(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=void 0!=f?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(void 0==f)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=0=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; 0=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=b&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Name:
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.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Dlema Melayu Hari Ini

 Dilema Melayu Hari Ini

M. Bakri Musa

 

Bahagian Pertama:  Kekosongan UMNO Serta Pemimpinnya

(Bahagian pertama dari tiga)

 

Keputusan UMNO untuk menangguhkan Kolokium Pra-Kongres Ekonomi Bumiputera yang dijadualkan pada 3 Februari 2024 yang lalu dan menggantikannya dengan perbincangan keputusan Lembaga Pengampunan Diraja terhadap bekas Perdana Menteri Najib Razak berkaitan dengan rasuah syarikat 1MDB mencerminkan kekosongan parti serta pemimpinnya.

 

            Pemimpin UMNO memilih untuk memberi tumpuan kepada sesuatu yang mereka akui tidak boleh berbuat apa-apa (“Kami menghormati keputusan Lembaga Diraja Pengampunan . . .”) sambil mengabaikan agenda utama di mana mereka mungkin boleh memainkan peranan yang penting. Yakni, meringankan penderitaan masyarakat Melayu yang lama sudah jauh kebelakangan serta menyedihkan.

 

            Keputusan UMNO untuk bertindak sedemikian mencerminkan isu yang lebih besar untuk masyarakat kita, ya itu kecenderungan budaya kita ke arah peraga sahaja. Bermakna, melakukan sesuatu hanya untuk dilihat sebagai berupaya tetapi hakikatnya kosong. Atau dalam istilah kejuruteraan, nisbah isyarat-ke-bunyi (signal-to-noise ratio) yang rendah. Budaya peraga inilah, atau endah rupa tanpa rasa, yang lama merosakkan masyarakat kita. Itulah unsur utama yang mengakibatkan kaum kita kebelakangan. Mukadimah yang panjang berlarutan di perhimpunan Melayu, sema ada di persembahan resmi dan akademik, mencerminkan budaya peraga ini.

 

            Renungkan sambutan keterlaluan yang masih berterusan terhadap pengampunan bekas Perdana Mentei Najib. Hakikatnya tidak berubah. Si lelaki yang berusia 70 tahun itu masih mempunyai hukuman penjara yang panjang, denda yang tinggi, serta hutang cukai yang besar, selain daripada perbicaraan semasa yang sedang berjalan dan tidak akan terjejas oleh pengampunan diraja itu. Maknanya, pemimpin UMNO serta pengulas am heboh dengan sesuatu yang tidak bermakna atau memberi kesan. Sekali lagi, untuk peraga sahaja!

 

            UMNO sekarang jauh bezanya dari parti gemilang yang ditubuhkan pada tahun 1946. Pemimpin awalnya bijak dan berpandangan jauh. Mereka berani merapati pemimpin kaum lain untuk matlamat yang sama. Yakni, menghapuskan penjajahan British. Kebijaksanaan mereka mengakibatkan negara mencapai kemerdekaannya secara aman, tanpa perang atau pengganasan, satu pencapaian yang jarang berlaku pada masa itu.

 

            Malangnya Semangat 46 ini telah hapus dan digantikan dengan unsur rasuah yang mendalam ke akar umbi. UMNO sekarang jauh sekali daripada berteraskan “Agama, Bangsa, dan Negara” tetapi sebaliknya, “Kami, Keturunan, dan Kembung Perut!”

 

            Pemuda UMNO yang pernah dianggap sebagai sayap halia kerana keberanian mereka untuk menyindir serta mengutuk pemimpin tertinggi, kini dihuni oleh ahli politik muda yang bersemangat “kami menurut arahan” sahaja. Mereka bersemangat Hang Tuah sahaja, tidak hebat atau berani seperti Hang Jebat. Pemuda UMNO tidak berjantan.

 

            Mahathir Mohamad, Presiden UMNO yang paling lama, menanggung bala petaka kemerosotan parti. Sungguh pun dia pada akhirnya mengecut keahliannya, satu perbuatan khianat tanpa bandingan, itu tidak mengubah apa-apa, sama ada dirinya mahupun UMNO. Bahkan semua pemimpin UMNO meninggalkan parti dengan syarat yang jauh daripada manis. Pengecualian ialah Tun Razak yang meninggal dunia dalam jawatan, dan Abdullah Badawi.

