7th December 1997
Carlyle has said that history is the essence of innumerable biographies and, if you
believe in Emerson, then there is probably no history, only a biography.
In Malaysia there is not a decent biography on the founding father of the nation
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, since Harry Miller's Prince and Premier, first published
40 years ago.
There is none on Tun Razak as a piece of history, nor on Tun Hussein or on Prime
Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad or on the founding president of Umno and
the man who defeated the Malayan Union, Datuk Onn bin Jaafar.
In the case of Mahathir, I can understand. Perhaps, it is a bit too difficult to
relate, describe, evaluate and interpret him and his records because he is still
actively running the country. However, there are no good excuses vis-a-vis Tunku,
Razak and Hussein and his father, Onn.
At the risk of boring you, I must caution biography is more than just a narration
of a person's life. Nor does it mean that just because one knows some details about
a person's life, it means he or she knows the person. Otherwise, the product will
be something which does not have much to do with the person's real life.
It is, I am afraid, a blot on Malaysian scholarship. We hardly write anything about
our leaders - not even adulatory biographies! Tunku's life and Razak's were "the
best and the worst of times" in our country. If a writer dares to explore many
aspects of Tunku's and Razak's lives he or she will make them more impressive and
interesting than what is generally known about the statesmen who adored their people
and loved good living.
The few which have been published are neither good history (or history at all) nor
good journalism, and because it is unreadable it remains virtually unread, certainly
not outside Malaysia.
To make biography not doomed from the start it must not be a hagiography. The biography
must also include who their friends and who their enemies were.
I think the most significant period of our modern history begins with British colonialism.
The two world wars, World War II, particularly, which led to the Japanese occupation
of Malaya was vital because it destroyed many old ideas and carefully tended myths.
The defeat of the Japanese in 1945 led to Malaya being absorbed by Britain as a crown
colony in the form of the Malayan Union 1946 (which was decidedly crushed by Umno),
which led us through the Federation of Malaya and the Emergency in 1948, the struggle
for Merdeka and its achievement in 1957, the formation of Malaysia in 1963 followed
by the Indonesian Confrontation, race riots in 1969, the advent of Razak and his
New Economic Policy (NEP) and Mahathir.
All these changes have brought us a good standard of living, peace and harmony. We
have widened our canvas and are acquiring new dimensions and scopes as we move on.
The real heroes of these various periods are, of course, the rakyat, "the commons",
those in the rural areas, in particular. None of what we have now could have been
attained without the loyalty and contribution of every race.
But the greatest contributions came from the leadership of Tunku, Razak, Hussein
and Mahathir, the civil service, the armed forces, the police, the law and the judiciary,
the private sector and Malaysian journalism which chronicled and is recording our
achievements, hiatus and mayhem.
I was very lucky with regard to my Malay College generation. I could have
been luckier had I paid more attention to my studies but that is quite irrelevant
now. I did not attend formal schooling until nine. After barely a year at the Malay
School at Padang Garang in Kota Baru I was despatched to the Malay Collge Kuala Kangsar
(MCKK) in 1948.
I was in Prep School from January 1948 to January 1950 and moved to the Big School
in 1950 until I left after completing Form Five in December 1954. Between the years
there, I bade farewell to numerous friends and contemporaries who had gone to the
University of Malaya in Singapore and for further studies overseas. Some left because
of poor performance in term examinations, and only one on account of death.
My generation at MCKK included those who were in school before the second world war
and others, like myself, who had come straight from Malay-medium schools. But, there
were many who came from English-medium primary schools. I must elaborate: In 1948
there were about 200 of us whose ages ranged from nine to 23, perhaps older especially
those in forms five and six such as Yusof Zainal, the headboy. He was the Malaysian
ambassador in Iran in the sixties and now spends his retirement alternately between
Malaysia and Australia. The last time I saw him was about 10 years ago at the Selangor
Royal Golf Club. A nice, handsome and good sportsman.
Then there was Sidek Lassim. I believe he is now president of the Penang Turf Club.
He was also a good sportsman. Once he was demoted from the first eleven soccer team
to the second eleven by an angry H.R. Carey, the headmaster and also an excellent
Sidek's classmate was Tunku Adnan Tunku Burhanuddin, the current president of the
Malay College Old Boys Association (MCOBA) and brother-in-law of the Yang di-Pertuan
Agong Tuanku Ja'afar Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Tuanku Ja'afar was headboy, succeeding
Tun Abdul Razak. Both Razak and Tunku Jaafar ("Jeff" to his classmates
and contemporaries) were all-round sportsmen.
Yusoff was in sixth form in 1948 while Sidek and Tunku Adnan were in form five. Tunku
Adnan kept goal for the MCKK first eleven soccer team and 1948 was a good year for
our soccer team. All three were from Negri Sembilan.
During my time, most of the students were from the former Federated Malay States
(FMS) of Negri Sembilan, Perak, Pahang and Selangor, and most of them were from the
Enrolment changed drastically when scholarship became the vital criterion for admission
before I arrived.