One afternoon I saw Suhaimi sitting alone in the school canteen, busy rolling a balut (reefer). "What's that you're smoking?" I asked. Suhaimi winked and said conspiratorially: "We call this ganja." I had no idea what he was talking about so Suhaimi explained that in English it was known as marijuana. He pronounced it "mari-jew-anna."
I was horrified. "Suhaimi, you're my buddy and I care about you, so please listen to me and stop this dangerous habit before it destroys your life."
Suhaimi grinned and nodded amicably but didn't bother arguing with me. Nor did he offer me a toke on his glowing reefer. Two years later when I had my first joint I thought back to this early encounter with "illegal substances" and felt like a complete twit. What a namby-pamby twirp Suhaimi must have thought I was! But he was kind enough not to mock me and I'm still grateful for that.
|courtesy of Sabrine|
About a week later I found myself driving around the Gunung Soga area with Johnny in tow. My dad, bless his soul, trusted me with his car even though I was too young to possess a driver's licence.
"Hey, let's see if we can find Azizah," Johnny suggested. It only took a couple of turns around the neighborhood to locate her house. We walked up to the front door and boldly knocked. Azizah opened it and broke into a big smile when she saw us. She began chatting with us but made no move to invite us in. A moment later we understood why.
A heavyset bloke sporting a policeman-style mustache suddenly emerged from a bedroom and sauntered to the front door. Azizah appeared a tad nervous as she introduced her fiancé Azlan to us.
Azlan gestured to Azizah and she gave us a weak smile as she disappeared into the kitchen, as if to fetch us some drinks. Her fiancé's hunky body blocked the entrance. "How do you know Azizah?" he asked curtly.
"Oh, we met at a party and she invited us to visit," I began... but Azlan wasn't listening. He took a step forward and kneed Johnny in the groin. Johnny reflexively got into fighting stance but I put a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. "Let's leave. I don't think we're welcome here."
That was my first experience of testosteronal overdrive, territoriality and the Malay male. It was such a rude and unpleasant shock I quickly blotted the incident from memory.
Thirty-three years later I was reminded of Azizah and her possessive lover Azlan when I saw Huzir Sulaiman's dramatic monologue, Election Day, wherein he played three housemates named Francis, Dedric and Fozi. The narrator is Francis (a freelance copywriter who could be either Indian or Eurasian) and the plot revolves around "the beautiful and enigmatic Natasha" (a rich girl who is neither seen nor heard at any point but for whose affections all three housemates end up vying). Dedric is a Taiwan-educated Tian Chua type human rights activist and Fozi is a fashionably bohemian architect and one-time PAS member in Perak.
At the start of the play Natasha is Fozi's girlfriend and she has just left the house after a spat with him. The action takes place on Election Day, 29 November 1999. As the drama unfolds we discover that Dedric has a crush on Natasha and thinks Fozi isn't worthy of her. Cleverly interweaving acerbic sociopolitical commentary into his narrative, Huzir concludes his one-hour neo-existentialist drama with a chilling revelation: one of the three housemates is actually a Special Branch officer who manages to set up the other two guys for arrest and detention without trial so he can get the girl - and possibly a promotion for services rendered towards the maintenance of the status quo.
Natasha in Election Day represents the ultimate reward: the land itself, a trophy bride to show off to the whole world and in whose fecund and erotic soil the conquering hero can plant his seeds.
Was Huzir Sulaiman cynically implying that the old adage - all's fair in love and war - holds true and that only the completely amoral stand a chance of winning the game?
Anyway, as I began to recall that long-forgotten run-in with Azizah's jealous fiancé Azlan, many complex issues emerged for me to ponder. First of all, why did Azizah invite me to her house? Okay, assuming she found me rather cute and was keen to befriend me, why didn't she warn me about Azlan? Those were the days before cellphones and SMSes, so it would have been a bit harder to plan secret trysts, even if she had passed me her home phone number. Yet Azizah struck me as a free-spirited, fun-loving girl who enjoyed a wide circle of friends and didn't see anything wrong with befriending other guys even if she already had a steady boyfriend or fiancé.
Perhaps Azlan and Azizah had very different views on this subject. I wonder if she eventually married the fellow - and whether she would have been happy being under the thumb of such a control freak who obviously believed it was fine for him to have four wives, but strictly a no-no for a woman to have four husbands.
I made an effort to imagine myself as someone like Azlan, who would shoot first and talk later if he felt his boundaries threatened. A man of action rather than contemplation who probably dismissed people like me as lily-livered bleeding hearts just because we're capable of a measure of empathy - and are therefore more likely to welcome the unexpected rather than barricade ourselves against the unknown.
If I were Azlan and one day found a couple of strange men at the door asking to see my girlfriend, what would my response be? First, I'd ask her if she knew these guys and whether she wanted to see them. If she acknowledged them as friends and was happy to welcome them to the house, I'd probably regard them as my friends too. They'd be served tea and cakes and after a bit of conversation I might find I enjoyed their company and vice versa. Even if they initially had plans to date her, they would probably be glad just to be accepted as family friends.
