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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Running Away

Running Away

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend. A meandering dialogue, it was really an excuse for us to reconnect as friends do. And as these exchanges tend to, we drifted into matters of family. She spoke about her children, her brother, the usual assortment of fears and hopes, funny moments, painful ones. I reciprocated.

At some point I began to talk about my father. And as I progressed into my narrative, she suddenly remarked that it was as if I was describing someone very different from the person I had talked about a year and a half ago. I thought about it and understood that she was right. The person I had just been describing was a warm, humorous and slightly dotty academic who, in the recounting of his madcap adventures across the globe in search of his truths, came across as a less sexy version of Sean Connery in his role as Indiana Jones’ father. The father I had described the year before was a quiet, reserved man so removed from his context and so driven in his academic research that he was virtually impossible to relate to. So much so that I had at times wondered what it was that he was running away from.

It struck me then that my father had not changed. I wondered whether I had been romanticizing my account of my father. Writers tend to exaggeration in the name of art, they call it artistic licence, and I was really a closet writer who had stumbled into the practice of law. But then I reconsidered, if that were the case why had I not done that before and, if the truth were to be told, our relationship had always been disjointed. I saw that there had to be another reason.

The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that I was the reason. I had changed, it seemed, and in as big a way that allowed black to have somehow become white. How that had happened, what had caused that shift in me, these were things I was less sure of.

Over the next few days, I kept on going back to that insight, twisting and turning it in my mind to look at it from different angles. I gnawed at it like a dog with a bone, trying to extract its essence. Slowly, my ruminations took me through the ebb and flow of the preceding year. Gradually, realization dawned.

At some point, I had accepted him; the good, the bad, everything. More crucially, I had accepted that I was his son and that without him, I would not have journeyed down that road that allowed me to become who I was and who I was becoming. My father may have been running, but I had been on my own long distance run. One that had instead of taking me towards where I wanted to get to had taken me away from it. I had stopped running. There was no reason to any longer; there had never been one.

And I saw then that we had to stop running away from who it is that we are.

For years we have fought off any idea of a real Malaysian identity, one in which we could just simply be Malaysian without having to underscore whether we were Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Iban or anything else. We have done this not because we know that we cannot have such an identity but because we have preferred to believe in a fiction that had over the years been constructed on the foundation of pain, anguish and hopelessness that enforced separation from one another has caused us all.

It is in the interests of those who prefer to say that a Malaysian identity, a Bangsa Malaysia, is a myth, or that it can only be built around a national identity that prefers one aspect of our beautifully diverse lives, to perpetuate the reasons that keep us apart. The proof that what it is they say is the myth and that each and every one of us has a role in creating, nurturing and evolving our national identity, lies all around us. We just have to want to see it: the way we eat each other’s food and how that food has in a way become all our food, the way we celebrate each other’s festivals with as much gusto as we would ours as if they were our own, the mixed marriages and the children they have blessed this country with, the common dreams and ambitions, the aspirations of our young, our collective destiny.

What are these if not aspects of who it is we all are?

What makes us uniquely Malaysian is our difference and the way we embrace it as one community, warts and all. If we could begin to see that, then that day when we topple that foundation of illusions, and with it that edifice that has for far too long cast a gloom over us, will dawn.

My father is my father and I am his son. I am a Malaysian and I want to stop running.

(Malay Mail; 28th October 2008)



Anonymous said...

We have all been running away from what we have always been. Pre-Malaysia, we were Bangsa Malaya and now we are Basngsa Malaysia!

The truth is actually to be found all around. Take the low income high rises that DBKL has built all over KL. They are the true Malaysian cultures. Everyone is poor but who cares. Because every one is the same. The intermingling is normal but they do not see any differences!

On the other end of spectrum, the same is true of the very rich. Inter marriages and living together is the same. True Malaysians.

Even middle Malaysia might be the same. But the differences are too big and this raises issues of the others! Middle class??

It is the political institutions that create the differencces and the problems. I think we should ban all political institutions!

Thoughtful piece Malik.

The Malayan Times said...


Check out the latest news in The Malayan Times at

SFGEMS said...

This is an incredible piece for sons and daughters everywhere, who are at odds with the fathers. Also a great piece for a true blue Malaysian. If one feels truly Malaysian, then, this will touch the soul.

Unknown said...

We are Malik. We have been doing that well before our Merdeka.

We Malaysian do embrace each other as one community.

