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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, August 30, 2020

Makna Merdela 50 (Meaning Of Merdeka 50)


Makna Merdeka


Untuk bangsaku dirantau:  

Mungking urat mu mendalam di negri dagang!


Merdeka negara!  Merdeka bercita!

Bebas negara! Bebas bersuara!

Merdeka bukan hadiah penjajah

Kebebasan insan hasrat Allah.


Alam ku luas, borkat Illahi

Rezki ku Tuhan yang mengsukati.

Laut, gunung, sempadan tanpa ku segani

Gelombang dunia berani ku layari!


Kampung halaman bukan nya sauh

Ingin ku menghilir merantau jauh.

Di mana bumi ku pijak, di sana langit ku junjong

Selagi hati berhajat, cita ku jangan di kandung.


Hidup, bebas, bahagia, hasrat Allah

Pantang celaka lah jika di ubah.

Raja dan menteri mesti mempatuhi

Jangan kau mungkir perentah Illahi.


Rakyat negeri bukan nya kuli

Untok di kerah ka sana sini.

Zaman purba takkan kembali

Mungkin menteri yang di buang negri!


Renungkan nasib si Idi Amin

Yang Shah Pahlavi pun tak terjamin.

Pemimpim negri mesti menginggati

Rakyat – bukan raja – yang di daulati.


Tidak ku sangka songsang

Anak dagang di negri orang.

Orang kita/orang sana, tidak bermakna.

Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia

Bukan kah itu gesa Laksmana?


Urat ku mendalam di bumi asing

Loghat ku pun ikut sama mengiring

Sambal belacan dah berasa lain

Teras ku tetap Melayu tulin!


Kampung ku jauh beribu batu

Begitu juga kaum sa suku

Kalau di renung hati ku rindu

Mengenang cerita moyang ku dulu.


Anak merantua jangan diigaui

Pilu perpisahan boleh dibatasi.

Bebas! Merdeka!  Alangkah murni!

Ku peluk penuh cinta berahi!


M. Bakri Musa

Morgan Hill, California



My translation:

Meaning of Merdeka (Independence)

(For the wandering soul:  May your roots deepen in a foreign soil!)


Merdeka to the nation! Merdeka for my ambition!

Freedom of speech!  Freedom of thought!

The benevolence of colonials, merdeka is not

Free!  Unshackled!  That’s the command of the Lord.


My universe is broad, the blessing of God.

I strive, but only He knows my fate and lot.

Oceans, mountains, and boundaries faze me not

The global waves a match for my surfing board.


My village abode is not my tether

The yonder wide world beckons me thither.

Firm on ground, the heavens above I praise

And pray my dream will find its rightful place.


Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

That is Allah’s command; His measured kindness.

It is not for kings and rulers to alter

Nor put boundaries to God’s desire.


Blessed with freedom and reason are God’s children

To lords and kings we are never beholden.

The feudal order had long been toppled

Let’s be clear, the sovereign is the people.


Ponder the fate of one Idi Amin

That of Shah Pahlavi was equally grim!

These realities our leaders must heed

“Power to the People!” is the new creed.


Praise the wandering son, our true hero

Heeding the call when the distant wind blows.

This “us” versus “them” makes little sense

True to yourself, that is the essence.

Blessed our forefathers for that lesson.


My roots have deepened in this foreign soil

Affected or not, so too my Western drawl.

The spicy taste of yore has lost its punch

Still, the old Malay can, … lah!  In a crunch!


Far across the ocean the old abode beckons

My kith and kind, Oh! They readily come to mind!

As I ponder, the heart grows fonder

Reliving stories of days yonder.


The young has flown, the empty nest silent

Sadness yes, but memories remain vibrant.

Freedom!  Merdeka!  Such intoxicating beauty!

With fondness and passion, I readily embrace thee.


M. Bakri Musa

Morgan Hill, California

August 2007



Sunday, August 23, 2020

Reflections On Awal Muharram: Re-Reading The Quran

 Reflections On Awal Muharram:  Re-Reading The Quran

M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)


Review of Muhammad Shahrur’s The Quran, Morality and Critical Reason. The Essential Muhammad Shahrur. Translated and Edited by Andreas Christmann. K Brill, Leidin, 637 pp, 2009.  ISBN 9004171039§


Last Thursday August 20, 2020, after sunset, Muslims ushered in our New Year. Awal Muharram (the first of Muharram) symbolizes peace and reflection. Reflection because 1441 years ago our Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., undertook his hijrah (migration) to Medinah to escape his persecutors in Mecca. So momentous was the event that the Companions of the Prophet later decided to begin the Muslim calendar from that date.

            As for peace, there was nothing peaceful about that epochal journey. The prophet escaped an assassination attempt by having his nephew Ali sleep in his bed that night. Legend has it that Allah made the prophet invisible to his pursuers. Invisible perhaps, but not weightless for the prophet had prudently scattered dirt to cover his tracks!

            Like then, peace still eludes the ummah today. The majority are trapped in dehumanizing poverty, appalling injustices, and brutal autocracies. In the latest “Islamicity Index,” not one Muslim country made it in the top thirty.

            Volumes have been written to explain this sorry state. Some pine for Islam’s own Martin Luther. Conveniently forgotten is that during its few centuries the Islamic civilization was the beacon for the world. What went wrong?

Muhammad Shahrur’s epiphany came early. He remembered as a youngster hearing a sermon in his local mosque right after Syria was humiliated in the Six-Day War with Israel. “We have strayed far from the ways of Allah,” his Imam bellowed. “We do not fast and our women have discarded their hijabs,” he excoriated his flock.

Israeli women wore bikinis, yet their armies prevailed, Shahrur reflected. That prompted his lifelong self-study of the Quran. No easy task for a man who was a professional engineer (Dublin PhD) with a thriving consultancy, quite apart from his academic duties.

Shahrur dispensed with those voluminous ancient treatises. Those are what produced today’s ulama and scholars like his Imam, he reasoned. To his scientific mind that would be akin to reading Freud and Jung when the world is into neurotransmitters and dynamic brain imaging.

Shahrur began writing in the 1990s, and until his death last year he had published over a dozen books and countless essays, and been interviewed numerous times. Though ignored by the establishment (lucky; he could have been branded an apostate and dealt with accordingly), he was (and still is) a phenomenon among literate Arabs. The Quran, Morality and Critical Reason:  The Essential Muhammad Shahrur, a translation, is his only book in English.

To Shahrur – and all Muslims – the Quran is Allah’s words, “for all mankind at all times and till the end of time.” It explains itself, a la Christianity’s sola scriptura. Shahrur was advantaged and emboldened to re-read the Quran asArabic was his mother tongue.

He began with the concept of non-synonymity. Allah is precise in his choice of words. Thus Al Kitab (The Book) and Al Quran must not mean the same thing. When Allah used both in the same ayat (sentence), it is not for reasons of style. They have separate distinct meanings; it is for us to discern them. To Shahrur, the Quran as we know it consists of two parts. One, the early Meccan verses expressing universal values and aspirations. He called that the Al Kitab (The Book). That contains the same revelations dispensed to earlier prophets like Jesus and Moses. They are but variations on the theme of the Ten Commandments.

Two is Al Quran, which adds to the confusion. It comprises the Medinan ayats revealed as the Prophet was establishing the first Muslim community. Those dealt with the practical realities of governance in 7th Century Arabia. By necessity those revelations have to be in forms and language comprehensible to and executable by his constituents. Our error, now and in the past, is in reducing the prophet to Allah’s fax machine, mechanically and mindlessly spouting out His message.

To make the Quran relevant to contemporary society, Shahrur would have us read and interpret it as if it was revealed yesterday. Only then could it be as transformative to us as it was for those ancient Bedouins. Consider that had Allah chosen His Last Messenger to be an Eskimo, would the Quran’s imagery of Hell be one of blazing eternal fire or a dark frozen dungeon?

The late Fazlur Rahman had a comparable approach to the Quran. That is, deduce from its particularities the underlying governing principles (connect the dots as it were), and then apply them to current challenges. Both demand considerable intellectual exertions. Endlessly quoting the Quran, no matter how exquisite the tajweed, would not do it.

There are many apparent contradictions in the Quran. The Meccan verses assert there be no compulsion in religion; the Medinah, kill the apostates. Ancient scholars applied the concept of abrogation to reconcile those differences, whereby later verses “abrogate” earlier ones.

Shahrur rejected that. Allah is Perfect and All-Knowing. He does not need revisions, editing, or abrogating of His words. Instead, the Medinah verses reflected the specific challenges facing the early Muslims as they struggled to deal with their enemies intent on destroying this new movement that was challenging the existing order. Those Medinah verses are thus the exceptions to the central message of Al Kitab; the exceptions proving the general rule.

To Shahrur, the Quran cannot contradict what we know from our senses and rational thinking. If our observations show that the earth rotates around the sun, then that must be so. If the Holy Book were to say otherwise, then we have misread it. Thus Islam was spared Christianity’s Copernicus conundrum.

Shahrur’s take on Surah An Nisaa (Women) was most enlightening. He read it as per ancient word usage, not formal Arabic grammar. That was not developed till long after the Quran was revealed. He made the point that the masculine and feminine forms in those ayats refer not to men or women, rather leaders (the dominant partner, who may be men or women) and followers (who may be likewise), and the dynamic relationship between the two. Thus those ayats have wide applicability beyond the family, as with organizations.

That is a more sophisticated reading than the contorted interpretations of Muslim feminists. Husbands disciplining their wives should thus be read more generically, as with leaders their wayward followers. Malay leaders would do well to reread Surah An Nisaa as per Shahrur’s insight.

His other significant contribution is the concept of limits, derived from his understanding of calculus and engineering. To Shahrur, Allah defines only the extremes or limits of punishments, as with cutting of hands on one end to forgiveness and restitution on the other. Within those parameters it is for society through consensus to determine the appropriate level.

Shahrur’s views resonate far beyond the Arab world. However in Indonesia, a doctoral candidate had to withdraw his dissertation on Shahrur as it triggered the wrath of local ulama and widespread howling controversy. They took umbrage at Shahrur’s interpretation on consensual sex outside of marriage. To him, the Quran condemns only where force or coercion is involved, inside or outside of marriage. This criminalization of consensual sex is a later bida’ah (adulteration of the faith).

Malaysian ulama would have rape victims marry their tormentors, and abused wives continue ‘pleasing’ their husbands. Meanwhile Muslims are comfortable with muta’ah (temporary marriages). It is said that brothels in Tehran have ulama ready to solemnize such ultra-brief ‘marriages,’ for a fee of course! Elsewhere in the secular world that is called pimping.

Back to Malaysia, the religious police should quit snooping around parks and hotels looking for khalwat (close proximity). They should instead focus on rapes, spousal abuses, and forced as well as child marriages.

My prayer on this Awal Muharram and year AH 1442 is for Allah to shower His blessings on the soul of Muhammad Shahrur, and for his books getting wider reading. Muslims are in desperate need of this gush of fresh air to blow away the thick cobwebs encasing those ancient texts as well as contemporary minds.

§  Google the author and title to download a free pdf copy.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Excerpt #75: Leaving Malaysia

 Excerpt #   75:  Leaving Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)



We stayed in Seremban during our last week and did not go anywhere except for day trips to Port Dickson and the nearby towns and villages. We wanted to maximize our memory-building time with my parents.


            The evening before we left, my parents had a family goodbye kenduri (feast). For the kids, it was their playtime again with their cousins till our next visit. That evening I felt as if I had not returned home to Malaysia, rather the last thirty months had been but a long visit, and just that. Now it was time to say goodbye till the next time.


            We left by train for Singapore the next morning. There was the usual family crowd at the station but not overwhelming, only my parents as well as my sisters and brothers with their families. The train was delayed, nothing unusual there, and that gave us plenty of time for our extended goodbyes. Because we left by train it felt as if we were just returning to JB. No reason to cry! Had we left from KL, I could just imagine the scene!


            We took the “milk run” combo passenger/freight train rather than the express line. Which meant it stopped for a long time at every station to load and unload. We had first class tickets and to the kids’ delight, we were the only passengers in the coach all the way to Singapore.


            At Gemas, the stop was so long that we had lunch at the station’s restaurant and still had time to wander around. Gemas was where the long East Coast spur connects to the main north-south line. There were a lot of movements of the train as it connected and disconnected the carriages.


            The first time that happened I put the kids on the train and I waved to them as if I was staying behind. As the train moved forward they became frantic thinking that I was being left behind. They screamed as I pretended to walk away. Then the train stopped and began its slow reverse. The kids then realized that it was just a short shunting maneuver. The next time, they played that trick on their mother, and Karen duly played the role of a frantic mother to the kids’ delight. That was our entertainment during the long stop at Gemas. Like any game with children though, they did not know when it was over. On the train’s final move, we had to literally haul the kids onboard.


            With the slow train ride we managed to see the real rural Malaysia at a pace we had never experienced before. We saw monkeys on the branches staring at us, kids tempting their fate jumping from bridges, and the deep green canopy of luxuriant ill-disciplined jungle growth on each side of the tracks, broken only by the contrasting smooth, regimented monotonous rows of rubber and palm oil trees of the commercial plantations.


            Reality soon intruded at JB with the appearance of immigration officials on board as the train left the station. I had rehearsed this scenario a thousand times and planned our strategy with alternate Schemes B, C, and even D, just in case. Our original plan was to sit away from our luggage so as to give the impression to the immigration officials that we were just going to Singapore to shop. Stacks of luggage accompanying us would not make that story credible. That plan was now inoperative as we were the only passengers in the coach. If we were to sit far away that would draw their attention to the luggage. At the last minute, we decided to sit by our suitcases. Should the officials get too inquisitive, Karen would disturb the kids so they would create a ruckus and distract the officials.


            I was soon hounded by the haunting memory of that Malay lady who came to our JB house earlier during our “open house.” She had plenty of time by now to spread the news of our departure to her husband and his friends in the immigration and tax departments to look out for a certain Bakri Musa. That thought only added to my already heightened paranoia.


            When the official entered our coach, I pretended to get something from my backpack for the kids while Karen handed him our passports. He flipped through, stamped, and returned them. Then out he went; not a word was said. We were not out of the woods yet. He and his colleagues were still on board.


            It was not till the last stop just before we crossed the causeway to Singapore when the inspectors disembarked did we heave a huge sigh of relief. We hugged each other for the smooth passage. We felt liberated!


            Years later I would see the movie “The Year of Living Dangerously,” of an Australian journalist caught in Jakarta during the chaotic last days before the fall of Sukarno. The great relief expressed not in words but by the body language of the foreign correspondent, played by Mel Gibson, as his plane took off from Jakarta was what I experienced as my train crossed the causeway to Singapore.


            In our hotel that night was the first time that I felt we were on holidays. It was as if a tight corset had been ripped off my chest. I felt expansive! We swam in the pool and had dinner at the hotel. The western menu looked familiar. Had we been there only a few weeks earlier we would have left the restaurant as the food was too expensive and foreign! I was surprised that I settled in the old familiar groove so fast and so smooth.


            The next day we flew out from Paya Lebar Airport. We were seated on the port side of the China Airlines 747 jet. As it lumbered up into the blue heaven, I could see JB and the causeway below, and beyond, GHJB. My mind wandered. It was 9AM, they must be in the midst of their rounds. I imagined the clinical discussions.


            Soon JB receded out of my window view. Ahead was the deep blue South China Sea lapping on the eastern shores of Malaysia. I could identify Desaru, and then Mersing. What a view from 20,000 feet. The plane was still ascending. Soon, the white sandy east coast of Malaysia disappeared from our view. We had left Malaysia.


            The reassuring steady humming of the dangling jet engines on the wings was the only intrusion to that expansive world of the open sky and blue sea below. As for my own little world, I had just finished one phase or chapter and now embarking on the next. There would be more twists and turns as well as ups and downs. That’s the nature of life. As such it would be too soon if not presumptuous to draw any conclusions.


            This much was certain. During the past decade and a half since I finished high school and left for Canada to enter college and med school, and then my private practice, was a time of great change, for me as well as my native land. I was a young cub that had been taken out of his pack to be raised by another, and then suddenly returned. I was expecting to lead my old pack only to find out that it now had its own alpha tigers who were not in the least interested to share the space with an intruder. While I was not rejected, I was not welcomed with much enthusiasm either. Things looked just familiar enough to deceive me when in fact they were no longer the same. We, my pack and me, both had changed, but in opposite directions. Better to part ways now while I still harbored fond memories. As for the future, who knows. Our paths may yet cross again. If and when that were to happen, it would be facilitated if I were not to harbor any negative emotions. With that peaceful reassuring thought, I drifted off to sleep.


Sunday, August 09, 2020

Excerpt #74: A Final Cruel Tease

 Excerpt # 74:  A Final Cruel Tease

M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)



            Karen, who had been preparing breakfast, heard the gist of my phone conversation with Tan Sri Hashim Aman, at least from my half of it. She asked who the caller was, and I replied that he was head of the University of Malaya.


            “Let me guess! He offered you the job?” she teased.


            “I wished!” I replied.


            Karen already knew that from hearing snippets of my side of the conversation. Our airline tickets notwithstanding, she was still disappointed that I did not get my dream job but at the same time was greatly relieved that our plans were not derailed at the last minute.


            A few days later I had another trunk call. The caller introduced himself as Datuk Seri Doctor Syed Mahmud, Vice-Chairman of the University Council. He did not miss any title he had to his name. He said he was with Tan Sri Hashim Aman at the interview meeting that I had missed. He reiterated what Hashim had indicated to me, their willingness to set a new date for my interview. I again rehashed what I had told Hashim Aman, but Dr. Syed Mahmud was not persuaded. Instead, he tried to lay an emotional guilt-trip on me.


            “It behooved those of us who have been privileged to get a superior education to give back,” he pontificated.


            I knew of this doctor. He and his physician-wife lived in a house next to my empty lot in PJ where I had planned to build my dream home. We would have been neighbors! He was in private practice and had varied business interests, including a private hospital.


            I had heard that spiel of his in its infinite variations many times before and was ready for it. When I was in Canada, some of my fellow Malaysians castigated me for staying behind after I graduated. I should return to serve my country at the earliest opportunity and not think of my personal ambitions. Malaysia was in desperate need of general doctors, not specialists. Even the Malaysian Ambassador to Canada who was visiting our campus at the time echoed the same theme. My rebuttal was simple and direct:  Surely as a doctor I knew best the medical needs of Malaysia better than them, being that they were not even doctors. That shut them up.


            I let this Datuk Seri Dr. Syed Mahmud have his smooth stroll down this familiar path. When he finished lecturing me I responded, “I agree with what you one hundred percent!”


            “Good!” he replied, savoring his easy victory over a meek prey.


            I then suggested that both he and I should join the university; I, the Department of Surgery, and he to start a Department of Family Medicine. A burgeoning new field, I assured him, with all major universities in Canada having one. Together we could transform the medical school.


            He demurred. I knew I had him snared. He had too many lucrative private businesses to give up for a mere academic job. As he was struggling to find some ready excuses, I went for the jugular. Surely, I suggested to him, that he had by now made his fortune and could live on his investments alone. He would not be dependent on his meagre academic salary, unlike me with a young family and just starting out.


            He stuttered and began enumerating his many reasons of why he could not do that, and of the difficulty disentangling from his many businesses. I cut him off. If he were to quit his many businesses to join the university, then I would return my airline tickets and join him. Like Hashim Aman earlier, he too was surprised that I had already bought my airline tickets.


            On that less-than-cordial note we ended our conversation; he more eager than me to do so.


            Hashim Aman and Syed Mahmud typified Malay leaders at all levels and across the spectrum, then and now. They excel in exhorting others to make sacrifices but spare themselves that chore. Prime Minister Najib Razak never tired of urging Malaysians to be frugal, yet he traveled around the world in luxurious private jets, as did his wife, all on taxpayers’ expense of course. The weddings of their sons and daughters rivaled that of princes and princesses. The hypocrisy is obvious to all but them.


            Years later after my sister Hamidah had built her house on my old PJ lot, she asked me many times when I visited her to meet her neighbor Dr. Syed Mahmud, but I always managed to find a ready excuse until one day. He was a having a Hari Raya “Open House,” and I ran out of excuses. I finally told my sister about my phone conversation with him years earlier.


            That last cruel tease from the university disposed of, we were set to leave.


As an epilogue, a few months after we had settled in Canada, a friend who was associated with the University of Malaya wrote us about the university wanting to get a hold of me. Should she give them our address in Canada? I replied, why not.


            A few weeks later I received a big fat envelope from the University of Malaya. In it was an offer for an Associate Professorship of Surgery, together with open-ended airline tickets from Edmonton to Kuala Lumpur for me and my family, as well as a voucher for a container for our household goods, both issued by a Malay-sounding travel agency. I threw it out just as I did with the interview letter months earlier while we were in JB. Karen retrieved the tickets. She noted that while they were all one-way just like our earlier tickets from Singapore to Edmonton, the price was nearly doubled of what we had paid. Both were for economy class. Perhaps the open-endedness of the tickets was the reason for the huge price differential. Or maybe not. That could have been an early ugly manifestation of UMNO’s (as exemplified by Mahathir and later Najib) Malaysia Inc. business transaction model.


            I tried to maintain my routine on that last day of work and said my goodbyes as if I was going away for a brief vacation. Meaning, minimal fuss. I wanted no ripples. The last person I bid farewell to was my colleague, Mr. Bhattal. I met him in his private office and he gave me a warm hug. He confessed that he knew that I would not last long but wished I could have stayed just a wee bit longer. Then he slumped on his chair, staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. It would be impolite of me to take leave at that moment.


            “I was thinking of my daughter,” he finally blurted, as he came out of his revelry. He and his wife were contemplating sending her abroad for further studies. He wondered what adjustment problems she would have on returning. Then realizing my presence, he apologized and wished me luck.


            I arrived home to find it empty of our possessions, with Karen and the kids throwing balloons in our now spacious living room. I was surprised to see our maid still there. She would usually leave after cooking us lunch, but on that last day she had no lunch to cook as we were all packed up. As we were leaving, I handed her an envelope with some cash in it. She knew what was inside and refused my gift, despite my repeated offering it to her. In the end I just left it at the gate; she would have to take it then. As I was about to step into the car she asked me to tell Karen to remember to recite often the prayers she had taught her. I was touched by her gesture! So I did, and Karen came out of the car to hug her. There were tears flowing freely on both faces.


            We left our Jalan Baiduri duplex, our home for the past twelve months, for Seremban. We had said our goodbyes to our neighbors the day before and had shared with them the last harvest from our property, the bananas I had planted at the back of the house.


            As we drove off we looked back; we could hardly see our house. The trees we had planted had now reached the roof level. What a contrast in color and scenery, the cool sight of those trees and its white-purplish flowers in full bloom instead of the monotonous creamy color of the bare walls of the house.


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


Next:  Excerpt #   75:  Leaving Malaysia


Sunday, August 02, 2020

Excerpt #72: The Logistics Of Leaving

Excerpt # 72:  The Logistics Of Leaving
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

For the next few weeks Karen and I were consumed with the logistics of leaving, with such practical matters as what to do with our furniture. We also had to be careful to avoid being tripped at the last minute. We had read of would-be emigrants stopped at the airport because of unpaid taxes or library books not returned!

            Our most difficult decision was who to tell and when. We just could not disappear. There were my patients who needed to be apprised of their follow-up care, my colleagues who would have to carry the extra load, and my superior so he could find my successor in good time. Most of all there were my trainees. I did not want the rumor mills to take over as that would be unfair to them.

            My first and easiest task was to give our landlord notice. We did not give any reason and he did not ask for any. Perhaps he assumed we had a government bungalow at last. So far so good; all under wraps.

            A few days later at rounds my medical officer Yahya asked, “Are you leaving us?”

            Point blank! I was astounded but without hesitating replied, “Yes!” and then added that I had not yet given formal notice. Forced by the quick and unexpected unravelling that morning, I called my immediate superior right away to tell him that I would be handing him my letter of resignation to be effective in 30 days. Technically as I was not yet part of the permanent establishment, I would need to give only 24 hours’ notice. As I would also be taking my two-week terminal vacation, my last working day would be in about two weeks.