After all, if I'm fortunate enough to have a really hot girlfriend or spouse, she's bound to be a big hit with almost every guy she meets and they would all wish they could make out with her. And if I didn't attempt to put her on a short leash and respected her sovereignty as a conscious and mature individual, I'd trust her to always be honest with me.
It's absurd to force your partner to vow NEVER to be attracted to any other. However, it's not difficult at all to swear eternal love to somebody - as long as it's not exclusive, since one never knows what inner changes one will undergo over an extended period.
For instance, you may believe you're absolutely besotted with somebody when you're 17 years old, only to realize four or five years down the line - or perhaps even after four or five months - that it was a purely superficial attraction, and that it's time to move on. Even so, one must always be grateful for love and good times shared. It's a very positive thing to continue loving the ones you have mentally and emotionally outgrown or detached from - like your own parents or former teachers, for example.
Do you see what I'm getting at? Azlan is a metaphor for Umno's values of pseudo-nationalism, ultra-ethnocentrism, and erotophobic bi-polarity manifesting as an obsession with sex and power. Azizah symbolizes Malaysia.
As a traditional, patriarchally programmed Malay male, Azlan/Umno believes it is his God-given right to possess and control Azizah/Malaysia. The thought of somebody else - what more a pork-eating Chink? - wanting a share of his prized possession Azizah is enough to trigger a violent knee-jerk reaction.
All very basic, really: without wasting his breath by going into a discussion about the matter, Azlan instinctively knew what Johnny and I were after - his girl! - and since he was a much more mature guy than either of us fifth-formers, he simply turned into a bully-boy to dissuade us from ever approaching Azizah again. Just protecting his own interests, that's all. Nothing personal.
But there's the rub. Azlan saw Azizah as his property - not as a living, thinking, feeling, evolving, autonomous entity. Johnny wanted to punch Azlan in the face but I felt it was prudent to just walk away from an unnecessary fight. It wasn't as if either of us was seriously in love with Azizah. We only wanted to explore the possibilities of befriending this feisty, friendly girl. All very innocuous stuff, really, and it was stupid of Azlan to react so brutishly.
By obeying his own primitive, unthinking, territorial imperatives he had shown himself to be merely a humanoid biped not much more evolved than a gorilla equipped with basic linguistic circuitry. If he had had the good sense to break into a broad grin and quip: "So you guys want to chat with Azizah? Well, I'm her manager and it's going to cost you 50 bucks an hour... each! Actually, I'm engaged to be married to Azizah in three months and if you turn out to be nice fellas, we'll invite you to the wedding."
Nevertheless, Azlan's violent behavior was undeniably effective. I never attempted again to contact Azizah, though for me she will always represent the beauty, nubility, hospitality and infinite promise my country holds for me - and everyone else who regards her as home. And ever since that time the name Azizah has always held a mysterious appeal for me.
Azizah would be past 60 by now, probably a grandmother several times over. I fervently hope she wised up and dumped that reactionary Umnoish boyfriend of hers and married a Mat Salleh instead. In any case, I wouldn't be at all surprised if one of these days a vibrant, vivacious and extremely attractive young woman named Zamila added me as her Facebook friend, and I later discovered her paternal grandma Azizah was born in Batu Pahat and lived for many years in the Gunung Soga government quarters...
FOR THE SAKE OF SCIENTIFIC ACCURACY ~
IF NOT POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
Halfway through writing this post it occurred to me that the syndrome I've been discussing is certainly not defined by ethnicity or nationality, nor does it entirely apply to the male gender. It so happened that in this early encounter with "the territorial imperative" the antagonist happened to be a Malay male. He could also have been Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Albanian, Filipino, Zimbabwean, Chinese or Portuguese. Possessiveness is a fairly common trait amongst females too.
Ego insecurity and jealousy are hardwired into our reptilian brains - the most basic, most ancient and primitive component of vertebrate cerebrospinal neural circuitry. In most species the territorial imperative serves the long-range objectives of specific genetic programs in a Darwinian selective process.
Stands to reason that under the harsh, hostile conditions of a prolonged Dark Age, the masculine, warlike qualities would become prominent survival features. However, in an Enlightened Age, this truculent, hooliganistic, shoot-first-talk-later behavior swiftly becomes countersurvival.
Brain supersedes brawn and heart overrides gonads as sentient beings evolve. In effect, the Azlan syndrome is really a residual behavior accumulated over thousands of years when physical might improved procreative odds. In an era when metaphysical vision becomes more relevant and significant as modifiers of human evolution, the gorillaman faces abrupt extinction as the godman takes his place as prime progenitive preference.
Just as Umno has yet to integrate the deeper existential implications of its massive losses after the 8 March 2008 election, a large portion of humanity has yet to acquire the more advanced software that will enable us to constantly be aware of the Big Picture - the larger context of our interactions with other aspects of our constantly expanding selves. Those able to swiftly redefine themselves and their own ego boundaries may be classified as "Cultural Creatives" or civilizing agents.
[First posted 9 May 2009, reposted 10 December 2011 & 23 August 2015]