My parents brought me and my siblings up with books and books and books. Books were our companions and our guides. Books were everywhere in the house; be it in our playroom, our bedroom, the living room or the kitchen. We never had a room designated as a library, but you are bound to find a bookshelf or two in every room.
My parents taught us to love and appreciate books since the moment we could crawl around and play. They flipped through picture books with us and pointed out colours, numbers and shapes even if we couldn’t understand much at that age. They instilled a curiosity to discover the wondrous worlds waiting to be explored in the rows and rows of books which line up the walls of our playroom.
My father would read and act out the many books which were too hard for me to read but wildly exciting as they tell of great adventures across the seas or a simple but thrilling tale of a gingerbread man being chased around town. Sometimes our toy bears and rabbits were little actors as they played out the tale he was telling.
When I was turning four, my mother sat me down and made me read Ladybird’s “Phonics” series as a past time activity until slowly but surely, I unlocked the door to the many lands and seas and realms only books can bring me to.
Reading became a fun activity which wasn’t much different from playtime. Whenever we started to grow bored as we visited the grocery store, my parents would place us in their trolleys and give us a book to read. Even when we visited our grandparents in Terengganu, we will visit the bookstore ran by my family, “Alam Akademik” (or “Keda Buku Pok Loh Yunang” as it is fondly remembered by many), where my siblings and I will sit in the cozy reading corner at the store with a stack of books we have chosen to read.
My grandfather had a beautiful library in his house with books that my father will always encourage us to read. However, most of them talked about concepts my siblings and I found to be too difficult to understand. There was a day when my sister and I were ecstatic to find a few books which seemed simpler, but they were written in Arabic and thus we could only try to make sense of the story from the illustrations and with the few Arabic words we have learnt at school.
Despite my inability to understand the books, my grandfather’s library was my favourite room in his house as I found a sense of familiarity and comfort.
In more recent years, one of my favourite past time activity was to read a book with my father early in the morning while we have our breakfast. We shared a similar interest in book genre and topic which made for interesting discussions. Whenever I found a concept to be confusing, I would often ask my father as he was always able to break down complex subjects into clear explanations. He would also give me sticky notepads to mark interesting pages or to leave some notes in the margins.
However, there were also certain books, such as fictions and retellings of real-life mysteries and unsolved cases, which I enjoyed reading but he didn’t read them as much. He said that he used to read some of them during his university days, but there were other books which fascinates him more as he grew older.
This is when he said there is a choice in reading—in choosing books. The wondrous worlds hidden in books are knowledge; discovering them is learning. And with the limited amount of time that we have in this world, and with the responsibility that we carry on our shoulders to better ourselves and those around us, we need to also learn to evaluate the importance of a book and which of them should be read first.
But there isn’t a fault in reading light materials from time to time, he had said, and thus I would read these books on my own in my room on days when I wish to wind down from a hard week.
Three years back, my father had planned to rearrange some of the books in our living room. The books were arranged according to topic and there were some titles which were not kept in the right place; either in a rush or because we couldn’t quite decide which section it would fit in best. There were also some books—stacked in a corner, which were either taken out of the bookshelves to be read yet were never kept back in their places, or simply never found their way inside the bookshelves.
However, he passed away before he could see his plans through and I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it on my own. There were moments when I wanted to, and I was about to, yet I didn’t. For when I glanced at a book and read its title, or flipped through one which piqued my interest, I was harshly reminded of the loss that I feel without him. To this day, I would still automatically think of asking my father for an explanation whenever I stumble upon a new concept or theory or a confusing piece of information.
And it hurts when I couldn’t.
What pains me the most is a sense of disappointment in myself. I would be reminded of when my father encouraged me to read my grandfather’s books which I thought were too difficult to understand, yet I never quite tried. I would be reminded of when my father recommended a certain book for me to read, yet I decided to put it off for a while as I was reading other books which I thought were more exciting. I would be reminded of his advice on understanding and evaluating the importance of a book in comparison to another.
And only now do I feel a sense of urgency to try and learn as much of the things he knew and tried to teach as I could. To hunt for as much books which he had read and left annotations in the margins. To chase after the footprints he left in the sand which are being blown away as the days pass by.
But there is no use crying over spilt milk and wasted time and ruined chances.
Thus, dusting myself off and restraining myself from falling into the wallows of disappointment, frustration and feeling of incompetence, I finally decided to arrange the stack of books in the corner back inside the bookshelves and (albeit partially) rearrange some of the books my father had intended to.
And though I couldn’t quite keep out the voices in my head which refuse to not cry over spilt milk and are insisting that I am incompetent and a disappointment, I picked a few titles from my grandfather’s collection (which now resides in our home) and tell myself that even though I may have thrown away the opportunity to learn much more, I can still learn to unlock the door to the many lands and seas and realms of knowledge I so wish to discover—slowly but surely.
This piece was written a year ago and I decided to keep it in it’s original state without changing the “three years back” to “four years back”.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to publish it when I wrote it and so it has been collecting dust in my drafts folder for a year. Publishing it now on a whim.
