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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, July 26, 2020

Excerpt # 71: On To Practical Matters

Excerpt # 71:  On To Practical Matters
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

            After my parents had accepted my leaving, our conversations then quickly shifted on to practical matters, like what we planned to do with our proposed dream home in PJ. My father mentioned that someone had offered quite a hefty premium to buy that land, being the rare empty lot in that exclusive neighborhood. I told him that I would return the title to my sister Hamidah and her husband Ariffin; they would decide what to do with it. At that point my father remarked that he knew that my heart had already left Malaysia for not even the prospects for a potential hefty profit had tempted me to reconsider my decision.

            My mother too went on to practical matters, as how I planned to bring up my children the Islamic way knowing well that I had not even khatam. I told them that the mosque in Edmonton was one of the oldest in North America and that there was a sizeable Muslim community there. I assured her that despite my limited knowledge of Islam, I would take the extra effort for my children to know our faith. Then she wanted to know how they would maintain their family and cultural ties in Malaysia. I again assured her that going back and forth from Canada to Malaysia would pose minimal problems, what with modern jet planes. We had the same concerns about distance and travelling when my older brother Sharif left for Teachers’ College in Kota Baru back in the 1950s, I reminded them. Today those places seem like the next town. She was not quite assured about the ease of air travels considering the costs. Today while cost is less a factor, we now have to contend with such “Black Swan” events like the current Covid-19 pandemic.

            My father rescued me on the matter of my children forgetting their heritage. My children will always be Malays no matter where we live. They would have my parents’ and grandparents’ as well as my genes, he assured my mother. She should not be worried whether they would be “Malay” enough.

            As I sat there conversing in a very relaxed manner and far from the high emotions that I had anticipated, I could not help thinking that I had been through a similar conversation before, only a few years earlier and thousands of miles away, with my in-laws in Edmonton when we decided to move to Malaysia. Then too I was not at all thinking of their sadness of the impending departure of their beloved and only daughter and grandchildren but of my anticipated joy of meeting my parents and family in Malaysia.

            This time it was the reverse. I was anticipating the joy of my in-laws meeting us in a few months’ time. Like then, I was not thinking of the sadness of the other party.

            My mother regretted that our native land could not accommodate me, or was it the other way around. She was convinced that I would have been a great asset to Malaysia, a mother’s pride in her son showing. She was also confident that I would achieve something abroad but then she would know nothing of the values to appreciate that.

            She hoped that when I leave I should not disappear like a rock dropping to the bottom of the lake. Instead I should be like a pebble skipping the surface, creating splashes and ripples. You would never know where those would end, she counselled me. Noting that I used to write to various Malaysian officials when I was a student about my ideas, she and my father urged me to continue doing so, and to reach a wider audience.

            When Ariffin and Hamidah came home that weekend, seeing that I was alone, they asked what I did all that week. I replied nothing except being my parents’ chauffeur and overall “Joe boy.” Ariffin commented that there would be a special place in heaven for the likes of me, quoting a familiar hadith on the merits on being a devoted son.

            My parents may have accepted my leaving but they were careful not to let the word out, not to the neighbors or non-close family members. Indeed for the first few visits after I had left Malaysia, my parents would always introduce me to their friends and neighbors as being the son who was away for “further studies.” My father could not bring himself to say that I had emigrated for fear of possible negative reactions, as being an ingrate or worse, a traitor. Yet when we were young my parents did not hesitate to defy the prevailing social trend as when he kept us in English schools at the height of nationalism and intense pride in our national language.

            Only decades later would I hear him introduce me as “my son who had migrated to California” with unrestrained glitter of pride in his eyes, “He has his own private practice there as well as a sheep ranch!”

            I knew then that he had fully accepted my moving away. Before that my mother would never cease asking me every time we came home for visits the inevitable question, “When are you coming back?”

            Once at a family gathering on a visit after I had left Malaysia, my Uncle Darus too posed that same question. Before I could answer him, he replied himself. “The Malaysia of today is not the same as the one you left decades ago!” He went on to relate that there were many more private hospitals and people with health insurance. Malaysia too had a more dynamic leader in Dr. Mahathir, not like his book-bound sluggish predecessor Hussein Onn who was in power I left.

            I replied by turning the question around to him, but with a twist. Seeing that he too had left the village decades ago as a youngster to work in KL and then decided to settle there, would he now consider returning to the village seeing that it is today very unlike what he had left decades ago, with electricity, piped water, and paved roads.

            He laughed; he had grasped my point.

Excerpt # 72:  The Logistics Of Leaving
From the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned.  A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.


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