 

            Mahathirlah yang juga memperkenalkan budaya “tampa bertanding" dalam pilihan pemimpin atasan. Dengan terus terang dia tidak ingin dan menghalang pencabar. Itu satu tanda pemimpin pengecut dan tiada keyakinan diri sendiri. Dia berbuat sedemikian selepas dicabar oleh Tengku Razaleigh pada 1987 di mana Mahathir menang dengan undi yang tepis. Arahan “tanpa dicabar” ini kemudiannya dipeluk penuh oleh pemimpin yang berikutan. Itulah yang mempercepatkan kelemahan dan kemerosotan UMNO.

 

            Pemimpin Melayu dalam dan luar UMNO gagal memahami realiti yang terang serta menyedihkan. Yakni, Malaysia yang maju tidak semestinya menghasilkan status yang sama untuk orang Melayu. Kampung Baru, jerawat yang mengotorkan wajah berseri Kuala Lumpur, melambangkan kebenaran ini dan juga merupakan peringatan hodoh yang berterusan. Tetapi sebaliknya, jika masyarakat Melayu maju, itu bukan sahaja bermakna Malaysia yang makmur tetapi juga sebuah negara yang stabil. Oleh sebab itu, cabaran yang penting dan utama untuk membangunkan negara Malaysia ialah memperbaiki nasib orang Melayu. Bahkan jika masyarakat Melayu mundur di dalam negara yang berkembang maju, itu adalah malapetaka yang menanti. Untuk bandingan, peristiwa ngeri Mei 1969 itu hanyalah pratonton dan kejadian yang ringan.

 

            Banyak terdapat contoh di mana kaum majoriti yang dahulunya kebelakangan berjaya mengatasi kemunduran mereka. Contoh utama ialah kaum Katolik di Ireland pada 1950-an dan Perancis-Kanada di Quebec pada 1960-an. Sebaliknya terdapat juga di mana keadaan kaum majoriti merosot walaupun mereka sekarang memegang kuasa. Kaum Hitam di Afrika Selatan contoh yang sedih. Keadaan mereka hari ini lebih teruk lagi bila dibandingkan semasa zaman Aparteid dahulu.

 

            Banyak ajaran serta penunjuk yang boleh kita di teladani daripada masyarakat Ireland dan Perancis-Kanadi dulu; tiada rahsia atau sihir. Seperti yang dinyatakan oleh novelis doktor Stanford Thomas Verghese dalam buku terlarisnya The Covenant of Water, "Rahsia bisa tersembunyi di tempat yang paling jelas." Itu termasuk benda serta ilmu dan ilham.

 

            Dalam karangan kedua daripada tiga saya akan meneroka apa yang boleh kita pelajari daripada Ireland dan Quebec tentang rahsia yang tidak begitu tersembunyi ini untuk menyelamatkan bangsa Melayu daripada penderitaan yang sekarang dialami oleh orang kulit hitam di Afrika Selatan.

 

Seterusnya (Kedua Daripada Tiga Bahagian):  Contoh Dari Ireland Dan Quebec

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The malay Dilemma Today Part I: UMNO's Irrelevance and the Vacuity of its Leaders

 The Malay Dilemma Today

M. Bakri Musa

 

Part One:  UMNO’s Irrelevance And The Vacuity Of Its Leaders

 

(First of Three Parts)

 

It reflects the irrelevance of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) and the vacuity of its leaders that the party had postponed its Bumiputera Economic Pre-Congress Colloquium scheduled on February 3, 2024. Instead they met to discuss the Royal Pardon Board’s decision to ‘lighten’ the sentence on former Prime Minister Najib Razak for his central role in the massive 1MDB corruption.

 

            In so doing UMNO leaders chose to focus on something they admitted that they could do nothing (“We respect the Pardon Board’s decision . . .”) while deferring if not ignoring a critical agenda where they could potentially play a major role. That is, alleviating the longstanding pathetic socio-economic plight of Malays.

 

            As my old wickedly witty classmate Nik Zainal back in Kuala Kangsar in the early 1960s would put it, UMNO’s decision may be sound (at least to them) but alas only sound! Levity aside, UMNO’s action (or rather inaction) reflects a much bigger issue – our culture’s penchant for show over substance, to be seen doing something over actually doing it.

