Somebody left a book in my van a few years ago. I stuck it in the glove compartment and immediately forgot about it... until recently when I spotted it just as I was about to drive to Tanjong Malim and catch a bus to Ipoh.
So I brought the book along to read on the journey. It was an illustrated "People's History of Malaya" titled Where Monsoons Meet - published in 1987 by the Institute of Social Analysis (INSAN). A socialist primer aimed at secondary students, the comic-style book was designed for easy reading and I finished it in less than an hour - but it had significant impact.
Looking at our recent history from a non-elitist perspective reminded me how thoroughly brainwashed my parents' generation was. I recall that my mother and father thought very highly of the Brits. In the early 1950s goods produced in Hong Kong still carried the imprint "Empire Made" even though the sun was swiftly setting on the British Empire. Where Monsoons Meet effectively demolishes all notions of a benign imperialism. The colonizers emerge smelling quite foul.
The "Independence" we were granted in August 1957 was but in name. Before leaving Malaya the Brits had rigged the system so that it would always favor the capitalist elite comprising the Malay aristocracy and a handful of Chinese entrepreneurs.
When the rakyat began to demand better working conditions and more rights, they were brutally suppressed through heavy-handed police action. The Communist bogeyman justified the introduction of a slew of repressive laws. The truth of the matter was: Malaya was a fat milk cow sustaining the Anglo-American economy and they couldn't afford to lose control of the country's rich natural resources.
In short, British rule wasn't quite as halcyon as it may appear to the present generation of middle-class non-Malays. Every dirty trick in the book of governance as practised by Umno was learnt during the ruling class Malays' long apprenticeship with the British Colonial administration.
In the time of the British, indentured laborers imported from India were paid 12 cents a day for their back-breaking work in the rubber estates and on the railway tracks. Even if the local currency in prewar days was worth two hundred times more than it is today, these debt slaves only received the equivalent of RM20 a day. They had to dismount from their bicycles and tabik (salute) whenever a White Tuan crossed their path. The ones who spoke a smattering of English were made mandors and were given the authority to horsewhip insubordinate workers. Rebellion against injustice in the form of trade unionism was roughly and swiftly dealt with. The word "rakyat" was as little tolerated as the word "Communist."
What happened in May 1969 with the coup d'etat masterminded by Abdul Razak Hussein (right), Harun Idris, Syed Jaafar Albar, Mahathir Mohamad, Ghazali Shafie and a few other young Turks in Umno was that a new breed of educated middle-class Malays managed to wrest a measure of power from the traditional aristocracy.
In doing so, they also adopted the self-aggrandizing tendencies of the hereditary elite, hence their fondness for unwieldy honorifics and exclusive "VVIP" treatment.
Forty years down the line, we are poised on the brink of another major coup - this time involving the overthrow of a diseased and dysfunctional feudalistic concept of leadership, in favor of a more decentralized, more democratic, more egalitarian, more accountable, more interactive form of management.
And we intend to accomplish this feat bloodlessly and through entirely legal procedures. However, this is easier said than done - because it has become more than evident that Umno/BN, under the rogue prime ministership of Najib Razak, won't play by the rules.
What is called for at this juncture is optimum clarity of focus and supreme resoluteness. We the people cannot waver for a moment in our desire to shake off the yoke of tyranny and reclaim our civil rights and individual authority as free citizens of a free country. Each of us now has a sacred duty to embody all the qualities we cherish - courage, honesty, compassion, integrity, wisdom, and the ability to love more and more inclusively.
Above all, we must take time out to look inward - realign our inner and outer selves so we can become fully integrated, conscious humans - integers, in effect - as opposed to being merely ciphers; faceless, mindless statistics hypnotized by the BN-controlled media into believing that issues of race, religion, and royalty are real and relevant.
We can endorse and lend our wholehearted support to leaders whose visions coincide with our own - but we must never become entirely dependent on them. Otherwise we will only experience disappointment and disillusionment when these leaders reveal themselves to be just as fallible as anyone else. No use pointing fingers, scapegoating and foisting the blame for failure on others.
We are the redemption and salvation we have yearned for throughout the ages. Happy Regime Change, folks! It can still happen, and sooner than you think... believe in miracles!
[Originally published 2 January 2009 under the heading "No Turning Back". Reposted 5 June 2012]