By Amitabh Dixit with bureau report
Little India, as it is popularly called, is located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Brickfields. But Little India is not just about Indians and India, in many ways it is symbolic of Malaysia’s much-publicized Truly Asia image. It is a territory that is inhabited by people from all walks of life, and many ethnicities. The majority, though, are Indians or people of Indian origin.

The place took its name during the British Raj from a kiln of bricks produced by indentured labour from India. Situated bang opposite KL Sentral it was once a key spot where Indian workers laid down railway lines to ensure the smooth transportation of goods and bricks. Now upkeep and construction of railway line is taken care by the Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON International Ltd). 


A taste of India Looks like Little Mumbai, right?

A row of houses will remind you of British era architecture of carved wooden frames and roofs of teak. A walk down to the square and along a narrow alley will connect you to the colourful bazaars of Little India. Indian music will greet you from all directions, and finding pirated movie discs is very common. Street-side vendors selling flowers, eatables and knick knacks haggling with customers will make you feel at home. Indian brands do well here, from Prestige pressure cookers to MDH masalas, from Dabur Chyawanprash to a range of sarees and Indian wedding gowns, the fare is all there.

In the heart of Brickfields is situated Palm court where live the majority of Indians. It is said to be landing ground for Indians as many of them spent their early days before moving to other parts of Kuala Lumpur. There is a large group of Indian IT workers that live here. But the place has also now become a den of illegal immigrants. Betting and online gamble “clubs” are mushrooming here. A country where the death sentence is prevalent for possessing drugs you can find peddlers selling small packs of party drugs and hashish. Cooking as an activity is not encouraged in most of the houses and people prefer to eat outside. And everything is available in Brickfields to satisfy your taste buds. From pure vegetarian fare that offers dishes without onion and garlic, to North and south Indian chetti delicacies to Malay cuisine to even chaats and paani puri, variety is the spice of life here.

It was during the last week of October 2010 that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kuala Lumpur, ushering in a new era of relationship between India and Malaysia. The PM did not forget to visit Little India which, in order to welcome him, was magnificently decked up, almost like a new bride.

PM Singh with his counterpart, PM Mohammad Najib Tun Abdul Razak

Here’s what the PM said:

“I am delighted to be present at the official inauguration of 'Little India' in Brickfields. I am overwhelmed by the warmth of your welcome. On behalf of the people of India, I thank you for this magnificent celebration of friendship and brotherhood, and bring to you their greetings. 

Malaysia represents the best of Asia. It is diverse, welcoming and beautiful. It is home to people of different ethnic backgrounds, races and religions. Malaysia sets an example for the world of tolerance and peaceful co-existence. 

The Indian community has made important contributions to the development of Malaysia during the past hundred years. They have worked with sincerity and dedication. They have excelled at medicine, law, engineering and accountancy. They have participated at each stage in the building of Malaysia. The Malaysian Government’s decision to dedicate the area of Brickfields, which is one of the oldest Indian settlements in the country, as "Little India" is a tribute to the contribution to nation building of all Malaysians of Indian origin. 

On this special occasion, I have the pleasure to announce that India would be presenting a Torana Gate to the residents of Brickfields as a mark of India-Malaysia friendship. 

In the long march of history the paths of India and Malaysia have often crossed. We share close bonds of history and culture. We are pluralistic nations, committed to a composite culture that is unique and tolerant of the diversity in our societies. 

Swami Vivekananda, one of India's greatest philosophers, once said that "Variety is the first principle of life." Brickfields embodies that principle. It is a place in which the three communities of Malaysia live in peace and harmony with each other. 

It is here that the Vivekananda Ashram, built in 1904, is located. And it is here in Brickfields, that Malaysians of Indian origin can give full expression to their individualism and culture. 

As citizens of Malaysia, the Indian community’s hopes and aspirations, life, family and future lie in this country. Yet they have maintained cultural and spiritual links with India. We welcome their desire as Persons of Indian origin to re-connect with their cultural roots even as they serve their country of adoption. The Indian community is well placed to be the bridge of friendship and understanding between India and Malaysia. 

Malaysia under the dynamic leadership of Dato' Sri Najib has entered a new era of progress and prosperity. We wish him all success as he leads Malaysia to a better tomorrow. 

Dato’ Sri Najib has extended his hand of friendship to India. I fully reciprocate his friendship. After my discussions with Dato’ Sri Najib today, I can say with confidence that India-Malaysia relations are poised for significant expansion in the coming years. Improving ties with Malaysia will be a very high priority of India’s foreign policy in the years ahead. 

Before I conclude, I wish to recall what Rabindranath Tagore once said: "A civilization must be judged and assessed not by the level of power it has reached but by how it develops and expresses a love of humanity." 

It is to that high ideal that we must aspire and I hope that Brickfields will serve as a worthy example in that respect.”

February 2011

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