Sunday, March 15, 2009

“Marilah kita hidup atau mati sekarang”

“Marilah kita hidup atau mati sekarang”
15 Mar, 2009

Folded into our experience of the night of May 13, 1969, was there not the glue that binds all of us with the message that we must love each other or die?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

My early education was in the Alice Smith School at Bellamy Road in Kuala Lumpur. For those not familiar with early KL, that is behind the Dewan Bahasa near the Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara. The Alice Smith School was a school for the children of British expatriates. There were probably only three Asians in that entire school. The other two were one Chinese boy, who I can’t remember what his name was, and a girl named Sarah Chin -- my first ‘girlfriend’ of sorts, although she didn’t give any indication that she knew I even existed (so it was actually a one-way ‘relationship’ in that sense).

The Alice Smith School was only up to Standard Five -- so I was transferred to the Meru Road Primary School in Klang for my Standard Six. I did a short stint (about a month or so) in the Meru Road High School, also in Klang, after which I was sent to the Malay Colllege Kuala Kangsar from 1963 to 1965.

I could not stand the all-Malay environment -- a sort of culture shock after almost seven years in an all-English school -- and in 1965, during my Form Three, I asked to be transferred back to a ‘normal’ school. My father sent me to the Victoria Institution where I remained until my Form Five in 1967. The fact that I did not speak Malay well and was constantly subjected to ragging -- they called me ‘Mat Salleh Celup’ -- made life in MCKK most intolerable indeed. I never mixed with anyone and hardly had any friends other than ‘Manan Cina’, a most Chinese-looking Malay whose father was in the Terendak Camp in Melaka.

In the V.I., I felt more at home. My ‘best’ friends were Rajadurai (whom we called ‘Tengku’, since he was a ‘Raja’), Yim Seng, Yong Boon, Onn, Azizul, Karim, and about half a dozen other Malays, Chinese and Indians. The beauty about all these friends was they were not my Malay, Indian or Chinese friends. It did not occur to me (or to any of the others for that matter) that they were my Malay, Chinese and Indian friends. They were just ‘my friends’. In short, we were absolutely and thoroughly ‘colour-blind’,

But that was in the 1960s. Then, in 1969, we suddenly realised that there was a difference after all. We no longer had ‘just friends’. We had Malay, Chinese and Indian friends. Eventually, we drifted apart. I heard Rajadurai was murdered. I was beside Onn’s deathbed as he gasped his last breath. I don’t know what happened to Yim Seng, Yong Boon, Azizul and Karim. And I can’t even remember the names of the half a dozen or so other Malay, Chinese and Indian friends.

And this is most sad. It troubles me to this very day that these friends of mine are no longer part of my life, and I no longer part of theirs. We were once so close. We were closer than brothers. Now, they are faint memories of what could be equated as ships passing in the night.

What has this country done to us? What happened in 1969 that divided us so? What did not matter back in the 1960s is considered ever so important today.

This country has failed us. The politicians of today have turned the clock back and have destroyed what took many years to build. The destruction is so bad that in our lifetime we shall never see the country restored to what it was. It may never be restored even by the next generation.

I no longer see any hope for Malaysia. It will take a miracle to again see what we saw back in the 1960s. Today, Malaysia is all about the colour of your skin. Your break in life depends on which womb you happen to have come out from. Why must your future ride on the throw of the dice? Why must fate play a cruel game of chance while what lies before you relates to which family you were born into?

Malaysia needs a paradigm shift. But this shift can only occur if all want it to happen. It takes two hands to clap. And the way forward must be to bury the past and not play the blame-game. All are to blame for 1969. No one person or one community caused this. Just as it takes two hands to clap to see this paradigm shift that we so greatly need, it also took two hands to clap for what happened in 1969.


The glue that binds us
Dato' Mahadev Shankar

May 13, 1969 is nearly forty years behind us. What day of the week was it? Alas I cannot now remember! Perhaps it was a Friday? Friday the 13th has always had such an ominous ring to it! It was certainly before Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (the former prime minister) set our clocks back half an hour and thus took centre stage in our psyche. Of that I am sure.

