October 11, 2007

At the sidelines of Independence

You know that feeling when you're really looking forward to something but you get slapped in the face instead? Well, not literally of course although that could happen and if so I hope you had some help there.

On a less dramatic note, this could be like what some Malaysians call 'potong-steam'; when you've ordered a delicious looking ice kacang on a menu but get a small bowl with bits of nuts swimming in a puddle of pink and green instead. The biggest of such disappointment for me this year might just be what was supposed to be the best Merdeka celebration ever.

I've always watched the festivities on television but this year was- as you know - 'special'. I found myself somewhere near Merdeka square itself with a great view of the city skyline, on the eve of Merdeka.

'We'll be able to see the fireworks from here. Best-nya!' Someone said in glee.

Or so we thought. Upon countdown, one could tell that people around sensed that something was very, very wrong. Never mind that there were no fireworks, but we were treated to a series of self glorifying long speeches by ministers instead; the abbreviations of the ruling party's coalition were mentioned as though the ruling party is all that Malaysia is made of; there was no regard or space for anyone else that fell outside of it. The gigantic symbol of the ruling party projected on a building forming the backdrop says it all.

Is that what Merdeka means? The glorification of an exclusive few without regard to other Malaysians who has contributed to our country at the expense of our tax money? Slowly we started to realize that we were not really witnessing the merdeka celebrations at all, but rather, what seemed more like a political rally. To make the whole experience even more painful, our Malaysian flag was hoisted by someone who has yet to contribute to our country in any significant way while having shown questionable ways in which to garner political support. I have never felt ashamed being a Malaysian apart from that very moment.

After that fiasco, I made it a point ever more so to attend the 50:44 Malaysia Merdeka event held at Central Market, organized by a coalition of civil societies to remember the people that built this nation for the past 50 years since Independence and 44 years since becoming Malaysia. As opposed to the official celebrations, I felt proud being a Malaysian at this event; knowing that despite the circus that goes on, there are committed Malaysians who are working towards a future that is more just and inclusive.

Merdeka day has passed and it is largely back to business as usual for most. Having said that, this year's celebration at merdeka square probably had an influence on what I can and will do as a Malaysian when the time comes, even if it is a reactionary one. I will remember this year's official merdeka celebrations for sure, but all for the wrong reasons.

(First draft for The Sun, sept 2007)