Your Weekend Entertainment –Jazz From Malaysia

June 14, 2014

Your Weekend Entertainment –Jazz From Malaysia

din and kamsiah2Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

For listening pleasure, Dr. Kamsiah and I present Jazz from Malaysia featuring the RTM Combo led by Ahmad Shariff, Radio Malaysia Orchestra under the direction of Alfonso Soliano and Gus Steyn, and the crooners of the 60s era.

My dearly departed cousin, Dato’ Ahmad Daud and  Zain Azman, my friend at the malaysia-endless-possibilitiesRubber Research Institute (known in the 1960s as the Nat King Cole of Malaysia) are  also featured here. Malaysia is a country full of talent and rich in culture and music (including Jazz).In fact, it is a land of Possibilities, if only we know how to utilise our  diverse cultural heritage, and talent pool.

That said, let us relax since this week, as reflected in the postings on this blog, was an equally emotionally draining one. Keep well and enjoy your Sunday.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

RTM Combo–Ahmad Shariff

Aku Dia & Lagu

Di Taman Seputeh



Alfonso Soliano

Ayam den Lapeh

Mimpi Ku Semalam

Ku Kan Kembali

Gus Steyn

Ahmad Daud

Zain Azman

How about a little Poem for this Occasion–May 23, 2014

May 23, 2014

How about a little Poem for the Occasion–May 23, 2014

tennysonporI could have posted Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem which I read at Sixth Form at the Penang Free School (1958). It was heavy stuff, way back then and too  long for my purpose here. Yet Milton’s is a must read for those who want to learn English seriously. Also try Chaucer’s Canterburry Tales and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

But  for this occasion, let me revisit Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, which I posted on my blog some years  ago. I think it is an appropriate piece of poetry for my special day. I dedicate it to the memory of my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican, Christie Netto and the forgotten men and women of their generation.–Din Merican


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea:

I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life.  Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains:  But every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachos,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas.  My mariners,
Souls that have tol’d and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads – you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all:  but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes:  the slow moon climbs:  the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

     Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Fellow Malaysians, May The Force be with You Always

Birthday Greetings from my friend Terence Netto

May 22, 2014

Din and KamsiahI am deeply  moved by an e-mail message I received a few moments ago from a soulmate in literature, Terence Netto and thank him  warmly for his very kind wishes to mark my 75th Birthday, which falls tomorrow, May 23.

It is indeed a great honour to share the same date as his late father, Christie Netto, whose centenary it will be tomorrow. Two Germinians, a quarter of century apart, Christie and I share a common passion which is the love of reading and literature.

Terence had an excellent role model in his father, and I had an equally wonderful one in my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican. Both he and I were indeed fortunate to have  such unselfish mentors.

Our parents –my mother and his father– did not leave behind great wealth.  But in their separate ways, they exposed us to great literature and taught us the value of reading.

Yes, I love to read history and literary works of antiquity through which I began to appreciate the nobility of a Hamlet and the idealism of a Brutus and despise  the toxic qualities of Iago, the greed of a Shylock and the machinations and temptations of a Lady Macbeth.

So my friend, Terence, allow me to post a poem by William Wordsworth in honour of the long departed Christie Netto. He did his duty for our country. And so did my beloved mother.You and I will now go on, never to quit because we still have plenty to do before we sleep.

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold (Rainbow)

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Let also us celebrate this auspicious day with this tune by Sammy Davies Jr.–Din Merican

Birthday Greetings from my friend, Terence Netto

Dear Din,

My fond greetings to you on attaining the milestone of three score and 15 years.Ever since I came to know you seven years ago and got to know that your birthday falls on May 23, I have felt a special kinship for you. It is because the date is also the birthday of my father whose centenary is today which makes this day extra special to me.

It is apposite that I should greet you on this day when I feel a deep sense of gratitude to my dad. For without his urging me to read from a young age I doubt I could have forged a friendship with you that I am certain would last for the duration of our remaining years, you being a ripe 75 and I, a mere 14 years to the rear.

You and I have had many occasions when we shared our delight in the stuff we had read in our days of youth and maturity. That reading may not have covered the compendium of what Matthew Arnold meant by the “best that has been said and thought” in this world, but any range that has within its compass a dollop of Shakespeare, a draught of Tolstoy and a distillate of Gibbon would suffice for  the delights that we have shared whenever we met.

 From my father, Christie Netto, I acquired the sheer joy of felicitous statement which led me to devour literary and political stuff, especially when these have been singingly rendered. Combined with the fortune of having a good English teacher in the late Bernard Khoo Teng Swee (whom your website commemorated last week) and the fortuitous friendship of (also departed) fellow journalist, Shaik Osman Majid (who like you had Penang Free School as his alma mater), I learned to read, remember and store my mind with the stuff that will always be a joy forever.

 So on this day when you mark your 75th birthday, I take a special delight in greeting you and in remembering my father to whom I owe such a lot. If in the “brief candle” of our life the knowledge of how this world works and of how human beings are constituted could be available to us, it is almost certain such powers would only be acquired through comprehension of the great works of literary and philosophic merit.

It has been no small pleasure that through the mentoring of Christie, a humble accounts clerk who knew Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Marx, Netto junior acquired some of the wherewithal that must have made him, I figure, a companion of some value to Din Merican to whom the Latin greeting – Ad multos annos – is most appropriate on this auspicious day.




BOOK REVIEW: Floating on a Malayan Breeze

January 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW:Floating on a Malayan Breeze

Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh,Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore

Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong University Press and NUS Press, 2012.  Pp. viii, 282; map, photographs, notes, index.

Reviewed by Elvin Ong

Ever since Singapore’s split from Malaysia in 1965, the government of each country has been bent on directing its trajectory away from that of the other.  This tendency perhaps peaked during the governments of the two countries’ most renowned authoritarian leaders, Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad. Singapore was always going to be what Malaysia was not. Malaysia was always going to go its own way, irrespective of what Singapore did. So dominant are the two opposing caricatures that have emerged – one clean, one dirty; one efficient, one corrupt; one carefree, one perpetually stressed – that we very often forget that Singapore and Malaysia have a shared past in British Malaya and that they have always been dependent on each other, at least in the economic realm.

Floating Breeze

In an attempt to correct this view, Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, the Singaporean-born son of a Malaysian-born father, declares early in that the book is his attempt to provide what has been a missing “bottom-up perspective in national discourse” by writing about the two countries “as seen from the ground” (p. vi). On the one hand, he relates encounters with random personalities from Singapore, with people met during his month-long biking expedition around Peninsular Malaysia in 2004, and with various interesting individuals whom he interviewed on the ground during the campaign for the watershed 2008 Malaysian elections. On the other, he shares pieces of personal insight about the socio-political development of the two countries in the past decade. The resulting book is part travelogue and part socio-political commentary, a somewhat frustrating combination that is enjoyable, but that also raises more questions than it answers.

Sudhir’s vivid descriptions of his interviews and of the challenges encountered during his travels in Malaysia often set the stage for his larger points. Throughout the book, we are drawn into his conversations with various “big” and “small” personalities across the political spectrum in Malaysia. Some “big” personalities include Steven Gan, co-founder of the Web-site Malaysiakini and Nurul Izzah, the incumbent member of parliament for Lembah Pantai – better known, perhaps, as the daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the political opposition to Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional government.

The interviews with such “big” individuals are useful to the extent that they provide a sliver of insight into these individuals’ backgrounds and their motivations for driving socio-political change in Malaysia today. But as Sudhir demonstrates, “small” characters often have important, sometimes much more important, stories to tell.

Betty owns a nondescript souvenir shop just across the border from Malaysia in Betong, Thailand. She was a former guerrilla soldier with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), which fought against the British, Japanese and newly-independent Malayan and Malaysian governments for a Communist Malaya. She is uniquely positioned to help Sudhir excavate a broader point about the CPM’s forgotten role in Malaya’s independence movement. Mr Liew is a Chinese businessman and eager supporter of the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. He punctures the stereotype that PAS is an extremist Malay political party that does not know how to “do” development. In a sense, these colourful “small” characters like Betty and Mr Liew are the gatekeepers for forgotten or interesting stories. They give life to staid political-science theories and dull academic writing.