As sure as I am that in 1969 with our Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister before he was deposed, we rose at sunrise and retired at sundown. May 13th 1969 marked a turning point in the history of our nation.

I had finished with the Fitzpatrick case at Court Hill, and made an uneventful return home a little earlier than I should. My wife and children were out somewhere in town and got back just before sunset.

By twilight, all hell had broken loose.

The shouting of a mob in full flow seemed to be coming from the junction of Princess Road (now Jalan Raja Muda) and Circular Road (later Jalan Pekeliling and now Jalan Tun Abdul Razak), which was less than half a mile from our house on the corner of Jalan Gurney Dua and Satu. We were well within earshot of the commotion.

I was then out on our badminton court with my wife and children when I saw a young Malay, face ravaged with shock as he ran past us, intermittently stopping to catch his breath and then run on. The panic he radiated was very contagious.

A few moments later, my neighbour Tuan Haji Ahmad shouted from across the road that a riot was in progress at the Princess Road junction and that we should immediately get back indoors.

Soon afterwards as the darkness set in, we saw red tongues of flame crowned with black smoke go up from the direction of Dato Keramat. From town there was a red glow in the sky of fires burning. The acrid smell of smoke was coming from everywhere. More to the point, the very air around us seemed to be shivering with terror. Fearing the worst, we locked ourselves in and huddled around the TV set.

Then I heard this high pitched wail. It was a female voice in distress - "Tolong, buka pintu, tolong. buka pintu!" (Please open the door!). A diminutive woman, with a babe in arms, was desperately yelling for shelter, obviously not having had much luck with the houses nearer the Gurney Road junction.

Without a second thought, I ran out, unlocked the gate and let her in. She was wide-eyed with terror and the baby was bawling away. The sheer relief seemed to have silenced her and she was not registering my questions. And she was not talking.

Once inside, she slunk into a corner in our dining room and just sat there huddled with her baby, not looking at us but facing the wall. It was now evident that she was Chinese, spoke no English, and was quite unwilling to engage in any conversation except to plead in bazaar Malay that she would give us no trouble and that she would leave the next day. Our attention soon shifted from her to the TV set.

A very distraught Tunku Abdul Rahman, came on to tell us that a curfew had to be declared because of racial riots between the Malays and the Chinese, caused by the over-exuberance of some elements celebrating their election victories, and gave brief details of irresponsible provocations, skirmishes, and fatalities. He stressed the need for calm whilst the security services restored law and order. Well do I remember his parting words to us that night,

“Marilah kita hidup atau mati sekarang.” (Let us choose to live or die now.)

As my attention once again shifted to the tiny woman and her tinier baby, let me confess to my shame, that the thought crossed my mind that living in a predominantly Malay area, I had now put my whole family in peril by harbouring this Chinese woman. It was manifestly evident from the TV broadcasts that her race had become the target of blind racial hatred.

It was an ignoble thought I immediately suppressed as unworthy of any human being. She, too, had been watching the TV and perhaps even more intently was watching me, and must have seen the dark clouds as they gathered around my visage.

None of us were in the mood to eat anything. We all just sat and waited and waited and waited, not knowing quite what to expect. Hours later there was a loud banging at our gate accompanied by a male voice shouting.

I realised then my moment of truth had finally arrived. I asked my cook Muthu, a true hero, if ever there was one to accompany me to the gate. In that half-light, I saw the most enormous Malay man I ever set my eyes on.

With great trepidation I asked him what he wanted. “You have got my wife and child in your house and I have come for them,” he said in English.

Still suspicious I asked him, “Before I say anything, can you describe your wife?”

“Yes, yes, I know you ask because I am a Malay. My wife is Chinese and she is very small and my baby is only a few months old. Can I now please come in?”

