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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

An Unfortunate And Frightening Incident Involving Royals

Excerpt #55:  An Unfortunate And Frightening Incident Involving Royals

         What with all the joys of the wedding and family gathering, it was hard to come to grips to the news of the Sultanah’s death. It was after all expected. After everyone had left my parents’ home following the wedding, Karen and I had plenty of time what with the quietness around to reflect on what had transpired in JB during the past few weeks.

         Seared deep into my consciousness was the recent royal tragedy. That episode in the operating room with my near mishandling of the royal lock was only one. That was dangerous and could have landed me in big trouble.

         There was another even more nasty incident that paled everything else that occurred during those hectic first few days following the royal road mishap. It shook Karen and me to our core; it exposed our vulnerability, and the sham that was modern Malaysia. At heart Malaysia was still a primitive feudal society with arbitrary rules.

         In the early morning hours of the first night of the accident, one of the Ob-Gyn consultants was called in on a difficult delivery. He stopped by his locked private office only to find a gentleman sitting in his chair. Being that late in the night, the earlier crowd of VIPs was gone. The guards were all tied up in the royal suite or else snoozing somewhere. The doctor had not heard of the earlier tragedy. There was nothing to prompt him that the stranger could be a VIP, a residue of the earlier crowd, now seeking much-needed refuge in the privacy of the doctor’s office.

         There were only two eyewitnesses to that incident. What transpired could only be verified by them. Since both have not told their story (they are still alive as of mid 2017), I am left to imagine the scenario based on my limited knowledge of both individuals.

         First, I set forth where my sympathy leaned. I was naturally inclined towards the specialist, being a colleague. More than that, fifteen years earlier when he was posted at Kuala Pilah, he did my medical examination before my leaving for Canada. I remembered his gruffness when the nurse interrupted him to sign my forms. I could understand his irritation. After all he had a long line of sick patients waiting. Signing paperwork is a major irritant to most doctors, yours truly included. However, on finding out that I was a would-be medical student, he changed his tone and became friendly, giving me much helpful advice while reminiscing about his own medical school days.

         I also remembered him in his sports car, a creamy white Triumph Spitfire convertible, driving often to the palace at Sri Menanti. As one of the few Malay doctors then, and a bachelor at that, I was certain that he was a hit among the princesses. He must not have fancied any of them (or they him!) for he later married an English lady when he did his specialist training in Britain.

         When I met him for the first time in JB as a colleague, he had a yellow convertible Porsche. Nothing unusual about the car except for its color, and of course rarity and price. In feudal Malaysia, yellow is a royal color, the exclusive preserve of the sultans. I was sure that his choice of color did not sit well with the palace circle. I was also told that he once overtook the crown prince’s car. I was sure that added to the royal displeasure, to put it in the mildest terms.

         That night, on finding an unexpected stranger in his office, the doctor asked him to leave. As for the exact words uttered, tone, or associated body language and gestures, only Allah knows, as the villagers would say. I imagine that being called in for an emergency deep in the night with your sleep rudely interrupted, niceties and pleasantries would be in short supply. It was unfortunate that the stranger turned out to be one of Malaysia’s many sultans who had earlier sought refuge in the doctor’s private office.

         The next day the doctor was banished out of state. He had 24 hours to leave. When I heard the news, my sympathy was with his patients. That was how I knew of the debacle, in the commotion in the operating rooms with his scheduled cases having to be cancelled. I did not feel sorry for him. As a specialist with a highly-sought British qualification, he would do well in private practice in Malaysia or Britain.

         As to how that Sultan reacted, that too only Allah knew. Malaysian sultans are not used to being challenged. They were above the law. That situation was not changed until the 1990s when a highly controversial constitutional amendment was adopted. That divided Malay society at its core.

         Years later I met that Sultan in a social setting in America. I found him pleasant enough. Or perhaps in the absence of any reminders of feudal Malaysia, he behaved accordingly. It was difficult for me to visualize him as a tyrant ordering the summary banishment of a dedicated doctor. Hence whether that punishment on the doctor was meted on his instigations or carried out by overzealous underlings out to impress their Sultan, again only Allah knows.

         The thought flashed in me. If such a severe and arbitrary punishment could be handed out to a long-serving medical specialist who had contributed to his nation so selflessly, imagine how easy it would be to punish someone new and young like me? I suddenly felt vulnerable. If I were to leave JB it would be on my terms and not from being pushed out. With that thought now percolating within me, I began to see JB, Malaysia, and the royal family in an entirely new and very menacing light.

Next Excerpt #56:  Aftermath Of The Sultanah’s Death

From the author’s memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia (2018).


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