Friday, April 18, 2014

A tribute to Karpal Singh & his trusty sidekick Michael S.V. Cornelius

Don Quixote & his trusty sidekick Sancho Panza

The nation was stunned and aggrieved when news broke of Karpal Singh's fatal car accident in the wee hours of 17 April 2014. In the Toyota Alphard with Karpal was his personal assistant, Michael Selvam Vellu Cornelius (39) who has long served the Tiger of Jelutong, helping him in and out of his wheelchair and selflessly attending to his needs.

Both Michael and Karpal were instantaneously killed by the impact, while Karpal's 38-year-old son Ramkarpal and the driver were slightly hurt. Also in the car was their Indonesian maid who sustained severe injuries and has been hospitalized.



Thinking about the way Karpal's loyal assistant Michael followed his illustrious master through the portal of death beyond the call of duty, I was reminded of Don Quixote and his faithful companion Sancho Panza. 

Miguel Cervantes published his classic Don Quixote novels in the early 17th century as a vehicle to explore his own apprehensions as the Western world transited from the Age of Chivalry to a new Age of Exploration, Invention and Adventurism. In a famous scene, Don Quixote attacks a windmill with his knightly lance, mistaking it for a monster. This spawned the phrase "tilting at windmills" which can either mean doing battle with illusory enemies - or crusading against monolithic institutions, seemingly impossible to modify, upgrade or dismantle.


Karpal Singh was a true lion among men but he was affectionately known as 
the Tiger of Jelutong - a constituency in Penang he represented in Parliament for 21 years 

Karpal Singh courageously stood up to the rising tide of religious and racial fanaticism to the very end. His last words in Parliament were: "Stop playing around with the Constitution!"

He was prepared to throw the book at all miscreants, even if their royal status provided a measure of immunity. In a nation caught between the feudal and digital age, Karpal was among the outstanding few who had the nerve to face the dire consequences of his public criticism of royal misdemeanors. 

Political columnist Karim Raslan wrote of Karpal: "He was the kind of man who called a spade a spade and then proceeded to hit an adversary over the head with the same spade."


Fierce but approachable: Karpal Singh by T.V. Smith
His outspokenness and adherence to principles caused ripples of unease among friends and foes alike. Much as he desired to see authentic change in the government, he wasn't  prepared to bend the rules to attain his political objectives. He voiced his personal opinions, even at the risk of stepping on friendly toes. 

While his political colleagues and allies chose to gloss over ideological differences for the sake of a united front, Karpal always made it clear that the Federal Constitution protected freedom of belief - and that the notion of an Islamic state under Syariah law was antagonistic and anathema to the concept of a secular democracy as enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution.

Here was an indefatigable defender of justice - loved and admired by the honorable, feared by the hypocritical, and loathed by the mediocre. Whence comes such another? Bless you and thank you, great soul!






Wednesday, April 16, 2014

KEMBALI KE BALI (Part One)

Finally I did it! I returned to the magickal Island of Bali after an absence of 26 years. It was only 5 days this time. In 1981 I was there for 5 weeks, and each day was a Technicolor dream overflowing with adventure, romance, and delicious sensations. I'm gathering my thoughts and feelings so I can blog in greater detail about the invigoration and inspiration I felt - but, meanwhile, I'll share some photos I took with my dinky digital camera (a Sony Cybershot, believe it or not!)...

In Bali you'll always find a majestic old tree beside every temple. This magnificent green sanctuary that had shaped itself into a perfect archway was spotted on my way to Ubud, just outside Batubulan (what a romantic name, Moonstone!).

On both sides of the road leading to Ubud you'll find the finest artisans in Asia, a rich legacy of the Majapahit Empire which produced stonemasons comparable to those that built Angkor Wat, Khajuraho, and Tiahuanaco.
A colossal statue, presumably of Rama, greets every visitor to Ubud
Painters, painters everywhere in Ubud; modern as well as traditional
Mask-makers too!
Member of the Balinese Royal Household at the Royal Temple in Ubud
Right: Ceremonial cow presides over ritual cremation of Balinese royalty.


Left: Five minutes outside the bustling tourist hub that Ubud has become, soothing sounds of running water and ducks romping in lush paddy-fields.


Women in Bentuyong, near Ubud, so alike the Orang Asli among whom I live
Hokkien chef in Ubud with two of his Balinese angel waitresses
Daily offerings to the Unseen Beings are an integral part of Balinese culture

[Originally posted 12 September 2007]

Monday, April 14, 2014

DEMOCRACY: Elect your own dictator! (repost)

Democracy and the power of the mind
By Stanley Koh

Why do Malaysians continue to support a government that has been abusing its power for so long that its credibility has become thinner than toilet paper?

Are Malaysians really too naive, gullible or blind to see that it is their failed collective political will that is the stumbling block to any real national progress?

One may of course argue that there is no such thing as a perfect government, that Utopias exist only the minds of idealists and romantics, or that the human mind, as played out in the real-world political arena, is far from being plain, perfect or even honest.

Cynics say we deserve the government we elect. But Barisan Nasional apologists tell us to look into what they vaguely refer to as “the statistics,” as if to say that these would show BN’s legitimacy as the ruling coalition in Malaysia.

Still, does it make sense that in 2008 only 4.08 million of 7.94 million voters chose BN to rule over a population of some 27 million? Is it fair for a minority to determine the future of the majority or the nation’s destiny?

The sad truth about the Malaysian majority is that its collective mindset is so passive—some would say deformed—that it does not seem interested in bringing about the revolutionary changes our nation needs for its betterment.

General elections reveal another shortcoming of the collective Malaysian mindset: it lacks focus on national issues. Most of us are foolish, naïve, apathetic and gullible, distracted by side issues thrown at us by power players.

Nevertheless, our national consciousness continues to be shaped by recent political trends and the increasingly strident voices of public interest organizations against the BN regime’s excessive control over civil society and its undemocratic tactics in undermining the opposition coalition.

Is the BN a good and credible government?




Most ignore the regime’s propensity to depend on draconian measures against political opponents: the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publication Act, the ban on rallies and a host of other instruments of power abuse.

[Read the rest here.]

[First posted 5 May 2010]