(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=void 0!=f?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(void 0==f)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=0=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; 0=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=b&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

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, May 29, 2022

Cast From The Herd: Excerpt #33: During War, Those Armed Set The Law

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Episode # 33   During War, Those Armed Set The Law

The Japanese Occupation forced people to do things they would not even think of doing under normal circumstances. They had to, to survive. Whenever my father related some terrible deeds done by his fellow villagers, he would always end by adding, “But this was war!” as if to excuse the perpetrators though not their evil deeds. 

“During war, those armed set the law,” he continued. That reflects the reality far better than Cicero’s famed inter arma silent leges (during war, the law is silent).

The misdeeds ranged from simple thievery to outright selling of souls and bodies. Once my father was awakened in the middle of the night from a ruckus in his chicken shed. There was an intruder. My father let him slide by. He rationalized that if he were to confront the thief, my father would pay dearly, and not just in an ugly physical confrontation. The intruder was a known snitch for the Japanese. Had my father confronted him, he could turn my father in on some trumped-up charges, complete with his old pictures in the British Army. 

“Besides, you never know what drove the man to steal,” he reminded us, “perhaps he could not stand the wailing of his starving children.” 

It would be unfair to judge a man when he is desperate, my father cautioned us. We could not be certain of how we would behave under similar circumstances. 

Rumor had it that the man was once accused by the Japanese of a terrible crime. To escape from being beheaded, he implicated two other young men. The pair was rounded up and sent to work on the notorious Burma Railway, never to return. 

After the war, this village snitch’s son had a terrible accident. My father shrugged that off as God’s retribution, a father’s sin visited upon his son. To my father you do not have to wait for the Day of Judgment for God to render His verdict. I saw the father’s reaction; I was certain he too felt the full weight of divine retribution. 

What kept my father honest during those trying times was the fear that his sins would later be visited upon his then young children. That belief too keeps me on the straight path now that I have my own family. 

I once related the tragedies of the Kennedy clan to my father, in particular the sons’ violent deaths. He asked me to read more about the senior Kennedy, in particular what he did during the war. By this time I had forgotten the war stories my father had told me.

The senior Kennedy was too old to serve in World War II but was alleged to be engaged in many unsavory activities during the time, including bootlegging, war profiteering, and some underworld connections. My father immediately latched on that to remind me of his earlier stories of a father’s sins visited upon his children. 

My father was very much aware that he too had often fallen short during those trying times. One day long after the war a young man came to our house and introduced himself as “your long-lost cousin.” I had never seen him and brought this stranger to my father. He scrutinized him only to be greeted by a cheerful and affectionate, “Assalam mualaikum Pak Andak! Do you remember me?” 

Only cousins on my father’s side addressed him by that familiar and endearing honorific, Pak Andak, which meant uncle. My father strained forward to get a better look, and then rushed to embrace the young man, sobbing uncontrollably. “Allahhu AkbarAllahhu Akbar!” he cried over and over as he patted Rusli’s head. I had never seen my father so emotional, not even when my two younger brothers Adnan and Azmi died. 

Rusli was indeed our long-lost cousin. Orphaned during the war, he had come to my parents seeking help, but they could not accommodate him. “Times were tough!” my father repeated over and over. He already had many mouths to feed, and with very little at hand. 

Later I found out that Rusli was not orphaned. His father, my father’s older brother, had simply disappeared during the war never to be seen again. Perhaps he was sent to Burma to work on that infamous deadly railway. 

My parents were long haunted by their action, or rather inaction. Rusli however, was special; he survived. When he presented himself that day he had just graduated from Technical College. He would later obtain his doctorate in engineering from Britain.

It took my father a long time and many attempts before he could relate his nephew’s story in its entirety without breaking down. His emotional reaction reminded me of an earlier visit, also unexpected, from members of his extended family. In the village such visits were the norm. You stopped everything, pretended you were overjoyed, and then scrambled to accommodate your guests. That was, and still is, kampung etiquette. 

These relatives had with them two boys a few years younger than me. I knew the two would be staying as they each had a big suitcase. Later at dinner we found out the purpose of their visit. 

One was my cousin, once or twice removed; the other, his classmate. They had been accepted into Malay secondary school. Although the government was building many new ones, there was as yet none near where they lived. They were told there was one in Kuala Pilah. Then they remembered my father and presto, the boys’ accommodation crisis was solved! 

Now my parents had two additional mouths to feed, pay their books, school fees, and provide for bus fares. No wonder my father was frantic. A week later he found a boarding room for them near the school. The two left, with my father accompanying them. When he returned, even I could detect the relief on his face. 

A week later my father visited them, only to discover that they had abandoned their schooling. When he returned I was not sure whether he was burdened with guilt or disappointment; perhaps both. As he later explained to rationalize his earlier action, he could have handled one – my cousin, he owed him that obligation – but two, sudden and unexpected, was just too much. Attending school then remained a severe challenge for many in the village. 

Next:  Excerpt #34:  Unintended Positive Consequences of War


Post a Comment

<< Home