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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, October 09, 2022

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #49: Dreams Crushed

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #49:  Dreams Crushed

With my parents and two of my uncles being teachers (the third also wanted to but was denied), it would seem that the profession was held in high esteem in my culture and family. It was. The greater truth however, was that there were not many other options for Malay school graduates; they could be keranis (clerks), army recruits, or police constables. The choice was even slimmer for girls; if they failed to be teachers, the only other choice would be nurse’s aides. 

My cousin Azizzah aspired for that. She was smart and diligent, always with a book in her hand. She came to my house often to read the newspapers and magazines. She even read newspaper wrappings! She was bright-eyed and curious. One day I came home from school with my new geometry set. She saw it and wondered what it was. 

“For my math class!” was my haughty response. 

She was surprised. As she attended Malay school she had only simple arithmetic. 

“After geometry we will start algebra,” I bragged. Her eyes bulged as she continued playing with my set. Those were alien instruments to her; she must have wondered what wonderful universe I was exploring that she was missing in her local Malay school. 

Azizzah had an independent streak; she disavowed any interest in being a teacher. She wanted to work in a hospital as a nurse’s assistant. She could not be a nurse as that would require an English education. She also had a good reason in not wanting to be a teacher. She saw what had happened to her three uncles while Raja Nordin was still there. As I said, she was smart. 

She had no difficulty in getting selected. She had her uniforms all tailored, at government expense. She paraded herself in it one day and like magic, transformed herself from a giggly village girl to a clinical-looking healthcare provider. We were all so proud of her. 

A few weeks later, a sudden change; she was no longer the bright-eyed girl pestering me on what I had learned at school. She was now like the other village girls, not interested in her surroundings and satisfied with being, well, plain dumb. 

Village secrets do not last long. Soon I learned that her offer to nursing school had been rescinded at the last minute, her already-tailored uniform notwithstanding. She must have been devastated. That letter bearing the terrible news could have floated in a light breeze, but to her it was a heavy metal chain that clamped her feet down, preventing escape from her current meager meadow. Her only rational recourse was to behave like others in the herd, in particular the heifers. 

I was having dinner at my grandparents’ house one evening and the conversation soon drifted towards Azizzah. My grandfather let go on how much he regretted in not bringing tributes to Raja Nordin earlier. He was convinced that was the reason her earlier acceptance being reversed at the last moment. It did not help that my grandmother was merciless in berating him for that unacceptable lapse of cultural ritual. 

“I should have gone ahead and cooked the yellow pulut,” she declared, referring to the ceremonial rich, sweet, gluttonous rice cooked in tamarind used for such ceremonial offerings, “and offered it myself.” That was more an expression of frustration. “She looked so beautiful in that uniform,” my grandmother continued, refusing to let my grandfather off on his plebian negligence. 

So that was the reason for my cousin’s sudden personality change. Her dreams had been snatched away. For my part, I missed her inquisitive queries about algebra or her pestering me on the latest development in the Suez Canal crisis. She was now just like any other village girl wondering what ferns or mushrooms to pick in the jungle to cook for her family that evening. 

Next:  Excerpt # 50:  The Malay Regiment


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