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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, April 05, 2020

Excerpt #56: Aftermath Of The Sultanah's Death

Excerpt #56:  Aftermath Of The Sultanah’s Death
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

         My sojourn in Seremban was as much a break as it was a time for me to take stock of Malaysia and her feudal system, especially now that I was posted in the royal town of JB.

         It did not help that my experience with royalty had not been entirely endearing despite my being born and brought up in a village in the shadow of the royal town of Sri Menanti. As a youngster, I attended afternoon religious classes there with my sister. As expected, many of our fellow students were princes and princesses. With the feudal ambience, those royal brats were given free rein by the ustads (religious teachers). Indulged upon, those princes and princesses behaved accordingly.

         One day the princesses ganged up on my sister. I came to her rescue and yanked the mousiest one of them by her hair. Startled, she screamed, begging for mercy from me! I let her go and they all scattered away like rats startled after one of them had been whacked by a cat. My parents were scared on hearing of the incident. In the not-too-distant ugly past, such insolence on the part of a peasant would have been met with instant beheading! As luck would have it, there were no repercussions from that incident. My parents however, did take my sister and me out of that school. Wise precaution!

         That incident with my Ob-Gyn colleague, amplified by memories of my childhood episodes with princes and princesses, stirred doubts as well as anger in me. What mistakes await me and what punishment would I and my family have to endure? How would I explain things to them?

         All that were forgotten as we were busy celebrating Adzman’s wedding. It was a three-day and three-ceremony affair, two at the bride’s side and one in Seremban. It began on Friday evening with the actual marriage as per Muslim rites; the next day was the bersanding or reception. Both were large events at the bride’s home in KL, the Saturday one much bigger. The third in Seremban was in contrast a small family affair. My parents were not for large weddings; besides there had already two big ceremonies.

         When that brief holiday was over, I was not in the least eager to return to JB. I was wary of a trap being laid for me, ready to ensnare me.

         Later, one of the doctors related to me the events immediately following the royal death. He told me that I was lucky to have left town when I did. Had I stayed a day longer, I could not have left as upon the sultanah’s death all leave was cancelled. Worse, all Muslim civil servants were ordered, yes, ordered, to attend prayer vigils at the mosque every night for a week. Not just to pray but to recite the Koran till midnight regardless whether you had a morning case the next day. If you were caught during that week not in mourning attire, black arm bands for non-Muslims and headgear with a white band for Muslims, you would be whipped on the spot.

         I thanked God that I had taken my vacation at the right time. Somebody up there was protecting me. No telling what my reaction would have been had I been stopped for not wearing my songkok with a white band, or worse, been late for or absent from the mosque because I had a major case to do.

         With the usual hectic pace at GHJB, the memories of the royal mishap, my colleague’s summary banishment, and the Sultanah’s death soon faded. The Sultan remarried that November, as soon as the official mourning period ended. What was not forgotten, because we suffered the consequences daily, was that the hospital had exhausted its discretionary funds and then some in catering to those hordes of important visitors.

Next Excerpt #57:  Yet Another Tragedy, And A Massive One

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


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