It was my first visit to a south-east Asian country and I stood aghast at the great differences I found between the cities in India, especially in Kerala, and the one I visited — Kuala Lumpur — the mega capital city of Malaysia which shares many similarities with Kerala, particularly as far as climate and natural scenery are concerned. It is silence that pervades Kuala Lumpur compared to any of the growing, bustling cities in India, where one cannot step out without encountering ear-splitting noise.
At peak hours, there are long traffic jams on all important roads in Kuala Lumpur, but I heard nobody sounding a horn. None tried to squeeze past the others. They just wait for the vehicle in front to move. Cars and a few two-wheelers dominate the roads. Buses have been replaced by the metro and mono-trains and there is no smoke and no dust. Accidents are few. I looked for some advertisements on the sides of the roads as in Kochi, but found none. Only neon boards at designated spots.
There is heavy rain daily in the evenings, but no water on the roads, no pits and dirt. Tourists walk on the well-laid pedestrian paths, and nobody even glances at them. Our ‘moral policemen’ have not so far gone there, it seems. A canal runs through an important area in the city and I was surprised to find clear water flowing through it with not even a leaf floating by. It was educative to think of the frightening condition of the canals in Kochi and elsewhere in our country which are dumping grounds of waste and breeding grounds of mosquitoes. I also did not see garbage on the streets in Kuala Lumpur — not even in China town.
Kerala is a tourist’s paradise and so is Malaysia. But there is a difference in the behaviour of taxi drivers there with most speaking in English and well-dressed. Their licence is displayed prominently on the dash board. Soft English music is played in every taxi and only if one asks for it, can one hear Malaya music. They are so sensitive to the taste of foreigners. They are fans of Bollywood, but one had a disappointing experience. After seeing a film shot in Maldives, he with his family came to see India and landed in Delhi where they realised they had come to the wrong place!
The strides Malaysia has made on the economic front can be seen from the airport itself all along the expressway connecting the city some 60 km away. From the airport counter, one enters a vast mall. The metro comes into the airport. On our way to the city in a taxi, the driver stopped at a petrol bunk to go to the toilet. It is not just a bunk, but a beautiful resting place for tired passengers too with a number of well-maintained toilets and cafeteria set in the midst of a garden with enough space to park a number of vehicles.
My flight to Kuala Lumpur earlier was an eye-opener in another respect. My co-passengers were a Muslim woman and her daughter studying in a school in Malaysia. The woman was born and brought up in Malaysia although she has her roots in Palakkad. The girl’s leg was in plaster and I asked her about it. That was the beginning of a conversation that disproved my belief that ‘scarfed’ Muslim women were non-communicative. She talked all the while about Malaysia, her family and her husband who runs a factory in a state called Ipoh. Her daughter had suffered a fracture while taking part in sports and her operation was done in Palakkad. In the place where she lives, surgery is done only for girls aged above 18, she explained.
Perhaps, the educated and engaging woman was a symbol of the progress Malaysia had achieved in the social sector, apart from that in the economic and industrial fields.