AUGUST 29 ― Reading and learning about our nation’s history has led my curiosity to read about the political leader that shaped the nation. If we wanted to know why something is the way it is now, then we have to look and research the past events that had happened. This will help us understand and give us a nuanced perspective. Being resourceful and knowledgeable will help us to learn and understand better.
I started researching and reading about our political leaders but those type of books are a very rare find in the “Death Row” library. I tried asking if there are any books about our leaders. The answer, however, that were given by the prison officers was “Who would want to read those kind of books here in death row? Haha, no la we don’t have!”
I got my family to print the PDF version of a book out from internet as it will be more recent that books of such nature could be inside the prison. I managed to read about Nelson Mandela, a modern peacemaker whom ended the apartheid in South Africa, the Princess of Wales, Diana, known to be princess of the people’s heart, about the Mongolian empire and Genghis Khan, about Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire, and Alexander the Great.
The most interesting, relatable, intellectual and analytical read for me thus far is about our current Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and one of the world longest serving prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s ex-Prime Minister back then.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was born in 1925 in the town of Alor Setar. His father, Mohamad Iskandar has had the greatest influence on him, in his early days. Tun was brought up to be very orthodox, disciplined and very oriented towards education and knowledge.
At the very end of the World War 2, the greater part of Asia was controlled by the Europeans. The British held India, Burma, Singapore and Hong Kong. The Dutch had Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos was under the French Rule.
Most Asians felt inferior to the European colonist. There were not many notable activists and movements back then, apart from India, where the movement towards independent was taking root.
The Japanese occupation of a huge Asian region in 1940 changed and shook this part of the world. For Dr Mahathir, sixteen years old then, life became much more difficult but whether he wanted it or not, he started growing up much quicker and enriching his knowledge that would have a significant role in directing and determining his views and his actions throughout his entire life, later on.
His English school was closed and he had to attend a Japanese school, although reluctantly. He preferred to sell bananas at the small market in his quarters of Pekan Rabu, where he had his stall. He sold coffee and cakes too. He learned some Japanese as it would help in communicating back then.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has placed our nation on the map of the world. As I was growing up till the end of my schooling days, I remembered always hearing his name, seeing his photo everywhere but as a young chiId, I did not realise how pivotal he was and where Malaysia would have been without a leader like him. Reading about his childhood and the adversities and challenges that he had faced then, I realised that the children and teens today should be grateful for the peace of this nation, the environment attittude towards education, the economic development and many other aspects. There will always be room for improvement but we should not close our eyes to stop acknowledging the progress we’ve made too.
When I read more about Tun Dr Mahathir, I came to know that in January 1989, he had a heart attack. The doctors told him that he would have to undergo an open heart surgery and a multiple coronary bypass. I felt sad. Even though the incident happened a long time ago, I prayed and thanked God for keeping Tun Dr Mahathir safe then, now and in the coming days.
I feel grateful now to know that on the night prior to the surgery, Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew called Tun to tell him that he is aware of Tun’s current condition and suggested to him to contact Dr Victor Chang from Australia, a world-renowned heart surgeon.
When Tun called the hospital, the preparation for surgery had already begun. He called Mr Lee to say that it was too late but the prime minister of Singapore offered to fly Dr Chang, who himself had performed over a thousand heart surgeries, to Kuala Lumpur and his government will bear all the cost. Tun’s family later reply that they were going along with Tun Dr Mahathir’s wish to have a Malaysian surgeon carry out the operation. Mr Lee than told the family that he will pray and he said that he was worried, he said, “I don’t want to lose a friend”.
I got to know about Tun Dr Mahathir even more and all his efforts to develop our country, then and now and how he tackled a brutal attack on “The Asia Dream” in the 1997 economic recession and as a spokesperson of third world countries, his aspiration for a better world. Under his leadership, before and till June 1997, Malaysia was the second most competitive country in the world, at the first place was the US, third was Singapore and fourth was Luxembourg.
All of this and many more of Tun Dr Mahathir’s effort and sacrifice for the country had changed my mind, the way I view the world and the most profound of all, had implanted an even stronger love and patriotic spirit for our country within me.
Once I’ve realised all this, deep in my heart, when I hear our country’s national anthem Negaraku, without even realising it, I shed tears. I have never felt something like this before, it’s too deep. I feel a strong sense of responsibility towards our country and our people and society. Since then, there’s a voice in my heart that always encourages me in the darkest of times, saying, “Aku Anak Malaysia”.
It’s been five years now since I’ve been incarcerated. I miss our country. Just being able to see our country’s flag will give me a strength to not give up nor lose hope, I want to return back to Malaysia, to the land I was born and raised, to the country that I will always carry in my heart until the end of my life. It doesn’t matter how many years it takes, I just want to come back home.
When all of these thoughts were going on inside my mind, while I was alone in my jail cell, it was May 9, 2018 at night. On that fateful day, Pakatan Harapan won the 14th general election in Malaysia. For the first time in 61 years, Barisan Nasional got ousted out of power and after 15 years, at the age of 93, our Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned back to power as the world’s oldest Prime Minister. Along the death row cellblocks, there were cries of joy, “MAHATHIR IS BACK!!!!” All the inmates on the death row were happy just to hear Mahathir’s name. The “Father of Modernisation” is back.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad once again has placed Malaysia on the map of the world, he signifies a newfound hope for Malaysians and Malaysia.” I’ve realised how important he is, knowing what I can about him. He is an enigma, baffling to both his detractors and supporters alike. I pray for the success of Pakatan Harapan in the coming years.
* This piece was written by Pannir on scraps of paper in prison and has been slightly edited for structure and grammar. The original notes can be seen on savepannir.info website.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.