Friday, September 07, 2007

Golden Anniversary

After attending the Merdeka Awards Launch I began to visualize the changes that have taken place over the 50 years of independence, and when I thought about it even more I realized that it was really what I saw and, experienced and went through all my life. It was about all the changes that have taken place around me. I also realized the impact these changes have on my life and how it was shaped.

I can still remember the excitement in my house over the merdeka or independence issue. My mum and late dad were both very active in the then current political issues to the extent that their lives were dedicated towards the achievements of the time and maintenance thereafter. Pre-merdeka, dad would be working as an auditor during the day and mum as a religious schoolteacher and in the evenings and night they would be away attending meetings and other functions related to the political movement. Dad was later transferred to the Marines department as Deputy Port officer and Mum rose to be the headmistress of the school she taught in.

I was born in the era of Japanese occupation. Life was difficult then I was told. I practically lived on tapioca as rice and milk were scarce then. Mum would boil tapioca and add extra water, the excess was used to feed me supplementing mum’s breast milk. Things changed slightly when the British took over after the Japanese left and I could vaguely remember those times. Various canned foods and other daily needs and goods were available and almost all British made. We had none of the luxuries of life we have now. Commuting was always on foot although dad had a bicycle to ease his movement. We could count the number of cars on the road then and that too belonged only to the prominent ones in society. When I started schooling I had to walk to school every day. When I was halfway through primary school a bus service in the town was started and that eased our commuting needs somewhat, but the buses they had were few and it took a long while for one to catch the next bus if one missed it. So I ended walking to school everyday just the same ha ha!

In the process of my growing up through pre and primary school I saw a lot of changes in the way things were done around me. Development slowly took place, starting with the basic infrastructures like piped water into the houses, flush toilets, electricity supply into the house and so on. Telephones were those for the public strategically located around the town and were the oversized ones like those you see in the movies of the forties and fifties!! Vandalism was not known then!! So, you can imagine how the people aligned themselves to the authorities of the day, the British and the Malay Administrators. We were so used to obtaining water from wells, lighting up kerosene lamps in the evenings, toilets being located outside of our houses with the night-soil man coming around to collect our toilet ‘spoils’ daily. Hence when these changes took place people were just elated. We thought of them as wonderful and unbelievable developments.

Campaigns for independence started then. The leading political party of the day, of which my mum and dad were heavily involved in, went around in their campaigns to garner support for independence. The support, I think, was overwhelming and the three major races in the country worked together to achieve the objectives. Although the communists that were anti British were strongly fighting to liberate the country through its communist ideologies the general population was not in their favour. They were literally ‘hounded’ into the jungles and they fought the British from there.

Then came independence, Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka shouted the first Prime Minister followed by resounding cries from the throng of people gathered there. I heard the proceedings over the radio at home. I was as excited as my parents were. I was about 13 years old then. I knew what it was all about but had no inkling of what was to follow. My friends and I shouted Merdeka but did not really realize the implications. My dad and mum told me that Merdeka was for us, for my generation to carry on the torch of independence and for future generations to reap the benefits. It had not much impact on me then. All I knew, or rather was told, was that the ruling political party had the mandate to run the country without intervention of the British. We were on our own to chart our destiny my parents said. You must study hard, educate yourself so that you can contribute to society later on. Slowly, as I grew up I realized those words that my parents told me. I realized how important education was. I slowly realized that my knowledge and skills helped me to shape my working life while at the same time gave me the opportunity to participate in nation building and the well being of society. My parents’ involvement in community work, political work and so on gave them a good standing in society. These attitude and attributes somehow brushed on me as well, such that I would voluntarily involve myself in community work whenever I get the opportunity.

Independence has been obtained, 50 years on now, and the time of nation building has passed. We are surrounded by the fruits reaped out of the nation building. Now is the time to carry on the nation building and its maintenance. We need to sustain the chain of development and advance forward to better things. What we thought was a wonderful facility once, like that public telephone, or the piped water in to the house, has become an ordinary thing now. What was wonderful and unbelievable when I was young is very basic now. The era has changed and improved our quality of life. It is the continuance of discovering the wonderful and the unbelievable that should be the order now, such that the chain can continue, and that our grandchildren can then have at least their basics then from what we now discover as wonderful and unbelievable……. Am I making sense? Ah well…… I am entitled to some nostalgia and also dreams ………. May the Almighty continue to guide us always…..

Some Very Very Old Pictures .......

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,
Petaling Jaya.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Merdeka Awards Launch - Down Memory Lane

A few days prior to the national 50th Merdeka celebration or the celebration of independence, Ram and I attended a dinner for the official launching of the ‘Merdeka Awards’. The award is to recognize individuals who had made high impact on the nations’ development in five specific areas which includes education, arts and culture, community development and other categories. The launch was officiated by the Prime Minister and the founding members of the award are the three major oil and gas players in the country and of course led by the national oil company where I used to work for and where Tessa is now.

