I HAVE marked May 5, 2014 as a date to be in Johor Baru. It will be Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar's coronation ceremony. As a Johorborn, I want to be part of the celebrations. And some of my Johorean friends in the state and those living outside the state have also blocked the date in their electronic diaries (as conventional diaries do not go that far).
Those in my age group have never seen such a ceremony before. The last coronation ceremony - that of Sultan Ibrahim's grandfather Sultan Ismail - was 52 years ago on Feb 10, 1960. We only saw photographs and read articles of past coronation ceremonies.
Sultan Ibrahim's coronation will be the fourth to be held by Johor rulers in the modern era.
The first coronation was that of Sultan Abu Bakar on July 29, 1886, followed by his successor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Abu Bakar on Nov 2, 1895, and later Sultan Ismail on Feb 10, 1960. Sultan Iskandar did not hold a coronation.
And these royal celebrations would involve the rakyat. I believe Ke Bawah Duli Tuanku, as most Johoreans would normally refer to him in conversations about the royalty, would want his coronation ceremony to be the same. He has, in the past, hosted tea parties for the rakyat. The tea parties, especially on the Istana Besar grounds, were a big deal when I was growing up in Johor.
My late father was one of the invitees to these tea parties, especially those held in conjunction with the sultans' birthdays, by virtue of his being a senior government servant. My mother would go to the hairdresser the day before to get her hair done. On the day itself, my father would have to wait hours for her to get ready (it would see her changing into two different Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga outfits before she is satisfied). They would later regale us with stories about the tea party.
I was in Johor Baru over the weekend and I saw that the Istana Besar is being renovated.
Seeing the Istana Besar brought back many fond memories.
There were a few occasions that my brothers and I were taken to the Istana Besar grounds by our tuition teacher Mr Toh, who also tutored the then Tunku Bendahara Johor Tunku Abdul Rahman's son, Tunku Abu Bakar. We would have our own tea parties there with Tunku Abu Bakar. We would play games while there.
There was also one year during Raya that we had gone to the Istana Besar for a family portrait.
But there is one particular photograph still etched in my mind of the Istana Besar, one that I saw in past reports; that of Sultan Ismail walking out of Istana Besar and waving to his subjects after his coronation.
Knowing Sultan Ibrahim, he would want his rakyat to join in the celebrations.
"Without the people, there is no ruler. The ruler and the people do not part," he had said before.
I am particularly pleased that Sultan Ibrahim had come up with a programme that brings the palace close to the rakyat.
The Kembara Mahkota Johor programme is one that he initiated when he was the Tunku Mahkota Johor. My wish is for Sultan Ibrahim and his family to continue to do this to narrow the gap between the palace and the rakyat.
The Kembara Mahkota Johor programme provided Sultan Ibrahim with the opportunity to find out how the people fared in every corner of the state. Through the programme, no development concerning the people escaped his observation.
Sultan Ibrahim has criss-crossed the state on his motorbike, driven the train and sailed his boat to the islands. I wonder what mode of transport he would use next to reach his subjects.
Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who launched the Kembara Mahkota Johor 2012 edition, praised the programme, saying that it has endeared Sultan Ibrahim to the people of all levels in the state.
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, Sultan Ibrahim had said he wants to be "a sultan who is known for his love for his people. And that I listen to their problems and try to solve those problems. It doesn't matter who they are, whether they are fishermen, Orang Asli, businessman or people with heart problems.
"From the time I was Tunku Mahkota Johor, I liked stopping at warung (stalls) or restaurants in whatever town I am in and have something to eat if I am hungry. I still like doing the same thing now. I enjoy it when old men, who I usually call 'Wak' or 'Pak', come to chat with me. I don't mind if the people at the warung want to take pictures with me. It is nice to know they are happy to see me and to talk to me. I started the Kembara Mahkota Johor because it is a good way for me to meet the rakyat in an informal way. I enjoyed the times I stayed in kampung houses overnight during the Kembara."
Indeed, "Raja dan Rakyat berpisah tiada," Tuanku.