Sunday, December 20, 2020

The uniqueness of Ungku Aziz

Extracts of a Malaysiakini letter:

by M SANTHANANABAN (retired ambassador):

Ungku Aziz: A national icon passes on

The passing of Royal Professor Ungku Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid on Tuesday, Dec 15 is an event of substantial significance for me and perhaps for many Malaysians of my generation.

Malaysia has lost one of its greatest and most illustrious sons, a pioneer in higher education and cooperative trusts, an economist, a cultural and arts encyclopaedia and an esteemed scholar of Japan. An affable, eminent and erudite personality of that stature would be revered, recognised and remarkably renowned in any country.

But in Malaysia, the news of the passing of a controversial and ill-conceived budget overshadowed that important event.

Ungku Aziz had served as the vice-chancellor of the country's first and premier university with great ability, acumen and aplomb for twenty years. After that, our country just allowed this icon to fade away although his family and the academic, arts socio-cultural and a somewhat cantankerous cooperative fraternity attempted to provide him due recognition and respect.

He was not a politician and would not have sought the patronage of any politician. He sought to observe political neutrality to maintain reasonable standards of academic distinction and discourse.

Ungku Aziz worked hard on safeguarding the university's performance and prestige in the face of challenges coming from a somewhat immature and in-a-hurry political establishment.

kt notes:

Years ago, I penned the following 2 stories on Ungku Aziz which I want to resurrect in this post.

The first would demonstrate Ungku's innovative thinking while the second would show his social-political courage.

First, let's see his innovative thinking and his love of 'Malay-ness'.

Yes, it's about the Malay bomoh (a shaman or in more derogative description, a witch doctor, wakakaka).

Malaysians consulting a bomoh has been an intrinsic part of Malay culture. The visit could be for medical, mental, spiritual or even community reasons. And there is even one, which I dare say, that may be attributed to the unique muhibbah (goodwill) of our society, wakakaka, so much so even some Chinese, Indians and a few Eurasians have had visited the much popular bomoh too, wakakaka again.

A wee aside before I come back to Ungku Aziz (just being t'ng khooi or long-winded, wakakaka) - there are 3 'wonderful' Malaysian social activities that bind us, Malaysians of all races, closely like brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, etc. These are:

(a) sports particularly those which Malaysian gamblers can bet on, like football, badminton, basketball, etc (wakakaka),

(b) the mathematically-challenging-and-promoting 4-Ekor, a Malaysian weekly lottery which unfortunately for our pockets (and fortunately for someone who was 'gifted' the 4-Ekor licence, nudge nudge wink wink, wakakaka) occurs more than once a week.

4-Ekor gambling used to be available only twice a week, on Saturdays and Sundays, but the profit or revenue from 4-Ekor gambling was so attractive and a quick avenue to being billionaires (for the gambling companies, not gamblers) that more than one companies obtained licences to run the 4-Ekor lotteries, thus each of the entire week of our/your generally uninteresting life is flooded with the attraction of 4-Ekor gambling sessions.

The downside of such humongous availability is of course to your pockets - you would probably spent more than you can afford if/when you punt on each and every session by those different 4-Ekor gambling companies. But what can we do when we fear that our "very accurate" (cun cun) lucky numbers may "escape" a magnificent win if we don't "corner" (pau semua) every availability, wakakaka. 

4-Ekor experts like my late mum could tell you within the blinking of an eye how many combinations of a 3-digit lucky dream number, say 123, would work out to be, eg. 123, 132, 321, 231, 213, 312. Hmmm, I best don't go near the permutation for a 4-digit number, wakakaka. Maybe that's how Chinese learn their maths, wakakaka.

At the numerous 4-Ekor shops all over town and even in Chinese villages, one can see multiracial muhibbah mingling and multi-hopeful (wakakaka) crowd on lottery-days, and the magnanimous policemen who would be so tolerant of double and even triple parking outside those 4-Ekor shop, probably courtesy of management's prior arrangements (wakakaka), and

(c) thirdly, of course every Malaysian worth his or her salt in ... er ... 'Malaysian culture' visiting and consulting the bomoh to dapat 4-Ekor lah, wakakaka.

4-Ekor shop

OK - let's return to a more cultured subject, namely, Ungku Aziz. My uncle told me that during the days of PM Tunku, the Vice Chancellor of UM, then our only university, was, I believe, Prof Ungku Aziz who did the unusual when the construction of the university's great hall was completed, an enormously significant occasion, and to be officially opened with the desired fanfare.

What the professor did was unusual, unexpected and fantastic - he engaged a bomoh (a far more dignified one than Raja Bomoh, I was told, wakakaka, and certainly very authentic) to consecrate the great hall. Prof Ungku Aziz held the consecration of the Univeristy Greta Hall in an open ceremony where there were a number of invited guests including VIPs and foreign dignities, wakakaka.

Yes sir, Ungku Aziz was 'big' on Malay culture and he reckoned a bomoh consecrating the hall would offer the ceremony a nice touch of Malay traditional culture, wakakaka.

