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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, June 28, 2020

Excerpt # 67: Disappoints All Around

Excerpt #67:  Disappointments All Around
M. Bakri Musa (bakrimusa.com)

            When we returned to JB from our brief trip to Seremban, it was with a gnawing and unsatisfying sense of a mission unaccomplished. The purpose of our trip was to tell my friends and family of our decision to leave. I had accomplished only half, with Badri, Ramli, and Nik Zainal, but not with my family.

            Malaysia being a land of holidays, the next one came only a few weeks later, the first-term school break. My family from KL and Seremban would be visiting us. “To go shopping in Singapore!” was their excuse. Their unstated purpose was to persuade me not to leave. Meanwhile I was consumed with planning for the upcoming medical convention.

            We always looked forward to our family gatherings and kenduris. It was a time for the cousins to be together. The joys and rambunctiousness of the young were infectious. It would also be extra special this time as we would be hosting it, and for the first time in our JB house. The only one who would be missing was our father. He stayed back because the last time they left their Seremban house empty, it was burglarized. He did not want to risk that again.

            We had our part-time maid who was from the adjacent village help us with the cooking. She was happy to meet my extended family. Up till then she could not quite place me. Now that she saw my relatives she could; I was just another Malay with a large extended family, just like hers. It comforted her that I still had my village mores and courtesies. She could now relate better with me and us. That she was about the same age of my mother helped. I too helped in the kitchen, and that surprised her. I guessed because she was only in the house for a limited time during the day, she had never seen me in the kitchen, which of course was the expected behavior of Malay or Asian men generally. That was the first time she saw our house look like a typical Malay one, with kids running around, people in sarongs laying around on the sofa and the floor, and the sound of chili pounding and smell of balacan in the kitchen.

            At night, even though we had three spare empty bedrooms, everyone slept kampong-style sprawling on the carpet in the living room downstairs. Good thing that the trees I had planted months ago were now tall and bushy enough to afford some privacy!

            With everyone caught in the party mood they forgot or chose to ignore the primary purpose of their visit – to persuade me to change my mind about leaving Malaysia.

            Then it started. I did not know how. Perhaps my sister Hamidah triggered the discussion when she commented that if I were to leave, they would not be able to visit JB and have this kind of kenduri in my house again. She had been praying that if I did leave it would be to our planned dream house in PJ. My mother added that her prayer too was that the next kenduri would be in PJ at my new house. They had all been impressed with the design that I had showed them earlier. They had not realize that a traditional house made of wood could be so beautiful and modern. Then she added that if funding were to be the issue, the family would chip in so we could have our dream home and Karen would be happy!

            That was it! I knew they meant well but I felt like a cripple getting the sympathy of others. I told them that I could and was happy living within my current income. Further I could live anywhere, and Karen and the kids too would be happy as long as I was. We could live in the village; I could even survive the jungle, I told them. During the war, we survived under the most trying circumstances. Canada, and Karen, had not spoiled me or made me soft.

            I told them that Allah had given me this talent and skills. That it was not to be utilized in Malaysia did not detract its value. I then used Ramli’s argument – I did not wish to tolak tuah (refuse God’s bounty), seeing that my talent would that much more appreciated elsewhere
            My mother interrupted me. She could not care how successful I was, if it were not in Malaysia, it would not mean much to her. Then she jumped over to hug me, sobbing, “We just don’t want you to leave!”

            With that everyone too started crying, including me, but I tried to control myself. Things became emotionally charged with everyone hugging me and my eyes soon became moist again. I saw Karen in the corner of my eyes sitting up on the stairs with  Mindy and Zack and their cousins. She had no idea what was going on but seeing my tears she knew something very major had happened.

            She later related that she wanted to come down and hug me with my mother but could not because of the crowd on the stairs. The only time she saw me in tears was way back when we were expecting our first baby and the obstetrician told us that it had major abnormalities and he had wanted guidance from us on the further course of action. In the end, Allah spared us that burden as our baby did not take its first breath after delivery.

            I controlled myself by joking, reverting to our old kampung dialect and telling everyone that this was a holiday kenduri, not a funeral. I told them that while everyone at the hospital would call me a doctor and a specialist, I assured my mother and all, that to her I was still an obedient kampung son. As such I would never go against my mother’s wishes. If she did not want me to leave, then I would not. I kept repeating that more than a few times to reassure everyone.

            The calmness and certitude with which I uttered those words calmed everyone, especially my mother. I glanced at Karen. She was quiet; she did not understand nor follow what I had said. Even if she could speak Malay, she still would not have understood me because I spoke in the distinctive archaic village dialect.

            Later in the privacy of our bedroom she asked what I had said to calm the family. I repeated what I had said. “Did you mean it?” she asked.

            “Yes!” I affirmed.

            “Then the kids and I will be with you!” If there was any trace of disappointment in her voice, I did not detect it.

Next Excerpt 68:  A Royal Banquet

Excerpt From The Autor’s Memoir, The Son Has Not Returned, 2018.


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