Thursday, August 25, 2011

Every year, during the Hungry Ghost Festival, my husband will suffer from asthma attack. This could be due to the burning of paper offerings.

Yet we do not ask the Community Mediation Centre to mediate and ask our neighbour to stop this practice. We understand the need for our fellow citizens to express their religious practices.

Instead, my husband tries to stay indoors as often as possible and increases his medication dosage. Nevertheless, he would be incapacitated sometimes and would need a couple of days of rest.

Therefore, I am concerned when a family who have relocated to Singapore have requested that their neighbour stop cooking curry. They had resorted to mediation because they could not stand the smell.

"Can you please do something? Can you don't cook curry? Can you don't eat curry?" they implored.

Maybe it is timely for us to remember that just as we are given freedom to express our culture and religious customs, we have to co-exist in our common space, such as the air we breathe.

It would be difficult to insist on the fragrances and smells that one will encounter. At best, we can decrease the space allowed for smoking, which has been proven to affect health.

Some would consider Singapore a melting pot of cultures, where different spices and flavours simmer together to form a great, delicious Singapore curry.

In fact, curry can be found in the cuisines of the four main races of Singapore, from Devil's Curry cooked by Eurasians during Christmas season to the ubiquitous curry chicken cooked by the Chinese to the "sayur lodeh" cooked by Malays.

The basic Indian style of cooking is to use a variety of spices such as turmeric, coriander and cumin as a base for a stew. From vegetable to mutton, eggs to jackfruit, we can make a curry out of any food.

Yes, the use of these spices will release an aroma that some people will need time to get used to, but I am sure that Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans will be able to acclimatise and accommodate the smell.

I feel strongly that it is inappropriate to ask the local family to only cook curry when the neighbour is not at home. It is equivalent to asking my neighbour not to burn paper offerings when my husband is home, which is a ridiculous request.

When we welcome guests to our homes for a meal, it is only polite to accept graciously what is offered on our table. If a guest finds the food offensive, the acceptable etiquette is to decline tasting the food, not demand that the host stop cooking it.

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