I immediately unlocked the gate. In he came and we witnessed the most touching family reunion. He thanked us profusely and without further ado they were on their way. In the excitement we did not ask his name or address.

What next?

I saw where my duty lay and immediately called the Emergency telephone number to volunteer for relief duty. An armoured car appeared the next morning. I was taken to Federal House and assigned to assist the late Tun Khir Johari (as he subsequently became) and the late Tan Sri Manikavasagam.

Our task initially was to transport and resettle the refugees into the Merdeka Stadium and thence into the low cost municipal flats in Jalan Ipoh. We then tied up with Dato Ruby Lee of the Red Cross to locate missing persons and supply emergency food rations to the displaced. Some semblance of law and order was restored and the town slowly came back to life.

If that baby who sheltered in our house that fateful night has survived life’s vicissitudes, he would be 38 years old today.

All the ethnic races, which compose our lucky nation, were fully represented in our house that evening when the Almighty brought us together for a short while. With our 50th Merdeka anniversary fast approaching, and our hopes for racial unity so much in the forefront of our minds, may I leave it to my readers to ask themselves whether there is a pointer here for all of us. Folded into our experience of the night of May 13, 1969, was there not the glue that binds all of us with the message that we must love each other or die?

May 13, 2007


Dato’ Mahadev Shankar joined the Victoria Institution (V.I.) after the war from Pasar Road School and was active in debating and in drama. Indeed, he was the first president of the V.I. Dramatics Society, a successor to the long-dormant VIMADS (V.I. Musical and Dramatic Society) of the 1920s. He is well remembered for his title role as Antonio in the Society's first major production, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which played to packed houses for five nights in August 1952.

He was also the V.I. Rodger Scholar of 1951.

Dato' Shankar is a barrister of the Inner Temple London and was enrolled as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court Malaya in 1956. Thereafter he practised law in Shearn Delamore and Company, Kuala Lumpur, till 1983 when he was appointed Judge of the High Court of West Malaysia. He served in Johor, the Federal Capital, and in Selangor till 1994 when he was elevated to the Court of Appeal.

During his career as a lawyer he served on the Board of Several Public Companies including Malaysian Airlines System. He was the advisor to the New Straits Times Group on libel laws and the resident representative of the Medical Defence Union.

He has also represented Malaysia on several international conferences on a variety of legal subjects. These included Intellectual Property laws in Sydney 1984, Canberra 1987, New Delhi 1995 and Tokyo 1997, and Kanchanaburi Thailand in 1998, Price Variation and Escalation clauses in International contracts at the Singapore Business Laws Conference, and the Right to a Fair Trial in Heidelberg 1996 as well as conferences on Aviation Laws in Dallas 1979, New York 1981, and Taipei in 1990.

Apart from the hundreds of Judgements he has delivered during his tenure as a judge he also served as a Royal Commissioner on two national inquiries and was the Advisory Editor for Halsbury’ Laws of Malaysia on Civil Procedure.

With specific reference to Arbitration, whilst in practice he has acted as an Arbitrator in the Whitley Council to revise the Wage Structure of the Postal Department of Malaysia, in labour disputes on the first Industrial Arbitration Tribunal, and in private arbitrations in disputes between dissenting partners in legal firms. He delivered the judgement of the Court of Appeal on the inviolabilty of the awards of the Regional Centre from Judicial review.

Dato' Mahadev Shankar retired as a Judge of the Court of Appeal Malaysia in November 1997.

Since his retirement from the Judiciary he has acted as an Arbitrator in a corporate dispute between joint venture partners on severance terms, a major dispute between the Owner and Main contractor in one of Kuala Lumpur’s prime building projects. The ongoing arbitrations in which he is now involved include a construction dispute in East Malaysia, and a dispute between two corporate conglomerates on the enforceablity of put options.

He is currently a legal consultant in Zaid Ibrahim and Company, a law firm in Kuala Lumpur.

In April 2000 Dato' Shankar was appointed a Member of the Human Rights Commission Of Malaysia for a term of two years.

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