 

            It is the old pernicious peraga syndrome, or as the engineers would put, low signal-to-noise ratio. The long drawn-out preambles at Malay gatherings, par for the course even with business and academic presentations, reflect this.

 

            Consider the recent and continuing overblown reactions to Najib’s pardon. The fact that it would not materially alter the reality escapes many. The 70-year-old man still has a long prison sentence, hefty fines, and massive tax liens, quite apart from the current ongoing trials that would not be affected by the partial pardon. UMNO leaders and others are fulminating over something meaningless. Again, peraga!

 

            Today’s UMNO is but a pale shadow of its earlier glorious version. Established in 1946, its then farsighted leaders undertook a bold and unprecedented move to reach out to leaders of the other communities for the common goal of getting rid of British colonialism. The wisdom of that decision was Malaysia getting her independence peacefully.

 

            Alas this Semangat 46 (Spirit of 46) has all but evaporated, replaced by the current miasma of fetid corruption. UMNO is no longer Agama, Bangsa, dan Negara (Faith, Race, and Nation) but Kami, Keturunan, dan Kembung! (Me, my progenies, and my gluttony!) 

 

            UMNO Youth, once dubbed the ginger wing for its penchant in spicing things up and making the top leaders squirm, is today populated by young ambitious politicians of the supplicant Hang Tuah strain. UMNO Youth is bereft of jantans (alpha males).

 

            Mahathir Mohamad, UMNO’s longest serving President, is responsible for this sorry state. He later resigned from the party, an ingrate of the lowest order. That changed nothing, not him nor UMNO. It is also significant that all UMNO leaders left the party on less-than-laudatory terms, the exceptions being Tun Razak who died in office, and Abdullah Badawi.

 

            Mahathir introducing the “no-contest” rule for the party’s top slots was but a bald attempt to discourage challengers, the signature mark of an insecure leader. He instituted that following his near-death experience after being challenged by Tengku Razaleigh in 1987. That rule was later embraced with even greater enthusiasm by his successors, accelerating the party’s rot.

 

            Malay leaders within as well as outside of UMNO fail to grasp a central pathetic reality. That is, a developed Malaysia would not necessarily result (and indeed has not) in a similar status for Malays. Kampung Baru, a hideous wart on Kuala Lumpur’s otherwise glittering face, epitomizes this, quite apart from being a constant and very visible reminder, not that one is needed. On the other hand, a developed Malay society would mean not only a prosperous Malaysia but also a stable one. Thus the challenge is more with improving the lot of Malays. A backward Malay society in a thriving Malaysia is a catastrophe waiting. The gruesome May 1969 incident was but a preview, and a mild one.

            

            The tragedy is that there are many ready examples where the previously backward majority had overcome their obstacles. Ireland’s Catholics of the 1950s and Quebec’s French-Canadians of the 1960s come to mind. A tragic reminder of the reverse, the majority being worse off despite their being in charge, is today’s South African Blacks.

 

            Emulate the Irish and French-Canadiens; there are no secrets or magic. As the Stanford physician-novelist Thomas Verghese put it in his best-selling The Covenant of Water, “Secrets are hidden in the most obvious places.” That applies to things as well as ideas and insights. 

 

            The second of my three-piece article explores what we can learn from the Irish and Quebecois of this not-so-hidden secret so as to spare Malays from the tragic plight of Blacks in today’s South Africa.

 

Next:  Second Of Three Parts:  The Lessons From Ireland And Quebec

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #117: An Unexpected Identity Crisis

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #117:  An Unexpected Identity Crisis


On campus I was assigned to Athabasca Hall, an old three-story wooden building. As my two Malaysian greeters who met me at the airport helped me up with my suitcases, we made quite a ruckus on the old wooden floor. Soon two gentlemen emerged from the end of the hallway. 


            “Hi! I’m Ray, your RA [resident advisor]. You must be Ben, welcome to the U of A,” the first one greeted me. 


            “Ben is that one,” I replied. “I’m . . . .” 


            “I know Ben,” interrupted the second man, “then you must be Mohammad! Hello, I am Branny. Welcome to Athabasca Hall. I’m your other RA, but unlike Ray, never around.” He laughed. 