Yet, for all the fascinating interviews and insights that Sudhir’s encounters with such people provide, it is difficult to make sense of them in a coherent manner, except in the context of Sudhir’s personal interpretation and commentary. Although he tries his best to make many good points about many salient topics, this is also where the book hits some serious snags.

First, and even if we set aside the dire lack of a common thread running through his book (a lack due to its being written, in part, on the basis of random encounters during a bicycle expedition), Sudhir dithers between perpetuating stereotypes about Singapore and Malaysia and countering those stereotypes.

As the book’s title suggests, Sudhir constantly “floats” between repeating official dominant ideologies and noting the various instances in which they require qualification, so much so that one cannot quite conclude what to make of the issue. For example, in the process of stressing the divergence between race-conscious Malaysia and race-neutral, meritocratic Singapore, Sudhir brings up so many qualifications to the idea of meritocracy in Singapore that one wonders if they negate the entire hegemony of meritocracy at all! He notes that senior management from India working in Singapore often hire their own kind, that he himself suffered from racial stereotyping when growing up, that the Singaporean Malay-Chinese taxi driver Ishak vows to retire in Thailand because he can no longer tolerate the racial stereotyping in Singapore, and that Malay Singaporeans still cannot serve in sensitive sectors in the Singapore Armed Forces. It appears that Singapore – both the government and the people – is as race-conscious as Malaysia after all

Second, Sudhir often ruminates on a wide variety of important social issues in the two countries – media control and censorship, the nascent development of civil society, the influx of immigrants, the growing income gap, bumiputera affirmative-action policies, religiosity, family planning and urban stress – without actually coming to any definitive conclusion about what indeed should be the way forward. This deficiency is most clearly exposed in two chapters discussing the gradual decline of the United Malays National Organisation in Malaysia and the People’s Action Party in Singapore. After much discussion of race-based politics in the former party and the iron cage of group-think in the latter, Sudhir concludes with a meek “It will be interesting to see how long they last” (p. 92).  While some students or casual readers may find this conclusion satisfying, serious academics will find such a concluding line entirely frustrating. Where is the comparative theory on authoritarian regimes?

Third and finally, while as a fellow Singaporean I strongly concur and empathize with Sudhir’s description of recent trends in Singapore society, I cannot help having the nagging feeling that both of us are trapped with the same stereotypical worldview and narrative of what Singapore is, with both of us having good university educations and mixing in similar circles. (Full, though late, disclosure: I met very briefly with Sudhir at the videotaping of a debate about Lee Hsien Loong and was an intern in the Civil Service College under Donald Low, one of his few Singaporean interviewees.)

What would be the worldview of the young Singaporean McDonald’s deliveryman? Or the elderly cashier at NTUC FairPrice supermarket? Or the uncle sipping his potent brew of Guiness or Heineken and ice cubes at the local coffee shop? Or the multitude of people who queue up in the wee hours of the morning for a chance to buy a “Hello Kitty” toy from, again, McDonald’s?

There is a reason that Jack Neo, arguably Singapore’s most successful movie director as measured in box office receipts, consistently makes movies that break record after record at the cinemas, even though many educated intellectuals find his movies generally crass and distasteful. Perhaps Jack Neo understands the Singaporean psyche better than we do? Are we already victims of the growing inequality that we constantly deride?

Floating on a Malayan Breeze serves as a good introductory text for readers unfamiliar with Singapore and Malaysia, or for students and the general public who have for far too long been fed state-endorsed narratives of the history and social development of their respective countries. The book’s vivid and somewhat witty writing brings many of its interviews to life, and, before long, the reader will find an unconscious smile creeping across his or her own face as he or she ponders what is unfolding between Sudhir and the interviewee. But this book is no serious academic research. Random sampling does not necessarily result in a representative sample. Anecdotal evidence is not robust evidence. Scholars who already know both countries well may be able to glean some nuggets of interesting insights, but they are unlikely to advance their knowledge of the two countries in any serious way.

Elvin Ong is an incoming doctoral student in political science at Emory University with an interest in the varied performances of politics in Southeast Asia.–

Western Education is not bereft of Ethical and Moral Values

December 11, 2013

Western Education is NOT bereft of Ethical and Moral Values

By Terence Netto@

COMMENT: In a much-awaited speech on the reform of higher education 220px-Anwar_Ibrahim-editedin Muslim societies, Anwar Ibrahim disagreed with the popular notion among Muslims that Western education is devoid of an ethical and moral dimension.

Anwar said this notion, widely disseminated in Islamic intellectual circles, has been a hindrance to the development of Muslims, particularly in the scientific and technical spheres.

“… [T]here is a general perception among the discourse of many Muslim scholars that Western education and philosophy is secular and bereft of an ethical and moral dimension. To my mind, this is unfounded,” declared Anwar in a keynote address to a symposium organised by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Washington DC on Monday.

Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader, highly regarded abroad than at home for his intellection, observed that the misperception of Western education as ethically vacant was also shared by intellectuals in the West.

He said seminal Western thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith were concerned to base their philosophies on a moral core, but that Smith, in particular, “the icon of ‘capitalism’, has been seriously misread”. Anwar argued that the “moral sentiments” that were an integral part of Smith’s economic propositions were “not at loggerheads with Islamic percepts”.

He likened Smith’s concern for morality in economics with Islamic thinker Ismail Faruqi’s conception of a good economy as the expression of Islam’s spirituality.

FaruqiTo Faruqi, “the economy of the ummah and its good health are the essence of Islam, just as Islam’s spirituality is inexistent without just economic action.”

Anwar held that the Islamic percept ‘inna al din al mu’amalah’ (religion is indeed Man’s treatment of his fellows) made it imperative for Man to “order human life so as to make it actualise the pattern intended for it by its Creator”.

He said Muslim societies would not be productive if it they do not “emerge from the exercise of finding fault” with Western systems. Quoting from a host of Islamic philosophers ranging from the 11th century’s Al Ghazali to the 20th century’s Naguib Al-Attas, Anwar made the point that education in Muslim societies must “proceed on the basis of rationality”.

He defined rationalism the way Faruqi conceived it as not “the priority of reason over revelation but the rejection of any ultimate contradiction between them”.

Anwar acknowledged that the rationalist strain in the interpretive process (ijtihad) left its exponents vulnerable to the charge of espousing secular thinking.

The pursuit of Knowledge

From the time of Muhammad Abduh, the 19th century Egyptian thinkerMuhammad Abduh famed for pushing for the modernisation of Islamic education, Anwar said that Islamic modernists had to combat the suspicion of attempting to “introduce secularism through the back door of ijtihad” but that this allegation was misconceived.

“On the contrary, what Abduh did was to subject the moral and epistemological premises of secular modernity to scrutiny and he came to the conclusion that Islam’s modernity was both non-Western and non-secular,” said Anwar.

In his oration, Anwar did not explain how Islam’s modernity could be both non-Western and non-secular. Neither did he expatiate on “Islamisation of knowledge” which he said would immunise Muslims from the excesses of the liberalist mindset that would lead to the placing of reason above revelation.

He seemed surer, though, of his thesis that current approaches to the Islamisation of knowledge in Muslim societies tended to place a preponderance of focus on the social sciences, whereas he said it was in the technological and scientific disciplines that Muslims were lagging behind non-Muslim communities and where the quest for knowledge, therefore, needed greater emphasis.

Anwar reminded that the ‘Bayt-a-Hikmahof’ (Golden Age of Islam) gave birth to not only philosophers but also to eminent scientists. He attributed this to the holistic pursuit of knowledge that he credited to the Quranic injunction on the use of the intellectual faculty.

He said the “Quran enjoins the use of reason as provided by the senses, and the truth grounded on revelation”. He concurred with Faruqi that Islam was ‘the religion of world-affirmation par excellence’.”

