Nanda at Batu Caves

Posted on January 24, 2008

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many-colours-1.jpg

Will try to upload the photos later.

Again, Nanda, from all of us, thank you.

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Tuesday 2230H – Left office thinking about the next day, Thaipusam at Batu Caves. Promised Haris that I’ll go and have a look. There were text messages circulating urging people not to show their support for this event in Batu Caves, rather, attend other temples. There were also text messages saying, go to Batu Caves if you have to, but please do not help to make the temple chairman rob Indians of their money. Go and pray, and if possible, bring your necessary items for your prayers as well.  

Was wondering how it would be tomorrow morning. I have mixed feelings regarding these particular urgings, I’ll explain later. 

Wednesday 

1000H – Left my stuff in office and took LRT from KLCC to KL Sentral. Saw a few people whom I sensed might be heading to where I’m heading. Went and bought KTM ticket to Batu Caves. Round trip costs RM 6.40. Paid, got my ticket and went to wait at Platform 3. 

At Platform 3, it was quiet and calm except for the occasional giggle that I heard. Walked further and I saw a man with his little daughter and a family, mum, dad and 2 little boys. I can’t help hearing the little girl talking to her dad.  I can see the excitement in her face and I can hear the expectations and the innocent joy that she is anticipating in her voice. The little boys were also excited but somehow more timid as compared to the girl. The girl, she made her dad bring her and she’s gonna go there for Thaipusam no matter what. The train came and the little girl jumped and squealed happily.  

I boarded the train. 

Throughout the journey, the excited voice of the little girl can be heard in the coach and almost all the passengers were smiling at her. 

1140H – Arrived at Batu Caves. Got down with the rest of the passengers. This is my first trip to Batu Caves on Thaipusam. I’m not the right person to give any comments or pass any judgements on the crowd here in Batu Caves today for I have no basis for comparison. Instead, I leave it to you to decide by looking at the pictures and by reproducing my conversations with several people there. 

I passed by hawkers selling food and drinks, other traders selling prayer items, devotional songs, cinema songs, earrings, books and some other booths. I headed to the temple compound. Saw a few Caucasians, tourists or perhaps residents, taking pictures of the temple and the devotees.  

I walked into the temple compound, I saw quite a number of stalls. Walked further up towards the stairs leading up to the temple and took a couple of photos. I decided to walk around the compound first before trying to talk to some of the people around here.

 Same thing, stalls, people balding their head, guys trying to get people to buy praying items. Devotional songs playing in the loud speakers. Media van standing by the Geetha store. Somehow, its easier for me to move around in Batu Caves as compared to Thaipusam celebration in Penang. I thought it would be the other way round. 

A reporter was interviewing a devotee who just came down from the temple. I heard the reporter asking her about the number of people this year and the devotee answered the number has reduced significantly. She said she comes to Batu Caves every year because she just lives nearby. Asked if she agrees with the call for boycott against Batu Caves, she answered she knows how the people feel and in a way she agrees but its also a question of religious obligations and hence, she came to just pray here because she lives close by. 

I saw a building, which is the headquarters of the Thaipusam committee. Announcements are made from there. Media people are allowed to be there as I saw people coming out wearing the Media tag, and photographers with their cameras positioned to take any interesting shots. 

Made my way to a stall selling traditional Indian sweets. I saw a lady and a few young guys manning the stall. The lady was unoccupied with customer so I tried to ask her a few questions. At first she was reluctant, she might have thought I came to ask for money for some charity. Then she spoke.  

She told me the number of people this year has no doubt decreased. I asked her, how does she gauge that. And she told me that she’s been coming to Batu Caves every year for the past 10 or more years. She told me at the time when I was asking her questions, usually if previous years, she wouldn’t be able to entertain me as there would be numerous customers. She said, ‘Just look at the front of the stall, usually there’ll be no empty place.’ 

I asked her about the rent and she told me she has to pay RM2800. I’m not sure if its per day or for the entire Thaipusam. There was some unverified source claiming the temple authorities claimed the rental was in amount of few hundreds but apparently not so. Then I asked how about the rent last year, I wanted to make some quantitative comparison but she can’t remember as it was her husband who was the one who took care of it last year. I thanked her for her time and I moved on. 

Went to another shop selling prayer items. A man, in his forties I would say, was manning it. Said hi to him and asked him if he wouldn’t mind if I asked him some questions. He said, no problem tambi, go ahead. I asked him how long have you been doing business here in Batu Caves during Thaipusam. He said, 10 years now. He’s been coming here annually for 10 years. I asked him how’s the crowd this time around. He said, somehow the crowd has reduced a little. I tried to ask him about a rough figure, just to have an idea of the number that can be associated with the crowd and he told me it is difficult to do that simply because, for Thaipusam, people have been coming to Batu Caves as early as Sunday 20th January 2008. So when we say X number of people, its not necessarily accurate as the number varies from day to day and also from morning, afternoon and evening. I nodded as what he is saying is definitely making sense. Then he went on to tell me, in term of number, devotees came and are coming but perhaps a little lesser than previous years. But in terms of the prayer item sales, this year is quite a bad year for him. He said if at the same time we were talking, the previous year, most of his items would have been sold. But that’s not the case this year. I asked permission to take the picture of his stall with the items still not sold and in bags. He said, no problem, go ahead tambi. 