As a life-long history enthusiast, one of my most desperate wishes is to visit all (or at least almost all) of the museums and historical galleries there are in Malaysia. One of these historical galleries is Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia’s (PSM) ‘Galeri Sejarah’ located at the ground floor of Wisma Sejarah—a proud landmark standing tall in one of Kuala Lumpur’s busiest roads, Jalan Tun Razak. The building also boasts a member-only library that houses more than 3,000 books! We have frequented Wisma Sejarah in the past since it is a popular wedding reception venue, but wedding receptions are generally only held on weekends in KL, and the gallery only opens on weekdays.
Thus, when my elder sister said that she will be sitting for her A-Levels at Wisma Sejarah three years back, I was beyond thrilled. With some forward planning and internet research, I whole-heartedly volunteered to accompany my sister to Wisma Sejarah and prepared my day trip backpack filled with day trip necessities and a list of agendas for the trip. The plan for me was to first register as a member of the organisation, then visit the gallery, and then read the books in the library.
Upon our arrival—and after wishing my sister good luck as she strode into the exam hall at about 08:45—I quickly went up to PSM’s office to sign up as a member of the organisation, then hurried back down and agonisingly eagerly stood in front of the Galeri Sejarah; waiting for it to open. The guard was steadfast in following the 09:30 opening hour. The moment the guard finally (FINALLY!) pulled the large wooden doors of the gallery open, I was overwhelmed by excitement and rushed in even though the guard had yet to flick the lights on.
This trip happened during one of the bleakest times in my life. My father had just passed away a few months prior, and my family and I were not certain about anything concerning our future, including our education. I had also lost my writing and research job; a work I passionately loved. Thus, this opportunity to fulfil one of my longest dreams became even more meaningful to me.
After touring once, twice, then one last time for good measure around the minuscule yet informative gallery, I thanked the guard for his kind hospitality and went for my third aim of the trip. The library, ‘Perpustakaan Tan Sri Omar Mohd Hashim’, was already opened by the time I reached it. And after signing in the guest book, I pulled out a notebook and a pen and engulfed myself in the overwhelming sight of the shelves of books. Some of the books were books I have only dreamed of seeing, much less holding and reading. I didn’t have much time to read that day since I spent a lot of time at the gallery. Therefore, I decided to only browse around and make a mental assessment of the titles offered and what’s where so that I can spend more time reading and less time browsing (or being awestruck and distracted by the many titles offered) during my next trip.
And that was how I spent my next few trips to Wisma Sejarah—secluded in the many rows of books, being lost in tales of old and new and worlds no level of imagination can do justice, and learning lessons and words of advice I hope to remember until the day I die. It was a beautiful safe haven, a reprieve from the dreadful loop of thoughts I was stuck in during one of my bleakest moments. My trips were so frequent that the librarian and I have grown amicable to, and comfortable with, each other. The librarian would usually turn her radio on when no one is visiting the library to fill in the silence, but as a sign of respect, she would turn it off when someone visits. After my frequent drop-bys however, she asked if it was fine for her to switch the radio on at a low volume. I said yes since I could simply bring my headphones to drown the noise a little.
Every morning while I waited for the library to open, I would reread the brief biodata of Tan Sri Omar Mohd. Hashim—the namesake of the library—which was written on a wall plaque hung beside the library’s doors. Back then, I had only briefly read about him—had only heard his name and story in passing. I knew that he was PSM’s chairman as well as the person who initiated the move to build Wisma Sejarah, and I knew that he was the person largely responsible for our Malaysian Examination Council’s (MEC) take-over in handling the SPM examinations from Cambridge, but not much else. I vaguely knew his story, but not his ideals, principles or his words. However, the trips to the library stirred my curiosity and I started to read a little bit more about him from his writings which were available in the library.
Then came an unassuming morning. It was just another day of me spending my time blissfully reading in the library—while my sister racked her brains trying to answer exam papers—when I heard someone walked in. There was a little bit of a stir (and by a stir I mean that the librarian stood up from her seat to greet the person). But since I was lost in my book, I didn’t think of paying much attention. Often the office staff would come to the library to have a chat with the librarian and thus—although it bothered me a little since I prefer to read in silence—I simply buried myself deeper into my book and continued reading.
Minutes passed by and I realised that the library was the quietest it had been in a while. Apart from some keyboard and mouse clicking, and newspaper-page turning, I couldn’t hear anything else—not the radio and neither any chatter.
I glanced up and furtively looked towards the neighbouring table, where the person who had just arrived was quietly reading a newspaper. He was an aged man I estimated to be around his late seventies or eighties. By chance, I glanced at one of the bookshelves in front of me where a book by Tan Sri Omar was placed. There was a picture of him from his younger days on the book cover; staring back at me with a kind smile.
Then the realisation sank in.
I—forgetting my attempts in being furtive—glanced back at the man with the newspaper, then back at the book, then back at the man, then—remembering my attempts in being furtive—quietly walked up to the librarian and asked with a slight tilt of my head, “Tan Sri Omar Hashim?”
“Ya,” was her excited reply to my excited query.