Favourites from the Zain Azahari Collection

December 5, 2013

Favourites from the Zain Azahari Collection @ The Edge Galerie

MY COMMENT: This is the first time I feature art on this blog. HavingKamsiah and Din2 been to the Opening Day of this excellent art exhibition at the Edge Gallery in Mont Kiara with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah, I cannot not resist posting this review (

Apart from the fact that Zain Azhari is my friend and golfing mate, and  I have  the highest regard for the many fine human qualities of this septuagenarian, I felt this review reflects exactly how I felt as I saw the paintings on display.

I have seen some of them before at Zain’s home and office, but not collectively ina  single place. In my view, it is a sample of the finest art collection by an individual in Malaysia.Thanks, The Edge Gallery and Zain for making it possible for members of the public to see them.

Zain is passionate about everything he does from his legal work, music, golf, reading, and art. He is an amazing man. –Din Merican

Favorites from Zain Azahari Collection

Pastoral, sensual, vigorous – these common descriptions surmise the prominent art collection of Zain Azahari, where a selection of 38 pieces are displayed at this exhibition. Large works by Ibrahim Hussein and Hendra Gunawan greet the visitor with titillating intent, where Fauvist colours and sinuous contours excite primitive human senses. Flanking both sides of the lobby, Latiff Mohidin and Anuar Rashid arouse the spiritual with abstract illustrations of great control and harmonious beauty, easily subjugating works by young artists hung in the same area.

Ramlan Abdullah’s aluminium sculpture also blends into the gallery’s medieval design, as the contemporary takes a back seat to master artists belonging to the Modern era. Earth and human form an unbreakable bond in these works, implying the collector as one whom possess deep faith and a resilient outlook of life.

Zain No 1Kampung truths: Jalaini Abu Hassan – Di Murahkan Rezeki, Di Berkatkan Hati (2011)

This philosophy is clearly specified in Jalaini Abu Hassan’s meditative ‘Di Murahkan Rezeki, Di Berkatkan Hati’, a minimal juxtaposition of objects (by Jai’s standards) beautifully rendered, where words elucidate Malay sayings and its connotations. When utilised correctly, writing creates additional dimensions on a canvas, Mangu Putra’s picture of utter despair being a good example. Academic painting typify depictions of toil and hard work, contrasting with the creative expressions of Mount Merapi by Affandi and Srihadi Soedarsono.

Illustrations of human feet seem to captivate the collector, who own a couple of high-priced watercolour masterpieces by Chang Fee Ming. Among the elegant dancing figures shown, including Latiff’s curious ‘Bird Dance’ sculpture, a menacing ‘Barong’ by Popo Iskandar emerges proudly from the shadows.

Zain No.2Crimson tide: Latiff Mohidin – Malam Merah (1968)

Zain’s collection boasts many works by the renown Latiff, none more significant than ‘Malam Merah’. Lively strokes of purple, yellow, and white, provide an inherent energy to the amalgamated Pago-pago, as a single horizontal line allows the sun / moon to set. The remaining areas are painted crimson red, while darker brush strokes sketch movement that augments the powerful picture. Cheong Soo Pieng’s tender ‘Mother & Child’ follows in the Nanyang tradition, which the pioneer artist updates via a rare oil painting.

Zain No. 4Why brown? Ibrahim Hussein – Farewell to New York (1969)
Previously unseen to the public is Ib’s ‘Farewell to New York’, a witty nude done in his characteristic Pop manner, where the curious usage of brown as its background has me polishing my chin while pondering the rationale. More sensuality is exhibited in Anthony Lau’s ‘Exstacy’, a wooden pair of smooth forms that recall natural contours, its overt tension depicted in the horizontal gap.
Zain No. 5Gliding sarongs: Dzulkifli Buyong – Four Friends (1964)
Hung low to provide viewer clarity, many works from this collection are museum-worthy, with the occasional odd gem standing out beyond Nusantara motives. Dzulkifli Buyong’s quirky ‘Four Friends’ “captures that single moment that is the birth of our Malaysian Modern art movement”, as described by curator Anurendra Jegadeva. Simple pastel colours, gliding sarongs, lily buds in the air, and innocent human gestures – I will not be surprised if the artist was in fact drawing 4 versions of his self.

Moving from flying figures to floating heads, Agus Suwage’s brilliant red fields pay tribute to artistic influences in an unconventional manner, the depiction like a tinted collage filtered through a computer program. Singling out figurative subjects is Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s contemporary approach, the huge portrait of a hippopotamus beckoning the viewer to come closer and swat flies, while the logical me clamour to inject meaning into a successful aesthetic.

Despite having a shorter tradition in picture making, the Malaysian works hold their own when compared to the diversity displayed in the Indonesian paintings. Among the many natural landscapes, a hazy wetland and a vertically-stretched Batu Caves signify personal importance, the former a nostalgic memory and the latter being Zain’s first collected artwork (a wedding gift!). Zain’s stories and passion are expounded and repeated across few essays in the catalogue, inspiring all who appreciate art.

Zain No.3From Kahli, Van Gogh, Bueys, Sudjojono, Freud to Hiroshige: Agus Sugawie– Agus SuwagePemandangan Dunia Wi (Earthly Landscape) (2011)

Having amassed 400 works over the past 50 years, Zain Azahari’s collection is a testament of one’s relentless pursuit of art on one’s personal terms. Not a luxury item, never an asset type, consistent in vision, absorbing one’s soul and intellect. I may not share Zain’s taste in art, but I do share a similar passion, which makes him my Art Collector idol for years to come.

Proficiency in English Language and Nationalism

November 25, 2013

Proficiency in English Language and Nationalism

by BA Hamzah and Din Merican

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. …–.George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946

BA HamzahWe spent endless hours together debating the English language issue and are  extremely concerned that many Malaysians still question the importance of English in this era of science, Google and globalization.

As our nation strives to achieve the status of a developed country envisaged in Vision 2020 (1989 document), we need to be more rational and stop making excuses in the name of pseudo-nationalism, or as the Malays put it menegak benang yang basah (to stand a wet thread). We must accept the reality that we live in globalised world and English is the global language. Don’t believe us, just ask the Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans.

English proficiency in Malaysia has reached a critical level that it can undermine the well-being and international prestige of our country. Failure to deal realistically with this matter is a real tragedy. We could end up spending billions of ringgit more in consulting fees to have foreign consultants negotiate for us, prepare our policy and research papers and speak at international conferences on our behalf.

George Orwell is right

We are reminded of the essence of George Orwell’s masterpiece “Politics and the English Language”, written in 1946. The author of 1984, Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia and other fine works had chastised many of his contemporaries who abused (by politicising) the modern English language, most evident in their political writings.

In a slightly different context, since 1971, politics has also undermined with the wider use of English in Malaysia after the Barisan Nasional Government downgraded the use of English.

Historically, the decline of English in our country can be traced to the Razak Report in 1956, which recommended Malay as the medium of instruction. Had our political masters adopted the recommendations of an earlier Barnes Report (1951) to use Malay in primary schools and English for secondary and tertiary education, we could have avoided the current embarrassment.

George Orwell once wrote, “in our time, political speech andGeorge Orwell writing are largely the defense of the indefensible”. Does not this sound familiar in our current setting? Orwell further noted in his essay “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity”. Of course, he was not only complaining about the insincerity in the use of grammar but also insincerity in the general sense of the word

We sense an element of fear and insincerity among many, especially Malay politicians, in Malaysia when it comes to English. Rather than acknowledge its usefulness in almost every sector of human endeavor, they use English as a bogey to accuse those with a different view of English as being anti-national, and worse still anti-Malay. In such a hostile environment, it is impossible to conduct a rational debate.

Some politicians worry about losing Malay votes if they were to embrace English. Nothing could be far from the truth because English has never featured as a prominent issue in the last thirteen general elections.

There is a sense of contradiction and double standard too. Among the most vocal critics of English are those who have benefited greatly from an English education, whose offsprings attend private English schools abroad and locally. They seem to do it on purpose: to perpetuate their own political survival and to deny the others, the majority who cannot afford an expensive English education, the rite of passage. This is a classic case of using the pedagogy to suppress the poor, mainly Malays.

As an open economy that is highly dependent on international trade and the services sector, Malaysia can benefit from a work force that has a strong command of English, a critical advantage in a competitive world.

Studies have shown that proficiency in English is critical to international trade, diplomacy, foreign investment and understanding of science and technology. English is the language of the industry, to cite Tun Dr Mahathir. It is key in attracting foreign investment and international tourists.

Malay Language Champions are self-serving

The corporate world relies heavily on English for their networking and advancement. Top and middle management in PETRONAS and Sime Darby, for example, conduct their business deals in English. To progress the nation has adopted science and technology, relied on foreign investment and international trade for its well-being, for example.

If the Malay language champions and other critics are sincerely concerned with the well-being of the nation,they should be less self-serving, more open-minded and supportive of any policy to reintroduce English, crucial for the development of science and technology, promotion of trade and foreign investment.

Real nationalists would do everything to promote the national well-being. Like it or not, the destiny of this nation is tied closely with good governance which provides the objective conditions for greater economic productivity and higher economic growth trajectory; since the Asian financial crisis (1997-1998), economic growth in Malaysia has not recovered fully from its nosedive. Whether a more robust economic recovery could have been achieved with higher English proficiency is debatable, there are studies, which correlate proficiency in English with economic development.

Corporate World needs English Language proficient workers

According to a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence (2012), 70 per cent of the executives said they need English to expand their corporate vision and more than fifty per cent of the work force need to be proficient in English. According to another report workers with very good command of the English language tend to garner 30-50% higher salaries than “similarly qualified candidates without English knowledge.”

The same study shows a positive relationship between employability and English proficiency, worldwide. Statistics (2011) show that more than forty- thousand Malaysian graduates from public Universities with low proficiency in English find it difficult, year in and year out, to get jobs in the private sector. Their lack of employability puts a drag on the country’s economic trajectory.

The strong correlation between gross national income and proficiency in English is now an accepted mantra. Many maintain that the correlation between English proficiency and gross national income is a virtuous cycle, each mutually reinforcing each other. According to one study, proficiency in English can increase job employability and better salaries. It can also remove some of the accumulated deficits in education affecting students, especially those in the rural areas with limited access to English education.

English proficiency can level the uneven playing fields and close the income gaps between the ethnic groups in this country. Admittedly, language can be emotive as it is cultural specific. However, here we are talking of a productive language and at no time, anybody has even suggested that it should replace or supplant the national language. Today is English as it was Latin in the era of the Roman Republic and early years of the Roman Empire.

Move with the Times

We must move with the times. If Malay has been the lingua franca for science, trade, technology and diplomacy, for instance, the entire world will gravitate to our shores learning our language. Unfortunately, this has yet to happen. While we have raised the standard of teaching and proficiency in Malay, we still lack behind in the number of textbooks on science, technology and public policies written by locals. Until we have our own references, lecturers have to rely on references in English language to conduct advanced research and for knowledge. This requires proficiency in English.

Some take solace in countries that have done very well without English. The comparison with the Netherlands, Germany and the Nordic countries, to mention just some, is misplaced, like comparing oranges with apples. Contrary to some perception, the standard of English proficiency in these countries is very high. They benefit from proper teaching of English where grammar and literature are emphasized. It will be a long way, if we continue on this trajectory, before we can achieve their status. At one time, we had this advantage but we squandered it in the name of pseudo nationalism, which many have we now regretted.

Our failure not to empower English for knowledge will put Malaysia at a disadvantage in almost all fields of mainstream human interaction.

One immediate remedial action is to acknowledge the positive role of English, for example, in nation-building, economic well-being and diplomacy. The Government of the day should reinforce the acknowledgement by reviving English schools in all districts as a matter of urgency. Give the rakyat a choice by leveling the playing field. They deserve equal opportunity to advance themselves intellectually.

Din MericanXUnder the current arrangement, only the children of the elite will have access to English schools, mostly in urban areas. Those who live in the rural areas are likely to suffer most from the policy of downgrading the use of English. It is unfortunate that the poor Malays have become the victims of UMNO-dominated Government policies.

High Court throws out Halim’s RM1.8 billion suit

October 31, 2013

MY COMMENT:  This is a bizarre decision by the Judge. The first defendant in this case is Nor Mohamed Yakcop who was the person who negotiated with Halim Saad on the instructions of former Prime Minister (Tun) Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to enable Khazanah to restructure the Renong-UEM Group. There were exchanges of letters between the parties concerned. Otherwise, Halim would not have  resorted to the courts for justice. He would not waste the court’s time if he did not feel that he had been fraudulently misled by Nor Mohamed. There was never any intention on the part of defendants to honour representations made to Halim. I hope Halim will not be discouraged from appealing against this court decision. –Din Merican

High Court throws out Halim’s RM1.8 billion suit

HalimSaadThe High Court in Kuala Lumpur today struck out the RM1.8 billon lawsuit filed against the government by former Renong Bhd chairperson Abdul Halim Saad.

Halim, a former majority owner and executive chairperson of Renong, filed the suit against Khazanah Nasional Bhd, former Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop and the government of Malaysia.

Khazanah Nasional is the strategic investment fund of the government entrusted to hold and manage its commercial assets. In making the decision, judge Hanipah Farikullah said there was no cause of action for Halim to file the suit.

“There was no fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation committed by the defendants. “The plaintiff (Halim) has been sleeping all these years and appeared suddenly have woken up by filing this action this year,” Justice Hanipah said.

She said this in her ruling that Halim had also filed his action out of time. The court found the agreement among the parties to have been made in 2003 and the action filed by Halim was way out of time of the six years that aggrieved parties have to file their cause of action.

With the suit being strucked out, the matter will not go to trial. Justice nor-mohamed-yakcopHanipah also ordered Halim to pay costs of RM25,000 to former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nor Mohamed and the government, and another RM25,000 to Khazanah Nasional.

The court made the decision today after hearing the application by the defendants to strike out the suit on the grounds it was filed out of time.

Lawyers Gopal Sreenevasan and Ranjit Singh appeared for Halim, while Nitin Nadkurni appeared for Khazanah Nasional and senior federal counsel Amarjeet Singh and Suzana Atan for Nor Moahmed and the government.

Once blue-eyed boy

Halim, once the blue-eyed boy in the corporate world like Tajudin Ramli who took over Malaysia Airlines, was brought in during the government’s privatisation programme in the 1990′s.

Renong has 100 percent ownership of Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (Plus), Prolink Development Sdn Bhd and Putra LRT, and has substantial stakes in United Engineers (M) Bhd, Faber Group Bhd, Park May Bhd, Kinta Kellas PLC, Cement Industries (M) Bhd, Time Engineering, Time dotCom Bhd and Commerce Asset Holdings Bhd (now CIMB).

In his statement of claim dated April 17, 2013, Halim alleged there was a breach of the Renong purchase obligation where he held a majority stake, and Nor Mohamed, the government and Khazanah had committed fraud in having him relieved of the post.

He is seeking RM1.3 billion, general damages for breach of the Renong purchase obligation, another RM508 million being value of paid up capital of Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd in settlement of Halim’s losses for rescuing Fleet Group and damages for fraudulent misrepresentation.

The statement of claim reflects the period of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 where on or about November 17, 1997, UEM announced it had acquired 722,882,000 shares in Renong. However, in January 1998, Halim acted in his personal capacity to purchase the Renong shares from UEM and paid the first installment under a ‘put option’ on Feb 14, 2001.

The first installment was funded through a financing facility.

Summoned to meet Mahathir

drmHalim claimed in July 2001, Mahathir summoned him to Putrajaya where the then-PM informed him that he should allow the government to take over his shares in Renong and UEM group and asked him to meet with Nor Mohamed, then his special economic adviser.

Halim said he met Nor Mohamed (right) on July 12, and the meeting was also attended by his lawyer Rashid Manaff.  During the meeting, Nor Mohamed allegedly told him not to proceed with the put option and indicated that the government would purchase his shares in Renong and UEM.

He summarised these statements in a letter dated July 16, 2001 to Mahathir and wanted the Premier to reconsider his position.

Subsequent meetings were held and an agreement reached between Halim and Nor Mohamed on behalf of the government, where Khazanah as the acquirer would pay RM1.3 billion in cash and kind, purchase his 372 million shares in Renong for RM465 million and procure the transfer to Halim the entire equity of Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd which is free of encumbrances worth RM508 million.