The bomoh hired for the occasion, in full bomoh regalia with his complete set of occult paraphernalia, gave the ceremony the full nine yards including burning incense such as kemenyan (gum benzion) and sprinkling scented holy water, imploring the spirits of Earth's four corners and the dewa's and dewi's of every known description (residing in Malaya of course) to bless the hall and the university students.

I wouldn't be surprised if he had turned Hindu, Catholic and Orthodox Church's' priests green with envy, wakakaka.

A few Malays grumbled but most smiled at his Malay-ness or cultural eccentricity. The unique ceremony was reported in most of the mainstream newspapers, and that's how my Unc came to know about it.

Today I doubt any Malaysian university VC would have the balls to do such a thing, that is, acknowledging the village bomoh as a quintessential part of Malay traditional culture, wakakaka, unless he or she doesn't fear being "burned at the stake" by JAKIM or JA-this and JA-that.

But whether JA-this and JA-that like it or not, the bomoh is definitely more Malay than a camel, even one which a hubby could enjoy sex with wifey on its humpy back, wakakaka.

oh, how he must have wished he was a practising bomoh in those Tunku-Ungku's days, wakakaka

OK, next we'll examine how Ungku Aziz demonstrated his bold social-political courage on a so-called 'sensitive' issue, to wit, our notorious 'social contract'.

Only and only in Malaysia does this term connote various meanings for different sets of people.

To most of the Malay political parties and NGOs and their supporters, it’s their mantra of the inviolability of Ketuanan Melayu, their passport to guaranteed power, position and personal prosperity via the never-ending Malay ‘special rights’, something apparently carved out in bold print on the 'steel plate' of their mentality and totally inerasable, though in the Malaysian Constitution there is no mention of 'special rights' (but who the eff cares, when such a book can be amended).

Rather, Article 153 of the Constitution grants the Agong responsibility for 'safeguarding the special position (not special rights) of the Malays'.

To other Malays in general, 'social contract' is something, whatever it is, which requires them to keep a beady eye on those sneaky Chinese, who would undoubtedly try to undermine and do away with it, whether one trusts or doesn't trust those greedy ungrateful Chinese, wakakaka.

But to the non-Malays, it’s the typical ultra bumi self-serving bullsh*t that constantly reminds the 'nons' of their second class citizen status, and even then, they are (2nd class) citizens of Malaysia only by the generosity and tolerance of the Malays.

And as quid pro quo for their (2nd class) citizenship, the 'nons' must behave kuai kuai and never ever question Malay ‘special rights’.

Indeed, in 2008 the then crown regent of Kelantan at a forum organized by Barisan Bertindak Perpaduan Melayu, a group of very conservative Malay NGOs, reminded us precisely just that, where in one fell swoop he categorised and separated his (future) subjects into the master race and ‘nons’ – for more, read Kelantan Crown Prince 'slapped' non-Malays in face!

Yes sir, Tengku Faris Petra (then crown prince, now sultan) told Malaysians of Chinese, Indians, Eurasian, Thai and others of non-Malay ancestries that there [was] to be no ‘equality’ for them vis-à-vis Malays.

He stated: “... the rakyat must unite and never raise issues regarding Malay rights and special privileges because it is a quid pro quo in gratitude for the giving in of citizenship (beri-paksa kerakyatan) to 2.7 million non-Malays into the Tanah Melayu federation."

“Thus, it is not appropriate for these other ethnic groups to have citizenship, only (later) to seek equality and privileges.”

But Malaysiakini subsequently reported what we knew all along but couldn't/wouldn't openly say without being threatened with the usual keris, tebuans and the threat of another May 13.

Without going into history, the Reid Commission, the Constitution, its Article 153, NEP, NDP etc etc etc, let's focused on what Malaysiakini had then reported, to wit, that Royal Professor Dr Ungku Abdul Aziz made a statement declaring there was no such thing as a social contract between Malaysia's diverse ethnic communities.

Thus he put paid (at least academically and intellectually) to the Ketuanan Melayu Goebbels-like propaganda, in truth an insidious Apartheid-like racist discriminatory policy of political, economic, social, cultural and religious dominance.

Professor Ungku Aziz said that the social contract was "a fantasy created by politicians of all sorts of colours depending on their interest."

Well, it has been for some a most profitable fantasy, while for the other side, a frustrating one - but it's a fantasy that has been vigorously implemented, realized, enjoyed and fiercely defended, though it has to be said that more than a few non-UMNO Malays and non-Malay bumiputeras have yet to benefit from it.

He believed whatever contract there was, it was more of an ‘economic contract’, what most countries would call 'affirmative action', in areas of education and health for groups that needed it the most.

Wakakaka, of course Mahathir disagreed with the Royal Professor but conceded that there weren't anything written down in black and white. He averred that the so-called social contract was an [unwritten] 'understanding' among founders of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Alliance or Perikatan government. How convenient!

A certain UKM professor who obviously didn't agree with the Royal Professor was reported to have made a sad shameless snide remark, stating “I don’t know what he [Ungku Aziz] reads aside from economic books”. Well, certainly not the kerbau-ish 'Malay Dilemma', wakakaka.

But that's the courage of Royal Professor Ungku Aziz in speaking out the truth on a matter very dear and even sacred to the hearts of people like Mahathir and the UKM professor.

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