Monday, 16 March 2009

Patriotism. What's In A Song?

May 13th, 1969. I was 10 years old and being in Taiping, we were not exposed to the terror faced by those in KL or even Penang. I remember it was a Tuesday and in those days of radio and B&W TV, information did not exactly travel as fast. I remember the TV series, "The High Chapparal" and the episode that was showing the night of May, 13th 1969 was the "Buffalo Soldiers". I was in Standard 4, at KEVII Primary School (II) and we woke up to a school holiday the next day.

I do not remember being scared because we somehow knew my father would be able to handle things. And handle things he did; I remember he broke curfew and went to the neighborhood sundry shop to get provisions. People hardly stored food at home those days and my mother used to go to the market almost everyday. When curfew was imposed, I think my parents' main concern was about food and not about the family getting slaughtered. Somehow in Taiping, we just knew that neighbors would not kill neighbors and I think nobody was killed in Taiping then.

Another comforting thought I found out later, was that we had a Ranger Regiment stationed in Taiping then and the mainly Iban rangers were expected to be impartial since as Chinese, the fear was of the Malay Regiments. It was after all, racial riots!

However, one of my most enduring and indeed endearing of memories then has been of my father's buddy, Major Hashim who brought army rations for us in an army Land Rover. Major Hashim was
quarter master in a Malay Regiment also based in Taiping!

I do not remember much more but that the country changed after that was obvious. My late father believed in affirmative action yet he told me in the 70s that the day will come when our Malay brethren will squabble amongst themselves over the spoils of the NEP. How prophetic of him.

Race relations went downhill after 1969 because the ruling elite thought Malaysian society could be "engineered" and they tried. They probably started with good intentions but the temptation before them to abuse the nation behind the veil of social responsibility was just too much to resist. We have had 40 years of experimentations and the "engineered baby" called "a just plural society" is in ICU. Our founding-fathers would not have been able to recognize the Malaysian society they spawned. I dare say our founding-fathers would even have disowned us if they can see how morally bankrupt we have become as a people; with endemic corruption, blatant disregard for the law, religious discord, racial seggregation, unbridled greed and Machiavellian politics being the order of the day.

What was in the hearts and minds of our founding fathers before Malaysia was formed? I think a hint can be found in patriotic songs. It is interesting how the lyrics of popular patriotic songs of each era reflect the times. Around Merdeka period there was a song called, "Oh Malaya" (changed to "Oh Malaysia" after merdeka) which ironically originated in Indonesia, sung by a Dutch Indonesian Anneke Gronloh. The romanticism at the time and genuine belief in the future is captured in the song. Check
this out and the narrative and lyrics below:

ANNEKE GRONLOH had a big Dutch hit record in "Brandend Zand" in 1962. To build on the popularity of her "Asmara" and "Bengawan Solo" in South East Asia in the early 60's, Anneke took the same musical arrangement and recorded "Oh Malaya." 1963 saw the creation of a new country called Malaysia, made up of formerly British-governed Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah. "Oh Malaya" was quickly changed to "Oh Malaysia," and this song helped to foster the new and growing national pride of the new Malaysians. (This video was taken in 2000.)

Oh Malaysia lyrics

On the shore beyond the tropical sea
You will stand to welcome me
On the shore beneath the sky so blue
All my dreams at last will come true
Oh Malaysia, land of glory
Where I found my heart's true love
In a night so warm and tender
With the moon and stars above

Then Malaysians were lulled into complacency post Merdeka and took race relations for granted...until May 13, 1969. This was reflected in the song "Malaysia Berjaya". The conflagration of 13th May, 1969 obliterated the meaning and spirit of this great song. If only Malaysian can live this song today!

Malaysia Berjaya lyrics

Malaysia kita sudah berjaya,
Aman makmur bahagia
Malaysia abadi selamanya,
Berjaya dan berjaya!
Berbagai kaum sudah berikrar
Menuju cita-cita
Satu bangsa satu negara

Malaysia berjaya!
Dari Perlis sampailah ke Sabah
Kita sudah merdeka
Negara makmur rakyat mewah
Kita sudah berjaya!
Dengan semboyan kita berjaya
Menuju di angkasa
Satu bangsa satu negara
Malaysia berjaya!

English translation

Our Malaysia has succeeded
Peaceful and radiant
Malaysia forever shall you live
and achieve more success!
The people have pledged
to strive for the aspiration
Of one people, one nation

Successful Malaysia!
From Perlis to Sabah
We are now free
A prosperous nation, with affluent people
We have succeeded!
With the bugle we sound our success
Shooting for the stars
One people, one nation
Successful Malaysia!