            “Actually I’m Bakri.” 


            Here I was, not yet unpacked or even in my room, and already there was some confusion over my name. I never realized that even a simple matter of a name could be so confusing when one crossed borders and cultures. I thought I had solved the problem with the changes on my birth certificate earlier. 


            “I bet you Bakri,” Ray concluded as he deliberately and correctly pronounced my name, “folks here will call you Ben, Ben Musa, or Buck, but not Bakri. Canadians are fond of monosyllables. We’ll shorten it or stick you with a nickname.” 


            “That’s not true,” Branny teased. “I have two syllables; they have no problem with that. Bakri is like Branny.” He smiled. “But I agree with Ray, they’ll never call you ‘Mohammad.’ Moe, maybe!” 


            My room, home for the year and perhaps longer, was the size of my old prefect’s cubicle at Malay College. And like there, I did not have to share it with anyone. There was a western-facing window, and the warmth of the setting sun lifted my spirits only to be dampened by the sight of the huge coiled steam heater below the window sill. Winter must be really cold! Across the garden with flowers still in bloom was Pembina Hall, the women’s residence. 


            Later, settled and in the silence and privacy of my new room, I pondered the earlier discussion. I did not want to be called ‘Ben’ as it sounded foreign, or ‘Mohammad,’ even though that was the name of our revered prophet. It is a beautiful name but as many Muslims have it, it has no identifying function; more decorative. I was never called by that name back home. Back there they called me ‘Bakri’ and that was what I wanted to be called here in Canada. 


            The tradition of a surname is alien in my culture. The decorative Mohammad excepted, I have only one name – Bakri. For further differentiation, I have my father’s name, hence Bin (for son of, or “Binte,” daughter of) Musa. To complicate matters, at my requiem I will be introduced to my Lord as Mohammad Bakri Bin Jauhariah (Jauhariah being my mother’s name), in conformity with our matriarchal tradition. 


            What a way to begin my stay in Canada; on a clear fall day I was clouded by a name crisis. I wrote my name in different versions:  M. B. B. Musa, M. B. Bakri, or simply M. Bakri, after the then popular singer back in my homeland. However, none looked or sounded right. I finally settled on ‘M. Bakri Musa.’ ‘Bakri’ will be my first name and ‘Musa,’ last. I would dispense with the ‘Bin.’ When I get married my wife would be Mrs. Musa and my children would have Musa as their last name. As for having a first initial, well, there was J. Edgar Hoover, the famed FBI director. In a new land I would begin with a new tradition. Now all I had to do was educate my new friends as to my new name but same identity. 


            That settled, my mind wandered onto other things. I could not help but compare my warm welcoming reception here at Athabasca Hall to the hell I had endured at Malay College nearly three years earlier. I was deep in thought when there was a knock on my door. It was Ray. 


            “Hi, Buck-ree!” 


            Good, he pronounced it right, emphasizing the last syllable. He told me that the dinner table assignment was displayed downstairs but for that evening it would be open seating. 


            “Oh,” he added, “tomorrow’s dinner will be formal, suit and tie. After dinner, sing-along. Great way to meet the girls from Pembina!” 


            What? A sing-along after dinner? To meet the girls? No hazing? These Canadians were sure civilized! 


Next:  Excerpt #118:  Being Part of the New Land

Monday, February 05, 2024

Anwar's Anti-Corruption Crusade Is Less Machiavellian, More Pragmatism

 Anwar’s Anti-Corruption Crusade Is Less Machiavellian, More Pragmatism

M. Bakri Musa

 

It was pathetic to see ailing former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin hauled into court bent over in his wheelchair. His pseudo bravado assertion, “I am not too bothered about my fate now. Let Anwar throw everything at me!” only made it worse.

 

            Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed too blamed Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC’s) investigations of Mahathir’s now obscenely wealthy sons.

 

            The pair reveals more about themselves and their mode of governance than of Anwar. It is now obvious that Mahathir had used MACC and other apparatus of the government to bludgeon his political enemies. Anwar could testify to that; he was Mahathir’s most brutalized victim.