I grew up in Sabah for 15 years and live happily with all my Bajau, Kadazan, Dusun friends.

When I moved back to my hometown in Melaka, as my parent were still in Sabah, having lunches or dinners in my neighbors house was never an issue. Be it Chinese, Malay, Indian or Baba.

We had, and still have, a good blend of Malay (mostly government servant or self employed), Chinese (either running a business), Indian (mostly rubber estate workers except few teachers) and Baba (now I realized I never knew how they earned their living except for my English teacher) living happily together in our community.

My first ‘real girlfriend’ was a Chinese. But her father forbids her from ‘masuk Melayu’. Too bad, but that doesn’t make him a racist.

Even now, the place where I am staying, we, the Malays, the Indians, the Chinese and our Nepalese guards stays happily, and hopefully, ever after.

This is not an illusion Malik. We are for real.

We really exist. And we exist all over Malaysia.

It is people with vested interest that always rock the boat. Unsurprisingly and funnily, most of them always claimed to be liberal thinkers and fighting in the name of equal justice.

To them others don’t understand. To them others just don’t get it.

In actual fact, almost all of them have one thing in common, they cannot accept or misinterpret Article 153 in our constitution, but they never want to admit it.

These are the Ultra Malays, Ultra Chinese and Ultra Indians. These are the very people that quick to label anybody for being racist but yet hiding behind it.

Then again Malik; what is so wrong being identified as Malay, Chinese, Indian etc? Does that make us less Bangsa Malaysia?

We choose to ignores history, and yet conveniently label it as a pack of lies.

Just look deep into our hearts.

You can see with your naked eyes our demographic profile. What is so illusion about it? We might just realize that we have been using our different colors to justify things that displeasure our thinking.

It may be a shock to few of us, but in the real Malaysia scene (not the same noisy crowd that you meet in courthouses), those so-called champions like Raja Petra Kamaruddin, Hindraf, Jemaah Islamiah, some political leaders are seen as the real racist. Those people who conveniently hide behind their pursuits of self interest.

I am not joking.

The so-called liberal thinkers tend to forget, the majority of us all wanted the same happy life.

The so-called liberal thinkers tend to forget, the majority of us all hated injustices.

The so-called liberal thinkers tend to forget, the majority of us is happy as we are.

The so-called liberal thinkers tend to forget, the majority of us want to move forward.

I am a Malay and a Malaysian citizen.

I am not running anyway.

Starmandala said...

Lyrical, eloquent and therapeutic!

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...


I think we are saying the same thing. The illusions I wrote of are those created by those with vested interests to do so. You, me, Malay, Indian, Chinese or otherwise, I am not saying that we forsake our own culture for the sake of a national identity. We can be ourselves and be Malaysian. That's what you're saying, I think, and I agree with you.


Anonymous said...

I posted this response to your article at MT. Keep on the good fight, bro.

written by AsamLaksa, October 28, 2008 22:09:02

I would like to say that Malik Intiaz Sarwar's article hits very close to my own personal experience. My father who is very domineering was a person I feared and hated at the same time. This changed in my late teens. He was still the same person, always domineering, but I changed. I accepted the good, the bad and the ugly of him. The result is that I love him more. I can daring and clever tales of him as well as tales showing his negative side equally easily. I am also not afraid to speak to him about anything, including criticising him now.

I was raised a Chinese, surrounded by Chinese friends while in school. I made plenty of racial slurs against Malays and Indians then. Then I saw the hypocrisy of the Chinese. Thus I went into a phase where I simply hated any notion of racial division. I gladly distanced myself from Chinese culture. I ended up a 'banana' who can't speak or read Chinese and the dialects but fluent in English and Bahasa Melayu. I wish that there were no such thing as race, religion, borders, nationality, akin to John Lennon singing Imagine. I wanted a Bangsa Bumi. But this is simply a distraction, an escape from reality.

Now I am a changed person. I do not hate any race. Each race has their own percularities I would galdly do without but I have to live with them all, the good, the bad and the ugly. I accept them all and this led me to start loving them all. All are my brothers and sisters.

I am still young and moving on. I am still filling myself up with love without aid of any religion (There is nothing to be proud about being religionless but I am merely rather stating a fact). The biggest challenge is really to fully accept myself, which I have not successfully done yet. I wish to do this following my own path. I am not afraid to make mistakes, sin, confess, apologise, or even die. Honest. I am still afraid to fail though.

