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  • This is the story of my Indian grandparents.

    My late Indian grandma, Marimuthu was born in Malaysia. She grew up in Bagan Serai and met my Indian grandfather, Nijam Sabjoo (Pathan) who was born in Nagapattinam, South India in 1914.

    When my grandfather Pathan was 15, he was caught in a brawl and to escape the wrath of his family and the authorities, he ran away to Malaysia to start a new life.

    My grandparents married in 1935 and settled down in Kampar. Before the World War II, my grandfather made a living as a butcher selling mutton, while my grandmother was a housewife.

    In Kampar, my grandparents lived among the Chinese community. My grandmother was yearning for a child but they were unsuccessful in bearing a child, so they made a decision to adopt.

    During those days, as it was common for Chinese families to preference a boy over a girl, it was not unusual to find Chinese girls being raised by Indian families because of the social stigma.

    Soon, my grandparents were known in the community as the Indian couple who loved children. After adopting their first Chinese baby girl, word soon spread about them as doting parents. They were soon asked to adopt more unwanted Chinese babies.

    Throughout their life, they adopted nine children - five Chinese girls, two Indian girls, one Indian boy and another mixed-race girl in their later years. My Chinese Mum, Beebi Christina was one of the babies they adopted. Sadly though, two adopted Chinese girls did not survive beyond a few years of age.

    My grandparents left a legacy of an "Indianisation" of Chinese girls in Kampar. Whenever they had a family function, people used to be awestruck as all their children had different shades of skin colour.

    Despite earning a measly income from the market, they were doting parents to all their adopted children and tended to them as though they were their own children.

    It was a common sight to see my grandma tying a few baby slings in a row to lull them to sleep. While my grandfather was often seen cycling in the neighbourhood with the girls at the back of the bicycle.

    In 1945, during the Japanese Occupation years, my grandma was reprimanded at the Kampar Railway Station by the Kempeitai (Japanese military soldiers), as she was travelling with my Mum then aged 6. At that time, it was a dangerous time for Chinese people as most of them were targeted and taken into custody.

    As the soldiers were trying to grab my Mum, my grandma quickly protested and held onto her tightly. She insisted that my Mum was her own daughter by pointing to my Mum's nose-stud (“mukuthi”) to denote that she is a fair-skin Indian girl.

    Luckily for them, the Japanese soldiers were naive and believed my grandmother. Thankfully, they were both released.

    From an early age, my Mum and aunties, Leelavathy, Thanam, Krishnaveni (Imbi), Rani and Zainab Bee had known they were adopted as they didn't look like my parents. They were informed of their biological parents but none of them had a desire to seek them out.

    According to Mum, her Chinese neighbours used to tease her that she was adopted. The teasing didn’t bother my Mum, as she was proud to be identified as an ‘Indian’ girl from an Indian family.

    It was only in the later part of their lives, that my Mum and aunts had begun to uncover more about their Chinese ancestry.

    Story of Morgan Raj David for The Chindian Diaries
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