Fed by misinformation. In conduct of an internal inquisition. In formation of an inquisitive mind. Like a child beholding a picture book, connecting the printed dots and filling the colours of my fascination with the beloved nation of mine.
Merdeka to me was family day. My parents would bundle me up (as both my siblings were in boarding school) and the three of us would head to Dataran Merdeka incredibly early to watch the parade. I’d be sitting on my father’s shoulders, with my mother close by. It would always be crowded with people. I’d cheer, ooh-ed and aah-hed and would chatter, according to them, nonstop about the parades afterwards. At the time, Mahathir ruled. I adored him. I wanted to be like him. How could I not, he was Prime Minister! That means that he’s the most badass awesome person in the country.
Eventually, I too entered boarding school. It was when the Sekolah Menengah Sains Seri Puteri building was still the original elite Sekolah Seri Puteri Kolam Ayer. The meaning of Merdeka changed. The government would force us to remain in schools during Merdeka instead of being allowed home, and would have our own activities. Throughout the entire month before, those of us in the band had to wake up hours before the break of dawn for marching practice.
It was 5-8 hours of practice everyday and we were also expected to keep up with our studies. I recall missing classes here and there, and in the classes we actually managed to attend – there were a lot of sleeping band-girls. The teachers complained. Us band-girls had special permission from the Ministry to “escape” class and dedicate August for the 31st August performance. It was gruelling and tiring. Our seniors were stern and fierce taskmasters. Tears were shed, bodies were aching, and every now and then one or two girls would pass out, but we trudged on.
The night before Merdeka was special. All the girls in school would be rounded up, and we would have our own parade – with flags waving and the singing of our school song, Wawasan 2020 song, and any other songs we could think of, until late into the night. Due to the strategic location of our school, helicopters would fly by, and we could see the fireworks late into the night. We’d wave and cheer every time.
The next morning, SSP Bandgirls would wake up at 3.00a.m, and by the time the parade begins at 7.00a.m., without fail you would see red and white clad bandgirls wielding polished instruments and playing songs while marching accurately and keeping in tune – that is no easy feat. The march was always at least 1km long.
I had become one of those I once cheered for on our national day.
We’d end the day with a smile of satisfied achievement. It didn’t matter if we won the best band award or not. We did our bit for our country. We’d laugh, hug each other, and would finally be allowed home.
That sense pride still remains with me today. It is about doing something for my country. A patriot’s dream – realising the patriot’s duty to serve one’s country one’s own way.
Where has it gone to in this generation?
Over the years, from blissful ignorance I had developed a sense of political awareness since then. I learned that the account in my textbooks was a mishmash of half-truths and propaganda.
10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka by Fahmi Reza
I learned that there are those who lie and cheat, contrary to my austere and nun-like upbringing.
I learned that politics is mean and dirty, and the Prime Ministers is actually the ones who either survived the laws of the animal kingdom, or the ones who mastered the perception, alliance, betrayal, and power warfare.
We are pretty messed up. We know that. From my experience, I have met many types of people and the people I cannot fathom the most are those who want change, but who are absolutely resistant to the idea of making any effort to initiate it. I respect the independent decisions that people make. Yes, this country is messed up, ok, if you think it’s an uphill battle and you cannot participate, but I find it ironic that I find opposition and hostility from the very ones that will benefit from whatever I am fighting for. I don’t like, says them, I don’t want trouble, says them, it’s pointless anyway, they aver.
This negativity is sad.
My philosophy is simple. I see a mountain, made up of rocks, sand, minerals and hard materials. I am realistic enough to know that no amount of heavy machinery can push it aside. I am also realistic enough to understand that I cannot blast it to rubble because a subsequent landslide would affect the lowlands and life contained therein. I can, however, pick up a shovel, get some diamond drill bits, and with the help of some heavy machinery dig at that mountain until either a tunnel emerges, or do a Moses-like swath with that particular mountain.
But I cannot do this alone.
None of the current small community of human rights lawyers and would-be lawyers, and activists can.
We need you. Every single one of you. It does not have to be any popular “happening” cause right now. It could be love for furry animals, it could be to ask your local surau to lower down the excessive volume of prayers out of respect of the non-Muslim community, it could be asking your teacher to stop saying mean things about your classmate, it could be helping that Granny to cross the street, helping disabled persons getting better facilities for easy access in your local town, it could be putting your foot down and defending your friends who are bullied or discriminated against in your schools or your playground.
Just pick any single idea or principle, and out of your own free will do your part. Beyond that mountain is a blessed nation that is Malaysia. We simply need to shovel bit by bit the dirt that is tainting and blocking it.
Merdeka to me now, is about freedom of mind and spirit.
Will you help me?
LB: Azira Aziz is a self-professed mongrel Malaysian. She hopes to have “Malay” and “non-Malay” relegated as a relic of the past sometime in the future. She is a UiTM graduate currently undergoing training to become a lawyer.