Halim claimed the terms were confirmed in a letter dated July 18, 2001 to Dr Mahathir. He further alleged a repayment agreement was reached orally between him and Nor Mohamed between July 2001 and June 2002.

He said Khazanah honoured the repayment agreement by paying RM165 million that includes compensation for his losses due to foreclosure of various assets pledged by him to various financiers following its initial takeover.

‘All UMNO’s assets’

“After receiving the RM165 million from Khazanah, I attended a meeting with Nor Mohamed at his office in Putrajaya, where Nor Mohamed orally agreed that the defendants would perform its obligations under the 2001 agreement.”

Halim claimed that between 2003 and 2010, he tried repeatedly to meet Nor Mohamed for him and the government to comply with the 2001 agreement, but was unsuccessful.

On April 23, 2010, Halim met Mahathir to seek a resolution of the matter but was informed by the former premier that he had been informed by Nor Mohamed that all along the assets that Khazanah were to take over were owned by UMNO.

“Mahathir said there was never any reason to pay me. Rashid was also present at the meeting. I contend that the said assets were never owned by UMNO. A meeting was arranged by Mahathir, I finally met Nor Mohamed at his office and was informed that there would not be any forthcoming payments for the reasons mentioned by Mahathir,” Halim claimed.

Halim claimed that he had been induced by Nor Mohamed as an agent representing the government for him to take up the deal for his exit from Renong and UEM. “These representations by Nor Mohamed were false in that the government and Khazanah never had any intention of entering into the 2001/or 2003 agreement to pay or perform,” he alleged in his statement.

Malaysia: Together in Poetry and Song

September 8, 2013

Malaysia: Together in Poetry and Song


A national laureate’s most important lesson to his daughter is also a message for the whole nation, writes Kerry-Ann Augustin

AT the ultimate hipster haunt in Publika, I sit next to journalists from othermalaysia-at-50-Malaysia-Day_129_100_100 publications, all looking for their leads on Petronas’ big project — The Malaysia Day 2013 Campaign.

I’m here for Project#Tanahairku, a programme designed to drum some national pride into the consciousness of young Malaysians. After a string of questions from everyone else, I decide to pipe up: “How did your father pass down the importance of what Merdeka means, to you?”

Almost immediately, there is a glaze across Haslina Usman’s kind eyes. At a blink, her tears trickle down as she tries to compose herself. I am gripped with an awkwardness as everyone around the table goes silent — should I not have asked that question? But I had to. The eldest daughter of the national laureate was the only one who could tell us about what her father could teach us all.

She clears her throat, dabs her smudged eyeliner with tissue, smiles and answers: “Through his work”.


Usman AwangThe only thing I recall, from a textbook or two, is a photo of a middle-aged man clad in blue baju Melayu, black songkok and lips pursed to form a small smile. Next to his picture, neatly cropped into a box with a thin, black outline, lies a poem in print. We were 17 and to most of us in class, it was just another person, another poem on another page.

I don’t think I realised how tragic this perception was till I started sieving through the late poet’s works over the last few weeks. Despite my now rusty Malay, every word, every stanza from many of his poems resonated within my Malaysian heart. But I feel goosebumps as I see the dates at the end of the poems — 1950, 1979, 1956, 1959 and so on. My eyebrows meet in the middle. I am hooked and slightly shocked all at once. How is it possible that these poems are still relevant to what we are feeling today?

Usman’s 1956 gem, Tanahair, couldn’t have resurfaced at a better time. In a country increasingly divided by political preferences, the poem echoes the sentiments of many Malaysians I’ve interviewed over this Merdeka month — deep down we are all the same.

As Haslina explains, her father’s words were simple, understood by all. The appeal of his work lays partially in his prose — simple not bombastic, direct not abstract and soulful not patronising. And most importantly, razor-sharp yet delicate. Perhaps this is what makes his work accessible to the ones he was so passionate about, the rakyat. But the other part of what makes Usman a true artiste was his fearlessness.

Professor Madya Dr Mohamad Mokhtar Abu Hassan, a lecturer of Malay Studies at University Malaya, in an interview years ago said of Usman Awang: “His strength lay in the way he weaved in his unabashed opinion of the system into elements of his poetry or short stories. He used his work as a platform to criticise leaders who were dishonest”.

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Usman’s principle as a writer was just that. The man who never had an education past primary school once said that writers are the mouth-pieces of the people.


Melayu itu orang yang bijaksana
Nakalnya bersulam jenaka
Budi bahasanya tidak terkira
Kurang ajarnya tetap santun
Jika menipu pun masih bersopan
Bila mengampu bijak beralas tangan.

Melayu itu berani jika bersalah
Kecut takut kerana benar,
Janji simpan di perut
Selalu pecah di mulut,
Biar mati adat
Jangan mati anak.

Melayu di tanah Semenanjung luas maknanya:
Jawa itu Melayu, Bugis itu Melayu
Banjar juga disebut Melayu,
Minangkabau memang Melayu,
Keturunan Acheh adalah Melayu,
Jakun dan Sakai asli Melayu,
Arab dan Pakistani, semua Melayu
Mamak dan Malbari serap ke Melayu
Malah mua’alaf bertakrif Melayu
(Setelah disunat anunya itu)

Dalam sejarahnya
Melayu itu pengembara lautan
Melorongkan jalur sejarah zaman
Begitu luas daerah sempadan
Sayangnya kini segala kehilangan

Melayu itu kaya falsafahnya
Kias kata bidal pusaka
Akar budi bersulamkan daya
Gedung akal laut bicara

Malangnya Melayu itu kuat bersorak
Terlalu ghairah pesta temasya
Sedangkan kampung telah tergadai
Sawah sejalur tinggal sejengkal
tanah sebidang mudah terjual

Meski telah memiliki telaga
Tangan masih memegang tali
Sedang orang mencapai timba.
Berbuahlah pisang tiga kali
Melayu itu masih bermimpi

Walaupun sudah mengenal universiti
Masih berdagang di rumah sendiri.
Berkelahi cara Melayu
Menikam dengan pantun
Menyanggah dengan senyum
Marahnya dengan diam
Merendah bukan menyembah
Meninggi bukan melonjak.

Watak Melayu menolak permusuhan
Setia dan sabar tiada sempadan
Tapi jika marah tak nampak telinga
Musuh dicari ke lubang cacing
Tak dapat tanduk telinga dijinjing
Maruah dan agama dihina jangan
Hebat amuknya tak kenal lawan

Berdamai cara Melayu indah sekali
Silaturrahim hati yang murni
Maaf diungkap senantiasa bersahut
Tangan diulur sentiasa bersambut
Luka pun tidak lagi berparut

Baiknya hati Melayu itu tak terbandingkan
Segala yang ada sanggup diberikan
Sehingga tercipta sebuah kiasan:
“Dagang lalu nasi ditanakkan
Suami pulang lapar tak makan
Kera di hutan disusu-susukan
Anak di pangkuan mati kebuluran”

Bagaimanakah Melayu abad dua puluh satu
Masihkan tunduk tersipu-sipu?
Jangan takut melanggar pantang
Jika pantang menghalang kemajuan;
Jangan segan menentang larangan
Jika yakin kepada kebenaran;
Jangan malu mengucapkan keyakinan
Jika percaya kepada keadilan.

Jadilah bangsa yang bijaksana
Memegang tali memegang timba
Memiliki ekonomi mencipta budaya
Menjadi tuan di negara Merdeka “

umno-tikam-belakangThe 21st Century Malay UMNO Style

“My dad… he died a sad man,” Haslina says later, over the phone. There is no need to see her facial expressions because her pain is transmitted by her voice. “He was upset at muscle building politicians. People are losing faith in our country but when you read his poems you remember your motherland,” she says.“My father wrote his works to instil semangat (the spirit) in us. And of course, I am protective of my father’s works. It’s not just because the copyright belongs to his children but also because his work belongs to the nation,” she explains.


