Sunday, September 16, 2012

How To Cure Ourselves Of Terminal Mahathiritis (reprise)

DON'T MISTAKE THE MAP FOR THE TERRITORY! 

A lifetime ago I worked in advertising and from that experience have learnt to avoid using meaningless words like "better" (except in reference to those who habitually place bets on everything). When an adman says "We've got a BETTER deal for you!" he rarely specifies better than whose deal. Similarly, the idea of "working towards a BETTER tomorrow" conveniently leaves it to your imagination as to what might constitute "a better tomorrow." Why not focus on being more contented and fulfilled TODAY? I mean, if you're cynical and grouchy now, what makes you think you'll feel otherwise next week?

I love living in this land called Malaysia and calling myself a Malaysian (especially when I'm abroad) - even though I know these are only ephemeral terms of reference. After all, when I was born there wasn't a "Malaysia" on any map. This country was called Malaya; and before that, in the time of Ptolemy, it was known as the Golden Khersonese. If you're into esoteric studies you might even regard this blessed and bountiful land as the westernmost outpost of a long-lost continent called Lemuria.


From the paleontological perspective, the Malayan Peninsula was once part of a gigantic mountain range, the lower parts of which became submerged at the end of the last glacial period, disconnecting it from neighboring peaks that now form the islands of the Malay Archipelego.

Contrary to Umno propaganda, Malaya wasn't named for the fictitious Malay race, but was inspired by the Tamil word for mountain, "malai." Interestingly, the Sanskrit name "Himalaya" comes from "hima" (snow) and "alaya" (abode) - but it could also mean "snowcapped mountains." In other words, the fact that my country of birth was once called Malaya doesn't actually mean it belongs to the Malays, whom the Orang Asli regard as pendatang or dagang (migrants or itinerant traders). Indeed, a thorough study of history reveals extensive Hindu and Buddhist influence when it was part of the Srivijaya - and later the Majapahit - empires.
The fictitious Malay race was supposed to have originated from Jambi, Sumatra, but you won't find any tribe called “Malay” there - although there is reportedly a river called Melayu that runs through a tiny village of the same name in the vicinity of Jambi.

A Singaporean friend once joked that the word "melayu" means "to flee or migrate" - suggesting that Sumatrans who fought tribal wars and lost had to flee across the Straits of Melaka and henceforth were called Melayu (fugitives or migrants). I have yet to find any confirmation for this. According to my tattered kamus (dictionary) "layu" means "to wither, droop, or dry up." So even if I were born Melayu, I'd prefer to be called Malaysian, fictitious though the name be (at least it has fewer negative connotations).

I remember once chatting with a couple of Filipinas whom I had earlier overheard yakking away in Tagaloq. The word malaya came up a couple of times, so I asked the girls what it means in their tongue. “Free,” one of them said. “Malaya means free in Tagaloq.” My ears perked up. “You mean free as in free gift... or free as in not owing the bank any money?” The girls laughed and said malaya means free as in having no master. Now that’s a very nice meaning of Malaya, I thought.

It’s quite possible that the Tamil word "malai" (mountain) became associated with the Tagaloq "malaya" (freedom) because lowlanders have traditionally been subject to institutionalized religion, government and taxation - whereas highlanders are usually safe from the grubby, grasping fingers of priests and princes, owing to the inaccessibility of their habitat. In any case, I’d be very happy to be called Malayan – a free spirit.


My point is: it really doesn't matter what fictitious name we choose to call ourselves. What truly matters is whether we feel a soul connection to the land we have chosen to call home. Because it is precisely how profoundly we love the land that separates true people from pestiliential lifeforms.

All indigenous peoples have a psychic and emotional bond with the land where their ancestors' bones are buried. They feel a powerful sense of belonging to the land - not so much a claim of "ownership" through legal or illegal means. 

Then there are those descended from piratic tribes who have yet to grow a real root wherever they roam in search of plunder - for they feel no spiritual affinity with the land and are only there as opportunists, to rape and steal and ultimately destroy. These are the ones who wouldn't think twice about clear-felling an entire mountain range just to build a few condos, or poisoning the waterways with their relentless search for precious metals.

For the descendants of pirates it's eat, drink and be merry - before we get caught and sent to the gallows. Can you imagine the scenario for disaster when descendants of pirates end up marrying indigenous princesses and elevating themselves to public office? With no real love for the land they see everything around them as a chance to enrich themselves - and so they behave like greedy caterpillars, gorging themselves off the fat of the land, and stopping short of metamorphosing into butterflies.


Being a pirate is a state of mind. You can be a scion of ancient "nobility" like the Bushes, Clintons and Rockefellers - and still fly the Skull & Bones. After all, traditional aristocracies were really just a bunch of brigands and buccaneers in fancy costumes. Those who fought well and brought back lots of booty for the local warlord were rewarded with parcels of land and titles and named Orang Kaya or Baron or Duke.


During the Mahathir era, the entire machinery of state propaganda was harnessed to indoctrinate the masses with a spurious notion of "development."  It was indeed a false glamor, a grand illusion of "success" copied & pasted from the pages of glossy lifestyle magazines.

What our Great Leader Dr M sold us was a false vision - a nicely giftwrapped Pandora's Box of environmental, social and moral problems. But it paid big fat commissions to his family and to his Umnoputera cronies; and it entrenched corporate piracy as a way of life.

So... what bright ideas can I contribute towards "a better Malaysia"? First of all, nothing will change "for the better" until Umno/BN is no longer in power.  If the new Pakatan Rakyat government is genuinely open to feedback, it will be our task to reassess our priorities and make our wishes known to them.  Do we desire to be truly happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise?  Or do we keep going for the Monopoly money and the glitter of fool's gold, enthralled by flickering neon signs and colorful festoons of flashing lights?


What the global financial meltdown offers us is an opportunity to wean ourselves off our addiction to crass consumerism. We can then redirect our attention to the mental and emotional aspects of our development, for so long neglected as we set our focus on the purely physical meaning of growth. We will as a nation regain a sense of perspective wherein we can once again feel a soul connection to the land, and learn to love what's natural and real and truly aligned with life.

A whole generation of unmitigated Malaysia-Bolehism has inflated the national ego to colossal proportions. Look at the phallic skyline of Kuala Lumpur and the gargantuan architecture of Putrajaya – it speaks volumes about a massive inferiority complex, a cultural cringe for which we have been overcompensating.

The Orang Asli have survived for millennia and can show us how to be humble. Our Mahathiritic attempt to “conquer” Mother Nature is like ludah ke langit (spitting at the sky). We end up with spittle in our own eye. Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, take note, and abandon your 13 dam projects in Sarawak. Inviting Chinese (or Tasmanian) contractors to rape the ecosystem isn’t such a clever thing to do – no matter how much money your family can skim off these environmentally disastrous projects. Remember, when earthquakes hit Szechuan, the Chinese had to evacuate millions of people downstream because dangerous cracks appeared in hundreds of large dams.

Abdullah Badawi recently made a big fuss over the upside-down Malaysian flag on Sheih Kickdefella’s blog and used that as an excuse to get the blogger arrested. The flag is only a symbol of the fictitious Malaysia. Why get worked up over mere symbols?

If you really love the land that supports and sustains you, you wouldn’t ever pollute the rivers or denude the mountains.


It’s very easy to mistake the map for the territory. You may destroy as many maps as you want – we can always make more accurate, more detailed ones – but don’t destroy the only thing that’s real, the land where your ancestors’ bones are buried.
"Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long." ~ Ogden Nash
[First published 12 October 2008]

HAPPY MALAYSIA DAY!


No comments: