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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 29, 2021

Cast From The Herd Excerpt # 4

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #4:  Rebel With A Cause

As a student in a small, rural English school in early post-colonial Malaysia, my joys were simple. Having a substitute teacher was one. In 1959, my ‘honeymoon’ school year, I was getting a bumper crop of them. The year was so dubbed because we faced no fate-deciding year-end national examination. As such there was little to challenge us or our teachers. They had given up any pretense of teaching and we the students, the charade of listening. Our having frequent substitute teachers reflected that ambience. 

That honeymoon year was a much needed reprieve considering that the previous year we had sat for the grueling Lower Certificate of Education (LCE) examination. Many of my former classmates had been culled, a fate that befell my older brother and sister a few years earlier. Come next year we would be facing the even more daunting and ultimate fate-deciding Cambridge School Certificate (CSC) examination. 

So the morning’s good news of yet another substitute teacher rippled fast through the class, like giggles in a co-ed dorm, and with as much merriment. There was more; it would be for our Malay language class. To us that subject was akin to woodworking in an American prep school. It was introduced into our curriculum only two years earlier following our nation’s independence.

We already had too much fun with our regular teacher. Meaning, we did not have to exert ourselves. Nevertheless substituting one joy for another was still welcomed. To top it off, the substitute would be our former history teacher, Mr. Tham. The last time he substituted in our class, the teacher in the next classroom had to rescue him. 

Thus I was anticipating a leisurely cruise downstream with a skipper who would not dare interrupt my frolicking. My classmates too, felt likewise. 

Then, the unexpected; a new teacher! He had joined the staff only the year before and taught geography to the lower grades. Despite being new, he was already a hit, especially with the girls. Part of his novelty was that he was a Malay, a rarity at my school then except for those teaching the language. 

Mohammad Noh also had a colorful past. A former professional boxer, he had the requisite physique to prove it, his ample biceps amplified by his tight rolled-up shirt sleeves. If that background was not exotic enough, he had also been in the merchant marines. When he referred to those distant ports mentioned in our geography books, Noh had actually visited them. He enthralled his students with accounts of desert storms and sights of Bedouin caravans along the Suez Canal, having sailed through it many times. 

That morning as Mr. Noh marched–yes, marched–into our class, we all stood up, dutifully and respectfully as expected. He was a commanding figure, his pectoral muscles stretching taut against his shirt. He was a magnetic pole with all nearly forty of us iron filings orientated towards him. There was a momentary collective silence and noticeable hesitation. Should we say “Good morning, Sir!” as was the practice, or “Selamat pagi, Cikgu?” It would not be appropriate to address him in English for a Malay class. On the other hand he was not a Malay language teacher.

We did not have to hesitate long. From the front emanated a booming command, “Selamat Pagi! Duduk!” (Good morning! Sit!)

Selamat Pagi Cikgu!” we responded in unison and sat down with uncharacteristic minimal shuffle and no juvenile careless banging of chairs against the desks.

He plunked down his books on his table and proceeded to write on the board. We watched in silence, hearing only the gentle squeak of the chalk as he wrote the following: 


Chairul Anwar 

Kalau sampai waktuku / ‘Ku mau tak seorang kan merayu. Tidak juga kau / Tak perlu sedu sedan itu. 

Aku ini binatang jalang / Dari kumpulannya terbuang. (1-5)

. . . .

Aku mau hidup seribu tahun lagi! (13) 


Chairul Anwar 

If I should ever leave / Let there be no grief! / Not even from you, please!

Spare me the sobs and sneezes. / I’m but a wild beast, feared / Cast from its herd. [1-6]

. . . .

I want to live for a thousand years, no less!   [13 - My translation]

“How many of you have heard of Chairil Anwar?” Muhammad Noh bellowed as he turned around from the board, a sergeant-major interrogating a bunch of raw bumbling village recruits. He scanned the class who were now stunned into silence. I swore that he was staring straight at me. I did not dare shift my gaze; it had been transfixed by his eyes. I had no clue what he was talking about but had just enough sense to shut up and hope that he would choose someone else as his prey. The silence lasted forever. Not even the ticking of my wristwatch could distract me from his stare and the uncomfortable silence. 

Of course none of us had ever heard of the poet Chairul Anwar or his immortal poem Aku. We were in an English school, for heaven’s sake, and in the science stream to boot. We were more into particle physics, not Petrarchan poetry. He shook his head as if to confirm his prior anticipation of an uphill battle.

Chairil Anwar was a young Indonesian poet, he rattled on. This was his most famous piece, penned in 1943 when he was not yet 21. Should I take notes, I wondered. 

Excerpt #5:  Chairul Anwar – My Hero!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

 ast From The Herd.  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #3:  Immunizing Against War

Back to storytelling, while my father lived through World War II through his service in the British Volunteer Force, the tales of war he recounted were not of chivalrous citizens, selfless soldiers, or gallant generals but of mutilated bodies, grieving families, and desperate souls. He saw pious men reduced to evil in order to feed their starving families. My parents’ prayers were not that we would prevail in any future battle, rather that his children and grandchildren be spared the horrors of war. When my mother died on May 12, 1997, just a month shy of her 80th birthday, and my father on June 15, 2000, just weeks after his 86th , their wishes still held true. I offer the same prayer, and often, for my children and grandchildren.

There was a time when my two sons were of draft age where my confidence was shaken. The two, no doubt taking after their grandfather, had streaks of independence. They had toyed with the idea of joining the military as a way to finance their college education, as so many young men and women do today, and often not by choice. Bless them, they wanted to spare us the extortionate expense that is today’s American college education. Had they done so, my older son Zachary would have been in the First Gulf War, and Azlan, the Second, with all the tragic tolls. There is not a day that I do not thank God that my sons were spared from having to make such a difficult choice. 

Lester Pearson, Nobel Peace laureate and Canada’s Prime Minister in the 1960s, once said that if he could keep Canadians out of war for just one generation, that would effectively immunize them against war. I hope that is also true for families.

Life is precious. That is not a surprising statement from me, a physician, but it is also the tenet of my faith. Even an unexamined life is worth living, contrary to the Socratic admonition. While chronicling my story involves just recalling for the most part, it also entails some reflecting. 

As I write (2012), America’s first African-American president, Barrack Obama, is entering the last year of his second term. Seven years earlier I witnessed an even more momentous event, his election to the highest office in the land. 

For those less familiar with American history, it was only in 1870 with the 15th Amendment were African-Americans allowed to vote, and then only the men. As for women, had the Framers of our Constitution included some of them, then the need for the 19th Amendment (allowing women to vote) would not have arisen. 

Born and raised in the world’s largest matriarchal society, the Minangkabau, where women are the decision makers as well as inheritors of properties, and where heritage follows maternal lines, I find that 19th Amendment, well, just quaint! 

It is not coincidental that we refer to the myths and legends of ancient times as cerita nenek moyang, tales of our great grandmothers. However, our tradition would have the sons to merantau (venture out). Going by that, our great grandfathers would have more interesting tales! 

Growing up in the decade following the war, I lived through my country’s transition from British colonial rule to independent sovereign nation. I saw a society struggling to adapt its feudal agrarian foundation to a modern urban one. It was also a time when the country fought a home-grown but foreign-funded communist insurgency. Malaysia remains unique in having prevailed over the communists sans any overt foreign help. 

I witnessed not only the nation’s independence but also its subsequent merger with the remaining British colonies of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo to form greater Malaysia. My story is a ground-level view of those transformational events. 

It is also an account of my parents’ adroit balancing of the matriarchal tradition of our Minangkabau culture with the patriarchal norms of contemporary Islam, and their delicate pursuit of a secular English education for their children in an environment of intense nationalism and heightened religious fervor that was hostile to such endeavors. This book is my tribute to them. 

Last June 6, 2011, Alham dulillah (Praise be to Allah!) my wife and I celebrated our 41st  wedding anniversary. We have been blessed with three wonderful children. Like me, they all have undertaken their own merantau, my daughter included. As such, I now spend an inordinate amount of time at airports waving good-byes! 

An advantage to recalling my stories late in life is that I am spared what I would refer to as the Mary McCarthy dilemma, expressed in her Memories of a Catholic Childhood. I am at liberty to name names as those individuals are now long gone, or if still alive, their memories being such that they would be constrained to challenge my account. The risk to this strategy is that, wait too long and you might not get to tell your story!

Time filters memories. With the detritus and flotsam drifting away, only the golden nuggets settle in the deep recesses of our memory banks. Those are the ones worth mining anyway. Time also affords the luxury of perspective. If the present is ground level, then distant memories are views from a mile high. On the ground the tropical jungle is muddy boots, menacing tigers, and sucking leeches, from the comfort of a jumbo jet, it is but a cool, velvety green carpet. 

By the same measure, scars visible only as minor blemishes from high above must be horrific at ground level. If I could recall the terror of my Sixth-Form entrance examination over half a century later, it must have been pure hell for me at the time. Likewise, if I remember with fondness the sweet encouraging counsel and warm supportive words of my parents, teachers, and imam, those must have meant a world to me then. 

This book ends with my first day at university, a few months shy of my 20th birthday. John Updike noted that the memories, impressions, and emotions from our first twenty years are the main material; little that comes afterwards is quite so rich and resonant. 

If novels are but letters aimed at one person, as per Stephen King, then the same could be said of memoirs. This one is for my grandchildren: Zain Conrad, Devin Khir, Suraya Mei, and Insha’ Allah (God willing), others to come. 

Next:  Excerpt #4:  Rebel With A Cause

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Anwar Ibrahim: The Right Leader At The Right Time

 Anwar Ibrahim:  The Right Leader At The Right Time

M. Bakri Musa



The conventional wisdom, as well as the constitutional mandate, would have the Agung select from among current Members of Parliament (MPs) the next Prime Minister to replace the hopelessly inept outgoing Muhyiddin Yassin. The Agung has to pick someone he believes could command the confidence of the House.


In the current political circus where MPs’ “Statutory Declarations” could be changed on a whim (after suitable “inducement”), that would be a tall order if not impossible. One does not have to be an astute observer to realize that no MP today could command a majority of Parliamentary support. That is why Malaysia is now in the current mess.


The Agung has no special divine powers to ascertain which candidate would command the confidence of Parliament. He goofed once with Muhyyiddin. We have no reason to expect that the Agung would be any wiser this second time around. So abandon that wishful thinking.


            Instead the Agung should heed the counsel of former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim. Zaid suggested that His Majesty resolve this political impasse by selecting someone “good” to be the next Prime Minister. This “good” leader would then through his display of leadership and management skills command the respect and confidence of Parliament.


            Zaid is no ordinary statesman. He remains the only cabinet minister to have resigned on principle, and then saw his reputation enhanced!


To have the Agung first pick a leader who he thinks would command the confidence of the House is putting things backward, akin to putting the cart before the horse. Picking that “good” leader from among the current MPs, as per Zaid’s wise suggestion, is not as difficult a task as it may seem.


First eliminate the bad ones. That is easy. All those MPs who had served in the outgoing Muhyyiddin Administration would by definition fall into this category. That would include ministers, assistant ministers, and other political appointees such as Special Ambassadors together with heads of government-linked companies or statutory bodies. They were all part of the problem and thus cannot now be part of the solution.


That one criterion alone would eliminate about 70 to 80 MPs. Then exclude those convicted or facing (or had faced) criminal charges. Do not bother with the likes of Zahid, Tengku Adnan, and Najib Razak. That would get rid of a dozen more.


That leaves about a hundred MPs or so for consideration. From those pick only the leaders of their parties, reducing the field to about a dozen candidates.


Once the Agung has picked his choice, then use all his and the citizens’ persuasive powers to dissuade MPs from having a parliamentary vote of confidence right away. After all, the Agung’s earlier choice (Muhyyiddin) did not face any despite being in office for nearly 18 months. The new Prime Minister should also be given that same courtesy. If after 18 months he has not proven his ability as with his losing the confidence of Parliament, then the Agung could dissolve parliament and call for a general election. We hope the Covid-19 pandemic would have dampened down by then. To call for an election during this pandemic with many Malaysians not fully vaccinated would be madness.


Parliament must not be allowed to degenerate like the Lebanese one.


Applying those criteria, there are only three candidates to lead Malaysia – Anwar Ibrahim, Shafie Apdal, and Tengku Razali. Tengku’s negatives include his not being in any senior leadership position for his party, UMNO. That however could be a plus, what with characters like Tengku Adnan, Najib Razak, and Ahmad Zahid as your peers. Beyond that, his age does not favor him. 


Only megalomaniacs like Mahathir think that they can still perform in their 90s. Look at the mess he had created. If only he had stuck to his promise of giving way to Anwar in February 2019, Malaysia would have been spared this terrible political crisis. It could not have come at the worst possible time. Yet this old Mahathir pariah still thinks he can now be part of the solution. Some chutzpah!


Tengku has many positives. He is among the few who dared take on Mahathir when the latter was at the peak of his power and popularity. Tengku nearly toppled Mahathir in the 1980s but for some last minute shenanigans by Najib Razak. Tengku’s integrity and competence are unchallenged. As head of Petronas he took on the mighty global oil companies. He remains the only statesman who sued the venerable Financial Times and prevailed when the paper implicated him in the Bank Bumiputra debacle.


Sabah’s Shafie Apdal had once been Chief Minister. Meaning, he has some executive experience. However his tenure at the federal level in Najib and Badawi’s cabinet had been lackluster.


That leaves Anwar Ibrahim. Many Malaysians still remember him from his ABIM days and during his years as Mahathir’s Deputy. However, the Anwar of today is a far different person. No leader has been tested in adversity, physically and in many other ways, more than Anwar. Yet he has emerged stronger, like well-tempered steel. Like Tengku Razali, Anwar dared take on Mahathir in 1997. Unlike Razali however, Anwar suffered all the terrible consequences not only to himself but more significantly, to his young family.


After spending years in prison on some trumped-up charges, Anwar, like Nelson Mandela, emerged stronger and his reputation enhanced. Also like Mandela, the fate of the individual who imprisoned Anwar is today tattered. Mahathir’s glorified legend of himself remains only in his own small egotistic mind. He does not even acknowledge that this crisis emanated from his earlier decision to resign.


Anwar Ibrahim is the leader Malaysia desperately needs today. He is committed to Islam and democracy, but his Islam is far different from the variety espoused by the Talibans and their local counterparts in PAS. He is the only Malaysian leader who commands international respect and confidence.


Anwar is the right leader at the right time for Malaysia. The Agung would be doing the nation a great service by naming this great patriot to lead the nation. The Agung cannot afford to goof this second time around. Malaysians pray and hope that he would be wiser this second time around.



Sunday, August 15, 2021

Cast From The Herd: Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia (Excerpt #2)

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #2:  Epiphany During A Kampung Visit

My fond memories of growing up in a kampung were the stories told by my parents and grandparents during meal times and the leisure afternoon hours under the shaded verandah. Interspersed in the cerita nenek moyang (myths and legends of ancient times) were tales of their struggles during the desperate era of the depression and the weary years of the war. In their retelling they often interjected such phrases as, “This was only a few years ago!” or, “When the nuts on that coconut tree were still within arm’s reach!”

Alas, when my children were growing up, I did not indulge them in those joys that I had taken for granted. I was busy pursuing my career, the lament of many of today’s parents. My solace was that my wife could take time off from her career, a luxury denied to far too many mothers today. 

Interspersed in those bedtime readings would be stories of her playing in the backyard of her parents’ suburban homes in Ottawa, Vancouver, and Edmonton. For extra adventure she would relate driving on the Trans-Canada Highway, playing in the dome cars of the Canadian Pacific Railway, or vacationing in the Rocky Mountains at Banff, Alberta.

Psychologists recognize the value of such retelling of “life stories” and legends in instilling self-confidence and imparting the broader meaning of life to the young, quite apart from fostering family bonds. This is more so with today’s dispersed nuclear families.

This book is my belated attempt at remedying this deficit. It is too late for my children as they are all grown up; this is more for my young grandchildren Zain Conrad, Devin Khir, and Suraya Mei, and Insha’ Allah (God willing), others to come. Today the three are far away across the Pacific. God knows where opportunities will take them in the future. My reading them their bedtime stories or relating my youthful adventures would remain a dream, made real only during their annual alas-too-brief summer visits.

Once on a visit to my old village, my daughter Melindah on surveying the now-empty wooden house on stilts deep in rural Malaysia asked, “How on earth did you end up in California from here?” 

I do not remember what my response was, perhaps the pat “By studying hard!” or variations thereof. Whatever answer I gave could not have satisfied her curiosity, and the hot humid afternoon in a long-abandoned kampung house was not a comfortable setting for cozy storytelling; hence this book.

I thank Almighty Allah that I do not have tales of harrowing escape from civil strife or of midnight treks ahead of pursuing murderous agents of tyrant rulers. Nor was I forced out because of wars or natural disasters. Here there are no accounts of journeys on leaky sampans crossing treacherous waters. I left in the luxury of a stretched DC-8 and with a brand new passport in hand.

I am also blessed that my story is not one of childhood abuse or deprivation. Malaysia of my infancy may have been devastated by the Japanese Occupation, but thanks to the bountiful soil and gentle climate, it was far from Frank McCourt’s Ireland in his Angela’s Ashes. I am also fortunate that because of my parents’ deep religious faith, my family was spared the blight of drugs or alcohol.

There are also no accounts of youthful recklessness and self- indulgences followed by sorrowful confessions and born-again contrition, or emotionally-wrecking identity crises successfully overcome. Nor do I have titillating tales of exotic rites of passage, my pubertal circumcision the possible exception. 

While Malaysia of my youth was a British colony, nonetheless I was spared the crude and humiliating racism of the Deep South variety as chronicled in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Most of all I was blessed with an intact family. No complicated step-siblings, half-sisters, or step-parents to muddle our emotional family ties and relationships. In the final analysis, my unfractured and understanding family was my greatest asset. 

As heavy as the material sacrifices of my parents were in securing that I had an English education, their more formidable obstacle was in swimming against the prevailing social current. This was Malaysia of the early 1950s, with nationalistic fervor at its zenith, anticipating independence, which came on August 31, 1957.

This antipathy if not downright hostility towards things colonial, in particular its system of education, was palpable and understandable given the intense nationalism and nascent Islamism of the time. The perversity was that while the sultans, aristocrats, and other leaders endlessly exhorted the citizens to shun English schools, those leaders enrolled their young in English schools. Many went beyond, sending their children to Britain. My parents’ singular courageous act was that they dared aspire for their children the same educational opportunities sought by the native elite despite the social obstacles and financial burden. 

I could not fool my then young children with my earlier simplistic “study hard” response. Yes, that helped if not a prerequisite. However, many of my village friends were even more diligent and hard-working, yet they remained stuck there. On reflection, the signal difference between their fates and mine was that I was fortunate in having parents who dared defy the prevailing norms and social currents. I hope and pray that my children and grandchildren would be similarly blessed.

Next:  Excerpt #3:  Immunizing Against War

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Cast From The Herd: Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia (Excerpt #1)

 Cast From The Herd.  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Beginning this week, I will post excerpts from my first memoir published in 2016.


Excerpt #1:  A Father’s Dream


Di dalam tradisi Minangkabau, setiap anak lelaki satu hari akan pergi meninggalkan tanah kelahiran nya dan berjalan mencari pengalaman hidup, pengalaman yang akan membuat nya lelaki sejati. Kembali lah anak, kapan pun kau siap! 

In the tradition of the Minangkabau, a young man must leave his land of birth in search of life experiences that will make him a real man. [Tradition notwithstanding, that does not stop their mothers from continually pleading] Come home son, ready or not!

Prologue to “Merantau” (Wanderlust), starring Iko Uwais (PT Merantau Films, 2009).


“See this picture!” beckoned my father one lazy afternoon as he was resting on his rattan sofa reading the Utusan Melayu (The Malay Courier). That was his afternoon routine after a day of teaching at the local Malay village school:  have lunch, read the newspaper, and then drift into a siesta. He would wake up just as the oppressive heat of the day had subsided, and thus more conducive to working in his rice field. That was his hobby as well as other vocation.

The only thing unusual that afternoon was his showing us, his children, the Malay newspaper that was in the Arabic jawi script. He would rather that we read the English The Straits Times that he had subscribed for us at great expense. He often inquired from us about the pictures in that paper as he could not read English. That was less an expression of his curiosity, more a subtle but effective nudge to make us read the paper, at least the picture captions.

