I WAS chubby as a baby. My cheeks were so plump they always invited unwelcome pinches from aunts and uncles, friends and even strangers, whenever I was taken out for a stroll. My cuteness then must have led my mother to give me a pet name.
Of all the terms of endearment she could have used, she chose “Babi”. There was no resemblance between me and a piglet or anything close to it in all my baby photos. Perhaps I reminded her of the pig her grandfather reared. She used to revel me with stories of how it would go to her when she called and then rolled over asking for belly rubs.
For the most part of my life when my mother was around, she always called me by that nickname or my Chinese name, but mostly the former. It was awkward whenever she did that in front of friends and neighbours even when I was already in my 20s and 30s.
“Babi, your friends are here,” she would call out loudly from the living room whenever ex-classmates dropped by for a visit or “Babi, Aunty and Uncle so-and-so are here, come out and greet them.”
She was not the only person to use that pet name on me though. As far back as I can remember, my maternal aunts also did the same. Until now, both of them, a septuagenarian and an octogenarian respectively, still call me “Babi” even though I am nearing 50 years old.
My youngest aunt will call occasionally just to see how I am. There is no mistaking who the person on the other end of the line is when I hear her voice asking, “Hello, Babi ah?”
I have never complained. I have never asked them to stop. I don’t find it offensive. The word by itself means pig and nothing else. There is no malice in its usage. In fact, I find it quite adorable. Being called that invokes fond memories of my childhood and of my late mother whom I still think of often.
However, when the word “Babi” is combined with a certain race or community it gives a different meaning altogether. Even for someone who has been called that all my life, I find it utterly distasteful when Malaysians of Chinese descent are called “Cina babi”. It is the way it was used that irked me and many other right-thinking Malaysians.
The press reported that the term “Cina babi” and other unsavoury words were hurled at journalists covering the ‘red shirt’ rally in Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Day. They were said to have tried to speak to some of the rally goers but were heckled and chased away.
What was even more preposterous was the justification of this act by one of the rally leaders. When Datuk Jamal Md Yunos was asked about that incident at a press conference later, he said the word “Babi” is sensitive for the Malays because it is forbidden for Muslims to consume pork but it should not be a problem when used on the Chinese because it is food to us.
“Why are we making a big issue out of this?” he asked.
True, we eat pork. My favourite dishes include roti babi, pork satay and bak kut teh, all of which I seldom get to indulge in often any more because of my health condition. The celebration of major Chinese festivals are not considered complete without the inclusion of a roast pig or two.
Porcine metaphors are popular in Chinese culture. Pigs are usually portrayed as lazy and stupid. There are various sayings and similes associating them with these undesirable traits. It is even featured as the last animal in the Chinese zodiac.
Nevertheless, in his defence of rally-goers for using those words, Jamal has totally missed the point. If the purpose was to denigrate and insult a particular community, of which there is ample and irrefutable video proof in this case, then it certainly is not acceptable.
He also seemed to be ignorant of the fact that there are Muslims who are Chinese too. It was apparent his world view in this matter is myopic, shallow and appalling. What is not good for the goose is not good for the gander. People who find offence at certain words should not use those same words on others. It is as simple as that. Otherwise, it is hypocrisy.
We should remind ourselves that, as Malaysians, we are a unique breed. We live in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural society. Harmony and unity can only come from understanding and respecting each other’s beliefs and practices. If we can use this diversity to our advantage, we surely can become a great nation again.
This also reminds me that I have not spoken to my aunts
for a while now. They are almost like mothers to me, always concerned about my well-being. I guess they will always see me as their little nephew no matter how old I am. I should ring to see how they are and hear my youngest aunt answer the phone with that familiar greeting, “Hello, Babi ah?” That will definitely make my day.