Although I posted this on my personal blog a long time ago, the issue of ‘mengenang budi’ that is often raised come election season compelled me to republish it here on The Only Blawg.
Almost every Malaysian student born in the ’80s or ’90s would remember the poem “Tanggang’s Homecoming” back when we were in school. We saw the relevance of Tanggang’s revolt – a jolt to the preconceived notion that Tanggang merely revolted and disowned his parents because they were of a lower caste or perhaps just poor. Little did we realize that thousands of years before that, another figure had revolted against the hands that raised him. He was Moses.
Moses – otherwise known as Musa in Arabic, or Moshe by its Hebrew pronunciation – revolted against the Pharaoh of his days. The same Pharaoh that fed him from the same table as the royalties, raised him and gave him comfort in his majestic palace. For Moses was allowed to live in the same vicinity and premise as the Great Pharaoh himself, adorned with pleasures and gold ornaments. Moses was pampered and loved by Pharaoh. Yet Moses turned against him. Was Moses an ingrate?
In many cultures within the Southeast Asian archipelago – such action is unacceptable, no matter how noble the cause may be. The notion that you must bow to the hands that helped you, no matter how evil that hand may be is ingrained deeply within the hearts of the older generation. Yet we know that the Pharaoh was trying to usurp the place of God, enslaving the Hebrews and their faith. He was in essence – causing a larger evil that affects an entire nation; the Children of Israel (Bani Israil).
Moses must’ve been in dilemma – a test that is put unto all Prophets of God and leaders of men. He had to go and fight a bitter struggle against the person whom he called his father, and set his people (whom he did not grow up with) free from the bondage of Egypt. Without doubt, it was his faith in God that led him to choose the path he led. As many have said, God spoke unto him. Moses knew and believed in the truth that God showed him.
In Malaysian culture, however, we would have chastised Moses for being ungrateful. We would have mocked him for going against the hands that fed him with honey and milk. Words such as “lupa diri” or “tidak mengenang budi” would wag their way among Malaysians. The truth a person is fighting for is of less importance to Malaysians. For them, a debt of deed is far more supreme than that of the truth. In other words, ‘jangan gigit tangan yang memberi”.
But in recent times the hold of such paradigms over society is loosening up, especially among the new generation. It is up to this new generation to alter such mental enslavement. For we have to realize that being indebted to a person does not mean we have to conceal the truth, nor do we have to hide our swords when the time to fight has come. Not everyone is a Tanggang when a person fights against an individual, establishment or institution that raised him. For I have realized that whenever a subsidy-tied villager or a corporate-bound scholarship holder raises his voice to differ from the mainstream – he would be shunned as an ingrate – much to the murmurs of agreement among the older generation. Who is this villager to differ from the Ketua Kampung? Who is this ingrate that dares to question our corporate environmental policy? The Egyptian nobles back then must’ve seen Moses in the same light. “Who is this ingrate Hebrew? He was raised and adopted in the same palace as the Pharaoh yet stood up against him? That ingrate Hebrew!”
But we know better, that Moses was not an ingrate. He stood up against injustice – no matter the form in which those evils and injustices took shape. Here was a man who knew that justice comes first, that the people’s lives come first before one’s own personal whims and fancies. Here was a man, a Prophet, a Rasul (Messenger), a lawgiver and statesman – who shall be remembered and revered by three of the greatest monotheistic faiths in the world.
Do I wish to have people clamouring for rewards or becoming more demanding? Do I wish to see more ingrates walking on this face of the earth? No. All that I wish for is that Malaysians would be braver in stating their rights to differ and voicing out their opinions – even to those who may have contributed much to their lives. As Reepicheep in ‘Prince Caspian’ once said “My life is ever at your command, but my honor is my own.”
For if it is in the quest for truth, no amount of indebted deeds or love could bend it.