By now, I have already read about Tan Sri Omar’s deep passion for history, Bahasa Melayu and education, and a much more in-depth piece of how he initiated the move to build Wisma Sejarah as a symbol of pride and strength for the field of history, its lovers and also for PSM. Meeting someone who had done so much for the country, had such a deep passion for history, and was responsible for the construction of the building and the library I have grown so fond of was an opportunity I didn’t imagine would happen. I asked the librarian if she thinks he would mind if I were to ask for his autograph. I didn’t want to bother him since he was reading—and I hate interrupting someone when they are reading—but I needed to tell him how much I respected his works. The librarian contemplated the question, then said that I can give it a try.
Snatching my notebook, I timidly went up to him and (in the polite-most, respectable-most manner I could muster) excused myself and asked him if he can sign an autograph for me. His first reaction was a perplexed look; asking me what would I want his autograph for. I told him about how I respected and thought highly of his works and it would be such a great honour to have a token from the person I respect. He mulled over it, then nodded his head.
When he returned my notebook to me, with his signature adorning a once-blank page, he asked me if that is all. Still bothered by the thought that I may be bothering his reading time, I refrained from asking a few questions I thought of asking him and nodded my head “yes”.
To which he scolded me and said that it is not all. “Saya belum tulis tarikh,” he reprimanded. “Never get an autograph without the date.”
After writing the date down, he opened up a conversation and asked me why I was there. We talked for a moment, though it wasn’t long-lived. He soon went back to his newspaper and I, both excited and still nervous about bothering him from his reading, went back to my book.
I have briefly recounted this tale once in a previous blog article and will probably continue to remember it fondly. Although he didn’t know it, the conversation I shared with him instilled some hope and courage in me to trudge on through the difficult moment I was living through and inspired me to pursue a few of my seemingly too idealistic dreams. And although I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask him for his opinion on the matters I was curious about, I was more than honoured to have met and shared a short moment with him.
He passed away not long after, which shocked and grieved me deeply when I heard the news.
Menongkah Gelombang Pendidikan
Fast forward to earlier this week, I started reading his autobiography, ‘Menongkah Gelombang Pendidikan’. I have previously only read a few autobiographies since it isn’t my favourite genre. An autobiography would either allow you to listen to and watch an intimate retelling of a person’s life, giving you a peek into a person’s soul, or it simply presents an image the author wants you to believe in—an act, a political play and a biased perception. The latter is what usually puts me off and drives me away from reading autobiographies in general.
However, I found a few of Tan Sri Omar’s books on sale and my mother wanted to gift one of his books of my choosing to me for my birthday. In the end, I decided to give his autobiography a go. It would be interesting, I thought, to know more about his life and times and struggle and how he accomplished the great feats which he did. And the book, it turns out, was not only the genuine kind of autobiography which I love reading, but is also perhaps one of the best books I have read.
Tan Sri Omar’s story-telling was endearing and personal. When I read his writing, I can almost hear his voice narrating the lines—passionate when talking about the matters he was enthusiastic about, concerned when sharing an analysation of certain situations, movements or events which worried him, and nostalgic when recounting the stories of his parents. I can almost see his face lighting up in amusement when retelling the upbeat and cheeky incidences in his life, or excited when talking about the successes of his advocacy for the nation. When talking about his childhood days, Tan Sri Omar perfectly captured the innocence of a child who didn’t know or can foretell much further from what was present. Who had idealistic dreams and ambitions no one can hold them back from. Who, though naive, makes judgements and learns and remembers.
It was clear that all of these experiences from his childhood and teenage days have shaped his thinking and character, building him to be the man who strived and struggled simply to see his people and the future generation standing tall atop their motherland and proudly owning their culture and heritage after years of struggle and discrimination. A line from the book, which was quoted from Tan Sri Omar’s father, echoed his wish to watch the future generation grow and become their best, “Kalau seorang bapa itu diibaratkan sebagai pokok pinang, anak mestilah jadi pokok nibung dan cucunya mestilah jadi sebagai pokok kelapa.” His love for the future generation was expressed through his love for teaching, which was his dream job growing up. And although he only had the chance to teach for a few years in his life, it was evident from the way he recounted these years that he treasured them deeply. Reading about his love for teaching, I was reminded of the way he purposely left out the date when he signed me an autograph to test me and consecutively teach me about the importance of having the date written in an autograph. As the saying goes, once a teacher, always a teacher.
Another line which he quoted in the book were the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and a big inspiration for Tan Sri Omar during his school and university days. “Failure is a word unknown to me,” were the words on a poster of a picture of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his university dorm. And throughout his career in the education industry and his struggle to improve and uplift the education level of our nation, he held true to these words. Never did he back down from a difficult task or an obstacle, or bow down when his ideas were rejected. He kept true to his principles and marched on and into the unknown to open new doors of possibility for the country. In his pursuit to take over the handling of SPM from Cambridge, he was willing to travel the whole world and study the way each examination syndicate around the world handled their exams and run their organisations to craft the best system for our country. The process was a methodical one. One in which Tan Sri Omar and the other people working for the MEC spent years in shaping and modelling with careful and thorough steps taken.
