Rating: 3.5/5, RM50
The pleasure and importance of this collection of personal stories – family lore, genealogies, aspirations for the country – arise from the fact that it acquaints us with our fellow citizens. Fifty of our neighbours. Our diverse histories – from Nusantara, China, India, Sri Lanka, the Middle east, Britain, Europe, Australia – that weave into this intricate tapestry of different colours we call Malaysia. And we learn, regardless of the fact that several of the profiled personalities are either in the public service, politics or the entertainment industry, we’re more alike than different. That when the dust settles these featured Malaysians, like you and me, all want a peaceful future where race no longer rears its ugly head, where the government is responsive and not corrupt, where rewards go to the merited and not the connected. Where we are Malaysians first.
There’s also a longing for the past in the narratives. Especially from those born before the ’60s. A past of pre-lapsarian innocence, shattered by growing up and seeing the changes, when the scales over the eyes fall off. Tan Sri Lal Chand Vohrah sums up what all want: ‘I would like Malaysia to be what Malaya was when I was in school. Nobody then thought of race or religion. Now I think religious bigotry and ethnicity are coming to the forefront.’ And many lay the blame of the less-than-easy mixing of the races at the feet of the politicians and the government. Faridah Merican says, ‘I truly hope the politicians won’t spoil things for Malaysians and the country. Instead they should learn, and they should listen to the people.’
While it is engaging to read personal histories – especially of those with indigenous roots – and to note the interesting commingling of blood, it got repetitive reading about what kind of future folks wish for the country. However, a couple of politicians, probably still playing to the gallery, swimming against the current of the ‘Found in Malaysia’ public, wish for the continuance of racial politics. Khairy Jamaluddin asserts that Malaysia will not be able to go beyond racial identities and politics and he doesn’t think it should. ‘Because racial identity is very important to us. It forms our culture... I think that’s what makes us Malaysians.’ Hopefully he’s right about the importance of race to us in that it helps us trace our roots to confirm we all rightly belong here. Hopefully he’s wrong that race continues to be a card that ordinary Malaysians will allow politicians to play. SH Lim