On that day the Utusan showed a scene at Sungai Besi airport of a father waving goodbye to his son who was leaving for London to further his studies. After staring at the page for some time he signed, “One day I’ll be the one waving goodbye to one of you!” His eyes then glazed into the far distance as he drifted into dreamland. 

Perhaps my father was literally dreaming when he said that for had he been awake, he would have realized that such an aspiration was pure fantasy. We were simple village folks and had just been through the horrors of the Japanese Occupation. The scars were still raw. 

Yes, Malaysia (or Malaya as it was then called) of the early 1950s was enjoying a boom, ironically also the consequence of war, this time on the faraway Korean peninsula. With that came a heightened demand for natural rubber, Malaysia’s main export. Good times dared people to have audacious dreams, and my father shared his with us – frequently and unabashedly. 

Even though my mother was also a teacher, nonetheless my parents’ income was modest, unlike those of English school teachers. So the thought of any of us going abroad was, well, a fantasy. My parents already had a tough time with our school expenses. They cringed whenever we brought home our list of needed textbooks. They would have been spared those expenses had we attended the local village Malay school. However as its teachers, they were only too aware of the limitations; hence their struggle to send us to the English school in town. Their working hard on the land after school was part of that struggle to finance our schooling. 

It was not a surprise that as teachers my parents were strict about education. The more compelling reason was that after expending substantial sums on our schooling they were not about to let us fritter away their precious investments. I remember only two occasions of missing school; once when I had chicken pox (that prevented me from attending school) and the other, to send off my grandparents for their Hajj pilgrimage. As for school work, woe be to anyone who brought home red marks. To my parents, there were no lousy teachers, only that we were not diligent enough. 

So when a few years later my older brother Sharif brought home the results of his Lower Certificate of Education (LCE, taken at the ninth school year), he was trembling, a man awaiting the gallows. He passed but not well enough to be promoted to the next grade. I suggested that he use the excuse of having been stricken with the complications of typhoid for most of the school year. He however dismissed the wisdom of a younger brother. So that afternoon as my father was settling into his after-lunch routine, Sharif handed him his report card. There is never a good time to deliver bad news; the sooner the better. Anticipating fireworks, I slipped away. 

Later upon hearing no stomping, banging, or yelling, I sneaked back in only to see my father consoling my brother, making frequent references to the Koran that when a door is slammed shut, Allah in His Generosity would open up another. It was up to us to search for and explore that other opening, he comforted Sharif. To say that he was relieved would be an understatement. So was I. It was not so much as the condemned being given a reprieve, rather a young man being inspired to venture further after his initial stumble. 

Two years later that sad scene would again be re-enacted, this time with my older sister Hamidah. She too passed her LCE but again not well enough to be promoted. Or more accurately stated, there were insufficient slots in the next grade for those with less stellar scores, just as with my brother earlier. 

A few years later it was my turn. By this time my father had long ceased sharing his dream. That made my burden even heavier. To my great relief and my parents’ joy, as well as mine, I had done well and continued on with my schooling. In 1963 my parents did get to wave goodbye to me as I left to pursue medical studies in Canada on a Colombo Plan scholarship, the first in my family to enter university. 

Next:  Excerpt #2:  Village Lore

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Get Rid of the Malam Deman Leaders

 Get Rid of Malim Deman Leaders

M. Bakri Musa



In Hikayat Malim Deman, the crown prince and eponymous character caused thousands of his able-bodied subjects to perish in his fanatical pursuit of his literal dream bride Puteri Bongsu. They had been conscripted to escort him on the journey way upriver and fell victims to the scourges of the fetid Malaysian jungle. Even his beloved pet dog succumbed.


            As a crown prince, Malim Deman becoming sultan was assured. As such there was little to challenge the young man; hence his fantasy pursuit. As for the horrendous price, well, to Malay sultans their subjects were disposable. Further, in Malay culture to die in the service of your sultan (or crown prince) is martyrdom, secular version. That was true then and still very much the reality today, despite Malaysia’s façade of modernity.


Having acquired his trophy wife at humongous human costs, Malim Deman ignored her and returned to his favorite concubine, Si Kembang China (My Chinese Lotus), much like a spoiled kid bored with his new toy once the novelty had worn off.