I hope everyone can lose the fear that clouds your daily acts and replace it with love. I am doing my part spreading love in my own way with the people I come across. No preaching, just understanding. I remember a drug addict telling me that I am the only person who treated him like a human in the place where I worked. I was surprised as I treated him no different as I would treat anyone.

My message to others here in MT: find your own path, just don't stop moving.

Anonymous said...

unity in diversity is a concept as old as... well you think up something ancient.

whoever we may be ethnically malaysia is certainly not an imaginary homeland. no way.

our heart is in the right place. it's just that we have not been strong enough to fight the forces that seek to drive a wedge between us for their own selfish gains.

still, i am optimistic the day will come when we will all call ourselves malaysians and that's that.

rpremkumar2u said...

Malik, your words are indeed thought provoking and mind boggling. How true is your rendition. I admire your honesty. And the candidness.

mei1 said...

I never had a dialogue with my late father pertaining to Malaysian identity. He had an entrenched mindset that it was impossible to change our country political situation. Hence, my brother & I "taught" him a lesson on the election day that change was possible if mindset was changed. He remained silence but later on advised me that it was enough said on our political goings-on to avoid the untoward. Recalling it now I realise that there was some kind of phobia haunting him, probably because of the past experiences that he had gone through. However, it's just my guess work as I had no chance to get the clarification from him anymore.

Although he was not a very talkative person, I'm glad that he was not a racist. I believe religion influenced him tremendously that he became more patient & good-tempered. If compared with my uncle (his elder brother), my late father was more open-minded, at least he allowed you to express your point of view or argument. Unlike my "chauvinistic" uncle, what he says must always be right & there should be no objection from others, if not you're against him.

I digress too much here, the point that I'm trying to say is that basically the general Malaysians do love peace & respect each other. When my late father was warded in the GH couple of months ago, when other patients (mostly Malay) said hello to him, he would respond with a smile & raise his hand to signal hello to them. What I learned from the ward is that there's a spirit of mutual helping among the patients regardless of race & religion (though not all). If you're kind to others, people will be kind to you as well. I also remembered he told me that a young Malay patient used to volunteer to help him to adjust the height of the bed when having meals.

In my opinion, there's still a hope for this country even though my friend calls this country as barbarian nation. I won't deny that we've lots of evils out there especially the powers that be, but at the same time, there're still many angels out there, people like you, RPK, Haris, NGOs, concerned citizens etc. In short, keep the faith. Sharing with you some powerful quotations from this blog titled:


& ending with these few lines taken from the song "You'll Never Walk Alone"

"Walk on through the rain, walk on through the wind, though your dreams be tossed & blown,
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart,
And you'll never walk alone, you'll never walk alone"

Unknown said...

Yes Malik, if only we can be as one in the spirit of ‘Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan’ and move forward as the Malaysian Team.

Changes for the better are critical to our future success, and should be done through harmonize intellectual discourses; minus the baseless rhetoric.

For me, that is the True Bangsa Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your pieces for some time, Malik. Good stuff.
You're right about not running anymore.
We needn't run from who we are.

Anonymous said...

Malaysian are most Malaysian when they are not in Malaysia..

My experience is that with Malaysian living overseas it kinda loses it's meaning. You can be sitting in a Penang restaurant in New York and chatting to your friend eating Nasi Lemak or Laksa. Even schools that have a smaller Malaysian population, malaysia prefer each others company (we all can't stand Singaporians or even Indonesians or even Chinese from PRC). Our eating habit are too 'hot' for them or our lah's are more realistic

Col Roseli said...

To be sure, all Malaysians on the street think that they are the true Bangsa Malaysia and blaming others for not being one. Their problems only arises when someone not of his same kind wanting to marry his daughter!!!

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to your past impression of your dad. He was like that to me, when I was a USM undergrad. I took up the basic Theatre paper and Wayang Kulit. Although his approach was way too academic for me (especially in the latter--I just wanted to hit that gong!), me and my peers were always in awe of his vast, instantaneous knowledge of his subjects.

And I knew that one of the issues that made him unhappy was the total ownership of Islam of the Malays here--as if there were no Indian-Muslims (who have embraced the religion long before the Malays) and Chinese-Muslims (who outnumber Malay-Muslims globally).

Over the years, I'd bump into him in KL on a few rare occasions (the KL train station and Kinokuniya were a few that I remembered).

To me, after he left USM, he was already in that adventurous Indy Sr guise.

- Siew Eng