I asked him further, how much does he pay in term of rent and he said RM 1500. He went on to explain its different rate for different stalls. I asked him how much was it last year and he told me RM 2000. The committee decided to reduce the rent for the prayer item sales stalls  this year. For what reason, I don’t know. 

I thanked him for his time and for his willingness to speak to me. I walked and at this time a kid carrying a ‘kavadi’ caught my eyes. 

The kid was strong, he looked determined. He came out today to fulfill what he has come to believe as his duty. He came out today because of his faith. 

Just a bit later, I saw a group of FRU personnel and the number was growing and I thought there might have been some trouble so I went closer. The FRU personnel and cops were escorting Samy Vellu. He came and he went inside the Geetha store.  

A group of people were outside and I started talking to the guy beside me and he told me regardless of what anybody says, people will still come to Batu Caves. I told him, thanks, I appreciate you sharing your views.  

A couple of FRU chaps were nearby and I decided to talk to them as well. Was wearing my 10-Eleven t-shirt, so I was prepared to be shunned away. I spoke to Shah first and then I spoke to Zaki. Zaki has been with the FRU covering Thaipusam events for 9 years. I asked him, ‘Ada masalah apa-apa tak bang, kali ni?’ He said, ‘Kali ni dekat sini takde. Setakat ni ok.’ I asked him again, ‘Bang, dah dekat 9 tahun abang duty kat sini, tahun ni orang banyak ke atau dah kurang?’ Zaki grinned and said,’ Tengok la kat belakang tu, mana ada orang. Mungkin sebab panas kot. Lagipun orang datang sejak 2 hari lepas, tapi hari ni memang aku rasa kurang.’ I said ok, terima kasih bang, Dato’ dah nak keluar dah tu.  

Samy Velu came out and was interviewed by MSM. I can’t get close enough to hear what they were asking and what he was saying. Apologies for not being able to give his speech here. 

I walked to the fly-over in front of the temple. Went to the middle and took a few photos just to give you an idea of what a simple Nokia N73 Phone’s camera can do and with that you can draw your conclusion of what a Canon EOS Mk 1 with a telephoto zoom lense in the hands of a professional can do. 

I went down, just stood and watched the people. I saw tourists, Malaysian of many colours, devotees, kids, elderly. 

I can’t help thinking about the excited little girl in the train and the little boy with the ‘kavadi’. The little girl was having the time of her life. I tried putting myself in her dad’s shoes and I thought, regardless of what I believe and what I stand for, who am I to deny the little girl the happiness and memory that would be ingrained in her mind for a very long time? Who am I to rob her off her childhood events, events which she unknowingly decides at this age which in turn would turn out to shape her memories even when innocence is long gone? Nope, even if I was her dad, I don’t have the rights to deny her off her childhood experiences. As such, even if I feel strongly to heed the calls of not attending Batu Caves, I would have still gotten up, dressed the little girl, and took her out anyways.  

Same goes to the little boy with his ‘kavadi’. Even if I was his dad, who am I to question the faith of the little boy? Who am I to question the validity of his personal communications with his God? It might have been playing in the thoughts of the young boy for months, of this moment when he actually would do something with his own strength and determination to fulfill his promise to his God. Who am I to tell him that it can be done some other time? Who am I to trivialize his beliefs? Nope, even if I was his dad, I do not have the rights to stand between him and his faith. As such, I would have still prepared all the necessary things to make it possible for him to be there even if I strongly believe in the call of not attending. 

This particular call for not attending the festival is an intricate issue. It involves faith. It concerns ones beliefs. As such it is quite unfair to think of the people going to Batu Caves as those who support the corrupt authorities. At the same time, it is unfair and totally unjustified for the authorities to think that the people who attended are showing their support and use their attendance as a gauge of people’s confidence. Nope, it doesn’t work that way.  

Now this brings us to the main issue for the reason of coming up with this own report. I don’t know how the MSM are going to carry this story.  

BERNAMA carried out a report in which Samy spoke triumphantly about people showing up, ignoring the smses. People showed up, yes, but it was not because they wanted to make a statement that they support you sir, its because they have conscience and they have their personal commitments to their Gods and also due to responsibility. A word that may be alien to some people. 

Bernama carried out report with the headlines ‘Call to boycott Thaipusam ignored, 1 million turn up.’ And in the article, it mentioned ‘at noon, not less than 500 000 turn up.’  

That’s a blatant lie. I was there.  

Regardless of the facts or the issues of beliefs and faith and whatever else there may be, for the general public, they find out about what they believe is the truth by reading what was given to them by the media. As such, the fourth estate is entrusted with the responsibility of providing the truth. An impartial view. An honest account of what’s happening. 

Consciously failing to do so is not an option.  

Repeatedly publishing lies only insult the intelligence of the members of civil society. 

Knowingly distorting facts is unacceptable.  

Misleading the civil society into believing a different version of the actual account, hence betraying the trust of the people and trivializing the entrusted responsibility is unforgivable..

As a members of civil society, what are we gonna do about it?