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My birthday thoughts for Tok Wan

Posted: 08 Nov 2013 07:38 PM PST

Actually, I was already very conscious of this fact -- that I had outlived both my parents -- back in 1997 when I too touched 46-47. I felt that if I could live beyond 1997 that would mean I was on what I called 'injury time' or 'subsidy years'. In other words, that extra time did not belong to me. I had already used up my time here on earth.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

My grandmother, Tengku Puan Nor Saadah Binti Almarhum Sultan Ala'eddin Suleiman Shah, who was born in 1922, will turn 91 on Monday. That makes my Tok Wan about 28 years older than me.

She is actually my step-grandmother, so to speak, and the younger sister to my father's mother, Tengku Badariah Binti Almarhum Sultan Ala'eddin Suleiman Shah (who died on 11th February 1937, just before the war).

In those days, the custom was that when the elder sister dies you 'replace' her with the younger sister. Hence my father's mother (my real grandmother) and my step-grandmother are sisters.

I sometimes wonder whether I will get to live as long as her, another 28 years, considering that my father died in 1971 at the age of 46 while my mother died in 1980 at the age of 47. I mean I have already outlived both my parents by about 16-17 years.

Actually, I was already very conscious of this fact -- that I had outlived both my parents -- back in 1997 when I too touched 46-47. I felt that if I could live beyond 1997 that would mean I was on what I called 'injury time' or 'subsidy years'. In other words, that extra time did not belong to me. I had already used up my time here on earth.

In a way, that changed me somewhat. Prior to 1997, I would be chasing my dreams -- basically of making money. Thereafter, making money no longer became a priority to me. What did was to make good use of the 'extra time' that I was enjoying and which both my parents did not have the advantage of.

I suppose that was why, in 1997, I decided on a career change. Instead of doing business and making money, I wanted to write. And I wanted to write about social issues -- which also meant to write about politics, religion, etc., since these come hand-in-glove with social issues when it comes to Malaysia.

Earlier than that I was already writing but about cycling, motorcycling and running. In fact, I was one of The Star columnists for about seven years since 1990 or so.

In 1997, I started writing full-time for the English section of Harakah, the party organ of the Islamic Party, PAS. And because of that The Star decided to sack me (since I was now seen as pro-opposition).

Not long after that, in 1998, Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from Umno and the government and the Reformasi Movement exploded onto the scene. The rest is all now history and something that I have written about so many times (so no need for me to repeat that story).

Many of my relatives and friends did not understand why I would get off the merry-go-round of the corporate scene and choose a life of poverty as a writer of social, political and religious issues (which I said in Malaysia comes as a package). The fact that my life of poverty eventually led to bankruptcy was probably perplexing to those who knew me.

With the many and powerful contacts that I had, I could easily be another of the many successful Malays (Bumiputeras) who exploited their contacts and the NEP to get ahead. That was certainly what I, too, thought back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when I was active in the corporate scene. But then when you begin to question your mortality and realise that time is no longer on your side, you also begin to question what good is all that when at the end of the day you are just going to go to your grave -- and probably not long more on top of that -- and you can take none of that with you.

Anyway, that was 16 years ago back in 1997 when I reached the age that both my parents died. I decided to change my life because I thought that my life was getting very short and I did not think that I would still be knocking around for another 16 years until today.

Then, in 2009, I left the country to come to the UK and that, again, made me rethink my life. In 2010, my wife, Marina, was diagnosed with cancer and this really shook me up. Many of my friends' wives, mothers, sisters, etc., had also been diagnosed with cancer and not many survived. I feared that I would lose Marina and would be left all alone in this world. I had always thought and hoped that I would go before her and not the other way around. 

Anyway, with surgery and radiotherapy treatment, Marina survived the ordeal and thus far the cancer appears to have been kept at bay. We will know by 2015 whether she is totally out of the woods.

Many say that they noticed the change in me around 2010. I was no longer fighting for the same cause like I was from 1997 until 2009. Of course, the easiest conclusion was that I had been turned or had been bought and that is why I have done what many consider a U-turn.

True, I did change. I used to fight for the opposition cause prior to 2010. But in 2010 I almost lost Marina to cancer and soon after that I was diagnosed with a prostrate problem and am now on medication for life (and in the UK one in eight prostate problems develop into cancer) plus I have glaucoma and also need to be on medication for life (and which may or may not cause blindness).

2010 was also when I decided to launch the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM). I felt that life was too short to fight for narrow causes (such as ABU or the opposition cause). I need to fight for a bigger cause in the short time that I have left. And that bigger cause is not to change governments or win elections but to change the way that society thinks.

In a way, the courses I took in Oxford since 2010 (and am still taking) probably also had a bearing on my change of thought. I realised that change can only happen either through an armed revolution or through a change in the way that society thinks. And in Malaysia an armed revolution is out of the question. So I would have to focus on the fight to change the way that society thinks.

And you have probably noticed, as well, that since 2010 the things I write about are different from what I used to write about prior to 2010. That is all the result of this change of thought. I no longer believe that change can happen through the ballot box. And I also do not believe that change can happen though the barrel of the gun.

The ballot and the bullet will not bring about this change that we seek. Change has to be through a mental revolution and hence the way Malaysians think would become very crucial if we want to see this happen.

I suppose those of you who are in your 20s and 30s, or even in your 40s, would perceive things differently. I actually do not blame you because when I was your age I, too, thought the same way that you do. But when you reach your 60s like me and when you suffer a scare that you thought was the end of everything, you too will begin to see life differently and will have a different perspective of what you need to fight for to see positive changes for the country.

Anyway, happy birthday, Tok Wan! The above is my birthday thoughts for your 91st birthday and from the looks of it you may yet outlive me if you live to a hundred.

The young Tengku Puan Nor Saadah (this picture was taken around WWII)


The wedding photo (Raja Sir Tun Uda Al Haj Bin Raja Muhammad, died 1976, marries Tengku Puan Nor Saadah)


Another wedding photo


Raja Sir Tun Uda Al Haj, the Malaysian High Commissioner to Britain, and Tengku Puan Nor Saadah, in England around the time I was born (also in England in 1950)



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