by Azly Rahman
Jan 25, 2013
With the state of racial and religious things entire in our beloved Malaysia today – rumours of a festival of Bible-burning, continuing humiliation of the Malaysian Indians especially, the death of critical sensibility in our public universities, the devastating revelations of the ‘Sabah IC-gate’ plot, the issue of ‘stateless Indians’ and the criminalisation of children not able to be schooled because they were born ‘stateless’ and a host of other issues Malaysian-ly unbecoming.
I have decided to travel down the path of nostalgia. I am quite sure many of you reading this column would agree that the late sixties and early seventies presented a good frame of reference of what it means to be Malaysian and what ‘national identity’ could be about. Names upon names came back to me as I conjure fond memories.
There was a certain kind of magic, innocence, and sincerity to foster a Malaysian identity, back then. It didn’t matter what race you were one could love to one’s heart’s content folks like these: P Ramlee, AR Tompel, Aziz Sattar, Saloma, Siput Sarawak, Ayappan, Lim Goh Poh, Andre Goh, Kartina Dahari, Orchid Abdullah, soccer players like V Arumugam the ‘Spider Man’, Soh Chin Aun ‘The Towkay’, Shaharuddin Abdullah the cool guy, Mokhtar Dahari ‘Super Mokh’, Santokh Singh, and many other great names that helped make Malaysian Malaysia proud.
One could laugh at the comedian-ventriloquist Jamali Shadat’s jokes, remember names such a V Sambanthan, Khir Johari, the great statesman Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tan Siew Sin, Temenggung Jugah (the man with a really cool haircut I so wanted one… ), Aishah Ghani, and of course the reluctant but down-to-earth and benevolent multiculturalist-statesman Tunku Abdul Rahman (right) with his famous uncontrollable blurting of Malay curse words and his philosophy of “oil and water can never mix”. A simple, yet profound life was back then…
Those were the days before today… when hell is breaking loose. What happened to the ethos of that genre, I wonder.
Growing up in the early 70s, different words to describe reality, practices, and possibilities were dancing happily around me.
Perhaps those street names tune us to calmness… Jalan/Lorong Aman, Sentosa, Bahagia, Rahmat, Syukur, Ne’mat, and Merdeka…
All these shaped the child’s mind, such as that of mine growing up with a fascination of names, as if living is about being taught names and being able to “read the self and the word” in order to be liberated.
There were also words related to spirituality; words such as ‘sembah-Hyang’, marhaban, berzanji, kenduri, berkhatan, and bersugi gigi…
There were also cool words related to Malay magic such as jampi serapah, tangkal, kemenyan, dukun, pawang, and of course the “mambang laut-mambang darat-mambang udara” trinity/trio”…
Back in the day of the smooth-sailing seventies people were happy wearing what ought to be simple fashion and accessories… kebaya, baju kurong (not a straitjacket mind you), baju Melayu Telok Blangah, terompah, selipar chapal, selipar Jepun… manik koran, and all kinds of Malay, Chinese, and Indian ‘bling bling’ to adorn oneself with cultural niceties
Growing up in the kampong, I was not attuned to hearing totally foreign words, imported from elsewhere to denote and connote the self, spirituality, and salvation, and “saving the soul of others”; words such as solat, dakwah, ushrah, tarbiyyah jihad, muzakarah, jubah, serban, hijab, purdah, burqah, niqab, Arqam, tabligh, Ayatollah, muktamaar, buah tamar, or even Daulah Islamiyah…
Not that I knew or had even heard of… until the beginning of the eighties when these words like Karl Marx would became technologies of the “body, mind, and spirit” that changed the social relations of production and the ideological landscape of the country and the consciousness of a segment of Malay people…
And I never heard anyone wanting to burn the Bible nor shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) when scoring goals in a friendly kampong football match.
And the beauty of living back in the day was how the self was constructed out of the early introduction to pluralism/ multiculturalism such that in me, every time the Chinese spirit of Bruce Lee possesses me, I could just go out and beat up my best friend Fook Shiang for example. We could then walk to town and overdose on the Indian food tosei and capati. Along the way we would stop by breezy Lido beach to grab a bite of the Javanesse soul food tauhu (tofu) sumbat.
Next, we could stop by at our teacher’s house and listen to his stories of Malay spiritual powers and magic called ‘Ilmu Budi Suci’ where the energy within possibly called the ‘chi’ can be harnessed so that one could kick like Bruce Lee without even touching your enemy!
Then, back in the day, we could go home after that to watch Joe Bugner got punched out into outer space by the ‘Black Superman’ named Muhammad Ali. I could still remember the words of the announcer … “Annnddd in thissss corneerrr… weighing 220 pounds… from Louisville Kentucky… the undisputed world champion… Moooo hammaaaad… Aaaa Liiii… Aaaa Liiiii… Aaaa Liiii…” to the sounds of the audience gone berserk.
I could go on and one with this nostalgic; a trip down memory lane of the seventies especially, just by recalling words and words that were synonymous with a world that was about to enter globalisation but was dealing with a strange brew of modernisation and uneven development – a Malaysia before Mahathirism.
That was true multiculturalism without any strand of today’s idiocy. That was our Malaysia with a lot of sense and sensibility.
DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master’s degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.