by Rehman Rashid
The Malay College is now 111 years old. That’s as long as the Melaka Sultanate lasted. MCKK is now the oldest Malay institution in the country after the royal houses. The modern history of the Malays and Malaysia began with the federation of Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan in 1895. The rst act of those four kings as the Conference of Rulers was to set up our school. Why? To serve.
To produce, at every stage of whatever was to unfold for a strange new country entering an uncertain new century, whatever that country needed of the best Malays. This meant, within the first 20 years, the Malays’ first lawyers, magistrates and administrators. Then, on that fabled road to Independence, our nationalists, patriots and politicians. Then we turned out the builders, educationists and technocrats for a new nation, followed by the entrepreneurs, financiers and managers of a burgeoning economy.
Every generation of Collegians has attempted to serve their people and nation as expected of them in their time, imbued with their school’s ethos of excellence, honour, duty and pride. There have been fewer than 10,000 Malay College Old Boys in a century, yet this very small band of brothers has been everywhere in this nation throughout its modern history. At every level of society, government and administration, in every sector of the economy and across all political divides, Malay College men have featured. Many have served with distinction, some have led with honour, and most have striven to do the best they could with what they had. Thus has it been for 111 years.
Which raises the question: How may we serve, lead and do the best for our nation in the 21st Century? We carried her from Tanah Melayu into the Federated Malay States through British Malaya to the Japanese Occupation to the independent Federation of Malaya and this sovereign Malaysia today… the Grande Dame waits ever patiently, hands folded by the flagstaff, her green skirts spreading beneath the clear skies of Kuala Kangsar, for her charges to tell her what we ask of her now.
Perhaps what this country most needs now is a reminder of what we’ve always been. Perhaps Malaysia needs reminding that the Malay College stands for the empowerment of the Malays to conceive, build, operate and lead this nation as their own. That school was not founded to turn brown boys into white men, as its detractors contended. Quite the contrary, it was the lifeboat in which the four founding Sultans consigned their sons to the future, in hope not that they would be assimilated into the colonials’ world, but that they would learn the ways and find the means to wrest our world back.
Which we did. It was never about capitulation to a foreign language, order or system but of usurping it to our own advantage; subverting it to our own ends; tapping it for what we lacked for our own self-actualization. Call it the ultimate irony: what may have looked like the final subjugation of the Malays to imperialism was in fact and deed their empowerment for self-determination.
What’s been done with that self-empowerment is another story. Party politics doesn’t seem to sit well with the Malay College way. We are uneasy with what divides us; we would prefer to argue out our differences in unity. But as the Malays of Malaysia go, so goes the Malay College: even we have come to reflect the divisions and acrimonies that riddle the Malay body politic today. So be it; it only proves that we have never been a fraternity distinct from the communities from which we came. (Even if, as we all know, “a boy leaves his family behind after his first day at Malay College.”)
Perhaps it’s time for us to regain the reins so dutifully relinquished to party politics three generations ago.With just two Malay political parties vying for popular support at Independence and five now, the process seems somewhat counter-productive, if not totally dysfunctional. What is now missing from the equation, I submit, is embodied in the ideals and continuing existence of the Malay College. Whatever has saved the College from being erased from history as an elitist, anachronistic relic of a colonial past should keep it alive for centuries to come. It was “the school of kings and the king of schools”, and we still have our kings.
Figure out the message, respected Old Boys. Your country needs you, because you are your country. Our Alma Mater continues to do what MCKK did for every boy who crawled in as a child and walked out as a man: make a man of him; bring out the best in him (or at the very least, put his worst to better use). Since 1905 into Century 1.1, the stock-in-trade of the Malay College has been the quality of its boys. Now in the second decade of the school’s second century, I sense that present boys are shaped as much by the weight of time as tradition. What does today’s College Fifth-Former have that his predecessors did not? Their legacies too. And that is formidable, given what the Malays have gained and lost in just the past three generations.
Time tells, and tides turn. In light of what we’ve survived, I venture to suggest that the Malay College and its alumni are indestructible. Which should make us very useful in such harsh and divisive times as these. Malaysia needs its dignity, its gravitas, its self-knowledge and self-respect. Choking on novelty, obsessed with change, Malaysia needs to know what hasn’t changed and will not change; what has always had the validity and integrity to withstand “the ceaselessly scouring tides of history”. Malaysia needs the Malay College, perhaps more than ever, and probably more than it would dare admit. We need to remind ourselves we’re still here, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, at His Majesty’s service.
Rehman Rashid, class of ’72
Mohd Shah House