Haslina now runs UA Enterprises, her late father’s publishing house. “There are lots of sacrifices to make financially, and…,” she breaks, and with a harrowing sigh continues “but his work needs to be preserved.” She explains her efforts in keeping her father’s legacy alive, which included a stage production of Uda Dan Dara The Musical.

She admits she took his work for granted when he was alive.“You know when you come home and see your father working, you only see him as a working dad. I never bothered, till he passed on, to really understand his work,” she says with an air of regret clouding every inflection of her tone. But Haslina admits that they rarely saw their father who was constantly drowned in work.

“He sacrificed family time for his country. In his latter years, he tried to make up for it,” she adds.“But my father would ask his friends to come over to our house or sometimes he would take me to his workplace, so I was exposed to all the goings on. And there would be all kinds of people — students, academicians, activist. All sorts! I even visited his friends in prison!” she says animatedly.

I ask what her father’s most valuable lesson to her was.“You know, when I said earlier that there were all sorts of people, I meant all sorts. There was no distinction in race or religion for my father. He welcomed everyone. We had friends of all races and now, when some people play up race issues I just don’t get it, you know?”

If you read any of his works, you will know this to be true.In July this year, an award in honour of his work that promoted unity of races was launched by the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong). Aptly called the Usman Awang National Integration Award, it will be presented to individuals or societies who can bring communities of different ethnicities together for an activity that will help change things for the better.

In the raucous of racial card-playing of this era, it is a beautiful tribute to a man who truly believed and embraced a multicultural Malaysia.


“Nowadays, children in school seem to be segregated. Like this race gangMalaysia-- Endless Possibilities and that race gang kind of thing,” says Haslina as she relates her observations about families. “It all starts with the family — we should be instilling love for everyone. A family is like a community, we build character through our relationships, a sense of understanding.”

“Why can’t we be happy for each other?” she asks as she launches into stories of her father’s childhood. She relates how her father and brother had little choice but to fend for themselves when their mother passed on at an early age. But the people in their village were kind and they would help whatever they could. “I believe these hardships was part of what made my father really love his family and his country,” she says, adding that nature played a big part in his work, metaphorically as well.


“Part of the poem is about the struggles of war. But young people may not be able to relate to this because we are not living in a war-torn country,” explains Mohd Suhaimy Kamaruddin, general manager of strategic communication at Petronas, during the discussion in Publika. He goes on to say that the oil giant’s intent is to convey the message of unity through music.

“We are turning this poem into a song to resonate with younger generation,” he adds.Two weeks after Mohd Suhaimy’s revelation, I waited patiently for the release of Tanahair. Infused with a new lease of life through renowned composer, Audi Mok, Twitter was abuzz with positive feedback on his pop interpretation of the poem. Even Haslina was thrilled.

“At first I was afraid. It might attract negative remarks as this is considered a national treasure you know?” she says, clearly delighted with the results. “But it’s more important that the younger generation can relate to the message in the poem,” she adds.

It is ironic that Usman Awang’s lost legacy is found in the toughest of times. But it is way more important that we keep it alive. As Haslina puts it: “Finally my father’s work is out there for the nation”.I’m glad I asked her that question.–The New Straits/Sunday Times

Police take artwork over alleged religious insult

August 29, 2013

MY COMMENT: I am stunned after reading Aidila’s report.  How can a piece of art criticising President George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq be regarded as an insult to Islam? What has become of us, especially our Police? We seem to have lost our sense of perspective. It is perhaps too much to say that we are heading towards a Maoist Cultural Revolution which led China into an psychological abyss, only to be saved by Deng Xiao Peng in 1978. But we are getting close. We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police. –Din Merican

We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police.

We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police.

Police take artwork over alleged religious insult

by Aidila Razak@

Police have taken a piece from the M50 Selamat Hari Malaysia art exhibition as part of its investigation into an alleged religious insult by artist Anurendra Jegadeva.

The piece ‘I is for Idiot’, part of the ‘ABC For The Middle-Age Middle Classes’ body of work, was taken this afternoon from the Publika Mall where it is being displayed.

anurendra jegadeva m50 290813Curators have taken down the rest of Anurendra’s work, that was showing at the mall’s throrughfare, for safekeeping.

It is understood that a police report was lodged yesterday against the piece for an alleged insult to Islam, as it included Arabic words commonly used in Islamic prayer, which mean ‘In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful’.

Anurendra has not been detained but he may be called in to give a statement to Police on the matter tomorrow. The artist is expected to release a statement on the matter soon.

The work features a chimpanzee in a helmet and jacket riding a bicycle while in the background is a military pilot and the words “Mission Accomplished”.

Under the bicycle is a flag with red and white stripes, skull and crossbones and stars, and the Arabic words printed in mirror image.

NGO sees multi-layer of insults

However, Islamic NGO Muafakat which lodged the report, perceived the flag as the Malaysian flag and that the chimpanzee as a depiction of Islam or Muslims.  In his blog, Muafakat secretary-general A Karim Omar said that the work “appears to say that Islam is for idiots”.

anurendra jegadeva m50 290813He added that the Arabic words printed in mirror image “clearly show that the artist’s ill-intentions” as the works ‘J is for Jesus’ and ‘K is for Krishna’ “did not have any elements of insults”.

He said that police are investigating the matter under Section 298A of the Penal Code which deals with insults to religion.

The M50 Selamat Hari Malaysia show features 50 Malaysian artists, touching on a broad range of subjects including thorny issues of corruption and poor governance.

It is co-organised by Balai Seni Visual Negara, MapKL@Publika and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Earlier, landscape artist Ng Sek San’s work Malaysian Spring which was adopted by pro-Pakatan Rakyat individuals in the lead-up to the 13th general election was not allowed to be part of the M50 show. As a compromise, his work is showing at the mall’s Art Row, next to the M50 exhibition along with two other artists.

Entertainment from New York

June 23, 2013

Waldorf-Astoria, New York City


Entertainment from New York

Gee whiz, this 12 hour time difference between New York and our favorite city Kuala Lumpur is very disorientating. Thinking it is still Saturday when in fact it is 2.00 am on the sabbath here in Big Apply while your time in Kuala Lumpur is 2.00 p.m.  Sorry for missing a bit.  Mr. Bean is not around. He will  appear on this blog when we are off to Washington DC. So we will miss meeting an old Alor Setar friend.

Kamsiah and Din2Dr Kamsiah and I dedicate this week’s choice of melodies to all Malaysians who are still camping at Padang Merbok. Keep well. We admire your determination to further the cause of Malaysian democracy. We support the demand for electoral reform and the resignation of the two goons at the Election Commission, Aziz and Wan, for treachery to our country and making a mockery of our democratic rights. But there is only one advice we offer you.

Please keep the place clean so that the authorities (DBKL) will not have grounds to deny you the use of public places for peaceful purposes in future. Never give the authorities the pretext to hit back at you. That calls for patience, consideration and discipline.

We open this weekend session with a tribute to you, ourFrank Sinatra fellow citizens camping at Padang Merbok at this time by the Scorpions. Keep your spirits up. Change is hard to come by but it will come. We need to keep our democracy alive and well so that we can rebuild our beloved country into a model of freedom, justice and unity amidst diversity in ASEAN.

For now enjoy Alicia Keyes, Billy Joel, Harry Nilsson and Barry Manilow. Since we are in New York, it will not be complete if we failed to present New York’s favourite son, the Hoboken born Frank Sinatra.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican


Alicia Keys

Billy Joel

Harry Nilsson

Barry Manilow

Frank Sinatra

Latifah Omar Dalam Kenangan

June 15, 2013

Latifah Omar Dalam Kenangan

Remembering Latifah Omar

June 15, 2013

Remembering Latifah Omar: An Actress of My Generation

Latifah Omar, born in 1939, was a very popular actress of my generation. She had great looks and the talent to go with that. Her passing was indeed a sorrowful occasion for those of us who enjoyed watching her on the silver screen alongside  P. Ramlee and Nordin Ahmad.

