Viewpoint: Of tinted glass and Jesus Christ – By Sairana Mohd Saad

The first time I looked at it, I was reminded of Notre Dame de Paris. The second time I looked at it, it looked like a beautiful piece of artwork. The third time I looked at it, I saw the name of my alma mater.

And suddenly I am transformed into the young, skinny Assuntarian with so many black marks that most school prefects had raised their white flag to.

The discipline council too. Assunta was not just the name of my primary and secondary schools. It was also the name of the hospital in which I was born.

Hence, I am definitely a true blue Assuntarian, whose DNA is deeply embedded in my skin and bones.

I was born an Assuntarian, I shall die an Assuntarian. I was one of the fortunate many who attended an all-girls school back in the 80’s, and I was also one of the fortunate ones who went to a school where the rich were friends with the poor, and the Chinese could be best of friends with the Indians, and the Indians could be best of friends with the Malays and the Sikhs could be best of friends with the “mixed”. Our Irish headmistress, Sister Enda, was a devout nun who spoke Malay with a very deep Irish accent. She loved singing so much, I used to get so annoyed and dreaded the assembly sessions.

Singing was forced down our throats until it became second nature to us: even if you sounded like a frog, you still had to sing along with her. Sometimes, I felt like I was in a church. As much as I hated the pitching of the high notes, because it was so girlish and uncool, the Assuntarian spirit in me ranked so high, I could not just ignore the school song and skip ad veritatem, per caritatem.

At that time, racial tensions were unheard of and religious bigotry was nonexistent. There was no divide. We respected each other’s values and beliefs, so much so that I filled my chest with the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, atheism, etc, in addition to the compulsory Islamic classes for all Muslim girls. Some of my close friends would educate me about Sunday classes, masses, services, but I will always remember their stories about guys they hooked up with at church. That was funny.

In our classrooms, a Jesus Christ miniature was hung just above the blackboard. So we looked at it, for at least five years of our lives, day in and day out. Till today, there is one in the main school hall. But if you asked any of the Muslim Assuntarian girls today, they’d say – it didn’t bother them a bit. They’d say – it didn’t shake their faith. They’d say – so what? Because the school was run by a nun, religious values were instilled in us at a very young age, no matter who your God was.

But somehow, intelligence guided us to our own linkages of submission. We understood perfectly that it was “to each her own”. And there was no need to feel superior or inferior. There was no need to even think that your God is better than mine. I owe it to my alma mater and my diversified friends from assorted backgrounds – from those who were chauffeur-driven in Jaguars and Mercedeses, to those who took the Srijaya bus with me at the bus stop – that it is very possible to live side by side in perfect harmony.

I owe it to the upbringing and education I received that we have to learn to respect in order to gain respect. I owe it to the country I live in, that Malaysia is not just another piece of soil on this planet called Earth, but it is also my birthplace, my past and my future as well as my axis of hope for a united Malaysia.

* Sairana Mohd Saad reads The Malaysian Insider.

* The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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