A Merdeka Day letter to Malaysia

31 Aug 2023 03:43pm
Children dressed in Jalur Gemilang-themed outfits were highly motivated to join the thousands of visitors who thronged Dataran Putrajaya today for the 2023 National Day celebration. - Photo by Bernama
Children dressed in Jalur Gemilang-themed outfits were highly motivated to join the thousands of visitors who thronged Dataran Putrajaya today for the 2023 National Day celebration. - Photo by Bernama

Dear Malaysia,

Happy Merdeka Day!

I hope you are in the pink of health and are in an equally salubrious mood with your denizens who are celebrating your 66th anniversary of independence today.

On this auspicious occasion, I can’t help but to reminisce how far you have come in braving odds, and enduring those arduous, complex and stormy journeys with us.

I wasn’t born yet back when Tunku Abdul Rahman led the team to set you free from the colonial shackles of the British at the Lancaster House in London in 1956 – which bore fruit the following year.

But I grew up with my ‘Tok’ who would passionately recount how women back then had to part ways with their precious gold bangles, earrings and bracelets to help finance Tunku’s mission to get you your independence.

Of course, the trigger to the bittersweet story-telling session was almost always due to my singing of the Doraemon opening song in Japanese which Tok often misread as me idolising Japan.

And against the backdrop of her living through the brutality and atrocities done on her kith and kin during the Japanese occupation, the sight of her grandchild merrily singing a Japanese song was indeed a big no-no.

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“I did not donate my bangles and bracelets for this,” was the usual preamble to her history lessons.

Dear Malaysia, looking back, the path you’ve trailblazed and the progress you’ve made since the historic Aug 31,1957, was remarkable.

From quiet padi farming villages, rubber plantations and tin-mining, you’ve grown into a vibrant nation, evolving into a bustling hub of technology, commerce, and culture.

The Petronas Twin Towers, once a dream, now pierce the sky, but honestly, I think we have too many skyscrapers and blocky buildings in Klang Valley; and don’t get me started on the amount of shopping malls we have there.

Seriously, how many fast-fashion retail stores do we need to have?

In terms of solidarity, I think your people have forged and fostered an enviable sense of unity; we have managed to weave together diverse cultures, languages, and traditions into a harmonious tapestry.

Sure, there were bumps, bruises and bickering along the way – with the majority being triggered by politicians, mind you – but perhaps that’s the beauty of it; that despite their differences, when push comes to shove, Malaysians can stand as one.

They say the proof is in the pudding, and indeed, the “KitaJagaKita” movement that gained ground back when Covid-19 paralysed us – and the rest of the world to boot – testified to the togetherness and kindness of fellow Malaysians in trying times.

However, on the political side, things have gone absolutely lethargic.

Am pretty sure you’re aware of the telenovela-like drama that has been ensuing ever since Barisan Nasional (BN) lost the 14th General Election in 2018, right?

Gosh. What a rollercoaster ride it has been.

In the span of five years (from 2018 – 2022) we had four prime ministers. Lots of by-elections and plenty of politicians playing high stakes – in which nearing the end of it, many were no longer amused by the theatrics.

In fact, many had gotten weary of politics to the point that no one won last year’s 15th General Election. The first hung parliament since your first poll in 1955, back when people still called you Malaya.

But of course, concessions were made and eventually a new government was ushered into Putrajaya and while things have started to pick up, the cost of living is still an issue of concern.

Last week, a single whole chicken, with its head cut-off, cost me RM22 and I was shopping at a popular hypermarket known for affordable groceries.

It felt like I was taken for a ride because the chicken’s promotional price tag of RM8 per kilogramme had lulled me into a false sense of euphoria that one gets when snagging a good deal.

How could I forget that a whole chicken weighed more than a single kilogramme? Oh. Silly me.

On top of that, my car’s monthly installments went up because of the OPR hike – which a minister said to be fake news only to be proven wrong later on when the upping did in fact happen. Sheesh; a knee-jerk gone wrong.

But what I deemed a bit worrying was the fact that there has been a palpable climate of restrictiveness stifling what we can and cannot talk about in public.

Dear Malaysia, the core of your independence; your birth certificate; your Federal Constitution which makes up your DNA, are intertwined with matters of race, religion, and the royal institution.

And yet, today, these three issues have been banned from being uttered in the public domain. A blanket gag-order unbacked by legislative amendments in Parliament.

Even the several senior journalists have banded together and criticised the government over their oppressive antics against the media outfits that were critical of Putrajaya.

What are they afraid of, you asked? Frankly, I don’t know, Malaysia. Does it look like paranoia? You bet it does.

Anyway, Happy Merdeka Day, Malaysia. Hope you enjoy the holiday.