“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by
narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever widening
thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake” – Rabindranath Tagore
My first exposure to politics was when , as a little girl of 5 or 6 in Ipoh, I ran out of my house to wave at the charismatic Mr.Patto of DAP, campaigning through loudspeakers on his moving open-truck. He was fiery and I thought he was so brave and clever, standing up there and speaking without any fear. My father told me that Mr. Patto urged Malaysians not to fear change, and said that every citizen should call himself a Malaysian first and foremost, and not a Malay, Chinese or Indian. I never forgot that. Ever.
I remember thinking back then that even if I had even a quarter of his courage, I would be a lucky girl indeed. Years later, as a young adult, when I read that he had passed away, I was very saddened. Not because he had died, because I knew he must have lived a full, exciting life – lived more than most would have done in their lifetimes of subservient kneeling to whomever could throw them a few scraps. I was sad because he never got a chance to make a difference to more Malaysians by being a part of the ruling party. I felt his tough resilience, his strong character and his courage of convictions would define character for a lot of young Malaysians.
My father encouraged me to read the newspapers, which I found extremely boring. For even then I thought the reporting was pretty lop-sided, with mud-slinging and name calling by BN politicians to opposition party members, reported in what I felt was salacious glee. I eventually started following the adventures of one very inspiring man who stood out again and again as a lion of courage and strength amongst most other men – Mr. Karpal Singh. He took no nonsense from silly politicians, he fought with courage against corruption, he admonished newspapermen who got their facts wrong, hell, he even took on the King. Man, did he rock my world!
I was shocked when he was sent to prison for merely voicing his opinions, under the ISA, which was meant for communists. Opposition seemed a bad word back then, but I never got it. Why was being in the Opposition negative? Even as a child of eight, I could see the logic and absolute necessity of a strong opposition, which unfortunately most adults could not and would not see. I guess the lull of complacency, of the ‘let’s not rock the boat, we are fine now, what’ was at its greatest heights then. But I was not convinced.
So, in a dark lost world, Mr.Karpal Singh became my knight in shining armour. A man who would fight for what’s right. There were so few like him. Most men in positions of authority just sold out to the highest bidder like cheap prostitutes – for titles, for positions, for contracts, for seats. And with such intelligence, charisma, calibre and capability Mr. Karpal Singh could have been at the top of the stakes. But he never even considered cashing in his chips, because he had that rarest of commodities most men and women don’t have. Commodities that makes one stand out like a beacon in a sea of insipid folks – self-pride, honour, integrity. That is what makes a man, a real man.
And the people in the Opposition had it. Mr.Lim Kit Siang had it. I have watched his hair grow from black to white , but that pursed up lips of stubborn resilience, that fierce determination in his eyes has never diminished. That fearless questioning that went on, while backbenchers from BN shouted like monkeys on heat to drown his voice. He never gave up. And sometimes, I wondered why men like Karpal and Kit Siang went on, when they were locked up, reviled, slandered against…it would have been all too easy to just let it go and walk away. But they did it out of duty, to a country they loved. Now , that is what I call patriotism. Not shouting slogans, waving flags. Patriotism is making wrongs right for your country – without fear or favour.
These are men of courage, wisdom and integrity who should be ruling Malaysia, but they were never given a chance. If they had been, we would have seen a different Malaysia today. A Malaysia with backbone.
I must have been 9 or 10 when I followed my first election result tally with my father until the wee hours of the morning. I was the youngest in the family, and probably the most passionate, thereby I naturally became Daddy’s helper. I was helping him count and we took turns adding up results – it was a landslide victory – again – for Barisan Nasional. Ho hum. As usual. Then Mahathir came on screen. And he was gloating, with such a disgusting smirk on his face, that I wished I could lean into the tv and slap him.
I never liked him. Call it a child’s instinct, call it a child’s innocence or conversely, maturity beyond my age, I saw evil in him. I did not like his constant smirk, I did not like his shifty eyes, I did not like his disparaging words against the opposition who had lost. He was never a gentleman. The dislike for him has only intensified over the years, as I see now how he is also the ultimate racist who has divided and segregated the country, stolen our souls and spirit and has made a fortune for himself, using the Malay and bumiputra agenda to manipulate simple-minded Malays, while being a full Indian himself.
My father was an avid reader, and he read everything from politics to economics to romance (yes, when he could not get his hands on anything else). He was merely a clerk in Telecoms, but in another life, in a parallel universe with more opportunities his way,he might have been more, much more.
My most vivid memory of my dad is of him sitting on his favourite worn out chair, with one leg crossed under him and the other swinging in tandem to the mood of the moment, reading with his black horn-rimmed glasses, in his white singlet and blue striped shorts. We were poor, but hell, we had our books. There was this one book that he kept next to him and read and re-read more often than the others. It was Tan Sri Tan Chee Koon’s “Without Fear or Favour’. He was in awe of Tan Chee Koon, said there were few men like him. And he used to tell me this story – “This man beat the odds, girl. Born of immigrant parents, he rose at 5.30am every morning to feed livestock, cycled 5 miles to tap rubber, and when he came back at 4pm, he would tend to the vegetables and fruit trees and sometime between all that , found time to become a doctor and lead the opposition and write some of the most brilliant books that speak of a nation – without fear or favour. See, you don’t have to always remain poor if you work hard.”
