Why I keep on truckin’ (Happy birthday to me)
|Praba Ganesan is Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Social Media Strategist. He wants to engage with you, and learn from your viewpoints. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan|
JULY 12 — My world changed irrevocably when I was six when the telly showed “Mr Smith Goes to Washington”.
James Stewart as Jefferson Smith explaining: “I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr Paine. All you people don’t know about the lost causes. Mr Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for.”
After that, it did not matter anymore to me what was possible. I had to believe and let my heart out in my own life. My idealism, I was certain, would keep me whole.
But things are never straight in dysfunctional Malaysia.
It is tragically funny, and in time I hope just “funny” that I grew up in a country which, for the lack of a better description, takes your idealism out of your mouth for a second to verify before smashing it back down your throat with a jackhammer.
In this nation, those who hate ideals and punish those with them end up with the plaudits and highways named after them.
Keep trying, or stop living
I wrote last week about how idealism has to be the heartbeat of any nation, today I want to talk about how I sustain my own idealism, or least try to. Saying it is one thing, staying the course is another and I concede I have fallen by the wayside many times.
It is the courage to return to your idealism which tests you, not the loss of it. To be the prodigal son’s brother and not lose heart.
I thank cinema and Frank Capra in particular, and a whole bunch of biographies for saving my soul during late Fridays when it felt like I had not moved an inch forward in my life.
These memories are more poignant as I as I sat down to write this. After all, this is the last column I’ll write in my thirties. A serious time to consider life, as they say.
So how do things stack up for me then?
No wife and presumably no kids. Not a home owner but I do have a car. [I still miss my old Saga (Judy), though my new Saga (Suzy) does enough.] No political office yet nor have I had my packed stadium crowds.
I’m just a guy with ideas, a willing mind and body and unwavering faith in my countrymen.
Time will tell if operating without a safety net was just plain dumb.
Which is why my friends do ask me intermittently, “Can’t you just swim along with the rest, make peace with the way things are, let things be and choke chickens only with your left hand?”
No, I can’t.
Resolve is never easy to have. And I have to return to those early years to know where that determination comes from. My determination almost always annoys those close to me, it’s too much.
From young we (we meaning my siblings and I) were reminded, “If someone’s ahead of you, then there is no excuse for you not to exceed them.”
My father had a rather plain view of success in life; he also had a non-negotiable one. Which meant no achievement in school or on the playing field was ever good enough.
I was always willing though. Willing to give it a go.
But this obviously made my secondary school years an academic nightmare. In school then, you do not get to pick your subjects, the subjects picked you. The non-Muslim kid did art (which is just drawing and water-colouring) and the Muslim kids did Islamic studies. And those subjects are averaged into your final score. It was a handicap I could not shake since I had the drawing abilities of a one-year-old.
Fairly certain that I’m still the toddler with paint and a brush. There was no academic sabotage, I was hopeless.
I was not one of those prodigies whose works amazed art teachers and terrified them at the same time. Forcing them to call in parents and explain to them that the depth and vision of their child was mesmerising, but the darkness prevailing in his universe was mortifying and kept them one cautious step away from ringing the state mental asylum.
It was always a hopeless race trying to top the class. As the results come in, I’d steam along until the dreaded arts results.
The whole experience — no less the art teachers who avoided me like leprosy in school, I was quite beyond their care — emboldened me to cope with life’s handicaps.
Start five steps behind, don’t complain just bloody catch up.
If you can’t tie your shoelaces, chuck the shoes and run the race. Don’t worry about losing, just run.
This is not the story of how I now possess superpowers, or an uncanny ability to win, far from it.
I’ve just got a higher aptitude than most to operate in impossible conditions and stay in the equation despite knowing that my chances of success are always, always slim.
You don’t give up on winning — never — you just don’t get exasperated with the odds as much. The handicap always hovers over me. I’ve got used to it.
Nine holes done
Here at home, the odds are always highlighted, only thing left is for them to be on neon lights across the administrative capital.
A Tamil can only be a support politician. Women are disinterested in politics, they’ll vote how their husbands votes. Religiosity is equal to votes, a lack of it means you are openly bleeding votes. Young people are immature, they need the guidance of misguided and intellectually suspect elders to accept the old ways and reject Western imperialism.
I don’t think these will change soon. Not when the government of the day believes stereotypes are good as repeated by the fourth prime minister from his lair as gospel truths.
My friend is visiting me this weekend, and he told me last year that being 40, we are now heading back to the clubhouse after finishing the first nine holes. It was a bit depressing to hear, but it does clear up your head.
For me, where we are on our personal golf courses does matter, but what matters more is how we play the game.
What anchors me is best characterised by my friends telling me that I never change. I’ve grown, but they are right, I never do change.
The odds don’t upset me too much, and the defeats, well they’ve grown on me.
Say what you will, the idealist has an appeal, a timeless appeal.
Well, at least I appeal to myself; that’s an achievement.
See you again in my forties.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.