Razak on being a minister: Just carry on as usual - Abdullah Ahmad

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Political life is not easy; a ministerial life makes more demands on the family. Lacking freedom from intrusion on our privacy bothered her. Invasion on privacy is keeping away many talented people from political and public life.

When I was in the twenties, I had no children; when I was in the early thirties Adhha and Didi came in quick succession - only months separated them. Fuad is nearly four years younger than his sister. I always made time for my children.

When I was in detention I missed them most, followed by their mother. I felt deprived without newspapers, books, telephone, friends and good cuisine. None would appreciate freedom until he has lost it for whatever reason. My three children are all big now. Adhha and Didi are working. Fuad will start his post-graduate study in Asian Politics and Economy at Nottingham University in September.

I went to work after visiting Fauzah and Fuad. Razak asked why I was not at the reception after the group photograph. From behind his glasses he observed and noted everything and would compare notes with me if we were both present. Then, as a matter of fact, he congratulated me, and limply shook my hand.

I asked him what would my new job be. "You just carry on as usual." As if as an afterthought or attempting to joke, he said: "Family planning!" which indeed eventually came under my specific purview. Otherwise I generally accompanied or represented him. I did what he delegated to me and they were numerous. Of course, I also acted independently.In retrospect I was not so wise about a few issues and personalities. Most of the time I was dead right. The real trouble was Razak's sudden death.

A deputy minister is something like the vice president of the United States; not much power unless the power is delegated to him by his minister. However, there is one major difference: a vice president is one breath away from power.

When a president dies he takes over the presidency automatically as stipulated in the American constitution. A deputy minister may even lose his job if his minister resigns or dies. Politics was a dangerous profession in Malaysia in the turbulent middle seventies I suffered almost immediately after Razak's sudden demise. That is another story.

Francois Mitterrand, the late president of France, near the end of his second term, as his political career was drawing to a close, when his lifework was approaching an end, and with age as the horizon was moving even closer to death, reminiscenced about his life, both personal and political, and about his childhood, faith, war, writing and literature power and special moments with Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, his old friend. They had known and respected each other for many years and because of that Mitterrand said he
could speak openly and freely.

Their conversations became a book called Memoir in Two Voices.

Mitterrand said he had a happy childhood, his parents were caring and open-minded. His family was large - eight siblings plus two cousins who were brought up as part of the family.

His boyhood, at a boarding school in Angouleme, though regimented was exciting. He was fascinated by school, he was interested in everything. Nothing and none posed a problem to him.

Wiesel did not go to a boarding school, instead, like good Jewish children he got up early, very early, to go to school to say morning prayers and study the Bible and the textual commentaries on the Scripture. During the winter when it was dark outside he lighted his way with an oil lamp. He was? he said, always afraid of three things - anti-Semitic thugs, demons and God.

I could not recall when I first became aware of the world around me. Perhaps, when I was four or five, even older.

I was born in Kampung Bandar on July 4, 1937. It was a prosperous kampung (village) by village standards on the right bank of the Kelantan River, about five miles inland from Kok Lanas and Pulai Chondong, both of which I was later to represent in Parliament. I never knew the significance of July 4 until I studied the history of the American War of Independence in Form Four in 1953.

My relatives from Kota Baru recognized readily enough that nothing would ever happen in Kampung Bandar, no big issue in Kelantan or Malaysia would ever be decided there. They persuaded my father to send me to a school in Kota Baru.