Men and women of my generation are fading fast. Not many of us will leave footprints in the sands of time. Latifah Omar is one of those exceptions. She  made it in the movies. Her personal life as related in this piece by Johan Jaafar is a sad and tragic one. But it would appear that she had endured a lot in her life outside the  movie world. May she now find eternal peace. Al-Fatihah.--Din Merican


Latifah Omar, A True Bintang Filem

by Johan Jaafar@

BITTER SWEET: Her life story as a woman, wife and film star is as dramatic as her movies

Latifah-OmarTHE lift was devoid of an electric bulb. We depended on camera lights to get to the 17th floor of a PPRT flat for the hardcore poor where veteran actress Latifah Omar lived.

I joined the TV3 crew on the morning of July 20 last year for a special Singgah Sahur programme. She was friendly and exuberant, and even sang some of the signature songs in many of her better-known movies to the largely young production team.

The stuffy three-room flat was home to one of the most glamorous, beautiful and talented seniwati (starlets) in the history of Malay cinema.She was, in fact, once the face of a famous soap brand, the first local artiste to be given the honour.

Residents in the area knew of her presence there but they seldom saw her. She was a proud lady, fully aware of her fame and kept her contact with the residents to the bare minimum.

I met her with researcher Zahari Affendi many times after that, listening to her incredible stories as a woman, wife and film star. Although not in the best of health, she was always accommodating. We were mesmerised by her demure and calm composure.

Her life stories were as dramatic as her movies, in fact, even more so. She was always playing a good woman who was victimised in movies. In reality, life was never perfect for her.

She endured hardships in marriages, went through tough times financially and emotionally just like some of the characters she played.

I grew up adoring Latifah. I watched all her movies. She was the embodiment of grace, true beauty and great acting.I was contemplating to write a book about her. She was forthright and named names — the good, the bad and the ugly in entertainment business.

When I couldn’t make it, Zahari was there to record those stories. The process was laboriously slow for she tired easily and there were times when she cancelled the meetings.

Back then, she was loved by royalty and prominent individuals, yet she married a musician, a gambler and a failed businessman.Her first husband survived on her income as jobs were hard to come by.

Her second husband, a compulsive gambler, stalked her for years even after their divorce, adding to her miseries.Her third husband was a good man but when his business faltered, she suffered more than just losing a good life and she got a divorce.

Even when help came in the form of getting a piece of land in Cameron Highlands, bureaucratic hurdles and low prices of crops propelled her to abandon farming and sell what was left of the property. She never recovered from that.

Latifah was born on March 26, 1939 in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. When her grandmother, who brought her up, died, she was sent to live with her father in Singapore, whom she had never met before.

It was a feature in one of the magazines published by the Utusan Melayu group in Singapore that brought her to the attention of film directors.

Director S. Ramanathan auditioned her for a role in Panggilan Pulau alongside budding star P. Ramlee. The year was 1954. Normadiah, another legendary actress, was the female lead. Ramlee was nice to Latifah, supporting her in more ways than one. She was forever indebted to him. She was hardly 16 at the time.

B.N. Rao directed her second movie, Merana.This time, she played the lead actress, again with Ramlee.

According to Latifah, the heartthrob of Malay movies had offered her to be his wife. Ramlee had just divorced his first wife, Junaidah. But fate intervened. Noorizan Mohd Noor came into the picture, she left the palace and married Ramlee. They respected each other, though.

When Ramlee directed Putus Sudah Kasih Sayang at the Merdeka Studio in 1971, he offered a role to Latifah. Latifah acted in four more films under the Malay Film Production (MFP) banner before she joined Cathay-Keris Films.

It was Nordin Ahmad, another screen legend, who redefined her movie career. She acted with Nordin for the first time in Hussein Hanif’s Hang Jebat. The chemistry between them was legendary. In films like Lanchang Kuning, Laila Majnun, Cucu Datuk Merah, Patung Cendana and Gurindam Jiwa, they were seen as a perfect screen couple. The truth was, there were times when they were not on speaking terms.

Latifah’s last film with Cathay-Keris was Naga Tasik Cini in 1966, ironically Nordin’s directorial debut. In her acting career that spanned 13 years, Latifah had acted in 29 films — 22 for Cathay-Keris, six for MFP and one for Merdeka Studio in Klang.

Last Sunday she died, a big loss to the Malay cinema. There will never be another Latifah. She was a true bintang filem (film star) who graced the local film world.

Penangnites came for PSY

February 13, 2013

Penangnites came for PSY, not Najib, says Susan Loone

Psy in Penang

About 30,000 braved the sweltering heat to see top South Korean pop star Psy gallop on stage to perform his world famous ‘Oppa Gangnam style’ at the BN’s open house in Penang today.

They were with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak at Penang state BN Chinese New Year (CNY) open house held at the Han Chiang College field.The numbers were short of the expected 80,000, although a police officer on his rounds said he estimated the crowd as about 50,000.

As Najib was entering the venue, the emcee shouted “Are you ready for Psy!psy Are you ready for Oppa Gangnam style!” before welcoming the PM and his entourage of BN leaders.

Despite the emcee asking the people to give PM a rousing welcome, the crowd was mostly subdued, many fanning themselves under the burning February heat.

Puteri UMNO and BN supporters were seen waving ‘I love PM!’ banners but they were in the minority. Nibong Tebal MIC chief R Rajagopal said he had arranged 10 buses to the event.

When asked why he was not shouting “I love PM!”, the 62-year-old retiree replied “It’s okay, I’ve done a lot of that already”.

NajibxAttired in red traditional Chinese shirts, Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor together with children Ashman and Nooryana Najwa, arrived at 10.48am and were greeted by a lion dance troupe and a Chingay procession. He was accompanied by state BN leaders Teng Chang Yeow, Teng Hock Nan, and Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen as well as former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

 Yellow, green and red

As of 9.30am when the programme started, traffic was smooth and hundreds of police and volunteers corps were stationed at various points to direct traffic and manage the crowd.

When met on the field, Penang Plice chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi estimated the crowd to be about 50,000 to 60,000. “We deployed about 1,200 personnel today and it is a peaceful gathering,” he told Malaysiakini.

Many were seen in yellow, green and red. There were also UMNO members wearing red as it is their party’s colour. There were also those wearing the T-shirts of NGO BERSIH.

NONEOne, Alex Tan, 27 (right) from Klang, said he came to see Psy and to support Pakatan.

“I arrived as early as 7am with five others,” he added.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had earlier advised the public to wear yellow in a show of support for BERSIH, green for environment and red for change, but his suggestion didn’t go down well with BN leaders.

Initially, participants were not allowed to enter the field without special passes of ‘I love PM’ stickers and many were at a loss as to where to get them.
This is the first time BN had organised its CNY function in the open, at the Han Chiang field which has begun to be a symbol of Pakatan Rakyat.

Pakatan, with DAP leading, held a gathering here before the 2008 general election where thousands turned up to show their support, leading the opposition coalition to victory on March 8 that year.

Before Najib and his entourage arrived, the crowd was entertained by several performances from an orchestra. Traditional dances and a dragon and phoenix dance were also featured.

In his speech, state BN chief Teng Chang Yeow said BN had brought the best in the world and Asia through 1Malaysia initiator of Najib.”We want to bring the best to Penang,” he added.

 Goodies for those with ‘pink papers’

 At the end of event, the crowd lined up at the Han Chiang stadium venue for angpow, goodie bags and boxes of oranges. A senior citizen at the scene said that only people with special ‘pink papers’ were given the handouts by a group in  ‘Kelab Penyokong BN’ attire.

“I managed to get three packets of angpow, a bag with packets of rice and packets of other edible stuff and a box of oranges,” he told Malaysiakini, telling this reporter to line up and get the goodies before they ran out.


On Azharudin M Dali’s Sejarah Masyarakat India di Malaysia

February 8, 2013

Commentary on Azharudin M Dali’s Sejarah Masyarakat India di Malaysia

Ranjit Singh Malhiby Dr. Ranjit Singh Malhi (received via e-mail)

The Malaysian Sikh Community has the distinction of being a progressive and dynamic community which within one generation was transformed from predominantly being one of policemen, bullock carters, watchmen, dairymen and mining labourers into doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals. The Sikhs, proportionately, have perhaps the largest number of professionals compared to any other group in Malaysia.

