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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.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Living Surah Al Fatihah During This Ramadan

 Living Surah Al Fatihah During This Ramadan


M. Bakri Musa


[Excerpts from my memoir, Cast From The Herd, will resume after Ramadan]


First of Eight Parts:  Beyond Fasting


As Muslims begin our Ramadan this Saturday April 2, 2022, let us, as my Imam Ilyas reminded our congregation last Friday, be thankful that we can fast while remembering those who cannot. Ramadan is not Allah’s torture test upon Muslims. So let us garner the maximal benefits beyond merely enduring our hunger pangs.


Ramadan goes beyond fasting. It is a season to be generous and forbearing of others.


As for generosity, it is said that the Gates to Heaven would remain open during Ramadan. Allah in His Generosity first revealed the Qur’an over 14 centuries ago during Ramadan to Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with him) to guide us. Muslims give zakat (tithe) during this month. Communal “breaking of the fast” (iftar) with friends, neighbors, and colleagues is a treasured tradition.


Those notwithstanding, I have yet to see Muslim nations grant clemency to their citizens during Ramadan. A few weeks before this Ramadan, Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and center of the faith, executed 81 prisoners. Little generosity there, and what a way to welcome this blessed month. For that matter, no Muslim country has any formal pardon and amnesty program during Ramadan.


As for zakat, the generosity component aside, that implies wealth creation. You have to have wealth in order to give zakat. Islam is spared the theology of ennobling poverty, as with the biblical “The poor shall inherit the earth,” or the eastern practice of sending monks to beg in the streets.


Yet the seeking of wealth is denigrated by Muslims today. That reflects the extent to which our faith has been debased, comparable to the Saudis executing their citizens on the eve of Ramadan. 


Far more important but less acknowledged is that we should be generous of our time and talent. Early in my career I was called to the Emergency Room (ER) deep in the night during one Ramadan. Having your sleep interrupted, especially after a day of fasting, has a way of putting you in a foul mood, more so if you expect the case to be what we private physicians politely refer to as “uncompensated care.” I must have made quite a ruckus in preparing to leave for the hospital, enough to wake up my wife. Upon finding out the cause of my frustration, she got up to hug me.


“Bakri, this is Ramadan!” she soothed me. “A blessed month,” she continued, “a time to be generous!”


Those words calmed me. From then on, I learned to take my ER calls in stride, treating them as my commitment and contribution to my adopted community that had been so generous to me and my family. 


            We may not always be able to be generous with our time, talent, or wealth, but we can be more accepting and tolerant of the faults and failings of others, as well as of our own. Often that is the most precious and meaningful. I remember how tolerant my parents were during Ramadan. While red marks on school assignments ordinarily triggered blistering lectures on the importance of being diligent, during Ramadan I would instead get a comforting “try harder and do your best!” Likewise with our Ramadan iftars; those would be extra special.


Fasting in its infinite variations is practiced in many faiths. Today it is embraced by health enthusiasts. Together with caloric reduction and ketogenic diets (high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate), fasting is drawing greater medical attention for its many health benefits. “We are what we eat!” is just as crucial as “When we eat.” Fasting in itself is not a novelty for our body; we do it when we sleep. The added element to Ramadan is the associated disruption of our diurnal rhythm. 


Shift workers have similar altered diurnal rhythm and they also do not eat during daylight hours because they have to sleep. They however, experience significant adverse health consequences as with depression and high blood pressure. What gives? 


            Studies show that ketone bodies play a major role in the brain (and elsewhere) beyond being an alternate source of metabolic fuel. Ketogenic diet was once the mainstay to reduce children’s seizures. Ketones affect the excitability of brain cells as well as the levels of certain neurotransmitters. Hence the calmness of marathon runners and the heightened spirituality among Muslims during Ramadan. Ramadan, and day-time fasting generally, induces nutritional ketosis, but only if we were to continue engaging in our normal daytime activities.


