GROWING up, I found it confusing to think that the man who decorated the walls of the city was my grandfather. That fancy-dressed man with his palm open, hand stretched into the sky was my grandfather. Surely, the girl sitting next to me in my class could not point to the textbook and say “Hey, that’s Tok Merdeka!” as how I did. Odd. Strange. Why?
I never met my grandfather, but I grew up listening to stories of him. I found myself trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, as I listened to my mother reminisce over their memorable times together.
As the girl who pushed my wheelchair-bound grandfather, she saw, heard and felt a lot. She would laugh sometimes, thinking of the memories spent together with her cheeky father. The father she shared with the rest of the country.
Growing up, I’ve gathered the recollections of him through various means: Questioning (or interviewing, much to their dislike) those who spent time with him: His cook, his driver, his counterparts and his peers, as well as the staff of the Memorial and National Archives.
I realise I’ll never know this man. I’ll never experience this gentleman, his wit, and most importantly, his personal philosophy. Nevertheless, the grandfather that I’ve never met has played a big role in my life, and I’ve only realised it after 23 years.
As I grow older, the world makes more sense to me. I was lucky enough to have spent the last few years reading English Law overseas. (Albeit, I was never good enough for Law at Cambridge). But I knew I read Law because I wanted to be the third generation of a legacy of lawyers.
“Read Law”, he would write to my mother. My mother was a law student, he was a law student, and now I was a law student. (We’re all law students because none of us could satisfy the job description of a lawyer. And I probably never will) And so, having graduated just three months ago, I realise that following in my grandfather’s footsteps did not disappoint because many things are starting to make sense. (I’m starting to guess this advice was mostly due to the fact that we, as a family, are not too mathematically-skilled).
After spending some time away from home, I am now willing to understand fully how beautiful Malaysia is. I understand its history and its uniqueness is one that I cannot find anywhere else. I lived abroad, and I have seen and met different people, and come across different cultures. That has enabled me to be more sensitive to ours.
I saw how the Europeans appreciate and understand their history so well; it made me so ashamed to have limited knowledge of our own. I saw, too, how the Europeans embraced their culture and lifestyle, being very proud to be who they are. I would sometimes sit down and wonder: was this how my Tok Merdeka viewed us Malaysians: so culturally different but gifted, and hence, deserving of our own independent nation.
I have worked in cafes and served people, and I have understood the meaning of hard-earned money. Living in England was not easy. I have volunteered with several different non-governmental organisations, both abroad and in Malaysia, and I have witnessed how poverty can strike anyone, at any age. Listening to the stories of those left homeless on the streets of England has made me realise poverty hits anybody, anywhere.
I’ve also learnt the true meaning of happiness, oddly enough, from these homeless people. It’s not the amount of money that you have, but it is your view of the world. Coming home from these travels, too, has made me realise how much depth my grandfather’s advice contained, resonating the importance of positivity and appreciation that my grandfather had always talked of. Learning of my grandfather’s work ethics, I have found myself in situations where I would think to myself, “What would he do?”, sampling a few historical events.
Through the years, I have tried to be active in various student bodies. I have found his advice and actions admirable, as they come in handy in student “politics”. These “political” experiences at university level make me worry for our future but, on the other hand, make me hopeful of a brighter future. As much as I have found those who make me worry for Malaysia’s future, I’ve also shared mamak sessions with a bigger group of those who have instilled a big sense of hope and patriotism in me. It has enabled me to believe that Malaysia will be taken care of.
Looking at the bigger picture, I think I understand more of the difficulties that my grandfather faced. It took a lot of effort to ensure the imminent threat of communism was kept out of Malaysia. One threat the millennials among us will never understand nor experience (thankfully).
The colonial world that Malaysians lived in was not an easy one. Convincing and courting the intelligent and advanced imperialists was not an easy task. After being abroad, I understand what discrimination feels like. I also understand the difficulty in achieveing unity. It is even difficult to reach a consensus during student body meetings.
Your legacy, and your charitable bone, also makes its way into our lives, Tok Merdeka. I visit and sit in the beautiful kampung homes, miles away from the closest highway, beautiful kampung houses on stilts hidden beneath the century-old trees. You were right, Tok Merdeka, our country is beautiful. Our people are beautiful. I was once so blinded before.
I never knew my grandfather, and I never will. And I am guilty of not fully appreciating nor understanding the place I call my home, sooner. And I am disappointed with myself for not doing so, not being able to. But I am thankful that with the guidance of my grandfather from writings left by him through his books, articles and journals, I have been given the chance to understand my country more than I ever will.
The writer, a granddaughter of Tunku
Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, is a fresh law graduate trying hard to find her place after spending some time in Northern England during her university years at The University of Manchester. Always probing into
discussions, she most often regrets not
doing Politics, Philosophy and Economics.