Meet Malkith Singh: A Part-Time Clerical Staff And A Full-Time Malaysian Superhero Sikh
At around 4pm last Sunday, 19 December, this SAYS writer sent out a tweet with a photo of a turbaned man cooking in an oversized kadhai
The man, with a beard white as milk, was preparing food for thousands of people who had been left stranded across the Klang Valley and beyond in the aftermath of continuous heavy rain for over three days.
He was cooking in the community kitchen (langar) at the Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya (GSPJ), where the Sikh community had sprung into action after they received SOS messages past midnight, 19 December.
In fact, they were so quick that some 5,000 free hot meal boxes were already sent out around 2pm.
It was around that time that a GSPJ representative reached out to SAYS, asking if we could help spread the word about the flood relief work being organised there so that they could serve more flood-affected victims.
As I reached there, I was shown how attendees — who had gathered at the gurdwara for a religious camp — were busy preparing and packing food boxes as the turbaned man was hard at work in the kitchen.
Which is when I snapped a photo of him and posted it on Twitter, not realising it will soon inspire thousands of Malaysians — regardless of their race and religion — to volunteer at the gurdwara.
The tweet spread like wildfire, thanks to some of the prominent handles and social news sites boosting it across social media. By the end of the day, it had already been retweeted more than 14,000 times.
Under the tweet, people started asking "how can we help?" and "is there a fund where we can donate?" while expressing their immense gratitude towards the turbaned man for his Seva (selfless service).
The photo had prompted an outpouring of emotions from Malaysians, who soon took to calling him 'uncle'.
Soon, I started getting queries from people about him, who he is, his health, and if he is getting enough rest. They were concerned for him.
The next morning, I went over to the gurdwara to join thousands of volunteers who had come from all over the Klang Valley to help in the flood relief work that would see over 100,000 food boxes being sent out.
I was also hoping to talk to the man, who had become a sensation on social media and beyond.
However, it didn't go exactly as I had hoped.
I was told he doesn't like talking about himself and that he prefers to do Seva from behind the scene. So I dropped my plans to talk to him but insisted on his name so at least people know who the man was.
"Malkith Singh," one of the members of the GSPJ management told me in a matter-of-fact tone.
The next morning, I shared more photos of him in the kitchen, this time with his name.
Within minutes, people started showering their affection on him.
Some called him more efficient than the entire Malaysian government, some called him a national treasure that must be protected at all cost, while others promised to forever remember and honour his contributions.
There were also those who took inspiration from the photos and drew artworks of him.
Seeing how photos of him in the kitchen were inspiring Malaysians, both young and old alike, I decided to share the reactions with the man himself, hoping it would convince him to change his mind.
It took some time, but he finally agreed to talk to me while insisting on not publicising his face. Prior to that, I think what also helped was that I had been in the kitchen with him, helping with the cooking.
It allowed him to open up to me and as he let me shadow him around the kitchen so I could take more photos and later on Friday evening, 24 December, he would sit down with me over a cup of chai.
A Sikh by blood, Malkith Singh is a Malaysian by birth
He was born in 1957 in Taiping, Perak.
According to Malkith Singh, he first started cooking at the Gurdwara Sahib Taiping in 1974.
At the time, he was only 17.
"I feel Seva is best done through cooking," he said, adding that he has practically cooked in all the gurdwaras across the country, with his longest service being at the Gurdwara Sahib Titiwangsa.
"I go whenever anybody calls me. Cooking is one of my passions," he shared with me.
A part-time clerical worker at a private legal firm here, the 64-year-old has two kids, a son and a daughter, who is a deputy public prosecutor
Malkith's full-time thing, however, is being a Malaysian superhero.
You see, he doesn't just cook food at langars in gurdwaras.
He helps provide shelter to families by building their houses through contributions from the Sikh and other communities, he delivers donated rations to people who cannot afford to buy anything, he makes sure the vulnerable don't go to bed hungry, and he has been doing this for over four decades by being true to the concept of Seva — selfless service without any expectation of result or award for the deeds performed.
Malkith told me that he doesn't see anybody's race or religion.
"Be it Malay, Chinese, or Indian, I try to help everyone as much as I can," he said, adding that his son assists him in doing so through their Persatuan Sikhinside Malaysia (SikhInside) group.
According to Malkith, in March 2020, they also started cooking for people who were the worst hit by the movement control order (MCO), the Malaysian government's lockdown measures to curb COVID-19.
Speaking about the massive crowd of volunteers at the GSPJ, Malkith shared that this is the first time he has seen this many non-Sikhs inside a gurdwara as it's mostly just the Sikhs or a few Indians who come
"Something that has amazed me is the non-Sikhs coming. Because we have always been dealing with the Sikhs only, and we usually deal with non-Sikhs is when we are giving out rations," he said.
"But never like this," he shared, referring to how different races have come together to volunteer there.
And Malkith considers this an extremely beautiful 'confluence'.
According to him, it has always been tough to get the Malay community to show up at the gurdwaras.
But seeing how a major portion of the crowd coming into the GSPJ compound consisted of Malays, the management created a separate room upstairs for them to offer their prayers.
Still, there were many Malays who were unsure if they could just drop by to help.
I personally received dozens of private messages, asking me if it's okay for them to come.
However, the volunteering work at the GSPJ hasn't been without its share of religious controversy with many doubting if the food was halal
To put such doubts among Muslims to rest, former religious affairs minister Datuk Seri Dr Zulkilfi Mohamad Al-Bakri paid a visit to the gurdwara on 22 December and even helped Malkith in the kitchen.
Zulkilfi also assured the Malays that eating food from non-Muslims who are not "People of the Book" is permissible as long as it does not involve their slaughtered animals.
The former Federal Territories Mufti said that he knew the Sikh religion through the concept of Seva.
He described the GSPJ kitchen setup as very clean and tidy, adding that he was impressed to see the management of the aid distribution system which involved various religions and races.
Meanwhile, for those concerned about Malkith's health, he shared that seeing the youngsters coming there to help, he feels more motivated
Malkith, who has been coming over to the gurdwara kitchen at 6am daily from Sentul, told me that he really feels inspired by the energy of all the youths inside the compound.
"I feel happy seeing them, and I just want to cook for everybody. Please tell everybody who are concerned for me that doing Seva through cooking is something I'm really passionate about."