Dear Malaya of 1957Posted: August 31, 2010
I’ve always wondered, what was it like back then, today in 1957, when the people of Malaya all gathered at the stadium to witness Tunku’s cry of “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” It must have been a grand occasion. Sometimes, when I watch the playback of that scene on television (sometimes people use that footage for advertisements), I get goosebumps all over. Even though the recording is in black and white, and the audio could do with some major improvements, the setting just seems so electrifying, so exciting. The feeling that Malaya is now going to embark on a new journey, a new adventure, is just so dense and obvious, even just by watching that clip.
So I often wonder, would it have been 10 times, perhaps a hundred times more exciting for you then? After years of being under British rule, after suffering through the Japanese Occupation during WWII, you were finally going to be free, independent, merdeka!
Perhaps somewhere in the crowd, amongst the thousands upon thousands who were at Stadium Merdeka on that faithful day, there was a certain Rashid. Perhaps he cried tears of happiness, overwhelmed by the fact that after years of fighting; after years of suffering the indignity of needing to bow to outside forces, he can now walk with his head held high; his country is free, so he, too, is free.
Perhaps this Rashid had his 4-year-old son up on his shoulders, yelling and screaming “Merdeka!” along with the rest of the rakyat, excitedly pulling at his abah’s hair. Perhaps he had at his side, his wife and 4-month old baby girl, sleeping soundly in her mother’s arms. Perhaps his wife was smiling, thinking of the many things she will do for her children, the future she wants them to have. Perhaps she was thinking of what to cook for dinner that night, the first dinner they will have, as independent people.
Perhaps next to this Rashid, stood a lone man, old and hunchbacked. Perhaps his name was Liu. Perhaps he was thinking of the family he left back in China when he left his hometown some 50 years ago. Perhaps he was thinking of his wife, bedridden and unable to attend this historical event. Perhaps he, too, cried tears of relief, finally being able to accept that Malaya is now truly merdeka.
Perhaps this Liu had brought his 2-year-old grandson along, tugging at his shirt and insisting to be allowed to see more. Perhaps his grandson kept pointing at Rashid’s son, making unintelligent noises, demanding that he wants a shoulder ride too.
Perhaps there was also a certain Loges smiling at Liu’s grandson. Perhaps he said, “Mai,” and hoisted Liu’s grandson onto his broad shoulders, getting shrieks of laughter in return. Perhaps Loges placed a warm hand on Liu’s back when he turned around to look. Perhaps Loges got a nod, a thin smile; but that was gratitude enough.
Perhaps somewhere around 10 feet away, there was someone called Vani, dressed in her most beautiful sari. Perhaps she was shouting herself hoarse, “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” Perhaps she was jumping up and down, unable to contain her excitement, tears of joy running down her ample cheeks. Perhaps Vani’s mother was shaking her head at her daughter’s unbecoming behaviour. Perhaps she was smiling, thinking about her daughter’s upcoming wedding. Perhaps she was thanking her lucky stars her future grandchildren need not suffer as she did, now that Malaya is merdeka.
Perhaps at the other side of the stadium, a solemn figure stands out from the rest. Dressed in cotton blouse and pants, perhaps her name was Qing. Perhaps she stood tall and proud, knowing that her late parents would have cried had they lived to see this day. Perhaps she made a small salute of honour as she watched the flag being raised, thanking the many who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Perhaps next to Qing was a young man clad in Baju Melayu and songkok. Perhaps his name was Husin. Perhaps he was crying unabashedly, thinking of his two sisters, now returned to Allah. Perhaps he made a promise to himself as Tunku cried, “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” to not let his sisters’ deaths be in vain. Perhaps he had made plans to enter politics, to help his fellow countrymen move forward as an independent nation.
Did these people exist? Somehow, I believe they did.
Sometimes I wonder, dear Malaya of 1957, what would you say to us today?
What were your visions, your aspirations, your goals? In the year 2010, 53 years after that faithful day, have we achieved what you set out to do? Have we gone in the direction you mapped out? Are we moving towards achieving your dreams?
Or have we strayed from the main road? Have we betrayed your spirit? Have we turned our backs on Rashid, Liu, Loges, Vani, Qing, Husin and the thousands of others who were at the stadium 53 years ago? Have we disappointed the millions more who couldn’t make it to the stadium, but watched from homes and kopitiams throughout the nation?
Are we, today, the nation you thought we would be?