JANUARY 9 — You probably know what these terms refer to, but just for the sake of it, let’s refresh our understanding of the two words.
The definitions of mengampu and membodek according to the venerable Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka are as follows:
Ampu: 1. To support an object from below with the palm of your hand to prevent its fall; 2. To revere and admire a person
Bodek: 1. Scrotum of the male genitalia; 2. Hernia; 3. Sycophantic behaviour for the purposes of gaining favour or something in return.
I was taken aback by the primary meaning of the word bodek which lends a whole new perspective (and graphic imagery) to what we refer to as sycophantic behaviour.
With all due respect to DBP, I prefer my version which can probably be used for both terms: to brown nose, kiss ass or to suck up.
The more commonplace and visually tolerated examples of the practices of membodek and mengampu can be seen from the many public events and ceremonies which we Malaysians seem to revel in organising.
Anybody who has ever worked in events management in Malaysia would recognise the section on “protocol” and our obsession with it. The original intent is to provide appropriate respect and honour to the relevant people for whom it is intended.
It is entirely acceptable that a head of government or state be afforded the necessary pomp, respect and deference (yes, including making way for a motorcade which rivals the US President’s).
What isn’t acceptable is that the same amount of protocol seems to be expected to be applied to public officials such as Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Members of Parliament, State Assemblymen and even senior members of the civil service.
Last I checked, these people work for us. They owe their jobs and positions to us.
Yet, these days what seems to happen is that there is an inordinate amount of energy spent during events and programmes, kissing the ass of this lot or whoever is considered worthiest. Sometimes it is just one ass but often it involves several sizable ones.
Meetings are convened to anticipate and avoid imagined and possible slights, insults and transgressions which would hurt the sensibilities and feelings of the designated dignitaries.
The amount of time expanded on these protocol discussions, especially if it involves the attendance of VIPs from kenduri kahwins and community events to seminars and conferences is mindboggling.
Speaking of VIPs, Malaysia must be one of the few countries in the world which has not only added on additional Vs to the acronym but also use them with regularity. At last count, based on a car windshield sticker I saw, there is such a thing as a VVVIP. Sedih betul lah.
Malaysians have also literally made the culture of mengampu and membodek into an art form.
The next time you attend a public event, check out the backdrop. In the past, it was sufficient to display the details of the event as well as the name of the officiating dignitary. These days, you will also see the smiling faces (occasionally blatantly Photoshopped) of not one, but possibly several persons crowded onto the printed tarpaulin surface.
It’s usual practice during the general elections to have faces of candidates printed onto flyers, publications, banners and buntings. That’s the norm and a form of electoral campaigning. But for many it seems that the elections never ended.
I remember one particular conference organised by the division of a particular Ministry. The faces of the Prime Minister, Minister, Secretary General, Director General and Head of Division were all on the backdrop. Five faces. Ya lah. Takut merajuk pulak if a particular face isn’t there.
Have you noticed the often humongous and pretentious chairs that are often used for dignitaries? In almost every Malaysian hotel of a certain standard, there will be these huge heavy wooden mak datin chairs (nickname based on the likelihood of such furniture being found in the house of a Datin) tucked away in a store somewhere. Is that really necessary to have? What’s wrong with using the chairs which everyone else uses?
I know of some functions in villages where they have actually had to borrow and bring in such furniture by truck as no one was wealthy enough to own one.
Let’s not forget the budget allocations for gifts or cenderahati which organising committees often agonise over. Those painstakingly selected and customised pewter plates and trays, crystal shards often end up at the back of office cabinets, collecting dust and in one case that I have seen, used to keep the toilet door open.
What all of this is is sycophantic behaviour. A form of mengampu and membodek by subordinates who think that currying favour this way will matter or that their boss(es) will actually give a damn.
Small wonder that there is the flourishing of little Napoleons, whose puffed-up and insecure egos are heartened and warmed by such displays.
But be warned. Surrounding yourself with sycophants and those who excel in membodek and mengampu is a risky endeavour. They are most likely to hide unfavourable facts and opinions which they feel would displease the people that they are sucking up to. Takut kena marah pulak.
The higher you go up the totem pole, the more sycophants you are likely to have. By the time you reach the pinnacle of the highest elected position in the land, no one is going to tell you that the fresh whole chicken that you are holding so proudly doesn’t actually cost RM1 at the wet market. Or that a family really can’t survive on a cash handout of RM500 for the duration of a year. Bad news somehow become good news.
However, having said all of this, I have had the privilege and honour of meeting many who are great examples of politicians, senior civil servants, public figures and even foreign ambassadors who have insisted that protocol be done away or dispensed with especially when it involves unnecessary cost and effort.
These individuals are great examples of a way forward where we focus on the substance rather than the rituals and ceremony of apple-polishing and kissing ass.
So, the next time we think about membodek or mengampu someone, let’s remind ourselves that what we are actually doing is holding up some balls in the process.
Let’s have some dignity. - Azrul Mohd Khalib The Malay Mail Online Opinion Saturday January 9, 2016 07:48 AM GMT+8