I was reading Sri Delima’s As I Was Passing stories again recently, and the question that came to my mind was: What is the definition of a Malaysian?

“Are you from India?” asked a restaurant worker as he placed my teh tarik before me.

“No, I am Malaysian,” I answered quietly, but proudly.

“Are you from India?” asked a saree-clad woman, obviously from that proud country as we congregated around a table during an international conference.

“No, I am Malaysian,” I answered gently.

What does it mean to be Malaysian? Is it the birth certificate you receive upon entering this world, yowling indignantly as the doctor slaps your bottom?

As I Was Passing by Adibah Amin

As I Was Passing by Adibah Amin

Is it the food that you eat, or the clothes you wear or what you learn in school?

Is it the Negaraku and the Rukunegara, the words of which spring with clarity to your heart and mind when you are no longer at the dreaded Monday school assemblies? Is it the lah that non-Malaysians cannot use correctly?

To me, the meaning can be found in Lat’s cartoons and Sri Delima’s articles – those that celebrate our glorious Malaysian idiosyncrasies.

Re-reading her classic narrative of Malaysian peccadilloes in As I Was Passing makes me marvel how spot-on her observations are – so gentle, so kindly and understanding. I fall in love with her writing all over again – it feels like “coming home”.

I remember reading in a newspaper that this great lady has been brought low by illness, and that money has been donated to her.

I remember the picture of her in a wheelchair, with a smile that manages to be impish despite her circumstances.

How can it come to this? That one who has done more to unite Malaysians, receives less attention or acknowledgement than some hate-spewing narrow-minded people who garner press headlines through mere chest-thumping?

People like Sri Delima (it is an open secret that this is Adibah Amin’s pen-name) and Lat are the true Malaysian heroes, by whose yardsticks we should measure ourselves by.

I call for her to receive the recognition and appreciation she deserves from all discerning like-minded Malaysians who love our country and fellow Malaysians, to put aside all the recent hate and antagonism that is poisoning the very fabric of our society and threatens to rend it apart.

Remember, united we stand, divided we fall. We are now so interconnected that to excise a portion would be like the scene from Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice, in which a claimant was required to cut a person’s flesh without spilling a drop of blood – in other words, totally impossible to do.

I thank her for the enjoyment, insights and teachings her writing has provided me and countless others.

Again, I salute a great lady – Adibah Amin – a truly Malaysian heroine.