            The Qur’an looks with great disfavor (makruf) upon those who “sleep off their fast” and then overindulge gastronomically at nighttime. Then we would be no different, metabolic-wise, than shift workers and suffer the associated adverse health consequences. Instead, we are to maintain our regular day activities and enhance our charitable deeds during Ramadan. I find the common practice in Muslim countries of curtailed official and business hours a perversity, and against the spirit of Ramadan. We should be expanding our hours to accommodate our customers as now we would have no need for lunch breaks. That is one way to be generous with our time and services.


            There are hosts of other issues with fasting, such as the optimal pattern, its effects on the young and adolescents, and impact on productivity. Muslim societies provide the ideal “experiments of nature” for answering these and other queries. It is again a perversity that much of the current health insights on fasting emanates from the West.


            To me, Ramadan is more this spirit of generosity and forgiveness, less the health and other consequences. The latter benefits only the person; the former, society. May this Ramadan heighten our spirit of giving, and may we be generous not only to others but also to ourselves.


Next:  Second of Eight Parts :  Exploring Surah Al Fatihah


Sunday, March 27, 2022

Cast From The Herd: Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #29:  Minangkabau Lores

The word Minangkabau comes from menang (victory) and kerbau (water buffalo). According to legend, our ancestors in Sumatra were in constant warfare with their Javanese neighbors. Exhausted by the endless, senseless deaths and carnages, our wise ancestors suggested to their adversaries that they substitute a pair of buffaloes to settle their dispute once and for all. The two parties agreed to that sensible solution. 

On the day of the epic surrogate battle, the other side produced the largest, meanest, and most aggressive bull to be their star fighter. Just the sight of its huge, curved, pointed horns scared all. The Minangkabaus on the other hand had only a baby calf with its short horns sharpened into lethal spikes. For added measure, they had starved the little critter. 

The Javanese ridiculed the scrawny calf. Once released that hungry baby, on seeing the bull across the field, ran towards it in search of an udder, failing to discern bull from cow. The bull, sensing no threat, ignored the diminutive calf while looking for a worthy opponent. Meanwhile the calf was hungrily thrusting its razor-sharp horns underneath the bull’s belly, desperate for milk. Thus was the bull disemboweled, and the Minangkabaus lived unmolested ever after. 

Fanciful or truthful, the story is steeped in multiple symbolisms. The obvious is that smarts and strategy would always prevail over might and arrogance. More subtle is the triumph of the feminine elements (child’s ties to the mother, the nurturing mother’s milk) over the masculine (aggression and testosterone); or in modern neuroscience parlance, right brain over left. 

It is no surprise that such a society would have deep respect for femininity and be matriarchal, with inheritance and heritage along maternal lineage. This theme is reinforced in the many myths and legends handed down the generations, with mothers and motherhood venerated. 

One particular tale, Malin Kundang, tells of a sailor who went merantau in search of fame and fortune. He found both, and a beautiful princess as wife to boot. On his return he was ashamed of his plebian origin, refusing to pay homage to his mother. She cursed him, and when he sailed away his perahu crashed onto a rock. Such is the power of a mother’s wrath! 

At Air Manis beach in Padang, Sumatra, there stands today a rock formation in the shape of a man prostrating, as in seeking forgiveness, said to be the remains of that young man, a constant reminder to those on shore pondering their own merantau!

I too had a deep and personal reminder of this weight of a mother’s wrath. One evening I must have angered my mother enough for her to chase me out of the house. There I was standing alone underneath the coconut tree, sobbing and hoping that its heaviest nut would fall on me. That would surely make her regret her action! My only consolation was that the clear cloudless sky was studded with stars. 

I had yet to know or read of Big or Little Dippers; instead I saw billions of twinkles as if someone had lighted a sparkler, except that the glitters remained. I imagined a parallel planet out there among the sparkles, an exact replica of ours. Then I wondered whether there would be someone up there just like me and how would I react if I were to meet him. Would I recognize him, and if I did, would I be embarrassed or proud? A juvenile and rudimentary self-psychoanalysis! 

I was deep in wonderment when across the night sky there bolted a long, luminous serpentine trail, like a glowing advertising banner behind a bi-plane. Seconds later it landed on the roof of my neighbor’s house. 