Satu Bangsa, Satu Negara (One People, One Nation) indeed. Today, where has this all gone? For that matter, where has this song gone?

After 13th May, 1969 the nation was in shock and the mindset of a people in desperation was vulnerable. This was when the re-engineering started and patriotic songs somehow began tasting of propaganda flavor. Malaysian's were encouraged to practise the spirit of Muhibbah or else. The lyrics are imbued with "NEPism" and that somehow leaves a bitter taste.

Muhibbah lyrics

Muhibbah Muhibbah
Itulah amalan kita semua
Muhibbah Muhibbah
Sejak sedari zaman purbakala

Tunaikanlah ikrar
Satu nusa satu bangsa merdeka
Satu loghat dan satu suara
Dalam Malaysia jaya


Junjung tinggi cita-cita bangsa
Hormatilah perlembagaanya
Marilah kita berganding tangan
Hapuskanlah jurang perbezaan

Muhibbah Muhibbah
Gema bersatu padu satu bangsa
Negara 'kan makmur bahgia
Dalam Malaysia jaya

(ulang dari korus)

I have no comments about the so-called patriotic songs of today or rather, I choose not to comment. However, two commentaries on 13 May 1969, which I spotted in cyberspace are worth reproducing here. One is by that super nationalist, Raja Petra Kamarudin and the other by ex-Appeal Court judge, Mahadev Shankar, in the same Malaysia Today article entitled; “MARILAH KITA HIDUP ATAU MATI SEKARANG”. Most of us in our late 40s or older, if we care to share, would have similar stories to tell. Please read:

Sunday, 15 March 2009 13:28

Folded into our experience of the night of May 13, 1969, was there not the glue that binds all of us with the message that we must love each other or die?

My early education was in the Alice Smith School at Bellamy Road in Kuala Lumpur. For those not familiar with early KL, that is behind the Dewan Bahasa near the Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara. The Alice Smith School was a school for the children of British expatriates. There were probably only three Asians in that entire school. The other two were one Chinese boy, who I can’t remember what his name was, and a girl named Sarah Chin -- my first ‘girlfriend’ of sorts, although she didn’t give any indication that she knew I even existed (so it was actually a one-way ‘relationship’ in that sense).

The Alice Smith School was only up to Standard Five -- so I was transferred to the Meru Road Primary School in Klang for my Standard Six. I did a short stint (about a month or so) in the Meru Road High School, also in Klang, after which I was sent to the Malay Colllege Kuala Kangsar from 1963 to 1965.

I could not stand the all-Malay environment -- a sort of culture shock after almost seven years in an all-English school -- and in 1965, during my Form Three, I asked to be transferred back to a ‘normal’ school. My father sent me to the Victoria Institution where I remained until my Form Five in 1967. The fact that I did not speak Malay well and was constantly subjected to ragging -- they called me ‘Mat Salleh Celup’ -- made life in MCKK most intolerable indeed. I never mixed with anyone and hardly had any friends other than ‘Manan Cina’, a most Chinese-looking Malay whose father was in the Terendak Camp in Melaka.

In the V.I., I felt more at home. My ‘best’ friends were Rajadurai (whom we called ‘Tengku’, since he was a ‘Raja’), Yim Seng, Yong Boon, Onn, Azizul, Karim, and about half a dozen other Malays, Chinese and Indians. The beauty about all these friends was they were not my Malay, Indian or Chinese friends. It did not occur to me (or to any of the others for that matter) that they were my Malay, Chinese and Indian friends. They were just ‘my friends’. In short, we were absolutely and thoroughly ‘colour-blind’.

But that was in the 1960s. Then, in 1969, we suddenly realised that there was a difference after all. We no longer had ‘just friends’. We had Malay, Chinese and Indian friends. Eventually, we drifted apart. I heard Rajadurai was murdered. I was beside Onn’s deathbed as he gasped his last breath. I don’t know what happened to Yim Seng, Yong Boon, Azizul and Karim. And I can’t even remember the names of the half a dozen or so other Malay, Chinese and Indian friends.

And this is most sad. It troubles me to this very day that these friends of mine are no longer part of my life, and I no longer part of theirs. We were once so close. We were closer than brothers. Now, they are faint memories of what could be equated as ships passing in the night.

What has this country done to us? What happened in 1969 that divided us so? What did not matter back in the 1960s is considered ever so important today.

