The meeting was chaired by Geoff Lembruggen, a Malaysian of Dutch Burgher lineage and formerly of the Straits Settlements Civil Service.
He decided to throw in his lot with the country of his birth, returning to Kuala Lumpur when Singapore merged with the Federation of Malaya in 1963.
Geoff had had a distinguished career, quickly reaching the senior ranks of that elite body of men. Upon his return, Geoff was quickly pressed into service by Tan Sri (later Tun) Ismail Ali, then governor of Bank Negara Malaysia.
Ismail, who had built a team of dependable professionals to help him run the bank, had a knack for spotting talent, and Geoff was appointed general manager of MIDF. Ismail was chairman.
National integration can be achieved through a single unified education system where Malaysians of different racial and cultural backgrounds grow up studying and playing together.
I am sure this constitutional Malay would lapse into Tamil at home. What riled him was my saying that putting young Malays into Mara colleges that excluded children from other ethnic groups was not the way to create a truly united Malaysian nation.
I was a strapping 30 something, a former rugby second row forward and was not going to take aspersions on my loyalty to my country lying down.
I was up on my feet like a shot, only to be brought down by a mighty tug at my sleeve by Geoff who intoned like a long-suffering uncle, “Sit down. Don’t be a fool and go down to his level. Remember who you are!”.
I have never forgotten his words of wisdom and have tried, not always successful, I fear, to abide by that piece of advice given me all those years ago.
As Malaysians, our overarching aim must be to bring about sustainable national unity so as to rid our fragile country of racial strife.
Whether we succeed or fail in this collective endeavour depends on the social, educational and economic policies that we develop and implement.
Of these, I consider education to be the most important agent of change. I am absolutely convinced that because our education policy allows for separate existence of ethnic schools, a sort of educational apartheid of choice, whole generations of young Malaysians of different racial and cultural backgrounds have grown up without the benefit of studying, playing together and enjoying the rich cultural diversity to be found in this country of ours.
The results are predictable: apathy, indifference, ignorance and prejudice — an explosive mix of ingredients to derail our efforts to create a new nation.
I do not believe that we can neutralise and overcome racial polarisation by ignoring the fact that the greatest obstacle to national unity is the unyielding position adopted by chauvinistic elements, like those who challenged former deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to say he was Malaysian first and Malay second.
He said he was Malay first and I say the same about who I am because I believe if we are Malay, Chinese, Indian or whatever first, it does not exclude us from being good Malaysians because they need not be mutually exclusive.
National unity is about taking some and giving some: it cannot, in all the circumstances, be a zero sum game. This apparently is what the proponents of mother-tongue schools have opposed for decades.
They are not prepared to compromise in the larger future interests of a new Malaysia. The government must find the courage and exhibit the necessary political will to review the education system with the single overriding aim of transforming it in such a way that while meeting the language needs of the Chinese, Indian and other communities, it is truly national in character.
All of us who have made Malaysia our home must remember that we have to develop a distinctive Malaysian identity sooner rather than later, taking into account the historical and constitutional development of this country.
All of us must avoid chauvinistic grandstanding, and start to think about the country and its long-term future for once. Otherwise there is not going to be a ghost of a chance of creating a society that can live side by side in harmony, grounded in mutual trust, respect and understanding.
Some years ago, the then minister of higher education, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed invited a small group of people that included the high commissioners of Britain and Australia, to a closed-door meeting.
In the discussion on the role of English in education, Datuk Azman Ujang, then Bernama general manager, who was not afraid to speak his mind on this and other critical national issues, and I were the only persons, both Malays, advocating the return of English as the language of instruction in government secondary schools.
In our search for a new system to satisfy the practical, utilitarian needs of Malaysians, I believe Malay language and literature must be made compulsory subjects. Special periods must be set aside for Chinese and Indian pupils to study their languages if they choose to.
School subjects should be reduced to eight at the most so that they can be studied in depth. Chinese and Tamil primary schools will over time be required to restructure their syllabuses in preparation for the English medium education, with Malay as a compulsory subject.
National integration, and I mean integration, not assimilation, can only be achieved through a single unified education system. This idea will be resisted by the blinkered of all races who while claiming noisily their Malaysian provenance are quite happy to wriggle out of their duty and obligation when it comes to the crunch.
They are fair weather Malaysians we can do without on this long, difficult and arduous journey to a new Malaysia.