 

            Today that world has changed, and for the better. Anwar is letting MACC do its job without interference; a novel concept to the pair and incredulous to Malaysians long used to Mahathir’s corrosive one-man show. That also explains why Malaysia is in such a pathetic mess today, with corruption entrenched at the highest levels and in all sectors. Anwar has made good his intention to combat corruption, much to the horror of the likes of Daim and Mahathir.

 

            The new Agung, Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim, too had declared his abhorrence for and determination to hunt “all the corrupt people.” In an added pointed reference, “even those nearing a hundred years.” With both titular and political heads now treating corruption for what it is – a lethal societal cancer – I hope others, in particular religious and intellectual leaders, would also join in this critical crusade.

 

            Ulama in particular have a major role both in their sermons as well as in their personal behaviors. In sermons, be less obsessed with the Hereafter and emphasize the Hell right here and now that are the consequences of corruption. Witness the hellish faces of Covid-19 patients desperate for their last breaths because of faulty ventilators, another product of corruption. Their loved ones too went through hell.

 

            Likewise what is the message when our ulama are flown in luxurious corporate jets for their Hajj and umrah while failing to disclose who paid for those luxuries? How to explain to the poor fisherman in Kelantan when the Federal Mufti who was also a former cabinet minister diverted zakat funds to finance his son’s university education?

 

            Religious leaders should focus on leading the flock along the straight path, away from corruption, a challenging enough assignment. Quit being politicians. The Qur’anic Day of Judgement is as much conceptual and metaphorical as real and temporal. Ask the likes of Daims, Najibs, and Mahathirs. As to what awaits them in the Hereafter, Allah hu allam (Only Allah knows!). As per the wisdom of 13th Century Ibn Ata Allah Al Iskandariah in his Hikam (Aphorism No: 73), “If you want to know your standing with Him, look at the state He has put you in now.”

 

            As for writers, consider the impact of the late Shahnon Ahmad with his classics (SHIT, Tok Guru, and others.) That he is now forgotten reflects more on our rotten education system, yet another victim of systemic corruption. With intellectuals, I pine for long-gone giants like Syed Hussain Alatas for their fearless exposing of our blight. He and Shahnon did not need the imprimatur of the National Professors Council or other such props to have powerful impact.

 

            Anwar faces formidable obstacles, real as well as perceptual, in his fight against corruption. His critics castigate him for having a man of far-from-stellar reputation in the competency as well as integrity department as Deputy Prime Minister. However, if that is the price for sparing Malaysia the likes of Muhyiddin Yassin, Ismail Sabri, and Hamzah Zainudin, so be it. If Malaysians do not like that, then give Anwar a strong mandate at the next election.

 

            In letting MACC do its job, Anwar is less Machiavellian, more a pragmatist; less a conniving politician, more enlightened leader. If employing a thief to catch another is effective, so be it. As to the inevitable and frequently-asked question, “Why now?” The riposte is simple. You charge when you have the evidence. Malaysia has no statute of limitations with respect to criminal deeds. Justice, like mother’s love, has no expiration date.

 

            Those who feel that prosecuting the previously high and mighty (who by statutes are mostly Malays) would lead to political instability have a low opinion of Malaysians, and of Malays in particular. On the contrary, letting those corrupt Malay leaders get away with their crimes would destroy our society.

 

            The recent royal partial pardon for former Prime Minister Najib Razak does not alter the dynamics or reality, the ensuing hullabaloo and explosive diarrhea of commentaries notwithstanding. That pardon was but mere Malay shadow play; a needed but not-so-entertaining distraction. Little need to restrict the entertainment, I mean, comments. Najib is not going anywhere soon. He remains in jail, still has the massive fines (discount or not), and three more trials not preemptively pardoned. Meanwhile Malaysia bears for decades to come the humongous debt incurred by him.

 

            It is significant – and prescient – that the Sultan of Johor, now Agung, remains the only ruler who did not see fit to honor Najib during the height of his (Najib’s) days. Thus far only the Negri Ruler and the Sultan of Selangor have withdrawn theirs. The others have not seen fit to do likewise. We still have a challenge there in our fight against corruption in high places.

 

            As for Anwar, it is noteworthy that none of the previous Prime Ministers from Mahathir to Ismail Sabri were present at the recent installation of the Agung. Our symbolic national ceremonies should remain untainted and unblemished.

