Side Views

A stirring of discontent — Christine SK Lai

November 13, 2012

NEW DELHI, Nov 13 ― The blurb on Facebook was catchy. “Come experience the Ubah Dream Machine”.

There were some interesting names bandied about, though no big-time personalities apparently. That suited me fine actually, because I didn’t fancy stomaching political ra-ra-ra speeches. I wanted to hear from ordinary folks like myself.

So for the first time in my 52 years of being a Malaysian citizen, I attended a “ceramah umum”.

It was awful timing, actually. Saturday nights are for enjoying with family and frens, partying, R-n-R stuff. Who would want to come and hang out at  a car-park listening to more of the same-same things that have been said umpteen times already?  

Add to that the unkind weather which literally washed out the whole idea of an open air gathering, and any smart event organiser will conclude it’s bound to be a PR disaster on your hands.

But I went anyway, more out of curiosity than anything else, since personally I am not a die-hard of any political party.

I didn’t expect any crowd as the rain was a real dampener, and indeed as I looked across to the car park grounds, it was miserably empty.

The lauded “dream machine” was actually the huge back end of a trailer emblazoned with a big caption “Ubah sekarang, bersihkan Malaysia” and picture of a hornbill bearing the Malaysian flag.

(Pardon my ignorance, but it’s only now I found out the bird named Ubah has been “adopted” as DAP mascot.)

Apart from a handful of people milling about the covered entrance to the civic centre hall, who were obviously party workers, there didn’t seem to be any action going on.

I was about to go home, when a man approached me with a smile and asking if I had come for the talk, pointed to one of the rooms inside. I walked in to behold the small place totally packed. People were already sitting on the side steps. I parked myself into an empty spot there.

More people kept trooping in till there was only standing room at the 2 doors. I ain’t too good with estimates, but I figure there must be some 100-150 pax in the gathering.

I hadn’t known what to expect really, since I have never attended this sorta thing before. Obviously some in the audience were there to support their party of choice.

But I am equally sure there were some like me who were just there to listen for themselves from the horses’ mouths, so to speak, what all the clamor call for change is all about.

For a moment I thought it was going to be a wasted effort when one of the speakers mentioned  that the session was actually the concluding part of a series of clarification about “Talam-gate”.

Man, my heart was saying, I am not interested in that. I came to hear the “heart-beat” of fellow Malaysians for Malaysia, to check if their dream of a better Malaysia for all Malaysians is the same as mine.

I was debating whether to walk out. But since I was wedged up in a tight spot high up on the stairs and the doorway was already blocked, I sat put. And I am glad I did.

As the evening wore on, as different speakers took the mic, it went beyond Talam. And it got even better when the rain abated and we could all adjourn into the open air car park where the speakers finally got to use the big stage on the trailer.

Yes, there were the usual references to cows, condos, submarines, Hummers and AES... All old fodder for the mill, already readily available for everyone and anyone who can read and has access to the world wide web.

But behind the re-hash of scandals and exposes, I heard passion in their voices, I saw fire in their eyes.

These were young (well, compared to aunties like me, they are young) men and women, coming from different backgrounds, different races, speaking different mother-tongues, but they displayed the same commitment.  

One over-riding sentiment resonated from all the speeches made over the 3 hours ― it isn’t about PKR or UMNO; it isn’t about winning or losing power. It’s about Malaysia.

It doesn’t matter which party gets to sit in Putrajaya, what matters is good governance translated visibly into transparency, responsibility and accountability to the people, by the people and for the people. Who will not agree these are the correct  ideals of society-living to be upheld in this nation, which calls itself a democracy?

The problem isn’t with the rhetoric or the theory, the problem is with the implementation, or lack thereof. And that’s what’s bugging me. I have voted dutifully in every election as a concerned citizen.

For years, I have not questioned the status quo, because being a stereotype Chinese, (which i hasten to add, isn’t to say all Chinese conform to the stereotype), I was content for myself and my family since I live a pretty decent life. Isn’t that enough? It is, if it’s all about me. But the truth is it isn’t all about me.

It’s about writing down Malaysian next to the race column on a form, its about hearing the kids in the kindy where I work singing Negara-Ku every Monday morning. Don’t the words mean anything anymore?

Perhaps I am getting more sentimental as the years roll by. Whatever, something is stirring in my heart these days, for I have begun to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

These words were part of the inspiring inaugural speech spoken by President John F Kennedy in 1961, I was just a 1 year old baby then. Now, I am already past the half-century milestone...

I may not be able to do great things or many things, but I can make the right choice as a Malaysian who cares about this beloved land we call our own. I can with others in the same boat pull together to steer it in the right direction, so that ultimately all generations of this rainbow nation can rest well and enjoy its abundant blessings.

Surely, the fruits of this land are not reserved for just some of the people some of the time. After 55 years of independence, where are the fruits gone? It’s patently obvious some baskets are disproportionately fuller than others, and that through rather questionable harvesting. That is very simply not fair to all Malaysians.

So that’s how i found myself amongst this small group of people. We stood for some 2½ hours on a wet Saturday night listening attentively to ordinary folks voice a common dream for this land.

A dream that stirs the heart to a restless discontent. Some say discontent is bad; because it raises needless questions and foments rebellion. I will be the first to agree we should be thankful grateful people, but I would think discontent over things that are not what they should or can be is the first step to change for the better.

If people can retire from active employment at 55, why can’t governments ‘retire’ also and take a backseat to allow other ‘drivers’ to rise up...who knows that they may prove more competent?

American jazz musician and Pulitzer Prize winner Wynton Marsalis said, “ I have absolutely no idea what my generation did to enrich our democracy. We dropped the ball. We entered a period of complacency and closed our eyes to the public corruption of our democracy”

I don’t want to stand indicted as a Malaysian with closed eyes. I’ll take my chances with a little discontent.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.