From Kuala Kangsar to the UN and Kesington - Abdullah Ahmad

20 July 1997

When my classmates and I - 22 of us - were at the MCKK in 1954, each of us could reasonably expect to become, at least, a police inspector, and at best, a State Secretary or Mentri Besar (the two highest jobs any Malay could ever aspire to in British Malaya).

Bigger and prestigious jobs such as the Chief Secretary, Attorney-General, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and Chief Justice were exclusively reserved for the British, and to hold these posts they need not have gone through public schools or Oxbridge. British elitists then as now stay at home, unless, of course, they were and are in the British diplomatic service.

Although Great Britain was the biggest colonial power in the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonial service was always a secondary service.

Hanif Omar became the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). Now he is a high-powered tycoon. Mokhzani Abdul Rahim, (a one-time boss of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Malaysia) and a long-time Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Universiti of Malaya is now managing a private power company; the late Nik Mahmood Fakhruddin Kamil was the Deputy Chief of the Army until he passed away on Jan 31, 1990. He was a three-star general.

I became the first Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (although I acted more as Tun Razak's political aide and adviser). I have achieved less than what was reasonably expected of me. That is another story, of course.

There were a few other successful classmates lesser known than us.

The 1954 class was a successful group. We restored the Malay College prestige following the lamentable performance of the 1953 class and the disgraceful Cambridge examination results of the previous class (1952).

What I want to tell young Malaysians - the bumiputra in particular - is that then, it did not cross our minds to own Mercedes, Jaguars or a Rolls Royce which we could drive all over the country, or to graduate from Cambridge, Harvard, the London School of Economics or head an organisation earning hundreds of million ringgits, and choose a profession with a galloping gaji.

I know at least an old Malay collegian who now owns a private jet and many have their own yachts, alas, none of them are my classmates! Four of my juniors have yachts. One junior - by a good ten years - owns the jet and another is the acting Prime Minister.

Many old Malay collegians also now live in Kesington, Chelsea and Belgravia, and in New York's famous Upper East Side along the equally famous Central Park, and blessed with even better and cleverer children. I know an old Malay collegian who owns a penthouse in Trump's Towers and a private jet. Those days - only 43 years ago - one could only aspire to own a Ford Prefect, an Opel, a Fiat or perhaps a Volvo!

We did not pay much thought to our future. Indeed, many of us had no idea what we wanted to do. Several had vague visions.