One of my favourite parts of the book is when he would share his thoughts and analysations on the many events which happened then, and also related events which are happening in the present. Amongst the matters he stressed out in his book was the importance of a strong, stable and supportive familial connection. He pressed on how a strong, supportive and proactive family is a key to building the best minds and talents, and most importantly, in building character, principles and identity. This idea mirrors his upbringing where his father, a teacher, had proactively taught and nurtured him since he was a child despite his father’s busy schedule working for his family and the people, and how his mother sacrificed herself and worked day and night, walking around town by foot for long hours to sell goods in order to secure a great education for her children when his father passed away while Tan Sri Omar was still in his secondary school.
Speaking on the importance of studying history, he mentioned, “Sejarah laksana cermin yang makin digilap, making cerah imejnya untuk mengenal diri, masyarakat dan bangsa.” These words ring so true to me as we as individuals build our identity and principles based on what we remember and learn from our life. Similarly, a society or a civilisation becomes what it is from its collective history. Thus, the more defined our history is, the more defined our identity will be. And if our history is twisted and bent around the edges, we as a society will build an identity based on false ‘memories’ or false history. This is a sentiment that I have always felt but never found the right words to so precisely express. Perhaps this may be another reason why I found the book to be so captivating and remarkable. Reading how he articulated ideas in such a precise manner with some of these ideas or sentiments being ones I have also felt—although most definitely not as strongly or as well-fleshed out—was assuring, motivating and inspiring.
His sharing on his deep and fascinatingly beautiful worldview coming from his decades of analytical observations were as engaging as the entertaining retelling of his younger days. These short but in-depth analyses were reflective of the deep wisdom he had gained from the many experiences he had gathered throughout the years. His insights account for opposing views with structured arguments to support each case while also adding in many suggestions on ways to handle problems or issues which we are currently facing and those which we might face in the future; mostly relating to education. There are many words of advice that he left in the book for the future generation—for our generation. Reminders for those he cared so much about and worked hard to ensure that we will flourish. It would be a pity if we waste this opportunity to read the last piece of writing he left for all of us before he passed away.
A Treasure Trove of Knowledge
A line near the end of his book which struck me so strongly was when he wrote, “Tanda bangsa itu suatu bangsa yang besar ialah apabila ia pandai mengenang jasa tokoh-tokoh besarnya. Malangnya, kita di negara ini tidak pandai menghargai jasa orang yang baik sehinggalah hamba Allah itu tiada lagi.” It made me incredibly upset and disappointed with myself for not have read more about him sooner. For not have asked him the questions I wanted to ask and for his opinions and ideas on matters I was curious about when I met him. For not have put more effort in trying to perhaps meet him again and listen to the fruits of his wisdom. I am still honoured and beyond thankful that I, at the very least, was blessed with the opportunity to meet him just about six months before he passed away. But I still regret the fact that back then I was not able to appreciate him and his work as much as I do now.
Many times have I heard people say that throughout time, knowledge will slowly leave us, and it leaves us when a wise and knowledgeable person dies. I have always understood this saying, but now, I feel it profoundly. Tan Sri Omar’s passing is such a sore loss for our nation. He was a world of inspiration and a treasure trove of knowledge. He was a trailblazer and a bright star on a dark night. Now, the least that we can do is to learn from what we still have; to learn from the pieces of writing the wise of the past has left for us and to learn as much as we can from those who are still with us.
Below is an article that I wrote in 2017 as a columnist for the news portal ‘Menara.my’ under the title, “Minority Rights: Malaysia vs America”. Seeing that the action of likening Black oppression in the United States of America to the supposed minority oppression in Malaysia is prevailing after the unfortunate death of a Black citizen due to police brutality in America, I thought that this article might be enlightening to some. Since this article was written before Malaysia’s 14th General Election, the breakdown of the Dewan Rakyat representatives is out of date. However, do keep in mind that the number of minority representatives have increased and not decreased since the previous election.
America, the “Land of the Free,” the country with the best governance and laws which provide equal rights for all human beings, no matter their race or religion. And as the Muslim Bumiputra-led government of Malaysia is always heavily criticised for discriminating the minorities, Malaysia should definitely learn about racial and religious equality from the United States … right?
In 1788, when the United States Constitution granted each state the power to set their voting requirements, suffrage was mostly restricted to white males.  At that time, so many African-Americans were legally bonded to their owners as chattel slaves that the status of slave had been institutionalised as a racial caste associated with African ancestry.  The existence of one of the largest and most destructive conflict in the Western world, “The American Civil War” is an obvious proof of the whites’ refusal to accept the fact that the African-Americans are also humans who deserve the rights to live as freemen. The war between the Northern states who pledged under President Lincoln’s words that all men are created equal and the pro-black slavery Confederate States of America lasted for four years and cost about 625,000 lives. 
Even after the Civil War ended and the Northern states came out victorious, a Confederate sympathiser who was also initiated into the pro-Confederate ‘Knights of the Golden Circle’ fatally wounded President Lincoln in an exhibition of protest against the freedom of the blacks.  In a clear attempt to return the newly freed slaves into their former condition, most Southern states enacted the “Black Code” which prohibits the blacks to assemble in groups , testify against white people in court , and even to simply learn to read and write. 
Upon the long-delayed ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment which abolishes slavery and the Fifteenth Amendment which granted the rights to vote to all men without any regards to their race, the “Jim Crow Laws” were enacted, enforcing a racial segregation in the Southern United States. Poll taxes, literacy tests and threats of violent acts by the whites in the form of lynch mobs and terrorist attacks effectively excluded most blacks from the political system. 
It took them nearly a hundred years to finally overrule the “Jim Crow Laws” in the forms of the “Civil Rights Act of 1964” and the “Voting Rights Act of 1965”. 
And yet, Malaysian minorities have been voting since the very first Malaysian election in 1955. They were neither bounded as chattel slaves nor ripped off from their rights to vote, assemble in groups, and to learn to read and write. In fact, a number of Chinese and Indians were already elected during the first Malaysian election, a stark difference against America which did not feature an African-American representative until their 41st congress. 
Even today, the minorities in America are still greatly under-represented in America compared to Malaysia which has a more or less balanced amount of representatives.
Only 7.36% of the representatives are Hispanics and/or Latinos compared to the 16.30% of the American population who are Hispanics and/or Latinos. Whereas in Malaysia, the representation of the races in Malaysia’s Dewan Rakyat is more or less well-balanced.
Not just that, in America, the Christians, which encompasses 70.60% of the population, makes up a massive figure of 93.10% of the representatives—crowding the representatives of the minorities which makes up 28.80% of the population to only having 5.52% of the seats. However, in the Muslim country of Malaysia, the Christians (a minority religion) are over-represented, making up about 14% to 21% of the Dewan Rakyat compared to their 9.20% figure in the population statistics. The Muslims make an almost exact figure of about 61.29% to 61.30%.
Just by looking into the history and the current political scenario of the two countries, it is already obvious that the government of the “Land of the Free” and its majority, the whites, are far more racially and religiously biased than the Malaysian government and its majority, the Bumiputras. In truth, one should always properly study a country with a fair mind before making any judgements and comments which will ignite racial and religious conflicts, perturbing the peace and harmony of the country.
It was on a Thursday morning when my mother decided that she and I should attempt to cook a traditional kuah Nasi Dagang Terengganu– which is not the simplest of tasks. It is so hard to get the dish right that most of the kuah Nasi Dagang sold at roadside stalls or even at high-end restaurants terribly miss their marks. Just ask any ‘Orang Tranung’ on how hard it is to find a kuah Nasi Dagang which tastes like the traditional, fondly remembered and possessively loved kuah Nasi Dagang. My mother was excited because the last time (and the first time) we attempted to cook the dish, it was very close to being right. I agreed to partake in the adventure, partly because I am fond of cooking, but mostly because I have always been obsessed with preventing old ancestral recipes from vanishing.
However, sometimes in my passionate crusade to preserve cultural heritage and thwart off revolutionisation, I run into a formidable foe; self-doubt. “What is the point of all this?” it asks, as I blended a few pre-soaked dried chillies to make ‘cili giling’ for the kuah. What is the point of preserving recipes someone found and proclaimed to be the staple food of your culture? What is the point of dedicating your life to protect and preserve yesterday? Why can’t the modern kuah Nasi Dagang, which can be tasty in its own rights– just very unconventional, be accepted as the new kuah Nasi Dagang? Is it blasphemy to revolutionise traditional cooking?
In fact, many ‘Orang Tranung’ who migrated out of Terengganu have already gotten confused about how a kuah Nasi Dagang should taste like. So why must we go the extra mile to find the right amount of jintan manis and the right amount of kerisik and wait for the long hours it takes to ‘mati air ikan’ (a process where you boil your fish with seasoning and other stuff for hours until the bones of the fish turn soft), simply to find the right recipe to recreate a dish and pass it down to the future generation? Is preserving an old recipe, a cultural heritage, that important? What even is the importance and significance of our cultural heritage?
“Our heritage is our identity,” my mind will chasten, trying to stifle my self-doubt. It is what sets us apart from others. It is the source of our integrity and principles. To thwart it, to replace it, to adopt something new and not ourselves will be to shed our sense of being and dress up in costumes; pretending to be someone we are not. To modernise the sacred recipes we inherited from our ancestors is to leave our heritage in dusty, dingy basements in favour of replacing it by purchasing something new, something different and exciting, but not us. In doing so, we forget ourselves. We forget how special our culture is. We forget to champion our culture and our country to make it a formidable presence on the international stage.
We abandon our Nasi Dagang and Ikan Singgang and Baju Kurung Pesak because we are bewitched by Kombuchas and Kimchis and pastas and oversized hoodies. Not to say that it is wrong for us to appreciate international food (I love pasta and croissants and British tea). But if we were to leave and forget our own heritage, our own identity, allowing it to quietly disappear and be extinct in favour of adopting someone else’s rule of life (a.k.a. lifestyle), then who do we become?
Thus, as I stir my kuah Nasi Dagang, waiting for it to ‘pecah minyak’, I ponder about how proud the French are about their croissants. And how devastating it is that neither my mother nor I have been able to cook Rendang Hati the way my late Nenek (my maternal grandmother) cooked it when I was younger. And how we never asked my late Jiddah (my paternal grandmother) for her Kuih Pa recipe. And how disheartening it is to watch a large fraction of Malay young adults obsessing about wearing their costumes right first and covering their aurat second (wear short socks that expose your ankles and short trousers that expose your knees) and how some of them simply do not understand the fault in it (“netizens are too negative” and “tak suka jangan tengok”). And how lucky I am to have grown up in the right environment under my parents’ care and to have chosen the right role model (my Atuk who was always trying to improvise and modernise things but still protected cultural heritage and taught me about the importance of it as he reads his daily Utusan Malaysia). And yes, I will dedicate my life to this cultural heritage and history preservation crusade that I have been fighting for since I was a child. And I will continue to proudly wear my hand-me-down Baju Kurung Pesak on Hari Raya– knowing that people of my age make faces at the sight of them because the Baju Kurungs were too out of date and not resembling Western or Korean dresses enough.
And so as we sat down for lunch, with the steaming hot pot of kuah Nasi Dagang placed at the centre of the dining table, I was relieved and overjoyed because everyone thought that the kuah Nasi Dagang turned out fantastic, authentic and finally right.
“ارفع كلماتك ولا ترفع صوتك فالمطر هو الذي ينبت الورود وليس الرعد” Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder. -Jalaluddin al-Rumi
To preach is so much easier than to practice. Such is often the case. For to speak words of virtue and idealistic views is far simpler than to be a change; foreign and, subsequently, isolated and frowned upon. Yet, just how far can we go if we only talk, but do not walk? How long can we shout the same words before it becomes nothing but a broken record?
Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder.
Throughout the many years that I have spent writing and worrying about the future of our nation and its rich heritage, I have always been upset and frustrated about my subpar capabilities in writing and conversing in my own mother tongue; Bahasa Melayu. I felt as if I am a hypocrite; preaching about how important it is to protect our culture and heritage and yet, being unable to master Bahasa Melayu myself. I wasn’t incapable of conversing and writing in Bahasa Melayu, but I often make grammatical mistakes and my vocabulary index was so shallow that it was laughable.
Then, one quiet morning in November 2018, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Allahyarham Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Omar Mohd Hashim, who played a key role in establishing the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination to replace the Cambridge’s examination and empowered the role of Bahasa Melayu in our primary and secondary education. On top of that, he was also one of the people responsible behind the construction of Wisma Sejarah as the headquarters for Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia– which was where I accidentally met him as he was reading a newspaper (Utusan) in the library. And for a man who played such a great role in preserving and strengthening the role of our own language as well as our history, he was greatly uncelebrated. He rode a humble car and dressed in smart, but humble clothes and looked at me perplexed when I asked for his autograph because he didn’t understand why would I ask for his autograph. And from this experience and the words that he wrote and spoke throughout his lifetime, I came to understand that he didn’t care about the fanfares which came with his many credentials. All that he wanted was to preserve and strengthen the role of our language and history and thus, he worked to ensure that it happened by raising his actions and words, and not his voice.
Thus why I was inspired to take the opportunity to relearn Bahasa Melayu from the basics and try my very best to finally master the language while I was studying for my SPM examinations last year so that I won’t just simply excel in the exams, but can write and speak in the same language that my forefathers spoke in. And now, I can proudly say that my proficiency in Bahasa Melayu has immensely improved and my “karangan” being arguably better than that of my elder sister’s.
Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder.
For the past months, the issue of including a section to observe our traditional script, Jawi, in the Bahasa Melayu syllabus has been so hotly debated that half of us have forgotten the point of including the section in our syllabus in the first place. However, for all the damages it has caused, what good has the debate brought us? Are the ones who shout as they defend the decision to include the Jawi script in our syllabus actually using the script in their daily lives and working to ensure that the script is preserved by teaching their children to appreciate, love and write in the script? Everyone left and right are screaming and shouting about the implementations of the action, and the implementations of opposing the actions, and the implementations of opposing the opposition of the action that it is dangerously close to turning into an annoying sound like that of a mosquito which the public would swat away when they hear it, or a grenade which explodes and destroys bridges in between friends, neighbours and the nation.
Then, the Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah binti Almarhum Al-Mutawakkil Alallah Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj, simply posted four words in Jawi script on her twitter calling for the public to “هيدوڤ کن کݢوناٴن توليسن جاوي”, or to start writing and applying the usage of the Jawi script in our daily lives, and subsequently only wrote in Jawi script on her Twitter. However, her actions have triggered thousands of Malaysians to start learning and using the script on social media as well as their daily lives; a refreshing and exuberant sight for all of us. Her Majesty didn’t call for war or for us to preach to those who are bent on despising and calling our traditional script propaganda. All that Her Majesty did was to call for us to practice it in our daily lives and encouraged it by doing so herself. Yet, the good it has brought us is tenfold the effect we have seen from the months-long debate on Tulisan Jawi.
Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder.
We’ve heard these words from Jalaluddin al-Rumi countless of times– perhaps, have even quoted it. Yet, how often do we sit back and ask ourselves if we are embodying it? How often do we sit back and reflect on our past actions and look for countless of times we went against the words we preach?
Here’s to the ones whose names I’ve only heard of, Faces perhaps I have seen, but souls I’ve never met, Hearts I’ve never known to be so earnest in their words. It takes a penny to aid, but tenfold to invest In stones which value nowhere close to diamonds, Yet they sacrifice comfort in a manner so persistent. How they triumph over greed.
