up with some of my former teachers when I was in Taiping during the last week of last year.
I had tea with my 5A1 class teacher Mr Lim Eng Keat, my Form Six economics teacher Mr Francis Ho and Mr Ng Yoong Min, who did not teach me but whom I knew in school.
We met up at the Chinese Recreation Club, thanks to my former schoolmate, the indefatigable Lim Ka Huat.
I was glad to see them again. I had caught up with Mr Lim and Mr Ho a few years ago when I visited Taiping.
They are among my better teachers.
I also met some of their friends and we had a wonderful time -- chatting about King Edward VII Secondary School, former teachers, life in laidback Taiping, the next general election, Jalan Tupai and China dolls.
The following night, my wife and I had dinner with two of my former primary school teachers Miss Ng Poh Liang, who is 85, and Madam Looi Sow Siew, 73.
They remembered me and that made me feel good. The vegetarian dinner was hosted by Ka Huat, who brought along his lovely wife and undergraduate son -- a young, handsome and polite lad.
Ka Huat, I must say, is one guy who has not forgotten his teachers or his schoolmates.
He is a great friend and never tires of telling anyone willing to listen about the time I splashed a pail of water on our principal, the disciplinarian Mr Long Heng Hua.
As we parted, I frowned at the frail form of my former teachers, especially Miss Ng.
Looking up with a smile that made me feel it was worth it coming to Taiping from Kuala Lumpur, Miss Ng said: "I hope we can meet again soon."
I nodded. It is at such times that the word InsyaAllah (God willing), which Muslims use, comes to mind.
What are the best words to use when friends depart?
I simply said: "Please take care."
"Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind." -- Prophet Muhammad
A. Kathirasen email@example.com has been a journalist with the NST for 32 years. New Straits Times Columnist 10 January 2013