Jan 26 marked a milestone in the lives of the younger students of the Sathya Sai Spiritual Education (SSE), Seremban.
They were going to perform in a cultural dance in the Kids’ Art and Cultural Festival jointly organised by Kasih Malaysia (an organisation comprising wives of the ministers in Pakatan Harapan) and the Arts and Cultural Bureau, at the Botanical Gardens in Putrajaya.
But more significant for them was that they were going to perform in front of dignitaries who included Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, the chief guest.
They were also excited about the colouring contest that they could participate in.
As we were going under the Sathya Sai Baba banner, I gave the children the bad news – that they had to be vegetarian. Non-vegetarian food is taboo at Sai events.
There were the initial moans and groans but they understood that the principles of the organisation had to be abided by.
The event organisers were not used to serving vegetarian food. But with a lot of effort from Shanthi Waythamoorthy (wife of the National Unity Minister), and Tengku Aidrina (a member of the organising committee), the request for vegetarian food for 55 children and adults was adhered to.
I truly appreciated their effort.
It is not common in Malaysia to cater to vegetarians at most public functions. Vegetarians normally had to be content with some fruits.
But the organisers of this event went out of their way. And the food was by a caterer who took the trouble to get sumptuous varieties of vegetarian food.
There was great camaraderie at the event. The organisers, mostly youths, were very courteous and told us that our dance performance was the third item on the programme.
The event started with aerobics, with everyone giving free expression to their emotions.
I felt proud of my country where different cultures, and people young and old, could dance and exercise in a truly Malaysian setting, with some Malay singers even attempting Tamil songs to entertain us, the few Indians they recognised in the crowd.
Then suddenly we heard a commotion.
The much-anticipated guest, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, the wife of the Prime Minister, had arrived, beaming, in a small train-like vehicle.
The carriage stopped, allowing her to greet the children who were by now excitedly waiting to shake her hand.
She was obviously elated to see the cheery little faces, and how they were jostling one another in order to get nearer to her.
I was amazed at how she took time to shake hands with them all.
She was so amicable and pleasant. She took her own time to greet all and sundry.
Soon the event began, and that was when I realised that one of my little students – who’s known to be hyperactive – was missing!
So, I went in search of him. And I couldn’t believe my eyes.
My awestruck student was actually extending his little hand to the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who had just arrived unannounced.
The PM shook his hand warmly and even paired up with him for a selfie!
Most of the people were engrossed in watching the performance and were unaware of the PM’s presence.
He was not expected at the event as he had a heavy schedule ahead of him.
Yet this great statesman made time for our children’s cultural show.
You could see that he was delighted to have the children surround him.
In fact, the PM gently accommodated numerous selfies with the children, thrilling them.
His genuine affection for the little ones was so apparent.
I also observed how the PM beckoned one of my more bashful students who was overwhelmed, standing at the back of the crowd, and coaxed him into a handshake
It was an amazing gesture – how thoughtful and how observant of the PM, I thought.
I got a chance to speak to Tun years back when I attended an event with my husband.
I told him then how much I admired him.
He glanced at my husband and with a twinkle, told me, “You’d better keep that a secret.”
So typically tongue-in-cheek of the PM.
Decades later, the PM has still not lost that twinkle.
With a seemingly staid demeanour, he made his rounds, smiling at everyone – a true, gentle statesman.
There was such an aura of warmth around him.
He seemed to love being among them and was amused that they pushed scraps of paper at him for his autograph.
He obliged almost all requests for his attention.
The PM, with his busy schedule, left after our students’ performance while his wife patiently sat through the event until noon.
When she was about to leave, Shanthi asked her whether the Sai teachers could take a group photograph with her, and she obliged once again, tired as she was.
The event was memorable. I was proud of my students for abstaining from non-vegetarian food, and thankful to the organisers for all the effort.
But more importantly, I admired the manner in which the PM and his wife conducted themselves in taking time to acknowledge everyone, posing for selfies, and signing autographs despite their hectic schedules.
Their patience and consideration for others was truly exemplary and worth emulating.