Unfortunately, the history of the Sikhs in Malaysia is yet to be fully written and has received scant academic attention to date. In this regard, the latest book by Dr. Azharudin Mohamed Dali of the University of Malaya entitled Sejarah Masyarakat India di Malaysia with one entire chapter on the Sikh Community is greatly welcomed.

I am currently completing a book pertaining to the social, economic and political history of the Sikhs in Malaysia. Allow me to share with your readers numerous factual errors pertaining to the Malaysian Sikh Community in Dr. Azharudin’s book as shown in the table below to avoid them being repeated in subsequent writings. To be fair, two of the factual errors can be traced to the sources cited by Dr. Azharudin.




Facts (Authoritative Sources)

  1. Date the Order of the Khalsa was instituted     (pg. 110)  – 1619 1699
  2. Date Khalsa Diwan Malaya was established  (pg. 113)  – 1902 27 December 1903
  3. Sikhs have not objected to being referred to as “Bengalis” (pg. 14) In April 2008, Sikhs objected strongly when Perak’s Menteri Besar, Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin wrongly referred to the Sikhs as “Bengalis”
  4. There was only one Sikh organization in Malaya  in 1917 (pg. 112) There were at least five Sikh organizations in Malaya in 1917: Khalsa Diwan Malaya, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Ipoh,  Sri Guru Singh Sabha Pusing, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Larut and Sri Guru Singh Sabha Central Workshops (Sentul)
  5. Name of Sikh organization formed in 1926     (pg. 112)  -  Malaya Khalsa Diwan Guru Khalsa Diwan Malaya
  6. Date Sikh commercial immigrants arrived in Malaya in significant numbers (pg. 106)            -  early twentieth century Late 1920s
  7. Name of second MIC President  (pg. 111)           -  Bodh Singh Budh Singh
  8. Khalsa Diwan Malaya of Selangor was formed in May 1918 (pg. 113) Khalsa Diwan Malaya of Selangor was registered in January 1918
  9. Wir Singh was in Singapore until December 1915 before leaving for Penang and Perlis               (pg. 120) Wir Singh was in Perlis in January 1915 and when Jagat Singh was arrested in May 1915, he fled to Sumatra to continue his anti-British activities
10. Date Komagata Maru (ship) arrived in Vancouver  (pg. 119) – 21 May 1914 23 May 1914

Additionally, Dr. Azharudin gives the erroneous impression that the Sikhs of the Malay States Guides (MSG) stationed at Singapore played a major role in the Singapore Mutiny of February 1915. The hard truth is that the 1915 Mutiny was a rebellion against the British started and conducted almost entirely by one half of the 5th Light Infantry regiment (Muslim Rajputs) of the British Indian Army stationed at Singapore. The ringleaders of the mutiny – Subedar Dunde Khan, Jemedar Chisti Khan and Havildar Imtiaz Ali – and Sepoy Ismail Khan who fired the first shot of the mutiny were all men of the 5th Light Infantry.

 Only eleven (7 Sikhs and four Muslims) out of about 97 men of the MSG Sikh People(Mountain Battery) stationed at Singapore were charged and convicted of complicity in the mutiny. The seven Sikhs were found in Tiong Bahru where shooting had taken place in the vicinity and two of their rifles having been recently fired. Six of the Sikhs were sentenced to nine months and the seventh sentenced to eleven months of imprisonment.

According to Dr. T. R. Sareen in his book, Secret Documents on Singapore Mutiny 1915, the seven Sikhs were sentenced to imprisonment under very flimsy circumstantial evidence. Both the rifles confirmed to have been fired were not used by the Sikhs against any British officers or troops loyal to them. It is highly likely that these rifles were thrust upon the Sikhs by the native officers of the 5th Light Infantry when the rebellion broke out. The four other Guides (non-Sikhs) were sentenced to imprisonment terms of between one and a half to two years “without hard labour” for being absent from their camp for three days and having arms in their possession, a few of which belonged to the 5th Light Infantry.

There was no evidence at all that the Mountain Battery of the MSG had participated in the outrages committed by the 5th Light Infantry. When the mutiny broke out, most of the Guides ran away to Singapore town and some surrendered themselves at the Central Police Station.

Later evidence revealed that some men of the MSG were intimidated to join the mutineers and that two Sikhs of the Mountain Battery of the MSG removed the breechblocks of two artillery guns and buried them in the ground. Both guns were later recovered after the mutiny.

The role of the MSG in the 1915 Mutiny has been aptly summarized by Dr. T. R. Sareen as follows:  “… there is no shred of evidence to connect the individuals (of MSG) with any of the outrages or with various detachments of mutineers … their conduct though lacking in initiative, was perhaps justifiable.”

To sum up, out of the 202 men tried by court-martial for their involvement in the 1915 Mutiny, only 11 belonged to the MSG and all of the 47 insurgents sentenced to death and executed were men of the 5th Light Infantry.





Cong Xi Fa Cai to all our Mandarin friends

February 8, 2013

Cong Xi Fa Cai–The Year of the Snake

Cong Xi Fa Cai--2013

We wish all Mandarin friends and associates at home here in Malaysia and around the world Cong Xi Fa Cai. All the best and let us make the world a better and more peaceful place.

Although Asian astrologists have not given 2013 a thumps up, we of the human race must persevere to make it a good one. To some extent, we are masters of our fate.

For us in Malaysia, 2013 is an election year since rumours in Kuala Lumpur have it that GE-13 will be held at the end of March. The campaign season which began in 2009 with our country on auto-pilot since has entered its final phase.

We await to read the manifestos of both UMNO-Barisan and Pakatan Rakyat and scrutinize their list of candidates for the national and state elections. Please decide wisely and choose a government that genuinely listens to, and serves us well.

GE-13 promises to be a hotly contested one. But that is normal in adversarial politics. But once elections are over and the outcome is known, we must accept the newly mandated government and work to support it, holding it fully accountable for its decisions and actions. That is democracy and good citizenship.

Dr Kamsiah and I want a government that fights corruption, uses our money to benefit the entire nation, and makes our streets, work places, schools, shopping malls, and our homes safe. We need competent and honest Ministers in the new Cabinet who are imbued with some idealism and the will to do what is right and do it right to take the country towards its goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020.

In the Year of the Snake which is supposed to be a very challenging one, let us start thinking we are Malaysians, not “pendatangs” and “kafirs” on the one side and “sons (and daughters) of the soil” and  believers on the other. Let us act as proud,  hardworking, honest and self-reliant people. We can accomplish great tasks and overcome challenges, only if we do it together.  A House divided cannot stand. All the best to you. Cong Xi Fa Cai–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Even Male Rapper Psy must “tutup aurat”

February 6, 2013

This is too much: even Male Rapper Psy must “tutup aurat”


Despite the global sensation created by South Korean artist Psy, PAS spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik has been oblivious about it and even mistook Psy for a woman.

psy Even Psy is not exempted from PAS’ Modesty Rules

According to a Sin Chew Daily report yesterday, he urged Psy to tutup aurat (protect modesty) when told by media that BN has invited a South Korean celebrity to perform at its Chinese New Year open house on February 11.

When told that Psy is a man, Nik Aziz was concerned whether the content of the songs is positive for the youngsters.NONEThe 82-year-old politician also asked reporters, “In what language does he sing?” and after being told that it is Korean, he was perplexed on why people listen to songs in a language that they do not understand.

The Kelantan Menteri Besar commented that it is extravagant to hire foreign performers as the resources can be used to develop local artists.

“Don’t we have many local singers? Why don’t we hire local youths? Isn’t is better to spend the money on our youths?” he asked.

Psy, or Park Jae-sang, is a South Korean singer, songwriter, rapper, dancer and record producer, who gained global fame after his hit single ‘Gangnam Style’ featuring his horse-riding dance became a worldwide sensation.

It is estimated that the cost to invite him to perform just the hit song would easily hit RM1 million. However, BN leaders have clarified that Psy’s performance will not cost BN or the government a single sen as it will be sponsored by private companies, but the Opposition and many people remained unconvinced.


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