Mat Indera & MPAJA – your hero could be my villain

September 3, 2011

The Malayan People Against the Japanese Army, MPAJA, played the role of a resistance movement, during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Now, after 60 years, Mat Indera, a key member of the Johore MPAJA is the subject of a controversy. Should the MPAJA/Mat Indera  be honored? Is Mat Indera a hero, a freedom fighter? Such debates  if done without  chauvinism and cynicism could be healthy . Unfortunately, that is not often the case. The cynicism and chauvinism that skew rational arguments are too visible.

If only  Malaysians could discuss the subject openly and rationally, it would reflect well of a maturing, self-assured nation, with diminishing insecurities. Malaysian should be confident and magnanimous to recognize the roles of the many people from all sides of the divides who charted the history of the country.

Was the MPAJA effective in fighting against the Japanese, to merit honor? The Japanese surrendered because of Hiroshima. The  MPAJA was no match for the might of the Japanese Imperial Army. But, neither was the last stand of the platoon led by Lt Adnan of the Royal Malay Regiment in defending Bukit Timah.

It is not about winning or the right match to merit honor. It is the courage, the spirit, the patriotism, the valor, that are to be admired and earn  a place in the honour’s roll.

To the proponent of the MPAJA , the sales pitch has been to tell the people that  the 3 star symbol  signify the three main component races of the then Malaya. But it has been well understood that  it is the same  red stars of the Communist Party of China. The British knew very well that the organization had been infiltrated by the communists but they were pragmatic  and smart  enough to exploit the anti Japanese sentiments amongst the Chinese, exploiting the deep resentment of the Japanese after  the massacre of Nanking.

It did not help the MPAJA cause  that it was disproportionately represented by the Chinese with a sprinkling of Malay fighters one of which was the BATU PAHAT born Mat Indera. The communist inclined MPAJA did not appeal to the Malays. The frustration and the resistance and the retaliations by both sides proved to be MPAJA’s undoing in Batu Pahat, the hot bed of anti Japanese and anti MPAJA movement in Malaya.

To honor means, to give high respect, credit and distinction. However, before honoring people with hero status let us examine the quality of heroes we want.  We want our heroes to be having  distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and posses noble qualities.

If we apply the above test to the MPAJA, the group would have easily qualified for courage, ability, brave deeds but unfortunately they failed in the noble qualities test. Even their patriotism is suspect to some, because of the link with the anti communist led  Japanese movement of CHINA.

All over the country there are still living custodians of history, with first hand experience of going through hell, being at the receiving end of the MPAJA.  Before HIROSHIMA, there were just too many fellow Malayans, who suffered for refusing  to support the likes of Mat Indera and Chin Peng. THE MPAJA failed miserably  to win the hearts and mind of the people particularly the Malays. The chauvinism amongst many chinese in the MPAJA did not help either.

In Johor, particularly in Parit Sulong, Sri Medan, Bagan, Batu Pahat the atrocities of the MPAJA, the banning of religious related activities amongst the Malays and the notoriety  of  Mat Indera, not to mention the numerous Chinese, resulted in the uprising against the MPAJA led by Panglima Salleh. Dato Onn the district officer of Batu Pahat at that time, was the person responsible to arrest the uprising from flaring further before law and order was restored.

The people themselves revolted against MPAJA without the Police or Government intervention.  The Malays established a self defence movement named the GERAKAN MUHAMADIAH. They did not fight for the Japanese nor was it on behalf of the British. They were fighting against the notoriety of the MPAJA. This revolt was more widely known as Perang Parang Panjang  and it stretched over a few years and not just the period after the fall of the Japanese.

Mat Indera and the MPAJA were just too atrocious to the Malays. The communist streaks were laid bare, the Malays were given a baptism of fire by the MPAJA who by then were inspired by what was happening in China and further motivated by the fall of Japan. Because of their notoriety they became enemies of the people.

The Perang Parang Panjang has often been wrongly projected as a chinese-malay  racial clash. No it was not, there were many innocent victims, no doubt. It was a faith-based fight to protect their own interest and their rights against the communist ideology. The big picture was the fight against the suppression, the chauvinism and  notoriety of the communist inclined MPAJA. The account  of the war is best and fairly narrated and recorded in the book Red Stars over Malaya.

To classify Mat Indera and MPAJA  as a   resistance movement   should be acceptable ,a notorious, communist inclined resistance movement,  but  to make heroes out of them, in my opinion is rather misplaced.

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pucuk manis, turi. Do you know what they are?

August 5, 2009

I peeped into the boiling pot and asked the bibik what’s cooking. Pucuk manis.

What? I have not had that for decades. Pucuk manis and turi were two greens  in our standard diet. We could not afford to buy any vegetables. Not even the humble taugeh. These greens were grown around the house.

The pucuk manis were usually boiled with a sprinkling of anchovies and chopped shallots. That was it. Simple and healthy. It was usually accompanied by a dash of sambal belacan and fried salted cencaru,  tamban, gelama or cekek leher. No big stuff.

That perhaps explained for the lean feline that I still am.

It may also  be cooked in coconut milk to make it sayur pucuk manis masak lemak.

With turi it is masak lemak . It is mandatory perhaps because of it bitterness. Kangkung or morning glory were grown in the pond behind the surau. Then there were the belinjau shoots. We still enjoy the belinjau masak asam. The pucuk keladi, or the young shoots of yam are also favourites for masak asam.