Here’s to the ones who won’t think of the trouble They face as they go out of their way; for they can Only think of the trouble faced by those who would struggle To make it through another day had they not lend a hand. Hours, dollars and hassle they won’t fuss over And all that they say is that it’s the least that they can do. Evident is their noble hearts.
Here’s to the ones who go against the odds And say that distance is never a barrier, for what They can’t give with their hands, they give with their thoughts. And though it may seem like nothing, they know that To battered souls thoughts can be antidotes, So they lend their ears and share their hearts. Blessed are their souls.
Ever since I was small, I counted the cents that I owe, Have always pledged to never burden a soul. And I swear that I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut About the wounds and bruises on this battered heart.
And now I have not a clue on how to repay The endless sacrifices which you have made. And though again and again, I worded a “thank you”, I don’t think it’s enough to convey my gratitude.
So here’s an ode to the ones who care. To the ones whose heart breaks upon our despair. Here’s to the ones who have proven time again… That though blood may make you related, Loyalty is what makes you family.
At times like these, I wonder how can the people — not just the youngsters, forget the ones we owe our lives to. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because we are here today and let yesterday be what it is; the past.
It pains me as I watch faces who said that they are a part of us leave the moment they thought they see glitter on the other side of the river. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because there’s a chance that tomorrow you’ll find a golden apple and let today be what it eventually will be; history.
It tortures me when I realise that no one is concerned about how we are all forgetting the values which promise tomorrow. How no one is concerned about how the water that we saved in hopes to live through the years of drought is rapidly seeping out from the cracks of old age. How no one is concerned enough to fix the cracks and replenish the reservoir so that we can make it through tomorrow. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because we’re sleeping with a full stomach today and let tomorrow be what it is; uncertain, unfound — lost.
He was a man who spoke not of his worries or the pain and anguish which torments his heart. He would, at times, act upon his anger when he felt upset. Alas, he was only a human.
He was a man who spoke wise words, leaving cryptic messages and short-sentenced advices. When I asked for the reason behind the words he said, most of the time he wouldn’t explain them, only saying; figure it out.
After he left, I started to see the things which had been tormenting him—the things which he had been trying to keep away from us so as to keep us away from the pain he felt. After he left, I started to see the reasons behind some of the words he said—the reasons as to why he told us to stay away from certain acts and to not trust certain hearts. Or the reason as to why he always reminded us to hold onto our faith in Allah for Iman is not something a father is able to pass down to his children.
The past eleven months have been a wild ride for me. With the mast of my ship, which was the reason as to why I could sail for so far, gone and the compass, which guided me through turbulent waves, lost; it is often that I find myself pulled into ferocious storms.
And it had been maddening.
But with every tragedy which one braces through come lessons which one can learn from. Such as the art to tell apart between glitter and gold, or the art to recognize wolves in white fleece, or to understand why you must always treasure and stand together with the ones who are not going to jump out of a sinking ship without you. And these lessons learned are the seeds which grow into valuable experiences, experiences which will build your own map of the world so you can stand up for yourself and also help others sail through the seas which are uncharted for them—like how others have helped you.
To Abah, thank you for all of the sacrifices you’ve made for us which we’ve never known and perhaps will never know. Thank you for all of the wise words you’ve spoken, for always reminding us to read and learn and hold onto our Iman. Thank you for the quiet mornings we’ve spent over books and breakfast—this will always be something which I will miss.
To Abah, happy birthday and may Allah bless you always.
Since May last year, there has been a profound rise in the number of random civilians who posts words or pictures which are preaching hatred on their social media pages by mocking the sovereign rulers of the country and the people who support them, and insulting the practices and ideologies which are taught in Islam, the religion of the Federation. These posts are obviously stirring up the anger of all patriotic citizens, not only the Malays and the Muslims, and are causing a divide between the people.
As a multiracial country, people of all races and religions would feel angry about such acts because they feel compassionate for their fellow compatriots. These people would also feel angry at the disrespect shown to their sovereign rulers who they owe to for the peace and success of their country. However, it is sad to see that the number of people from other races who are standing behind the sovereign rulers and the Malays is minute. The rest of them have either chosen to join the charade of hate preaching or to ignore the whole fiasco altogether. And this is where the divide happens.
When the Malays embraced and welcomed the induction of the Chinese and the Indians as citizens of Malaysia, only to have a majority of these people mock and insult their religion, they feel very much betrayed. This feeling subsequently leads to indignation which leads to them standing up to protect the sanctity of their religion and race. When the Malays unite to stand up for the king, their religion and race, there are people who dislike this unity and instill fear into the hearts of the people from other races—specifically the Chinese and the Indians, by accusing the Malays of attempting to oust them from the country. This provokes the other races to mock and insult the sovereign rulers and the Malays even further. Thus, when the fight is no longer between individuals and the patriotic citizens but race against race, it poses as a grave danger to the peace of our country.
There needs to be a stop in the derogatory usage of our sovereign rulers, and the teachings, traditions and practices of the Muslims as items of mockery and ingredients for jokes.