This country has failed us. The politicians of today have turned the clock back and have destroyed what took many years to build. The destruction is so bad that in our lifetime we shall never see the country restored to what it was. It may never be restored even by the next generation.

I no longer see any hope for Malaysia. It will take a miracle to again see what we saw back in the 1960s. Today, Malaysia is all about the colour of your skin. Your break in life depends on which womb you happen to have come out from. Why must your future ride on the throw of the dice? Why must fate play a cruel game of chance while what lies before you relates to which family you were born into?

Malaysia needs a paradigm shift. But this shift can only occur if all want it to happen. It takes two hands to clap. And the way forward must be to bury the past and not play the blame-game. All are to blame for 1969. No one person or one community caused this. Just as it takes two hands to clap to see this paradigm shift that we so greatly need, it also took two hands to clap for what happened in 1969.

The glue that binds us

Dato' Mahadev Shankar

May 13, 1969 is nearly forty years behind us. What day of the week was it? Alas I cannot now remember! Perhaps it was a Friday? Friday the 13th has always had such an ominous ring to it! It was certainly before Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (the former prime minister) set our clocks back half an hour and thus took centre stage in our psyche. Of that I am sure.

As sure as I am that in 1969 with our Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister before he was deposed, we rose at sunrise and retired at sundown. May 13th 1969 marked a turning point in the history of our nation.

I had finished with the Fitzpatrick case at Court Hill, and made an uneventful return home a little earlier than I should. My wife and children were out somewhere in town and got back just before sunset.

By twilight, all hell had broken loose.

The shouting of a mob in full flow seemed to be coming from the junction of Princess Road (now Jalan Raja Muda) and Circular Road (later Jalan Pekeliling and now Jalan Tun Abdul Razak), which was less than half a mile from our house on the corner of Jalan Gurney Dua and Satu. We were well within earshot of the commotion.

I was then out on our badminton court with my wife and children when I saw a young Malay, face ravaged with shock as he ran past us, intermittently stopping to catch his breath and then run on. The panic he radiated was very contagious.

A few moments later, my neighbour Tuan Haji Ahmad shouted from across the road that a riot was in progress at the Princess Road junction and that we should immediately get back indoors.

Soon afterwards as the darkness set in, we saw red tongues of flame crowned with black smoke go up from the direction of Dato Keramat. From town there was a red glow in the sky of fires burning. The acrid smell of smoke was coming from everywhere. More to the point, the very air around us seemed to be shivering with terror. Fearing the worst, we locked ourselves in and huddled around the TV set.

Then I heard this high pitched wail. It was a female voice in distress - "Tolong, buka pintu, tolong. buka pintu!" (Please open the door!). A diminutive woman, with a babe in arms, was desperately yelling for shelter, obviously not having had much luck with the houses nearer the Gurney Road junction.

Without a second thought, I ran out, unlocked the gate and let her in. She was wide-eyed with terror and the baby was bawling away. The sheer relief seemed to have silenced her and she was not registering my questions. And she was not talking.

Once inside, she slunk into a corner in our dining room and just sat there huddled with her baby, not looking at us but facing the wall. It was now evident that she was Chinese, spoke no English, and was quite unwilling to engage in any conversation except to plead in bazaar Malay that she would give us no trouble and that she would leave the next day. Our attention soon shifted from her to the TV set.

A very distraught Tunku Abdul Rahman, came on to tell us that a curfew had to be declared because of racial riots between the Malays and the Chinese, caused by the over-exuberance of some elements celebrating their election victories, and gave brief details of irresponsible provocations, skirmishes, and fatalities. He stressed the need for calm whilst the security services restored law and order. Well do I remember his parting words to us that night,

“Marilah kita hidup atau mati sekarang.” (Let us choose to live or die now.)

As my attention once again shifted to the tiny woman and her tinier baby, let me confess to my shame, that the thought crossed my mind that living in a predominantly Malay area, I had now put my whole family in peril by harbouring this Chinese woman. It was manifestly evident from the TV broadcasts that her race had become the target of blind racial hatred.

It was an ignoble thought I immediately suppressed as unworthy of any human being. She, too, had been watching the TV and perhaps even more intently was watching me, and must have seen the dark clouds as they gathered around my visage.

None of us were in the mood to eat anything. We all just sat and waited and waited and waited, not knowing quite what to expect. Hours later there was a loud banging at our gate accompanied by a male voice shouting.

