On Writing a biography




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Whatever people may say about Razak, one thing remains unchanged: He came from the kampung and he remains one of them. The premiership and all those long years in high office never lengthened the distance between him and the rakyat or blurred his perception of their interests and aspirations, much less lessened his sympathy for them and his empathy with them.

Razak, 19 years younger than Tunku and although both were members of the Malay establishment, was decidedly more keen on social and political changes than the Tunku but this does not mean that the prince was against progress; he was merely more cautious that things could be made better but they should be controlled.

It can be presumed Tunku's charming nature was derived from his Siamese-Burmese mother Che Manjalera. Razak might have appeared stony and cold but he was in private, though, shy - a very pleasant and polite man. Even merry, sometimes.

This is pure speculation: What might have happened if Razak had not met the Tunku in London? Would he have been Tunku's deputy in government as well as in Umno? It does seem clear to me that even if Razak had not met Tunku he would surely have not remained in the Malayan Civil Service (MCS) for long - as was, in fact, the case when he resigned as the appointed Mentri Besar of Pahang in 1955 to contest in the country's first General Election in July that year.

I do wish that more Malaysians - especially those who have interesting stories to tell - and, indeed, for that matter, any one at all, would put pen to paper to record their accounts, memories, impressions of events and incidents that happen in their country in their days.

Malaysians should not be loath to publish their experiences so that they are enjoyed by their contemporaries and shared by the generations who come after them.

In the West and the United States, public figures - politicians, tycoons, celebrities, generals academicians even killers, criminals, gangsters and rogues - eagerly write their memoirs to set the record straight, and in the process become rich or at least make some money, and defend themselves from the imputation and denigration of their enemies.

In the United States every year, the number of biographical titles, big and
minor, is as numerous as autumn leaves. May be that is an exaggeration, nevertheless, it is in the thousands, in hundreds, perhaps.

Whether the writers succeed in defending themselves is another matter. In any event they would have contributed alternatives for researchers, scholars, journalists and historians to ponder on, and in a few cases, contributed to the pleasure of the reading public.

Not every one has a deft pen to write, even less to craft beautiful and masterful works, but do write, nevertheless, whether you have a nimble pen (computer?) or not.

If no one wants to publish it, publish it yourself. I know many people who do that here and at home for private circulation among friends and family members.

Razak's life was an extraordinary one, and there is no need for his biographer or biographers to make it seem more extraordinary than it really was.

It would be wrong, and, of course, though it is possible to overestimate the talent and assets he possessed, to underestimate his weaknesses.

Life is short, and while we have other jobs to do we all should write about everything and nothing for the effort makes one a happy recorder.

Absolutely. Even if the product is of a plain matter-of-fact quality.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )

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