As a child growing up in the then small town of Alor Setar, I often heard my father speaking about the Commonwealth. To a six- or seven-year-old then, I didn’t know what it meant, never mind its significance especially when discussed around the dinner table. But these mentions when embellished and reinforced with stories of helping British soldiers escaping from the Japanese and about the cruelties endured during the Japanese Occupation by my late father and his brother-in-law, it began to take shape in my mind.
Mak also added her input and placed it in context. She said our brother, who died at the age of three, would not drink from any other mug but the Coronation mug with the picture of the British monarch on it.
Commonwealth then came to mean something to me; something about the presence of the British, the Queen and much later through history lessons in school.
Now, as the British capital gears up to the arrival of heads of governments of almost all of the 53 member states, for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) starting tomorrow (Monday 16th) I reassessed my knowledge of the Commonwealth and its significance and how much the younger generation knows about it. It is sad that now not many know why we have embassies in certain countries and high commissions in others.
In an attempt to uphold and boost the Commonwealth spirit, some friends and I decided to hold a Commonwealth Big Lunch; each Malaysian cooked a Malaysian dish and brought some non-Malaysian friends.
The Commonwealth Big Lunch is part of an international initiative launched by the UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoping to bring millions of people across the Commonwealth together. It was created by educational charity the Eden Project in partnership with the UK Government, to encourage people to get together to celebrate their Commonwealth connections through food.
The British Malaysian Society together with the Institute of Directors and the Sarawak Association kickstarted the event at the Malaysian High Commission recently. It was also held to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s contribution to the Commonwealth. After being the head of the Commonwealth since 1952, this year will be the last time she attends CHOGM.
So, it was with these in mind that we, a group of Malaysian ladies, took our nasi lemak, nasi dagang a contribution from Makan Cafe, roti canai, non-crispy chicken rendang and even the Malaysian snack Twistie to Dapur, a Malaysian restaurant owned and managed by Sharizah Hashim.
Non-Malaysian friends from Australia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Middle East, Denmark and of course the local came in full expectations and went back with more than Malaysian food in their tummy.
The Malaysian fruits; rambutan and mangosteen became topics of conversation as much as the durian sauce that accompanied the glutinous rice. Apart from getting to know each other, we learnt more about the meaning of the Commonwealth, what are the member countries, who just joined, who was voted out and the reason for the current buzz of activities and flags along Pall Mall leading to the Palace and Lancaster House.
According to Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, "Commonwealth Big Lunches remind us of the range and diversity of our connections and counterparts in countries and communities far away and bring us together with those who live alongside us locally. They offer wonderful opportunities for people of all ages to bring our great Commonwealth family alive in new ways as we work towards a common future.”
That was what happened at Dapur during our small Commonwealth Big Lunch. What started as an impulse had created a networking among strangers who became friends and most of all a better understanding of the Commonwealth. It was not unlike the lunches that my late father used to have at home when he brought in strangers to the dinner table.