The Malays were generous enough to relax the citizenship law and grant citizenship for the Chinese and the Indians, who came from their subsequent countries to find a better life. For about 54 years since the establishment of the Social Contract of Malaysia—the basis on which the citizenship of the Chinese and the Indians stands, the people enjoyed a peaceful and joyous life in a country which celebrates its unique multiracial identity, safe for the communal altercation which took place in 1969. All this is now placed at stake because of some foolish and shallow acts done without thorough thought. The impending doom of a communal riot similar to the 13th May 1969 incident seems ever so close at hand.
This is exactly the reason as to why law is established in a country.
Peace is brought forth when there is order, and for there to be order, a law needs to be established, upheld and practised. The citizens of a civilised country should feel responsible to protect, uphold and respect the law. The government should be the one who sees that the law is being practised and exercised justly—for what is the use of the law if it is not being practised? The amendment of the Sedition Act 1948 in 1971 which criminalises speech with “seditious tendency”, including that which would engender “feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races” was done exactly to curb the communal altercation which we are going through today after experiencing the deadly 13th May 1969 incident.
The failure of the people to understand the severity of their actions and the reason behind the laws which have been established in the country is saddening and horrifying, and the failure to see through that the law is being practised and upheld is encouraging such acts which are preaching hatred and causing a divide in our country. Thus, until the law is practised and upheld again, the number of such disrespectful, immature and thoughtless acts will only escalate.
Dalam hidup di dunia ini, ada kalanya kita gembira, dan ada kalanya kita sedih. Ada masanya kita senang, dan ada masanya kita jatuh, susah dan sakit. Susah atau senang, kedua-duanya adalah ujian untuk kita. Adakah kita akan terlalu berfoya-foya ketika kita senang hinggakan kita leka dan mencampur-adukkan yang haq dan yang batil? Adakah kerana kesusahan hidup kita akan hilang kesabaran dan Iman yang ditanam dan disemai di dalam hati mula mencair dan akhirnya terlerai?
Ramai yang tidak sedar bahawa hidup senang itu adalah satu ujian. Bahkan, ramai yang sedang hidup senang tidak menyedari yang mereka itu sedang melalui satu ujian yang amat besar. Sangat senang untuk kita terlupa tentang hari akhirat apabila hari-hari di dunia sangat menyenangkan. Sangat senang untuk kita tergoda untuk hidup mengikut hawa nafsu apabila kita semakin menjarakkan diri daripada Allah. Sangat senang untuk kita terjangkit penyakit sakit hati dan gila harta apabila hawa nafsu sudah tidak terkawal.
Ramai yang sedar bahawa hidup susah adalah satu ujian. Apabila tidur dan bangun kita perlu melayan suara-suara di dalam kepala yang tidak tahu untuk berhenti mengingatkan kita tentang masalah yang sedang dihadapi. Apabila kita hanya mahu duduk membaca buku untuk belajar atau hanya untuk membaca buat menghibur hati pun tidak tercapai apabila hanya satu ayat yang dapat masuk dalam kepala. Yang lain terus kabur dari penglihatan kerana tidak dapat menumpukan perhatian kepada perkataan-perkataan yang tercatat apabila suara-suara itu kembali. Sangat senang untuk patah semangat apabila setiap langkah yang diambil ditohmah dan diperli mereka yang sedarah dan sedaging dengan kita. Sangat senang untuk kita putus asa dan hilang kesabaran apabila hati telah lusuh. Sangat senang untuk kita menggadaikan Iman apabila sudah terputus asa.
Dalam hidup di dunia ini, perlulah kita bentengi pertalian saudara dan mengeratkan ukhuwah antara kita. Perlulah kita saling mengingati akan mereka dan memberi nasihat atau menghulurkan bantuan apabila perlu. Ia adalah sangat sukar untuk menghadapi ujian-ujian ini seorang-diri dan, jika kita sudah tahu bahawa mereka sedang susah atau leka, ia sudah menjadi tanggungjawab kita untuk membantu mereka.
Tetapi… susahnya kita hendak membantu mereka. Untuk memberi nasihat kepada mereka yang sedang hidup senang, memang tak terbuat. Antara kita fitnah mereka yang bukan-bukan, ataupun kita tumpang sekaki dalam kehidupan materialistik dan hedonistik mereka. Untuk menghulur bantuan kepada mereka yang susah… cita-cita itu ada, mungkin niat pun sudah disebut dan kadang-kala, habis ke semua orang telah kita cerita tentang azam kita itu. Bangganya kita apabila telah berjaya menghulurkan sedikit bantuan kepada mereka buat julung kalinya semenjak berbulan kita menanam niat dalam hati. Habis ke semua group WhatsApp kita share gambar betapa baiknya kita. Tetapi… selepas itu….?
Banyak-banyaklah kita bermuhasabah diri. Jangan kita gagal di dalam kedua-dua ujian ini. Kedua-duanya sangat mencabar untuk mereka yang tidak mahu mengawal emosi, senang putus asa dan tidak ada atau kurang kepercayaan kepada Allah s.w.t yang maha pengasih lagi maha penyayang. Tidak akan sekali-pun dia mencampak kita ke dalam situasi yang kita tidak ada kekuatan untuk menghadapi.