            Next I had to tell my colleagues. Common courtesy required of me to inform them in person and not for them to hear it through the grapevine. Bhattal was not in the least surprised though he was disappointed considering that we had by now resurrected the old postgraduate teaching program. More as a show of support for my decision, he added that he could see how I had difficulty adjusting to the old country. He related an episode of one afternoon when he saw me alone in the hospital library, relaxed, with my feet on the table. If I had been another person, he would have scolded me for that uncouth behavior. Somehow with me, as I looked so casual and relaxed, I could not possibly be crude, sassy, or arrogant. So instead of being angry, he laughed at me! Nonetheless he was afraid that one day I would, without intending, offend someone more formal and less casual. He added that it would be unlikely for me to meet the fate of our former Ob-Gyn colleague who was banished out of state for allegedly insulting a sultan. I was different, Bhattal added, I just did not care for protocol and formalities. I did not know whether he was commenting more on me or our previous colleague.

            My radiologist colleague, another Dr. Lim, was also disappointed. He said he was surprised when I returned to Malaysia. Now with my ponteng (leaving), it was even more disbelieving, considering that I was a Malay and member of a privileged clan. If someone like me found Malaysia not worth investing his future, imagine someone like him, an immigrant!

            Meanwhile Karen had arranged with her ladies’ group for an “open house” to sell our left-over furniture. I had bought our airline tickets to leave not from KL but Singapore. We would take the train from Seremban. I wanted our leaving to look like we were just going for a weekend shopping trip in Singapore. That would not raise any suspicion. From there we would retrace our earlier journey, flying to Hawaii via Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo. Spend a few days in Hawaii and then fly to Edmonton via Los Angeles instead of Vancouver, taking in some holidays. I knew that I would be too busy later to take one, what with building up a new practice.

            The weekend earlier, my brothers’ and sisters’ families came down for their “last chance to visit JB while having a place to stay there!” The other reason was to take our household furniture and other items with them. Whatever left behind would be sold or donated to the children’s home where Karen had volunteered for the past few months.

            When my extended family left, it was for the first time that I felt we were indeed leaving. My hitherto peaceful home had been disrupted. My brother took my stereo set, one sister our washing machine, another the fridge and kitchen utensils. My other sister took most of my furniture. I gave my medical books and journals to the hospital.

            We had our toys taken to Seremban so the cousins would have something to play with when they visited their grandparents. Mindy and Zack were upset when their toys were taken away but we reassured them that the toys were being sent to grandma and grandpa for safekeeping so when we visit them the toys would be there. Years later we were told that the toys were a big hit with the cousins, another enticement for them to visit their grandparents in Seremban.

            Our house was now empty. We had echoes when we talked; that fascinated the kids! We were back to sleeping on the floor and eating out. I did not want to spend the last few days in a hotel as that would trigger the suspicion of us leaving. That weekend when we opened our now barren home to Karen’s women’s group for what little there was left, the planned “garage sale” morphed into a spontaneous good-bye party.

            I was surprised to see a Malay woman in the group. She came not to buy but out of curiosity. Her Australian friend had told her about a Canadian woman married to a Malay surgeon and that they would be leaving the country. She was curious as to who this Malay was and why was he emigrating.

            I was scrambling on how best to answer her. Not satisfied, she started badgering me. “Don’t you love your country?” she taunted me. Was I sulking in not getting my way? Was the government not treating me well enough? Then, her parting shot, “Don’t let a Mat Salleh woman run your life!”

            After just being through an excruciating emotional experience that shook my very core a few weeks earlier with my family, now this woman whom I did not even know was accusing me of not loving my country, of being an ingrate or worse, a traitor. The hell with her!

            Then a suspicious thought flashed through me. She being a Malay, her husband was probably someone high up in the civil service or local social circle. Otherwise she would not be involved with those expatriate ladies. She would now tell her husband, and from there the news would reach the local head of immigration and the income tax agency. Snag this traitorous Bakri Musa with whatever hook you have!

            That thought served only to whip up my already heightened paranoia. Meanwhile back at the hospital, Yahya and the young doctors were planning a farewell party for me. I tried many excuses of why there should not be one (I had been in JB only too briefly; too busy packing). My ulterior motive was that I did not want the word of my leaving to spread out. I wanted to leave without any ripple. In the end, we agreed to a small afternoon tea of our small group.

Next:   Excerpt # 73:  Last Week Of Work
From the author’s memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia (2018).