Knowing the Malaysian Ingrates

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.

Cecille DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" - portraying Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses II

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.

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A maverick of his own brand! A wanderlust, debater and a workaholic; he wishes time has a reset button. Although non conformist in attitude, he accepts conformity as being one of the norms of a human being.

Posted on 4 April 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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3 Responses to Knowing the Malaysian Ingrates

  1. Alysha

    "…preconceived notion that Tanggang merely revolted and disowned his parents because they were of a lower caste or perhaps just poor". Am I missing something? I thought that was really the case. He was ashamed of his poor mama and thus wished to disassociate himself with her – no sense of justice in that. Personally, I remember ustazahs lauding Moses for his bravery and not berating his ungratefulness. Yet I appreciate your excerpt on Moses and the sentiment expressed on it's contrast with the Malaysian attitude towards speaking our minds.

    Having said that (speaking in context here and more in relation to Shakirin's comment), I'd like to keep in mind that some people are truly grateful for government grants and support them (albeit conditionally) because at one point or another, the government had good intentions. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a single deserving Malaysian who has received sponsorship (and I've met plenty fair minded ppl who have paid back and used that opportunity to the fullest).

    I'll qualify this and go back to the root of this article by saying that I'm in full support of being direct and speaking your mind (though not mindlessly, as is the case with some people). I hate the insidious way people build ideas in Malaysia. It seems like neither side is very forthcoming about their policies and the structural changes they wish to impose on Malaysia. Government or opposition – let's be fair. Take bersih rally for instance, talk about neutrality. When did the issue of a fair electoral system morph into a cause for reformasi or lynas.

    Harking to the earlier point, I do think positive government actions count for something and are certainly something to be grateful for. It's also true that Malaysia experiences brain drain and has ingrates who don't fulfil their end of the bargain to thank for it (At least finish up your contract la, the country has invested a lot in you – taxpayers money kan). On the other hand, there's appreciation of the fact that a lot of our funds are misused (thanks to undeserving sponsorship holders, corrupted and rich elitist families and politicians) and has a crippling effect on the socio-political and economic situation of the nation.

    Thus, I think it's important to have a more rounded view and would not like to insult my parents and merely denigrate them as sentimental old fools. They have a point. It's one of the many to take into account.

    In all honesty, I think your statement "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." is pivotal to your article. In the same vein, I've summoned the courage to say that maybe we should adopt more rounded views and rationalise them. Say where you're coming from, rather than make dramatic sweeping statements or regurgitate inaccurate 2nd opinions.

    That's mental slavery in itself.

    I also feel that your words are your responsibility and its untruths or half truths hold consequences. So when someone tries to influence me on a subject without expressly stating their bias or non-bias, I sort of lose respect. Similarly, for me, mental freedom means clamouring for transparency and a kind of objectivity that is motivated by truth and not your personal gain/cause.

    Also, pertaining to the your comment on clamouring for rights, interestingly there's been a write up on the Myth of Rights (google it if you like) where the author maintains that there are no autonomous rights inherent in the American constitution (which is viewed as one of the more steadfast constitutions in the world). Made me set sight on my own individual rights according to our constitution/law.

    Thanks for the food for thought, dear writer. It's much appreciated and obviously mulled over.

  2. johngarang

    In the wise words of Bob Marley: Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery for none but ourselves can free our mind.

    That was from the song Resemption Song. Hope we'll follow Bob's timeless message.

  3. shakirin

    Ingrates `tak mengenang budi' as ~Tanggang' of the ancient story initially pertains one's gratitude (as decreed in the Holy Quran) to one's parents. As children also attend madrasah (religious pondok schools) and kindy and schools, this concept was broadly used to include ustadz and teachers. But to all intent and purposes, it use should stop short and totally exclude Government and its agents! This is so for the fact Government comprises politicals representatives beholden to the people who elected them. As defined by Democracy is Government BY the people OF the people FOR the people, not to boss or bully the electorates but Earn and get paid allowances and salaries TO PERFORM for the job given! The misuse of `gigit tangan yang memberi' arose because these elected Servants of the people assumed the mantle that they have the right to override the very reason they hold their positions. A civil servant gets paid to do his job. A Judge gets paid to mete solemn justice similarly a Prime Minister head a team of executives to discharge his and their duty in accordance with the mandate of the voters (people). So when Mahathir Mohamad called graduates ingrates, the remark has no substance whatsoever. The places and financial supports for students in Universities is the responsibilities of the Government of the day, through the office of the Ministry of Education. Mahathir did not, any time material pay out of his own salaries or private funds! IT's a right of each eligible student for tertiary education, to attend and be sponsored if he has insufficient funds.
    But what has been more rampant and blatantly corrupt practices, in all Public Universities in Malaysia, merit will be the LAST consideration! Over the years, many qualified and eligible students get bypassed by students, with substandard and mediocre entrance qualifications under the various guises, quotas, connections and subjects selections and availability and a host of inexplicable excuses. As a result, those graduated with limited skills to face the employment market, and remain jobless.
    To label graduates as ingrates arbitrarily indicates the level of arrogance of Mahathir Mohamad who in his tenure did the same thing Harun Idris did when he was MB of Selangor. For his corruption, HI did time in the lam. It is very well for MM to rue the `ingrates' graduates with lame excuses. What is his excuse for enriching his family and himself while holding office for 22 years? Mokhzani is 13th richest billionaraire in Malaysia! Could He and Mirzan have amass them if not for his PM father?
    MM ranked after Mubarak of Egypt with USD 44billion, some of us were fortunate to to have browsed. But now has managed to delist himself! Why, certainly not because he fears the poor will beat at hsi doorsteps in the Mines?
    If anyone should be called `ingrates' it is all the UMNO scoundrels and traitors who have taken what rightfully the Rakyats! Instead of spending on eliminating social injustices (when the term `Malay' applies to only the top 10% of Malays), eradication of corruption and poverty, ensure equal right to tertiary education.
    UMNO ingrates must be punished by all young, smart and well-informed graduates of all ethnic races making up Malaysia of today' With the border-less cyberspace, they are exposed to worldwide forms of good governance for comparison and selection. There are still, of course, many `katak bawah tempurung' but the mature and discerning far outnumber them. It is now your future to take charge of!
    More ingrates are welcome to override the indoctrinated sentimental old fools of my and my parents' generations. Mistakes cannot continually be made for over 55 years!