(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=f!=void 0?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(f==void 0)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=e>0?new b(e):new b;window.jstiming={Timer:b,load:p};if(a){var c=a.navigationStart;c>0&&e>=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; c>0&&e>=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&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.chrome.csi().startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a==null&&window.gtbExternal&&(a=window.gtbExternal.pageT()),a==null&&window.external&&(a=window.external.pageT,d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.external.startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a&&(window.jstiming.pt=a)}catch(g){}})();window.tickAboveFold=function(b){var a=0;if(b.offsetParent){do a+=b.offsetTop;while(b=b.offsetParent)}b=a;b<=750&&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 22, 2022

Caste From The Herd Excerpt #32: Stunted Medical Career

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #32:  Stunted Musical Career

With war imminent, the British instituted a volunteer army made up of teachers and civil servants. My father’s unit was The Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, Third Battalion. A “volunteer army” may be oxymoronic more so in times of war, but my father did not unwillingly join it. One reason was that many of his colleagues did; for another, he was in the band unit. He saw it as an opportunity for continuing his musical career as the bandleader was also his former music lecturer back at his teachers’ college. 

My father spoke often and with great fondness of his British music teachers. Here he was, unable to speak a word of English, yet they were able to impart in him the love for music. Up till then his only exposure was the simple nursery rhymes and the popular songs during his youth, while musical notes were but scribbled dots and lines. Under their tutelage he was able to read music, play the violin, and be exposed to the great composers. The language of music was indeed universal; his lecturers had ignited a hidden passion in him. 

My father’s abiding admiration for the British was not tarnished by their subsequent hasty and ignominious surrender to the Japanese, or the many lapses in their personal behaviors. Once I accompanied my parents to the state Malay schools’ sports jamboree in Seremban. On the way our bus was to pick up the colonial local school superintendent and his wife at the Sungai Ujong Club, the exclusive colonial watering hole in the Seremban Lake Garden area. 

When we arrived we were stunned to see the pair emerging from the clubhouse, flushed and wild-eyed, staggering and groping each other all the while giggling and making obscene gestures. Their boisterous primal behavior continued on the bus, much to everyone’s (including my parents) embarrassment. Everyone on the bus except for the pair was silent, fearful that they might just go berserk. What repelled me most was not their crude loud acts rather their smell. I did not know what it was then. Now of course I do; the stink of alcohol. Later at home my father explained that the British couple was possessed by hantu botol, (lit. evil of the bottle). They were drunk.

Following that strange episode of the English couple, my father suddenly quit his smoking, just like that, cold turkey. One afternoon he gathered all his un-smoked cigarettes and buried them, together with the butts lying around in the crevices of the house. Then he removed his bedspread and all the curtains in the house to wash them. The house never smelled cleaner. He never touched a cigarette after that. Up till that time he was a chain smoker, forever inhaling his Rough Rider. His fingers, lips, and teeth were permanently stained. His clothes and indeed the whole house reeked of cigarette smoke odor. Perhaps my father saw his own boorish behavior in smoking reflected in that drunken British episode.

            I once saw a picture of my father with his military band. There he was seated right in the front row in the center beside the colonial bandleader. My father looked spiffy in his crisp military uniform. I asked him why he had not kept any of his military memorabilia. He did not wish to be reminded of his army days, was his sharp dismissive reply. Besides, his unit did not see any military action as it was disbanded in the haste of the British retreat. Then what about those wonderful expensive musical instruments? 

When the British retreated in haste, my father was left in charge. He, not surprisingly, did not wish to have any reminders of his association with the British for the Japanese to discover. So he had those instruments buried in the jungle outside his base. 

After the war he tried to retrieve them, but he could not remember where he had buried them. In only four years the lush jungle had taken over and totally altered the landscape, obliterating familiar landmarks. To this day, somewhere in the Kuala Pilah jungle, a whole orchestra of valuable musical instruments lay buried. 

My father did not impart his musical skills and passion to his pupils as the school environment did not provide for such creative curricula. He did however to a generation of kampung youths, outside of school hours. There was a popular band in my village. One day after its performance, a young man in the audience came up to the bandmaster to inquire about learning music. 

“If you are really serious,” the bandmaster said, “then you should go to this boy’s father,” as he pointed to me. 

Prior to that I did not know that my father could even play an instrument, let alone teach others as he did not share his passion with us, his children. Later as a teenager when I tried to play my Uncle Nasir’s saxophone, my father discouraged me. Like any kid, the more he did, the more I believed I had talent. 

One day I belted out a few barely-recognizable tunes. The sound must have grated on my father’s ears for he rushed and grabbed the instrument away from me and proceeded to let go a melodious stream. I pleaded to him to teach me. He did.

He first made me practice some scales, then full, half and quarter notes. When I tried to impress him by naming those notes, he cut me short. It did not matter what those scribbles were called as long as you knew what they meant with respect to finger formation and for how long to hold the note. After about thirty minutes of this intense drill which I thoroughly enjoyed, he put up a new score and asked me to play it. After a few bars I recognized the song; I was playing “God Save the Queen.” With that, my father impressed upon me not to play by ear but to read the score.

My father’s demonstration intrigued my uncle Nasir. He begged him to improve his playing. After hesitating, my father agreed, provided that my uncle complied with some basic routine and discipline. Eager to learn, my uncle agreed. He made my uncle leave his saxophone and we all went out of the house. He threw a small rock at a steel telephone pole and asked my uncle what note was the clanking noise. He replied, “Middle C.” 

“Good,” my father complimented him, and threw another rock higher up and at the thinner part of the pole. Another pinging sound! 

“E flat?” my uncle replied, more as a question and with minimal confidence. 

“You have a good ear,” my father complimented him. Thus began his tutoring. The whole week we would be serenaded by my uncle; he sure sounded much better. 

Meanwhile my father ignored me. Sensing my disappointment, he later admitted that he did so on purpose. He did not want me to be distracted from my studies as he was in college. He related how he would sneak out of his dorm in the middle of the night to practice his violin. He was so consumed with his music that he nearly flunked his regular studies and was threatened with expulsion but for the intervention of his music lecturers. He advised me instead to concentrate on my ‘regular’ studies and that once I had a successful career then I could afford the best music teachers. 

Later in life I had tried many times to take up music. Despite my best efforts I just could not get it. I cannot claim to lack digital dexterity for in my profession that is a given. My father’s talent must have skipped a generation for my daughter is quite musical. 

Next:  Episode # 33   During War, Those Armed Set The Law


Post a Comment

<< Home