On becoming sultan and deprived of his wise father’s counsel, Malim Deman soon regressed to his old vices – gambling and cock fighting, the avian variety I presume. With that the state crumbled, and in tandem, his personal life, culminating in his Puteri Bongsu abandoning him, taking with her their young son.


Malaysia is today cursed with her own Malim Deman, complete with his Si Kembang China. She however had left him long ago after securing her booty. Unlike the young, handsome virile prince in the Hikayatwho made virgins wobbly in their knees, the current real life, plebian, scarred-face version is afflicted with a fatal disease. More accurate to call him Mahiaddin Demam. It matters not with the name, for Malaysia, as with the kingdom in the Hikayat, the results are just as disastrous.


Like the Hikayat’s protagonist, Mahiaddin Demam is content only with securing his dream trophy, to be Malaysia’s Prime Minister, even if it were via the back alley. Ignorant and incompetent, he remains clueless on how to leverage the awesome power of that high office to effect good for the country. Instead, he is back to his old sinister scheming ways of bribing politicians to support him.


Malim Deman caused thousands of deaths in the pursuit of his dream bride. Mahaiddin Demam brought death to thousands and sufferings to millions more after he had secured his dream position with his negligence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic.


Malim Deman regained his senses when his Puteri Bongsu abandoned him. Meanwhile Mahiaddin Demam surrounds himself with sycophants. Outside of politics, their talents would be valued at best only slightly above that of the hawker. At least hawkers provide much needed services. To these Malim Demans-in-waiting, their sultan is never naked. Court jesters that they are, their job is to humor him in return for the munificence.


Malay leadership is blighted with Malim Demans, the numbers increasing in and spreading to all spheres. That is not a recent phenomenon.


As a surgeon in Malaysia back in the 1970s when the number of Malay specialists could be counted on one hand, I encountered many of these Malim Demans. I would have expected them, seeing that Malay specialists then were still very much a novelty, to focus on their professional development so they could contribute to their profession and nation. Most however, were satisfied with cincai (perfunctory) performances in their pursuit of their dream titles.


One medical Malim Deman was obsessed with being Dean; another eyeing to be Vice Chancellor; the third, angling to be the next Director-General. Consumed with their pursuit, they “delegated” their clinical responsibilities to their medical officers, delivered the same stale lectures year in and year out, and showed little inclination to undertake much-needed research to the many pressing problems.


In a conversation with the character aspiring to be Vice-Chancellor, I asked him what innovations he would bring if given the job. He demurred, claiming that the job was not yet his. When I assured him there was not much of a competition seeing that the slot was reserved for a Malay, he admitted that he had not given it any thought. Meaning, he had no idea. His interest was only in the position, like Malim Deman wanting his Puteri Bongsu.


            Mahaiddin Yassin is thus not an anomaly but the sorry norm of Malay leadership. I salute those brave Lawan protestors, citizens fed up with his empty leadership. Even divine intervention would not save Malaysia as there are many more Malim Demans in the wings.


            In the Hikayat, Puteri Bongsu knocked some sense back into Malim Deman by abandoning him. With Mahaiddin, his thick skull comes in the way, and there are no brave Puteri Bongsu characters surrounding him.


            Do not blame God for this crisis. Sleepyhead Abdullah Badawi, corrupt Najib Razak, and now bungling Mahaiddin Yassin, together with others waiting for his demise share one ugly commonality. They were all tutored by Mahathir Mohamad. Tengku Abdul Rahman, Bapa Merdeka and Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, was prescient when he predicted that Mahathir would one day destroy UMNO and Malaysia.


            In an incomprehensible perversity, many today prefer Mahathir lead Malaysia again. Suckers and gluttons for punishment they are!


            UMNO’s destruction is good; today it is but a malignancy on Malay society. The other cancer is PAS, and it is spreading fast, like an epidemic of crack addicts, mirroring Marx’s celebrated dictum of religion being the opiate of the people.


            The divine intervention Malaysians should pray for is that come next election voters would display their wisdom and displeasure by getting rid of the Malim Demans now blighting the nation. In addition Malay voters need to excise the two afflicting cancers – UMNO and PAS. As the election is years away, Malaysia’s many brave Puteri Bongsus must continue expressing their contempt and disdain for this wretched pretender, Mahaiddin Demam, until he gets the message, be disposed, or Allah intervening, whichever comes first.