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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, November 26, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt # 105: Where is Canada?

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 105:  Where Is Canada?

My grandfather wanted to know more about Canada, about how big and how cold the country and what snow was like. I related the hugeness of the country by stating that when it was sunrise on the west coast, it was already past midday at the eastern end of the land. He had difficulty comprehending that. 

            My grandmother did not share my grandfather’s curiosity. She was content with her little world of the kampung; her garden and fruit trees, as well as her friends and family. She said, with no sense of melancholy, that as she was old and I would be gone for a long time, she would not see me again. She was stooped from osteoporosis but otherwise mobile and healthy, so I never considered her as being frail. When you are young, you do not fathom what old means. 

            My grandfather chided her that matters of when our time would come were best left to Allah. Only He knew; meanwhile we should make the best possible use of our time on earth to worship Him and follow His commands. 

            As it turned out my grandmother was right. A few months after I left, she fell by the river and never recovered. My grandfather died a few years later from prostate cancer. He spent many a day at the new University of Malaya Hospital, Kuala Lumpur, for pain control, a particular burden with that disease. During his hospitalizations he would never tire of telling his doctors that he had a grandson in Canada training to be one of them. He also told them that he would like to live long enough so his grandson could treat him. My grandfather died in 1969, the year I graduated. 

            This penchant to tell the world that your child or grandchild is or would be a doctor is an affliction peculiar to those families with their first physician member. 

            As I walked out of my grandparents’ house the next morning, I did not feel any different from any other day. I went to my parents’ house for a bath and then joined the family for breakfast. My grandparents too joined in. My luggage was already packed into the car. The last picture taken at our village home was of me holding my sister Hamidah’s first baby, Mahadi (Eddy), only a few months old. As I write, Eddy has just recently retired after a successful career in banking. Today he is also a proud grandfather.

            Then as we were ready to leave, my grandfather gathered us all in front of the house for a final prayer. Then he led us out of the gate where I said my goodbyes to him and my grandmother. I do not remember any tears from them or me. They had the same expression they had when they left for Mecca – graceful acceptance. As for me, it felt as if I was off for a short visit to my sister’s place in Kuala Lumpur and that I would be back once the weekend was over. 

            That evening my brother-in-law Ariffin took me to the popular pasar malam (night bazaar) at Kuala Lumpur’s Kampung Baru. My father was uneasy about that. He felt that on the eve of an important journey I should pause and reflect, and not be engaged in extraneous activities. That was his habit. When everyone was ready he would pause and ask whether we had forgotten or should remember anything. I found this a useful practice. It is amazing how often we had forgotten our keys or to turn the oven off. 

            I was fortunate to have had a long time to prepare for my trip. Decades later, my nephew Aslan’s bride-to-be, Masetura, was also awarded an overseas scholarship. The bureaucrats at the ministry sat on her file and notified her only at the last minute. She and her father had to rush around preparing for the trip. The upshot was that he had a fatal accident in one of those frantic errands. There is never a good time to have an accident, fatal or otherwise, but one just before your daughter was about to go abroad would be particularly tough. 

            With Ariffin’s persistence and my assurance to be extra careful, my father relented about my going out that evening. Perhaps he realized the futility of trying to stop me; the next day and beyond I would be on my own. 

            My father was always reluctant to forbid me from taking a particular course of action; he preferred only to express his views and then leave it to me to make the final decision. If he were to decide for me, and then if I were to go against his advice, I would be committing two sins. One is for doing the deed, which must be not good to begin with as he disapproved of it, and the other, for going against parental advice. In Islam, the second is often the greater sin. Thus he would never say an absolute “no” to my request but merely advise against it. He did not want me to carry the double burden of guilt should something go wrong. 

            The pasar malam was packed; the stalls went on forever, selling all varieties of goods. Ariffin tried to interest me in an overcoat saying that I could never get a better bargain elsewhere. I remembered Ivan Head’s advice, the Canadian embassy official I had met earlier, about style and finding something warm enough. So despite the temptation, I bought nothing. When we returned, my father was relieved. 

Excerpt # 106:  My First Airplane Trip


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