I have only fond memories of the word, as it refers to either the famous food joint run by the Indian Muslim community or the bread man who comes ringing in his motorbike with a full load of goodies on his back.
I asked a few Indian Muslim friends too if the word Mamak is offensive and they said “No”. I even asked Ghani Jiman or Ghani Kulit- the one who famously led several anti-Lim Guan Eng demonstrations in Penang. He said “no”.
Ghani is awfully quiet these days, and the talk of the town is that he is hibernating for awhile now.
The word ‘Mamak” came up again at the Penang Speakers Square last Sunday. A regular, Uncle Alfred lamented that his fellow Malaysians have forgotten their roots.
He said they have become too sensitive that even words like ‘apek’ and ‘mamak’ – used in reference to the “elderly” in the Chinese and Tamil languages – can rub people up the wrong way.
He remembered using the word “apek” for the dear old ice cream man who comes in the afternoon and cheer up the neighbourhood kids with his tasty and colorful ice cream.
And the word “mamak” is often used as a respectable title for people instead of using “dei” which is rather rude.
”Is it wrong to call an Indian Muslim mamak? No, because mamak means Uncle in Tamil and the community speaks the language,” he said.
”Now Consumers Association of Penang chairman SM Mohamed Idris – I know him personally – blew his top when Guan Eng called him an old man. Should I call him Idris mamak then?” he asked.
”Some say it is disrespectful to use the word but I would like to tell the Indian Muslims that this is their own words and we have been using it all along instead of referring to someone as dei”.
I agree with Alfred that we truly have become very sensitive and forgot out roots, even languages, and histories.
In the case of SM Mohamed Idris, though, I do have a suggestion for politicians: Try not to use “sexist and ageist” words when making a political statement. It doesn’t help. It makes matter worst and the actual points or message you want to impart for the world to read gets derailed.
Do you honestly want that?