My God! That must be the dreaded polong (evil spirit) my grandparents had been warning me about in the many stories they had narrated. Those polongs were the secret weapons of a select few in the village. My neighbor purportedly had one. Having landed, that polong would now descend and slither in the bush to grab me. Terrified, I ran in and pled for my mother’s forgiveness. 

Now with my knowledge of astronomy, I have seen many more polongs, otherwise known as comets, meteors, and shooting stars. They no longer hold a frightening grip on me, but the essential lesson remains. As for that particular polong, it was probably the Arend-Roland comet of November 8, 1956. 

True to our contrarian instinct, the young Minangkabau writer E.S. Ito (pen name of Eddri Sumitra) has a revisionist twist to that old legend of Malim Deman. Ito had the protagonist Malin be the hero who led his family (including his mother) across the Strait of Malacca to Negri Sembilan. I prefer his version. Ito’s genre is historical novels where he fills in “history’s many missing lines.” 

My clan may be named after the docile water buffalo, but we have more in common with its free-roaming wild cousin, the seladang (gaur). While we may not be feared, nonetheless the wanderlust spirit of merantau, roaming from pasture to pasture, is very much alive in our sons. Like the seladang, our herd is led not by a bull but a cow; women rule supreme in Minangkabau culture. 

Back to my kampung, during the dry months of July and August the word “river” would be too generous to describe that segment of the Sri Menanti. You could walk the river bed from my village right up to Sri Menanti without getting your feet wet, at least until they dammed the river halfway upstream. At the height of the monsoon however, the river reveals its ferocious self, overflowing its banks and sweeping away everything that stands in its way. I once saw the frothing river erode its banks and drag a hitherto majestic tamarind tree like a mere leafy twig into the fast-flowing water. 

That tree was not the only victim over the years; so too was my epileptic cousin. His bloated body was not recovered until days later and miles downstream; it would have been further away, perhaps into the Strait of Malacca had it not been snagged by some branches. He was stripped naked. Such was the power of the raging river in December. 

Once, a migrant worker from Malacca tried to impress the villagers. “I have swam the ocean at the Strait of Malacca,” he bragged. “This puddle does not scare me,” as he dived into the raging water. Those were his last words; his body was never recovered. Perhaps that was his way of going home. 

Next:  Excerpt # 30:  Legendary Tales of My Village 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Cast From The Herd Excerpt # 28: My Childhood Heroes

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #28:  My Childhood Heroes

I had many heroes growing up, their halos embellished by my father’s frequent adulatory references to them. One was Zainal ‘Abidin bin Ahmad. Like most Malay names, his was a mouthful; hence his famous acronym, Za’aba. He attended a local missionary school in Seremban and later taught, albeit only too briefly, at Malay College. He was the first Malay to secure the Cambridge School Certificate (CSC) back in 1915. An autodidact, he later taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University. 

When Za’aba passed his CSC, there were already a few, and only a few, Malay physicians and lawyers. How they furthered their studies without getting their CSC I do not know. They must have gone through other matriculating routes. Those other distinguished individuals never entered my father’s world. Za’aba was well known because of his frequent commentaries in the then widely-read Malay newspaper, Utusan Melayu. I could always tell when my father was reading Za’aba’s columns for he would exclaim, “Well said, Za’aba!” 

That would prompt my mother’s curiosity, “What did he say?” 

“Malays shouldn’t waste money on lavish weddings and instead save for our children’s education.” 

The great Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer observed in his Rumah Kaca (The Glasshouse), “Orang boleh pandai setinggi langit, tapi selama ia tak menulis, ia akan hilang di dalam masyarakat dan dari sejarah.” (Your intellect may tower to the sky but if you do not write, then you will be lost to society and from history.) Today I have to dig deep into the national archives to find the names of those early Malay doctors and lawyers while Za’aba lives on through his written words, testimony to Pramoedya’s wisdom. 

Za’aba was from Batu Kikir, a village a few miles downstream from mine along the Ulu Muar River. He was a frequent speaker at meetings of Malay teachers; he knew the importance of education. That was how my father met him. 

