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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Free Minds, Free Individuals

 Free Minds, Free Individuals
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

The achievements of such individuals as Ungku Aziz and Raja Petra, as well as the giants in our history as Tun Razak, Datuk Onn and Munshi Abdullah, should inspire us to pursue liberating our minds.
 
    However, should their fame and outstanding accomplishments have the opposite effect, as in making us feel small and thus dissuading us from emulating them, let me cite examples of seemingly ordinary individuals who may not have grabbed the headlines but nonetheless demonstrated free minds in solving their unique problems.
 
     Because of their seemingly ordinary lives, we are more likely to identify with them. There is however, nothing ordinary about their accomplishments or their approaches to problem solving.

      There was a student sent abroad to pursue his masters in engineering. Through smarts and diligence, he was soon admitted directly to the doctoral program. He did not bother to tell his supervisor back home for he anticipated a negative response.
 
     His scholarship however, was only for two years, not enough time for a doctoral pursuit. That did not deter him. At the end of the second year he wrote his supervisor back home for an extension, citing a “slight snag” in his studies. He filled his pleading letter with sob stories of the challenges with English and mathematics.

     His supervisor back home, familiar with such plights among Malay students, readily extended the scholarship for another year, together with a stern warning to “study harder.” At the end of the third year the student still needed a few more months. So he ignored the ensuing stream of warning letters and instead focused on his dissertation. He completed it just in time to receive that final letter from Malaysia suspending his scholarship.

     When he returned with an impressive PhD instead of a mere Masters, far from congratulating him, his supervisor chastised him! “Pandai memandai!” Trying to be too smart! That supervisor complained about having to find another candidate to fill the lecturer post at the local polytechnic that was slated for this student. Meanwhile the newly minted PhD readily found a university position, and thus avoided defaulting on his scholarship bonds.
 
     To make a long story even longer, he was invited to present his paper, based on his doctoral research, at a prestigious conference in America. True to form, his Vice-Chancellor refused to grant him leave, much less fund the trip. The reasoning was that he was far too fresh a recruit to be granted such a privilege. Resourceful as ever, he found a corporate sponsor and traveled on his vacation time.
 
     That young academic is an example of a free mind that dared forge his own path.

     Then there was the student who graduated from a top American university. He had of course no difficulty securing a job in America. However, there was the problem of his scholarship bonds.
 
     So at the interview back home, he purposely bombed it. His interviewers were heard muttering how unimpressed they were with American universities and regretted not being able to offer the young man a position. Released of his obligation, the young man could hardly wait to fly back to America.
 
     As the young man would later relate to me, he was not about to pin his future on a man who could not distinguish between Stamford College and Stanford University, regardless of how esteemed his local titles and reputation. 
 
     For contrast, consider our third student. He too graduated from an elite American university, with a PhD no less. I asked him what his plans were, and his answer surprised me. He was waiting for instructions from his Vice-Chancellor back home.
 
     I suggested that he pursue post-doctoral work to broaden his research expertise, or work in America to get some valuable experience. Indeed he was offered a lucrative position, enough to pay off his scholarship bonds if need be. However, being an obedient student (Kami menurut arahan!), he patiently waited for instructions from home.

      A few years later I visited him in Malaysia; he was unhappy with his lot. His Vice-Chancellor found him keras kepala (hardheaded). That is another of those dismissive terms for a free-minded individual. Too bad that he was not keras kepala when he was in America when he had the opportunity to carve his own future!
 
     This fellow reminded me of another student, described by his teachers as “the sharpest mind ever to set foot at Malay College.” As expected, he excelled abroad and was offered the opportunity to pursue doctoral studies by his university. However, his supervisor back home convinced him of a better plan. So he returned.
 
     To cut a short story shorter, his highest achievement was being director of a matriculation program at a local university. He never did get his doctorate; a bright promise unfulfilled. Alas, his was not an isolated case; I could fill a book with many such sad stories.
 
     The first two students are examples of courageous individuals who dared think for themselves and ignored the commands of their superiors. They are worthy of our emulation. As for the last two, I hope we all avoid their fate not so much for our own selfish reasons but for the sake of our country.
 
     Consider the legendary P. Ramlee. Every Malaysian can hum a few of his songs; his rich voice warms our hearts and his melodies dance in our memories.
 
     He sought to impart his considerable skills and share his vast experience with the music students at MARA Institute of Technology. However, the dean of that institution would have none of it as Ramlee did not have any formal academic qualifications.
 
     Imagine the loss to those young students and in turn our society, all because of the closed-mindedness of that dean. As can be seen, the curse of a trapped mind extends far beyond its bearer.
 
     The worst part was that the dean did not feel at all embarrassed in relating this incident many years later in an article in the mainstream media on the anniversary of P. Ramlee’s death.
 
     That is the tragedy of such a mind; it does not even realize that it is being imprisoned. This dean sports an impressive academic qualification (impressive at least to his administrators), but the “higher education” he acquired did not liberate his mind. It is still trapped, not by steel bars but by a few obscure lines in the university’s rule book.

Adapted from the author’s latest book, Liberating The Malay Mind, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 2013.
 

1 Comments:

Blogger mogan1231 said...

hello,

Thank you for writing this up. It was refreshing Malaysian living outside continue to share their insights of issues very prevalent now in Malaysia mainly in socio-eco. The politics to keep things the way for another 60 years....let's see.

Regards,
Mogan@Tokyo

5:17 PM  

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