My First Teacher on Inclusivity

26 Oct 2019 (Eve of Deepavali 2019)

When we relocated from a chinese village to a multi-racial housing board flat in the 70s, our immediate neighbour was an Indian family of four.

As the head of that household was 1 year older than my dad, my grandma told us to address him as Elder Uncle. Elder Uncle was Hindu and his wife Theresa was Catholic. Knowing that her name was too much of a challenge for our grandma’s untrained chinese tongue and for ease of communication, Theresa had kindly allowed her name to be modified into a rather inelegant sounding, “Ah Sa.”

“Ah Sa” had a key to our home and we had a key to hers.

In those days we had no telephone. If her relatives dropped by and there was no one home, we would unlock the door to “Ah Sa’s” flat on her behalf.

And if we misplaced our key to our home we need not panic because “Ah Sa” had a spare.

I loved lingering in her kitchen to watch her cook and be fed as well. I must have eaten hundreds of “Ah Sa’s” chapattis and dosas by the time I reached secondary school.

Her children, Manimaran & Selva were younger, and my mother was in love with their dark glossy hair and long eye lashes. My mother would touch Mani’s fringe affectionately and wondered aloud why her own kids had such flat hair.

Elder Uncle and “Ah Sa” were very strict parents but they had a soft spot for my youngest brother, Andrew, who was a toddler then. Elder Uncle would scoop him up and parade my baby brother around the neighbourhood like a prized pet.

Each Deepavali morning our Indian family would give us a tray of festive snacks in beautiful glass bowls covered with an embroidered organza tea cloth.

It was exquisite.

We would receive the tray with reverence and bring it into the kitchen to transfer its contents to airtight containers.

In return we filled “Ah Sa’s” glass bowls with sugar, candies and fruits to wish her a sweet and fruitful life ahead.

Years later, “Ah Sa” is the reason why I remember the names and aromas of Indian spices. She’s also the reason why I can stare at sarees and dupattas for hours and why I still tune into the Tamil radio station now & then.

I give thanks for the light of inclusivity that entered my world through this family, and hope to keep it shining in their honour.

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