 

            The perceptive and ever-biting Zunar captured it best with his latest cartoon strips on Daim’s performances. One shows him striding tall and in control at Langkah Tebuk Atap (Strategy to topple the government) and Langkah Dubai (Dubai Move); the other, awarding him the Oscar for Best Actor for his wheelchair performance.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Cast From The Herd Exerpt #115: Let The Expanding Universe Be Your Teacher

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #114 A Tour Of Ottawa

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 114:  A Tour Of Ottawa


That morning, my first full day in Canada, I walked around Parliament Hill, awed by its imposing buildings, and along Rideau Canal. Again I was amazed how helpful and friendly Canadians were, and how proud they were of their capital city. People were so helpful that I began to wonder whether I looked like a lost soul to elicit so much assistance from them. They told me how the canal came about, the oldest such system in North America, built after the War of 1812 so Canadians could avoid the St. Lawrence River which was then infested with snipers from the other side to the south, the continent’s first terrorists, the Americans. 


            The history lessons I was getting were instructive as well as enjoyable. Why was it that in high school I hated the subject so much that I jumped with joy when I no longer had to take it? The difference was obvious. Here in Canada, history is part of daily life and in the immediate surroundings, as with the Rideau Canal. 


            I was also told that the entire canal would freeze in winter, and the place was packed with people of all ages skating, ice fishing, and or otherwise enjoying the ice. The thought of an entire canal freezing boggled my imagination. In my native land ice was premium, sold by the pound. What about the fish? Again I was told that they survived in the deeper waters which remained unfrozen. 


            Then I remembered in my high school physics the peculiar density/temperature curve of water. Normally as temperature rises the density decreases, and vice versa, except that with water at about four degrees Centigrade, there is a reversal. Further cooling would result not in an increase of density but a decrease. The result is that as water becomes ice at zero degrees, it becomes less dense than water and thus floats. Ice is also an excellent insulator. The colder the weather, the thicker would be the ice, and greater the insulation. How wonderful and ingenious of nature to have such a positive-loop reinforcement! 


            Up till then the peculiar density/temperature curve and other concepts in physics like acceleration were merely interesting intellectual curiosities to me. I had to know them for my school tests, but I could never figure out their relevance in everyday life as my physical environment did not afford me the opportunities to experience those phenomena. 


            That after all is the essence of the study of science, to enable us to understand and thus appreciate our environment. Looked at from that perspective, learning becomes a command of Allah, as per the Qur’an, as well as fun, as it should be. It is only when learning is degraded and reduced to the memorization of facts and formulas to be regurgitated at test times does it dulls one’s sense of curiosity and takes the joy out of learning. 


            The next day I took a Greyhound bus city tour. The maid had recommended that to me. The bus was clean; the seats were like those on the airplanes – plush, comfortable, and reclining. Even the driver looked like a pilot, with his crisp light-blue shirt, bowtie, and cap. The ride was smooth, with no jerky braking or gear-changing. That was the first time I experienced the wonders of automatic transmission and its sparing of jerkiness as well as ear drum assaults!


            We toured a suburb; the houses had well-manicured lawns with still-blooming flowers. There was something strange about the scene but I could not figure out what it was. Then it became obvious; there were no fences or gates on the front. There were also sidewalks! More remarkably, I did not see ugly overhead utility lines or open roadside drains. We came upon a house where a young lady was standing on the front well-manicured lush lawn with her two young children. They waved at us as the driver honked and slowed down. 


            “Folks!” he beamed, “that’s my wife Jeannie and our children Jimmy and Holly. Wave at them!” 


            We all did as we cheered. Wow! A bus driver’s home! Back home bus drivers lived in shacks. How could a bus driver in Canada afford such a lovely house? He went on to tell us that his neighbor was a mailman and across the street, a policeman. In Malaysia, policemen lived in barracks isolated from the community they were supposed to serve and protect. 


            As I reflected, in Canada there was only the driver, no conductor. There was also no tour guide giving running commentaries. Instead it was the driver who was doing all that. If Malaysian bus companies were to dispense with conductors, and their drivers were educated enough to be also tour guides, they could triple the salaries and those drivers could then live well. I began to appreciate the concept of productivity that Mr. Pritam was trying to tell us when he was bored teaching us physics. At that time those economic terms were useful to me only as a way to impress my audience at Introduction Night at Malay College. Now I saw a clear and dramatic demonstration of the concept, and its relevance in real life. 