I realised then my moment of truth had finally arrived. I asked my cook Muthu, a true hero, if ever there was one to accompany me to the gate. In that half-light, I saw the most enormous Malay man I ever set my eyes on.

With great trepidation I asked him what he wanted. “You have got my wife and child in your house and I have come for them,” he said in English.

Still suspicious I asked him, “Before I say anything, can you describe your wife?”

“Yes, yes, I know you ask because I am a Malay. My wife is Chinese and she is very small and my baby is only a few months old. Can I now please come in?”

I immediately unlocked the gate. In he came and we witnessed the most touching family reunion. He thanked us profusely and without further ado they were on their way. In the excitement we did not ask his name or address.

What next?

I saw where my duty lay and immediately called the Emergency telephone number to volunteer for relief duty. An armoured car appeared the next morning. I was taken to Federal House and assigned to assist the late Tun Khir Johari (as he subsequently became) and the late Tan Sri Manikavasagam.

Our task initially was to transport and resettle the refugees into the Merdeka Stadium and thence into the low cost municipal flats in Jalan Ipoh. We then tied up with Dato Ruby Lee of the Red Cross to locate missing persons and supply emergency food rations to the displaced. Some semblance of law and order was restored and the town slowly came back to life.

If that baby who sheltered in our house that fateful night has survived life’s vicissitudes, he would be 38 years old today.

All the ethnic races, which compose our lucky nation, were fully represented in our house that evening when the Almighty brought us together for a short while. With our 50th Merdeka anniversary fast approaching, and our hopes for racial unity so much in the forefront of our minds, may I leave it to my readers to ask themselves whether there is a pointer here for all of us. Folded into our experience of the night of May 13, 1969, was there not the glue that binds all of us with the message that we must love each other or die?

May 13, 2007


Dato’ Mahadev Shankar joined the Victoria Institution (V.I.) after the war from Pasar Road School and was active in debating and in drama. Indeed, he was the first president of the V.I. Dramatics Society, a successor to the long-dormant VIMADS (V.I. Musical and Dramatic Society) of the 1920s. He is well remembered for his title role as Antonio in the Society's first major production, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which played to packed houses for five nights in August 1952.

He was also the V.I. Rodger Scholar of 1951.

Dato' Shankar is a barrister of the Inner Temple London and was enrolled as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court Malaya in 1956. Thereafter he practised law in Shearn Delamore and Company, Kuala Lumpur, till 1983 when he was appointed Judge of the High Court of West Malaysia. He served in Johor, the Federal Capital, and in Selangor till 1994 when he was elevated to the Court of Appeal.

During his career as a lawyer he served on the Board of Several Public Companies including Malaysian Airlines System. He was the advisor to the New Straits Times Group on libel laws and the resident representative of the Medical Defence Union.

He has also represented Malaysia on several international conferences on a variety of legal subjects. These included Intellectual Property laws in Sydney 1984, Canberra 1987, New Delhi 1995 and Tokyo 1997, and Kanchanaburi Thailand in 1998, Price Variation and Escalation clauses in International contracts at the Singapore Business Laws Conference, and the Right to a Fair Trial in Heidelberg 1996 as well as conferences on Aviation Laws in Dallas 1979, New York 1981, and Taipei in 1990.

Apart from the hundreds of Judgements he has delivered during his tenure as a judge he also served as a Royal Commissioner on two national inquiries and was the Advisory Editor for Halsbury’ Laws of Malaysia on Civil Procedure.

With specific reference to Arbitration, whilst in practice he has acted as an Arbitrator in the Whitley Council to revise the Wage Structure of the Postal Department of Malaysia, in labour disputes on the first Industrial Arbitration Tribunal, and in private arbitrations in disputes between dissenting partners in legal firms. He delivered the judgement of the Court of Appeal on the inviolabilty of the awards of the Regional Centre from Judicial review.

Dato' Mahadev Shankar retired as a Judge of the Court of Appeal Malaysia in November 1997.

Since his retirement from the Judiciary he has acted as an Arbitrator in a corporate dispute between joint venture partners on severance terms, a major dispute between the Owner and Main contractor in one of Kuala Lumpur’s prime building projects. The ongoing arbitrations in which he is now involved include a construction dispute in East Malaysia, and a dispute between two corporate conglomerates on the enforceablity of put options.

He is currently a legal consultant in Zaid Ibrahim and Company, a law firm in Kuala Lumpur.

In April 2000 Dato' Shankar was appointed a Member of the Human Rights Commission Of Malaysia for a term of two years.

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