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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, January 29, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #64: An Epileptic Friend

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #64:  An Epileptic Friend 

Back to our village neighbor Haji Sulaiman, as befitted a man of considerable means, he also acquired an additional wife. With Adat Perpatih, when a man marries, he moves into his wife’s family. Meaning, Haji Sulaiman would have to leave his first wife (and her considerable real estate) to move into his second wife’s home. The sly Sulaiman however, had the system gamed! He married a young lady from outside of Adat Perpatih. Now she moved in with him on a house he had built for her on, yes, his first wife’s property! That went beyond chutzpah. 

            Haji Sulaiman had two sons with his first wife; the younger Lias was my frequent badminton partner. Village tradition would have the two sons, in particular the older, defend the tribal honor. Meaning, they would not have allowed their father to build the new house on their mother’s land upon his second marriage. The older son, Hassan, a teacher and already married, was wise. Torn between the demands of tradition versus filial loyalty, he opted for the latter and let the matter slide. 

            Lias on the other hand, was hot-blooded. It was said that he was born at high noon, hence his temper. He saw his mother being jilted. Besides, when his father brought the gorgeous young lady home, Lias fancied that she was for him. Soon Lias was seen prowling around his father’s new home like a young male lion trying to establish his alpha status in a pride that already had one, albeit ageing. 

            One afternoon I heard a woman screaming from the direction of Haji Sulaiman’s new house, and saw his young wife bent over a sprawled body on the ground. My God, an ugly father-son altercation! I rushed to the scene only to see her struggling to keep Lias on the ground. 

            “Let me go!” he screamed, shoving her aside. 

            He was too strong for her. Soon he was up, dazed, unsteady and walking in circles, his mouth frothing and the crotch of his pants wet. He saw me and blurted, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” 

            “He has been struck by sawan babi!” (the swine spirit) she cried. “Be calm Lias! Recite the al Fatihah,” (the opening and frequently-recited verse of the Qur’an) she pleaded while tugging at his messy shirt. 

            “I am fine!” as he shoved her off and then yelled to me, “Let’s go play badminton!” 

            That was the first time I saw the new Mrs. Haji Sulaiman. Far from being the nubile adulteress that I had imagined her to be, she was a kind lady concerned about her rebellious post-adolescent stepson. 

            By the time we reached the court Lias was already back to his normal jovial self, enough that I was emboldened to ask what had happened. He did not know what I was referring to and so I told him. He shrugged, “I don’t know.” 

            I too did not know then. Now as a physician, I do. He had had a grand mal seizure where something triggered his brain cells to fire en mass and erratically. He would have many more such episodes. We would always be scared stiff when he had one, reduced to being but gawking bystanders. I was always terrified that he would crush his head against a rock or road pavement and blood would spurt out of his head.

            Nature was kind; it endowed Lias with a fine sense of humor and innate wisdom. Once we had the town champion join us in a badminton game. He was all dressed up in his white shirt and shorts. His equally white socks were fashionably midway up his calves and matched his clinical-white canvas shoes. If you were to look at only his side of the court you would think this was a run up to the Thomas Cup tournament. On the opposite court was Lias in his tattered T-shirt and dirty brown pants, barefooted. The brown was from the dirt; it would be hard to guess the original color. 

            It did not take long for the town champion to take the lead. He displayed his usual confidence, smacking his lips with every point scored as if to reaffirm his earlier assumption that his opponent was but a mere village amateur. Meanwhile Lias was sweating. Then just as I thought his defeat was inevitable as he was once again unable to return a volley, Lias let out that he might just have a seizure if he were to continue with his erratic play. 

            That rattled his opponent such that he began making mistakes, enabling Lias to gain control of and ultimately win the game, much to the chagrin of his opponent. 

            I always believed that it takes more than just superb skills to be a champion. Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier both had that. What made Ali prevail in the ultimate title fight was that he had the psychological edge. He psyched out Frazier before they entered the ring. On this day at my village badminton court, Lias was Ali. 

Next:  Excerpt # 65:  Potential Problem With A Neighbor Averted


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