Next:  Excerpt #115:  Let The Expanding Universe Be Your Teacher

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Cast From the Herd Excerpt #113: Lessons On Filial Loyalty

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 113:  Lessons On Filial Loyalty


Despite my physical fatigue after flying halfway across the world and encountering new people as well as associated bewildering experiences, I was still unable to go to sleep despite forcing myself to lie down on my hotel bed. In particular, my earlier culture shock of seeing the elderly lady still working, and as a hotel maid at that, was jarring. My mind refused to let me sleep. It kept motoring, reminding me of the many dinner conversations my father had with us, his children, about his wish not to be dependent upon us in his old age. He saw how his younger sister, Mak Biah to me, was kept at home and remained unmarried for a long time simply to care for my paternal grandparents, and how my father took her to live with us in Labu so she could make something out of her life. In the end her guilt about neglecting her parents made her return to the village. 


            My father too, paid a severe price for his unfettered filial loyalty. When Mohammad Said, a physician, was elected Chief Minister of my state in 1959, my father remarked that they were classmates at their village Malay primary school in Linggi. Said, two others, and my father were selected to attend King George V School in Seremban on scholarships. All but my father went; his father refused to let him go. My grandfather feared that my father would become a “brown Englishman” or worse, a Christian, an all-too-familiar phobia among Malays at that time. The residuum of that is still present and pervasive today, unnecessarily handicapping our young.


            My father never failed to remind me, and often, of the many missed opportunities on account of his filial loyalty. He did not have the courage or emotional strength to plead for his case. His sense of loss was keenly felt when Said became a physician while the other two, a lawyer and engineer respectively. I was sure that my father, in his rare moments of contemplation, would wonder at his own fate if only he had been more assertive, and his father less restrictive. That, I was certain, shaped his relationship with me and my siblings. 


            I have no recollection of my paternal grandparents. They died when I was young. I remember only their funerals. Those are never pleasant memories anyway, especially to children. 


            Perhaps out of guilt or just part of tradition, during Eid holidays my father would never fail to take us to visit his parents’ graves. After the ritual prayers he would always recall the many times they had directed his life, and also the rare occasions when he had gathered the courage and with a heavy heart to defy them. They were against his going to Teachers’ College in Tanjong Malim (too far away!). They were against his marrying my mother, a fellow teacher; they would have preferred the girl in the next village, someone who would take care of them in their old age. To my father however, love aside, to him marrying my mother it was a life insurance policy. Should something happen to him, the family would still have a breadwinner.


            Always in his retelling of these and other incidents, my father would never fail to remind us, “But those were tough times!” as if to excuse his parents’ actions, or his defying them. 


            It was from such stories that I realized why my father was always reluctant to push his views on me. He was afraid that out of filial loyalty I would do things or pursue a course of action that would not be in my best interest, rather to please him. Now as a father, I am very much aware of his dilemma. 


            Recalling those earlier conversations with my father, I began to look at that elderly Canadian cleaning lady in a far different light. Far from pitying her, I applauded her independence. She had the courage and dignity to lead an independent life and not be a burden on her children. She did not lay an emotional guilt trap on them, as my paternal grandparents did to my father. She prided herself on her children pursuing their own dreams and not being tethered to her. And from a utilitarian perspective, she was still a contributing member of society, not dependent on it. 


            Something else about that maid touched me. She personified the self-dignity and inner strength of a Minangkabau woman. Throughout our history and across the region, Minangkabau women have led independent lives, free from their husbands and male relatives. These are the women who plowed the rice fields and manned the pasar malam (night market) stalls. Remarkable, especially against the background of the male dominance of Islam and Asia. 


            If I had any hope of resuming my interrupted sleep, those competing emotions snuffed it out. I decided to have a hot shower (a luxury I had not yet taken for granted) and then take a stroll. Before leaving, I saw the phone book and on a lark looked up Osman Nor, remembering Mr. Norton’s earlier suggestion. I rang him up, but there was no answer. Nonetheless seeing another fellow collegian’s name in a foreign city’s phone book reduced my sense of distance and strangeness. 


Next:  Excerpt # 114:  A Tour Of Ottawa