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Nine years ago, I took part in the National Day parade. It was the country’s 50th year of independence but Aug 31 was, to many of us, just another reason for a holiday. Growing up, celebrating National Day was about waking up early in the morning to sit in front of the television set to watch the parade. After the parade, we would go back to sleep; if we hadn’t fallen asleep in between the live telecast.

A few years after I started work, I remembered going to Dataran Merdeka with my housemates and their friends on the eve of Merdeka Day. We did the countdown as the clock at the tower of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building struck 12 at midnight.

After shouting Merdeka three times, we made our way to what was called Bangsar Boulevard (the open air stalls at one of the roads in Bangsar Baru) where we had supper until the wee hours of the morning.

In later years, Merdeka eve was spent watching fireworks at KLCC. One year, I actually took a room at a hotel near the Twin Towers where from the balcony, I could clearly see the fireworks going off into the sky. It was deafening. I had thought then that if a war zone sounded like that, I was grateful that I was living in peaceful Malaysia.

While I think that I would still enjoy watching the fireworks, I think I need to find something more than just watching the sponsors “burn” money (which could go to better causes) for a few minutes of joy.

Well, I can tell you that I had no regrets whatsoever in signing up for the National Day parade in 2007 although we were subjected to the kawad (marching) exercises with the Army and followed by rehearsals in the heat of the afternoon. We got yelled at by the Army instructor and also when we went out of step in front of the VIP stage during rehearsals.

Heck, we were part of the country’s 50th Independence celebration. Nothing, not even the harsh words from the instructors, could break us although some of us very nearly quit the team because we felt that civilians should not be subjected to the National Day parade. It should be left to the Armed Forces and the Police, whose personnel do it well as they have been trained to kawad during their own training.

We proudly wore the flag, which was part of our team uniform. Well, actually we were initially embarrassed with our uniform but there were others worst off than us. The Jalur Gemilang actually covered half of our anatomy. I actually walked half the city in the uniform after the parade.

This is of course nothing compared to my mother’s own experience at Padang Pahlawan in Malacca in 1956 when Tunku Abdul Rahman announced the country’s independence. She was 16 years old. She said she cried when she listened to the announcement.

Our past leaders struggled hard to achieve Independence. Our current leaders worked doubly hard to maintain it. And we have to remember that they did not build the nation alone; it takes all of us to do it. I believe each and every one of us contributes in whatever way we know best.

I have always thought that the Merdeka month would be a fitting time to raise patriotism by any means possible. We used to have a month-long Fly the Jalur Gemilang campaign. Was there any announcement of such a campaign this year? Was the campaign so effective that we no longer need to maintain that?

It is pretty obvious that we are showing our patriotism and loyalty to the country only in August.

After Merdeka month, we take the flag down and keep it in storage for next year’s celebration. What about the rest of the year? Why not make it a year-long campaign? Better still, why not make it an ongoing campaign? Let’s fly the flag every day.

With the younger generation, how do you instil patriotism, loyalty and pride of the country in them?

And we have to remember it’s a changed Malaysia from 59 years ago. Engaging Malaysians of today is different from the time of our forefathers. Our struggles are different, too. My fear is that soon we will lose sight of why our forefathers fought for independence because Independence Day has become just another public holiday or a day to party.

For as long as I can remember, our Merdeka Day celebrations centred around parades. In Kuala Lumpur, it would be in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, taking advantage of Dataran Merdeka for the field display. Then, it moved to the other states. For the past few years, it returned to Kuala Lumpur.

My wish is for us to do it differently. By different, I don’t mean changing the location but changing the format of the celebration.

Doing it differently doesn’t mean we’ll lose the essence of our Independence.

Fauziah Ismail is a United Nations’ Journalism fellow and Wolfson College Cambridge press fellow. She has 30 years of experience as a journalist, half of which with the ‘Business Times’

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