Sunday, July 25, 2021

It’s not just the thought that counts

The problem with Kedah's move not to declare a holiday for Thaipusam was not the decision itself but the reasoning behind it.

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Try going home to your wife on her birthday and telling her that you didn’t get her anything, neither will you be having dinner to celebrate because it’s her birthday anyway whether or not you do.

Try letting your driver’s licence lapse because even if the year stated on it has come and gone, you still know how to drive so what’s the big deal.

Try missing your kid’s concert because you already know what a terrific, talented child you have.

There’s no such thing as a perfect metaphor, but you get the idea. Acknowledgement is important.

Try living in your country of birth your entire life through and being told that you don’t need a holiday in order to celebrate an occasion.

This is true, of course. No one needs a holiday to celebrate something, otherwise every single day would be a holiday because at any given point someone out there would be having a birthday or an anniversary or some other special occasion. And many of these events are specific to individuals – while some might utilise annual leave, no one gets upset because they don’t get the day off to celebrate their wedding anniversary, although I have heard of companies that allow their staff birthday leave.

But when the occasion is observed by an entire community, there is a special joy in knowing that you are celebrating it together with others.

On Thursday, many Malaysians celebrated Thaipusam as a community although only those in Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Putrajaya and Selangor were given a holiday.

Other states did not recognise Thaipusam as a holiday, but only Kedah gained a spot in the limelight for its response.

Menteri besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor said there would be no day off as had been the case in the last two years as Thaipusam-related gatherings were banned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr G Balachandran, the information chief for the PAS Supporters Wing, backed the decision saying, “When people are at home, there is no need for a holiday.”

As someone who has spent most of her working life pecking away at a laptop at the kitchen table, I would be the first to challenge this statement. In any case, many if not most Malaysians are currently working from home thanks to the pandemic, so to say that being at home negates the need for a holiday makes no sense at all.

True, it’s up to individual states to decide which holidays to observe or not, in addition to those gazetted by the federal government, and Kedah was not the only state where Thaipusam was not allowed a day off.

The problem was the state government’s response and reasoning.

If Covid-19 health measures have put paid to the way Thaipusam is normally observed, they have done the same to other festivities as well. Christmas, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, New Year’s Day – which of these has been celebrated in any normal sense since Covid-19 began turning our lives upside down early last year? Were our off-days for those occasions only maintained because they are gazetted as national holidays?

The day before Thaipusam, Malaysia recorded another 3,680 cases of Covid-19. Of these, 1,069 were recorded in Johor, 822 in Selangor and 698 in Kuala Lumpur – all three of which recognised Thaipusam as a public holiday.

Kedah recorded 76.

On Thaipusam itself, Kedah had 92 cases while Selangor had 1,577, Kuala Lumpur had 678 and Johor had 717.

In this country, leaders can promise holidays the next day if the right football team wins the match the night before, or if the national badminton team brings home the gold at an event with the requisite amount of international prestige.

But not for important religious events, it seems.

True, making Thaipusam a holiday would have been a token gesture at best. With public gatherings banned and the country battling to bring daily numbers down to a manageble number, any celebration would have been a distant dream.

But still, acknowledgement is important.

Just ask your wife.

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