My father kept telling me to read Tan Chee Koon’s book, I must have been 13 or 14 then. The teenager in me, though, was more interested in the racy, tittillating Sidney Sheldons and Joan Collins then, and I never did read that book. And when my father died, and my mother and I had to leave our home for good, I lost a lot. My home, my security, my sense of belonging, those books, but most of all , my father who made me cherish what was real and good in this world. I forgot that book, and my promise to my dad to read it. But I remember it now, as the mother-of-all-elections come close, and I managed to look it up in the internet, and realise that it is a book before its time. A book that asks questions that have been stifled for too long. A book just like its name. I promise I will read it, dad, and I am doing more than that – I am spreading the word of your favourite book to many, many more.
The nightmare of BN continued.
Tun Salleh Abbas, the Lord President was removed from the judiciary along with 5 other prominent , respected and most importantly, honest, judges by Mahathir. The independance of the judiciary was killed in one stroke. I was horrified. But people still voted BN in. It was the worst decision the country made, because Malaysia sunk into a state of lawlessness after that. And with that one by one, the many institutions that keep a country grounded through check and balance, and accountability fell like a stack of dominoes.
I must have been in the university when I read that Lim Guan Eng, then a young passionate DAP member, was thrown into jail for championing the cause of a young Malay girl who was raped by a prominent BN politician. It defied logic, and it strengthened my hatred for Barisan Nasional and for stupid people who kept voting Barisan Nasional in every election like goats to the slaughter. It was a stupidity and selfishness that has come back to haunt them over and over again.
Growing up, I stood on the shoulders of giants like Patto, Karpal, Kit Siang and I saw beyond the veil of deceit, stupidity and arrogance the ruling party had kept us under. I saw my nemesis – his name was Mahathir, and I learnt what real evil was, and how evil can manipulate everything to get its own ways. For even the Devil can quote the Scripture for his own benefit, the Bible tells us. Yes, Mahathir made me too – he made me aware of how conmen work, and opened my eyes to deceipt, racism, hatred, manipulation and how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The insidious evil of Mahathir and his legacy of slimy politics and mega cronyism changed a landscape. The master manipulator had everyone singing his praises, except me. And then the tide turned – Anwar happened. I was there on the 20th of Sept 1998 – shouting REFORMASI with my fellow countrymen. Oh, for a glimpse of hope, for change, for a better Malaysia. I never felt more Malaysian that day, when finally I met people who threw of the shackles of race and religion and sang a song of freedom, as one people, one nation. United by Anwar. It must have been Mahathir’s nightmare.
We followed Anwar Ibrahim. We saw a leader. It did not matter if he was gay or straight, Malay or Iban, Muslim or Bahai – he was hope. And that little sliver of hope kept a torn nation together, in fevered anticipation. We dared to hope, we dared to dream once again. And the dream was so beautiful.
The dream was intermittently shattered by brutality and force of the oppressors – I saw frail Tian Chua beaten up, abused and manhandled. But that frail man was only frail in body , but an unstoppable juggernaut in heart and spirit.They beat him, he got up. And he got up more times than they could push him down. Where Karpal, Kit Siang , Patto had gone to jail and given up many privileges to remain steadfast in their beliefs, Tian Chua gave his body, took the beatings and soldiered on. They taught me the real meaning of sacrifice – to not just talk the talk , but to walk the walk.
Anwar Ibrahim, was just like those men I mentioned above – just that he started on the other side of the fence, and had it easier than Patto, Karpal or Kit Siang. But everyone deserves a second chance and Anwar Ibrahim has proven to me, by the sheer volume of torture, slander and injustice meted out by BN and still not buckling to their pressure – that he has my vote to be the change I have been wanting for as long as I can remember.
My father, Patto, Kit Siang, Karpal, Tan Chee Koon, Guan Eng, Tian Chua, Anwar and many others who speak without fear or favour – they have shaped my character. My fighting spirit. The pride I feel in myself for never needing to grovel for handouts, for always standing on my own two feet. The way I hold myself up high, look people in the eye and DEMAND my rights in this country I call home, not shyly whisper for it.
I am no more a child, I am not afraid of bullies anymore. I am the new generation, a generation that is part of a global village, who is conditioned not merely by the environment and politics of this country but by that of a global community. You can’t fool us with lies. That time is long gone. But you will watch us roar. And march forward to stake our claim in a country we call home. We know no other home but this home, and we will fight to make it ours, the way we want it. We will speak, and not forever hold our breath. And we will NOT go gently into the night, but rage, rage against the dying light….
I see millions of Malaysians in youtube videos, who must feel like me, waving flags with fire in their eyes, passion in their souls, hoping for a change.
I am 44 years old. I was born into BN rule. And I don’t want to die under BN rule.
My country, my people and I deserve more than this. And I hope to see the men who made me, and men and women like them, be given the chance to bring back pride, soul, spirit and hope to the disenfranchised youth. To create more young men and women like me to go on and carry the torch for a future we can proudly leave behind for our children.