Late Tunku liked heroic tales, says former archive official
PETALING JAYA: He may be a national hero himself, but Tunku Abdul Rahman was always fascinated by the heroic tales of others and even wanted to make a movie on the legendary Malay warrior, Tengku Kudin.
Malaysia’s first prime minister had an interest in legends and historical figures as his mother used to read him stories about them when he was young.
S. Prabhakaran Nair, former director of the National Archives’ National Heroes Centre, revealed this story about Tunku, who was born on Feb 8, 1903.
“Tunku always liked local heroes and he didn’t want them to be forgotten.
“Perhaps this was why he wanted to make the movie on Tengku Kudin, the arbitrator in the Klang War during the 19th century,” said Prabhakaran, 60, who has written several books about Tunku.
He said while Tunku was serious about making the movie, it was not completed for unknown reasons.
Prabhakaran recalled a brief meeting with Tunku in the 1980s when he came to the National Archives to do some research on Tengku Kudin.
“I was just a research officer then and part of the group attending to Tunku. During his visit, I noticed that the Tunku had a fantastic sense of humour.
“We came across a fact about Tengku Kudin’s character. I did not find it entirely funny but Tunku was very tickled and laughed about it,” said Prabhakaran.
He said Tunku absorbed the facts quickly during his visit although he was having trouble with his vision and wanted the materials to be read out to him.
“He just came across as a very warm person and wouldn’t take you to task even if you made mistakes,” said Prabhakaran, who retired in December last year.
Tunku, Malaysia’s well-loved Father of Independence, passed away at the age of 87 on Dec 6, 1990.
Tunku was a moderate Malaysian
Good old days: Chung (left) and his colleagues posing for a photograph with the late Tunku Abdul Rahman.
GEORGE TOWN: The late Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman was a moderate Malaysian of his time, according to his former aide-de-camp Owen Chung.
He said Tunku was also a strong believer of meritocracy and was not concerned about colour or creed.
“People did not expect any favours from him, even if they were his close friends or family members. He disliked cronyism and nepotism.
“He believed in success through merit. It’s different nowadays with people making monetary gains through connections.
“Malaysia won’t be what Malaysia is today if not for the late Tunku.
“He was the leader who brought all the races together,” he said when interviewed at his house in Tanjung Tokong here.
Chung, 83, who paused between words to emphasise his points, said it was a different scenario if Tunku knew about those who were down with illnesses and required financial help.
“He would go all out to help them, even if it meant having to leverage his influence.
“He also always had a heart for the poor,” said Chung, who was with Tunku from 1972 until his death in 1990.
The former jungle squad commando said he believed Tunku had a hand in his promotion from Chief Inspector to Assistant Superintendent (ASP) in order to become an aide-de-camp.
“I was in the jungle squad fighting the communists and one day, I was given the orders to protect Tunku after intelligence had it that somebody was trying to get rid of him.
“When I was given the tough task, a senior political leader disputed my appointment, saying that a senior inspector was not qualified enough to become an aide-de-camp.
“But three weeks later, the then state police chief gave me a call and said that I had been promoted to the rank of Asst Supt. I am grateful to him,” he said, adding that Tunku’s favourite line was: “Never take anything from anybody unless God gives it to you.”
Chung said among the valuable things which he inherited from Tunku was an autographed first-day cover of the Independence of Federation of Malaya in 1957.
He said he refused to sell it to a tycoon who had wanted to buy it.
“I have held on to it till now but I feel it is time for me to part with the first-day cover.
“I will sell it to whoever wishes to own it. Half of the proceeds will go to a family member of Tunku who is staying in Kuala Lumpur,” he said.
Reminiscing the good old days, Chung said Tunku would have been 112 years old if he were still around.
“In his later years, Tunku’s birthday celebrations were small parties, involving his close friends and family members.
“It was never a big bash attended by VIPs. He was always a simple man with a simple lifestyle, and would eat anything prepared by his cook,” he said.
A tribute to a great man
OUR founding father, my great grandfather.
We learn of great men from history books, memorials, museums, art and literature that immortalise their achievements, sacrifices and even downfalls.
We recognise them by the taglines which sum up their achievements, like Alexander the Great, Richard the Lion Heart and John the Baptist for example.
We have such tags for our own leaders, too: Bapa Kemerdekaan, Bapa Pembangunan,Bapa Perpaduan, Bapa Pemodenan.
These attributes illustrate their contributions towards the building of the nation. Of course, these are merely associations and there is a danger to reduce these great men to just that.
Today marks the 112th anniversary of the birth of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.
A few years ago, as a tribute to the man who liberated Malaya and created Malaysia, I paid a visit to Onn, a long-time family friend who used to work as a caretaker at the house occupied by the former prime minister.
He had been under Tunku’s employment from 1972 till his death in 1990.
“When I started working with Tunku, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand him because his Kedah accent was so strong. For example, once he asked for ayak(water) but where I’m from, ayak means to sieve rice.
“Tunku was very humble. Every year for Hari Raya Aidilfitri, he would give all the staffduit raya and kain pelekat. As long as you did the job right, it was easy to work for him.
“Of course, I was scolded a few times. Once he had a surprise visit from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Tun, who was living at Bukit Tunku at the time, wanted to pay a visit but had asked me not to tell Tunku.
“When he arrived, Tunku was having breakfast in his pyjamas. After Tun left, he was very angry that I did not tell him,” said Onn.
He said every morning, he had to read the newspapers to Tunku while he ate his breakfast as by then his eyesight had been impaired.
“I would read the headlines and if there was a ‘hot’ issue, he would ask me to read the whole report. I read The Star, New Straits Times, Utusan Malaysia and Watan. I wasn’t good in English, but he would encourage me and correct my pronunciation,” he said.
Onn’s face lit up as he remembered Tunku’s other roles as a father, grandfather and great grandfather.
“Tunku would make steamboat for his great grandchildren who would sit in front of him while he watched television.
“He was also stubborn. When he fell sick, he refused to go to the hospital. His son, Tunku Nerang, had to persuade him. He was once admitted for a month and we all took turns to look after him,” Onn added.
Over the past few years there seems to be more efforts to commemorate Tunku’s contributions and popularise his values and ideals.
We often have high expectations of our great leaders. As they are our elected leaders, we expect them to do the right things, to respect our rights, to bring growth, to deliver promises, like the cliché, with great power comes great responsibility.
We lower our heads in disappointment when they fall short. But ultimately, they are still human beings with different roles to play, including being politicians.
I had a taste of what Tunku was like as a family man through recollecting memories of him. But sometimes it was difficult to swallow the learning of the decisions he made as a politician.
I grew up knowing only great stories of him. But now as a woman with an opinion of her own, I have come to realise that I’m able to disagree with some of his decisions, and that it is okay to do so.
To my great grandfather, happy birthday!