Tessa and her mates in the office had been working very hard for weeks prior to the occasion to put up a good show and she did not tell us much about what to expect but we could read from the ‘things’ she referred to us while putting her ‘acts’ together that we can expect something extraordinary. She had now and then asked me or her mum, for confirmation I suppose, titles of old and traditional songs, culture and recipes of traditional cuisines which, I guessed then, she will be using as display on the launch night. She also said that the function will only be launching the award and that the individuals to receive the award will be identified through a very stringent selection process by a team of respected individuals yet to be identified. This will be a very prestigious award. It will definitely take a long time for the recipient to be identified. The identification of Nobel prize award recipient and the Raymond Mc Saysay (I stand corrected for spelling?) award recipient take many months or years to be identified!!

I was invited in my capacity as the secretary to the Retirees Fraternity and was indeed looking forward to the occasion. Dress code was Malaysian batik, so we had our batik ready. We went early to avoid the evening traffic jam and arrived at the Convention Centre, the place where the launch was to be held, just before the dusk prayers. We prayed at the prayer room provided and then proceed to the function hall. I did not bring my walking stick with me and braved it through with a very slight limp!! On arrival at the foyer we were asked to register at one of the many registration tables provided. We could easily identify the organizing committee members and those at work that night as they were all in very pretty, colorful, uniform, batik outfits as well. They told us our table number and ushered us through.

They had built a tunnel, soothing soft green colors, leading into the hall. It was quite a long tunnel, sort of a time tunnel, and all along the sides were electronic display screens showing pictures of old and excerpts of speeches and writings etc. Soft music and traditional songs of years gone by were played. We were transported back to the past 50 years or more.

On arrival at the main hall there were more staff (ushers) dressed in the colorful batik, waiting, and one showed us to our table. The orchestra was at one end of the hall and the main stage was at the other end. On the two side walls were big screens (several on each side) screening changing scenes and pictures of old, the old KL, traditional houses, children of the time, old landmarks, cars and other vehicles, and so on and all in black and white! We immediately became nostalgic and tried to identify the pictures. I remember all of them I think. All along piped music, songs of years gone by, were played.

I looked around the hall and noticed that most were elderly. Except for the staff and ushers, most were beyond fifties. Most with white hair and a majority of them with receding ‘crop’ while there were a few without any!! One outstanding person was the well known local poet, now in his late sixties I think, who had hair all over his head and face and white too. Just like this person others in the hall were well known past personalities in their own fields most of whom have already retired and many are in some way or other still contributing to society. I could identify the film maker, the sports personalities and captains of teams, captains of industries, well known songwriters and musicians, culture experts, historian, museum curator, educationist, scientist, and many more. A few came in weel-chairs and yet a few more came with walking stick. I should have been braver and brought my walking stick along too. It was heart warming to see all these personalities as guests at the function and I felt very small and humbled when I realized that I was also there as guest but nothing compared to all of them. I have retired and I am still contributing to society but nothing when compared to what these other guests have contributed to the country.

The Prime Minister with his new wife (he remarried recently after his wife passed away a couple of years ago) arrived at the appointed time accompanied by the Presidents or Heads of the three founding member companies. He was very lively and shook hands with most personalities seated along the main passageway and waved at others seated further away. His wife did so too. Speeches followed and the PM graciously launched the Merdeka Award.

Dinner followed. Surprise, surprise!! Food served were those that Tessa had asked us about and all prepared the traditional way by the Convention Centre. There was none of the dinner function dishes normally served in hotels and at official functions. (So, that was why she kept asking for this and that but never really told us what for and I thought it was just for display!!) We noticed that some ingredients were missing in some of the traditional dishes, can’t blame them as these ingredients especially the herbal leaves are difficult to get nowadays, but the tastes were good, almost authentic. Even desert, fruits and door gifts (consisting of sweets) were those that are quite difficult to get nowadays. They had gone all out to make it really authentic and nostalgic for the old folks like me and the rest present that night!! Music from the orchestra was also from the fifties and much earlier.

It was down memory lane that night. We realized that we have gone fifty years after independence. We have made our contribution in some way or other in nation building. Our wish is for the present and future generation to have the courage, stamina and perseverance to bring the nation to greater heights and sustain it for many many more years to come.

With the launch of the award I hope the selection of recipients will be properly scrutinized to reflect its authenticity and that only the ones most deserving receive them. It should be based purely on historical milestones and not colored by any political inclination.

The team put up a really good show that night. They worked hard at it and they most certainly achieved the impact the event was designed for. 'Congratulations'. May the guidance of the Almighty be within our and their reach always…..

MKI Ramblings Unlimited
Petaling Jaya