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CHERISHED MEMORY: I was among those young Malayans...
THIS Merdeka season has unleashed a surge of long-suppressed memories of personal experience with personalities and events that have shaped my deep love and loyalty for the land of my birth.
For me, the most cherished memory was of an event on Feb 7, 1956. It was cold and blustery, typical Merseyside weather for that time of year.
For some 300 of us, young Malayans at Kirkby College near Liverpool, Lancashire, it proved to be the high point of our sojourn in austerity-stricken England that had yet to recover fully from the ravages of the Second World War.
Just after lunch, a small convoy of black Humber Super Snipe limousines preceded by a Humber Pullman came through the main entrance and wound its way to the reception area where the principal, Mr G.J. Gurney of the Malayan Education Service, and his deputy, Professor Attlee, awaited the arrival of the visitors. The Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, alighted from his car to a very warm welcome.
The Tunku, having successfully concluded his negotiations at Lancaster House with Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Colonial Secretary, and armed with an agreement for our country's independence, decided to make a special train journey from London to Liverpool to visit us. We had no idea that there was a surprise in store.
In the course of a short speech, conveying his pleasure to be with us at Kirkby, he announced, for the first time, that Malaya would become an independent nation "on Aug 31, 1957, if possible".
He chose to share the news of the most momentous event in our history with the country's 300 young men and women of all races, who, together with those trained earlier and subsequently, 1,500 in all, were to make such a signal impact on the teaching profession, quite disproportionate to their number, to the great benefit of countless pupils they taught with imagination, panache and dedication.
It was in an obscure little English village known to us as "Kampong Kirkby" that Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra announced to the world that a newly independent country was about to take its rightful place among the community of sovereign nations. The excitement was palpable, and unrestrained when the Tunku shouted "Merdeka" three times in that now familiar voice we continue to hear with a sense of pride each year on Aug 31.
I was then editor of Panduan, the college annual publication, and the thought uppermost in my mind, in all that heady mix of great joy and pride, tinged with a modicum of uncertainty about the future of our country, was how I could ever hope to do justice writing about such an emotionally challenging historic event.
I was for a moment transported back in time and space to my hometown of Alor Star. I was 12 years old, a pupil at Sultan Abdul Hamid College in 1946, when I first heard about Datuk Onn Jaafar, who fascinated me.
His uncompromising opposition to the diabolical British decision, dreamed up in the Colonial Office during the war, to scrub the agreement with each of the Malay rulers and to turn the country into another colonial territory in the shape of the Malayan Union was well-known. No one in my view was more astute at reading the duplicitous intentions of the British than Onn Jaafar, the greatest Malay of his time.
Much of what I had learnt about Malay nationalism had come from a remarkable young teacher, Mohamad Khir Johari, who was both my Form and House Master. I am convinced to this day that the history he taught was not based on the officially authorised syllabus because his treatment of the subject was peppered liberally with the evils of imperialism.
This was Malaya under British rule. Khir Johari was a marked man because of his known anti-British attitude. He was young, defiant of authority and tempestuous.
One morning, having marked the class register, he announced that we were going to "Padang Court" to listen to Datuk Onn Jaafar. We formed two neat lines and, led by our Form Master, we marched towards the school gate, which was some distance away.
Suddenly, our progress was interrupted briefly by a booming voice coming from high above. It was the rugby loving Gurney, our much respected and feared headmaster.
"Where do you think you are going?" he bellowed. "Come back, come back at once!" he demanded.
Khir Johari, looking straight ahead, continued walking and we thought it was great fun defying the headmaster. I could not understand much of what Datuk Onn actually said but enough to get the drift of his message.
The upshot of this little act of civil disobedience was dismissal from service for Khir Johari. We lost a friend.
He subsequently became an important member of the Tunku's cabinet and served the country in various positions with great distinction for many years, including a successful stint as minister of education.
As fate would have it, Gurney was the principal of Kirkby College when I arrived in 1954. He was a much loved gentleman who, when asked by Dr James Rawcliffe, my old headmaster, about my progress, replied, "He works in fits and starts".
Merdeka means a great deal to me and to millions in our country. It is a national occasion and I was outraged by the sheer crassness of some sections of our community who were bent on trivialising and introducing their divisive brand of politics when a show of national unity would be in complete accord with the wishes and dreams of our founding fathers.
Could they not have given the people of this country a day of rest on Aug 31 without subjecting us to their moronic antics?
Putrajaya? Over my dead body, says I, with apologies to Karpal.