My father reminded me often to emulate Za’aba not only in his intellectual pursuits but also personal habits. Za’aba did not smoke; a factor in my not taking up that bad habit. Whenever I stomped my feet in the house and rattled the wooden floor, my father would remind me that Za’aba never thumped his heels. The stomping would send vibrations up your spine to the brain, interfering with its function. My father was correct on the spine part; I am uncertain about the brain component. From observing Za’aba, my father concluded that a soft gait equaled solid intellect.

At a time when it was fashionable to be anti-colonialist, when even violent ones were idolized, Za’aba chose a far different and more productive path. Again that reflected the contrarian instinct of my people. Under British tutelage he became a scholar of Malay language. He enriched the nation much more than the whole bunch of those strident anti-colonialists. He was the “Father of Malay Grammar,” and with that the scholarly title, Pendita. His textbook series Pelita Bahasa Melayu (The Light of Malay Language) remains the standard to this day. 

My other hero was “Loya” Ma’arof. Kuala Lumpur’s trendy Jalan Ma’arof was named after him. His talent was spotted early by the British; they sent him to Britain to read law (hence “Loya”) and economics. He was among the few Malay leaders then (and now) who recognized early that unless Malays became major economic players in our native land, we would forever remain marginalized regardless how much political power we wielded. His insight pales that of the other leaders, past and present. They were intoxicated with politics to the detriment of other pursuits, in particular economics and education. 

Ma’arof started Bank Kebangsaan Melayu (Malay National Bank) and spawned a string of enterprises. He inspired and mobilized Malays to be interested in business. My father was impressed enough to buy some shares in that bank. 

Ma’arof must have been considered a serious economic threat for he was soon found hung. The official verdict was suicide; not many believed that. When the bank collapsed following Ma’arof’s death, my father was sanguine about his investment loss. “At least Ma’arof tried.” His hope was that others would push further. 

Za’aba and Ma’arof personified the best of my people. They, like my Muar River, defied the natural tendency and blazed their own trails. They dared stray from their herd in search of new pastures, in the spirit of Chairul Anwar. The two best personified the spirit of merantau (wanderlust) of my culture. 

Legend, as well as history, has it that the Minangkabaus of Sumatra had merantau (ventured) across the Strait of Malacca, never to return. Again displaying their tradition-defying nature, they decided that their leader in their new abode should be elected and not entirely hereditary, and his title not be sultan. Legend, this time unsupported by history, has it that Minangkabaus are descendants of Alexander the Great (Iskandar Zulkernain). 

It is the supreme irony that a society with a penchant for defying tradition would have as its rallying cry, Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat! (Sacrifice our child if need be, but never our tradition!) As for the durability of our customs: “Tak lokang dek paneh. Tak lupuk dek ‘ujan” (Neither scorched by sun nor rotted by rain). 

Next:  Excerpt #29:  Minangkabau Lores

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Casr From The Herd Excerpt #27 My Ye Old Village

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #27: My Ye Old Middle Village

To konang ko kampung / Induk ayah adik somo nyo 

Raso menghibo hibo den pulang, / Den tokonang ko kampung. 

(Oh! My faraway hamlet, the fleeting memories of Mom, Pop and extended families
All beckoning me home again /And back to the old familiar terrain!) 

[Minangkabau folk song (My translation)]

Kampong Tengah, the village where I was born, abuts the Sri Menanti River, a major tributary of the Muar. Kampung Tengah means middle village, a pretentious echoing of the Middle Kingdom. Either that or my village was so named because it is located between the tail ends of two minor ridges of the Main Range, the spine of the Malay Peninsula. 

My village is in Kuala Pilah district, whose administrative center is in the town of the same name. Its original name was Ulu Muar. “Ulu” means headwaters. The Muar River originates here, on the eastern slope of the Main Range. “Ulu” also means “upland” or “interior,” and connotes primitiveness. No surprise that the name fell out of favor fast. The Pilah River joins the Muar here; hence Kuala Pilah. Kuala means the confluence of rivers. 

For the first third of its journey, Muar River flows eastward following the slope of the Main Range. For the second, the river turns south and then skirts the southern tip of the spine to meander westward for the last third of its journey into the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca at Muar. All other rivers originating on the eastern slope of the Main Range continue eastward into the vast Pacific through the South China Sea. Muar River is unique in pursuing a reverse “C” course. 

My people too must have taken after our river; just as it defies its geographic destiny, so too my people our cultural constraints. Our hereditary ruler is not a sultan, as with the other states, rather Yam Tuan, or in full, Yang Di Pertuan Besar. That translates into, “One whom we make Big Master.” A mouthful, taxing even the most loyal subjects; hence the abbreviated Yam Tuan

The cultural quirk does not end there. Unlike the other sultans, our Yam Tuan is elected, albeit only by the four subordinate hereditary tribal chiefs, the Undangs, from among the many royal contenders. Within my lifetime I had seen the royal succession lines shifted more than once. The crown prince in my state has no assurance of automatic ascension! 

Perak also has a similar model. Perhaps that explains why those two royal households, unlike those in the other states, have the least number of dysfunctional princes and princesses. When you have an element of competition, however minimal or rudimentary, you get amazing results. 

This ancient royal structure may be quaint but the Reid Commission tasked with crafting the nation’s federal constitution chose it as the model for the new institution of the King of Malaysia. The country remains unique in the world and perhaps history where the king is “elected” and has a limited reign (of five years). The common citizens do not get to vote for their king; that privilege is restricted to his fellow sultans, of which Malaysia has nine. 

A bit more about this unique federal royal election; the sultans take turns, based on seniority, of offering themselves to be king. If his fellow sultans agree, then he would be king. Otherwise there would be a bland statement from the palace that the sultan had declined to offer himself, and the next in line would be considered. A sweet, subtle and civilized way to handle rejection! 

Based on seniority, the first King of Malaysia would have been Johore’s Sultan Ibrahim, but he ‘declined’ the honor. His English consort and unabashed Anglophile tendencies may have been a factor. If a sultan were to live long enough, he could be re-elected king more than once as his turn could come up again, as with the current (as of 2013) Sultan Halim. 

The cultural idiosyncrasies of the people of my state go beyond. While the rest of Malaysia follows the patriarchal and overtly misogynist Adat Temenggong, my tribe the Minangkabau is proudly women-centered, subscribing instead to Adat Perpatih where heritage, inheritance, and tribal power reside with daughters and mothers. While a minority in Malaysia, we Minangkabaus are the world’s largest matriarchal society, if we include our kin in neighboring Sumatra, Indonesia. 

Sri Menanti, the royal town named after the river, or the other way round, is a couple of miles upstream from my village. That name has a romantic ring to it, “princess in waiting.” What or who she is waiting for I know not. Legend has it that she waits for her prince to return from his merantau (wanderlust, and perhaps other lusts) to claim her. She has been waiting for a very long time. The town, an overgenerous term for the place, has that forlorn look – a row of dilapidated shops on each side of the road, with an arch at one end to serve as a physical as well as symbolic barrier between where the peasants dwell and the royal compound begins. 

Negri Sembilan is considered a west-coast state as it borders (for only a few miles) the Straits of Malacca at Port Dickson. A substantial part of the state, including Kuala Pilah district, is to the east of the Main Range. Thus climate-wise most of the state resembles the east coast. Being further south and inland, it bears only the tail end of the seasonal wrath that is the northeast monsoon which devastates the east coast of Malaysia every December and January. 

Once as an adult while vacationing in the east coast, I saw a huge freighter beached, testimony to the power of the monsoon. To the villagers, that was not a novel sight. The sea would turn into a swirling, frothing frenzy during the monsoon. Today the Monsoon Cup is an annual event there, the most formidable arc of the Alpari Sailing Circuit. 

Next:  Excerpt #28:  My Childhood Heroes

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Cast From The Herd Excerpt # 26: A Hefty Price

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 26: A Hefty Price Tag For Attending An English School

My privilege of attending an English school carried with it a hefty price tag even though it was a government school. The extortionate donation to the building fund to grease my admission aside, there was tuition at $2.50 per month during primary school, double that at the secondary level. Then there were sports, library, and “activity” fees which far exceeded the tuition, plus costs for books and uniforms. The biggest expense for me however, was bus fare at $7.50 a month. Urban kids were of course spared that significant burden. In total my father forked out about $50 per month for me alone. Multiply that by three for my an older brother and sister; that consumed nearly a third of my father’s monthly income. Luckily my mother was also a teacher but being a female, her salary was about a third lower.

My parents also subscribed to The Straits Times, the daily national newspaper, to encourage us to read in English. In the beginning I would read just the headlines or flip through the pages. That did not bother my parents as they continued with the expensive subscription. Occasionally they would ask me about some pictures, and I began reading the captions. Whether that reflected their curiosity on the news item or a non-too-subtle nudge at me to encourage my reading the newspaper, I know not. Soon I discovered that I would get the jokes more if I were to also read the scripts accompanying the cartoons. From there I progressed to the headlines and the first few paragraphs. Before long I was into the full Op-Ed pages as well as the titillating personal ads. 

My favorite editorial columnist was one Vernon Bartlett. Here he was, a Britisher, that is, a colonialist, yet he was unafraid to criticize often in very strong language the colonial authorities running Malaysia at that time. In short, he was criticizing his own kind. Some of his commentaries were translated into Malay and carried by Utusan Melayu. Thus my father could also read some of Bartlett’s views and was impressed. To my father, it reflected the superiority and sophistication of the English culture that Bartlett was not constrained from criticizing his own kind when he felt that they had done something wrong, as with colonizing others. My father always reminded me to remember that central value. When it is wrong, it is wrong. That your own kind would perpetrate it against “others” does not make it right.

Again it reflects the noble British values that Bartlett was awarded a CBE, the highest ranking Order of the British Empire, in 1956 while he was in Malaysia. I could not imagine the Agung or any Malay sultan doing something similar. Malay sultans honor the pengkhianat, thieves, and robbers, not the likes of Bartlett amongst us.

My parents also indulged us with English-language magazines. My first was Reader’s Digest; it remained my favorite right up to university. Then in my freshman English Literature class as we discussed Romeo and Juliet, my professor sneered that if Reader’s Digest were to abridge it, the title would be, “A Most Unusual Love Story!” I never read that magazine again; I was way pasr my literary pablum phase.

The huge financial burden aside, plus the erratic bus service to contend with, the biggest obstacle to my attending English school was not either but social. The early 1950s was a period of intense nationalism, anticipating independence. Malay school teachers were at the vanguard of this transformational movement. Consequently my parents were under intense social and peer pressure to enroll us in Malay schools. If Malay teachers did not support the system, who would? 

Many succumbed to the pressure. My father however, resisted. “We should not listen to what our leaders say,” he argued with his fellow villagers who fell for the nationalistic sway, “rather follow what they do.” 

While those leaders were exhorting everyone to send their children to Malay schools, they sent theirs to English ones. The Minister of Education at the time, Tun Razak, went further; he sent all his children to England for their schooling. 

Goaded by this overzealous nationalism, many Malay parents took their children out of English schools, thus freeing up many new slots. The Member of Parliament of my district, one Samad Idris, later to become a Minister, took that opportunity to transfer his two daughters into English school, all the while imploring the villagers to support Malay schools. My father did not miss the hypocrisy. He was however, among the very few. As is evident, the current blatant hypocrisy among Malay leaders has a long history. It is also still very much alive and well today.

Years later I met one of my former classmates whose father, caught in the nationalistic frenzy of the time, had switched him back to Malay school. He was still stuck in the village; his Malay education did not take him far. On seeing me, now a surgeon, his only comment was, “Your father was wiser than mine!” 

That was the sweetest tribute to my father.

The extraneous but necessary costs to my attending an English school in town was at least quantifiable and thus could be overcome albeit with much sacrifice from my parents tightening their already stretched budget. The far greater obstacle was one imposed by the hypocrisy of Malay leaders. That still is the tragic reality today for Malays, in urban areas as well as in the kampungs.

There was also another price for me, also unquantifiable, for my attending English school in town. Straddling two worlds, I was left suspended in between. Living far from school I could not partake in afterschool activities and thus could not develop new friendships beyond my classmates. Meanwhile at home I had less and less in common with my fellow kampung friends.

Next:  Excerpt # 27:  My Ye Old Middle Village