Ocassionally other types of “difficult to get” stuff became delicacies. Umbut or the coconut core shoot could be obtained if there were storms that victimize a coconut palm or the palm were felled to be used to construct the wedding penanggah or tent. Rebong were aplenty but the preparation was quite messy. So was nangka muda with the sticky gum.

I liked the young papaya cooked in black peppery  clear soup. It has been ages. I must get someone to do this.

My all time  favourite is the botok-botok. It is a real delicacy. It is a combinations of at least seven shoots and ketumbar, jintan and  kerisik made into a paste. The shoots and paste are then used to wrap cutlets of fish. Tenggiri and parang are favourites. The funny thing is that it is better if the fish is no longer fresh.

When I visited my Uncle’s house in Kluang, the standard fare for the household was taugeh masak air and belanak goring. With seven sons, his primary  teachers salary and no pucuk mnis, or pucuk ubi, or turi  around the quarters, the humble taugeh were the perfect source of roughage and vitamins from greens.

Back to the pucuk manis that was on the stove, I had three helpings of the pucuk manis. The combination was perfect. Pucuk manis masak lemak and ikan tamban pais. Try it out.

I am just wondering if my children’s generation  know how turi look like.


My Brother became a Police recruit

August 3, 2009

Life in the kampong in the early sixties were tough. There were only three people in the kampong who worked in  government service. Cikgu Arif, taught at the kampung school..  My uncle Pak Hid was a RISDA officer.  RISDA is the Rubber smallholders deveopment authority. Pak Wahid rode a BSA motorbike with the number JA 4084. I could still remember the registration number because it was the only motorbike in the village. It was my first exposure at close range to a mechanised beast..

The other government employee was an office assistant or Peon, whose job was more of a dispatch and filing assistant.  Imagine a salary of ninety Ringgit and yet he was better of then most kampong folk. it was widespread poverty.

There was limited employment opportunities. So the school leavers either became farmers or the kampong thugs.

My brother left school at 15 and then continued his further education. . I think my brother was a spoilt brat. No, He was alright, just that  being the first son in a male chauvinistic society, he was pampered. He finished his Lower Certificate of Education. For LCE certificate holders, the equivalent of the PMR,  it was either the police, the army or  navy.

I knew of two influential cousins of my mother who were in the Police Force. Pak Masri was a smart, handsome well built , with the gait,  the look and style of Jins Samsudin of Bukit Kepong fame. He was the guy who told me  “belajar rajin, kalau mahu pandu kereta, kalau tidak, naik basikal cabuk“. His son Jamil ended up as my senior in the Malay College.

The other uncle was a high ranking police officer whose name was Pak Hisham, the guy I was named after.  I however prefer the Javanese or European version of the name, Esham.

I think mother was adamant that it was only the police that my brother could apply for and he got it.

It must be like sending a son oversea.There could be a kenduri or thanksgiving before the trip to Kuala Lumpur.

The trip to KL was arduous.  It was my brother, emak, Nek Endek and yours truly in a chartered taxi.

It was the ferry at Muar, then continuing the  old trunk road to Malacca and Seremban. Going through the Mantin Gap was like the going thrugh the Khyber Pass in the aircond-less taxi.

We spent the night at Jalan Gullimard of Bukit Persekutuan, a very prestiguous address even now. It was the resident of a  senior police officer, my Pak Hisham, the son of nek endek Maimunah,  my mother’s  favourite aunt. She was short thus the name pendek.

I remember the bungalow amidst the tropical setting. Beautiful. I remember his many teenage sons who were monkeying around. In the morning, my brother had a grand send off.

So that was the beginning of Abang’s working life. What choice did he have?

He was also the first amongst the siblings to be in government employment. My Abah refused to be in government or makan gaji. Neither was my grand father or great grandfather. They were proud landowners. Economically the land cannot sustain the fourth generation.

My brother was a good son. Even during his recruit training he saved and tried to send money to Mak.

One day, she received a registered post. The letter from abang said  ‘disertakan wang 40 ringgit untuk emak” but the money was no not to be found. Some family must have had a big satay meal. I suspected it was  the postman.

I could see how frustrated Emak and abang was. That was his first pay packet.


Abah in Debt after Long’s wedding

August 2, 2009

Long was my eldest sister.

When she finished her standard six, she was called for the interview to become a teacher. Yes dear, to join teachers training you only need to finish standard six. She was one of the smarter ones having benefited from the mentor ship of Che Salim my uncle. He was already a teacher and Long was his favorite niece.

But then she was already engaged.  The fiancee was a bloke  who lived further up the kampong. When the news of her pursuing  a career in teaching reached the family of the fiance, it must have caused an embarassment. Here was a prospective wife in government service and this guy was  a brawny kampong bloke. It must have created a deep dent to the man’s pride.

A party was sent to end the engagement. To be told that the engagement was henceforth broken was a great humiliation to my family.

That was the value system then. Just last month my neice broke her engagement, and surprise surprise it was taken in good stride by my emak.

When there was a pinang party from the next kampong for Long,  emak must have felt there was a score to settle.

I heard it was a grand wedding. I could not remember a thing. I was told there were kuda kepang, barongan and nasyid, berzanzi and Qasidah.

Abah was bergolok bergadai, which literally mean having to pawn his ‘kris’ or “golok”  and be be in debt to finance the wedding. You snubbed my daughter? She got a better man , an ustaz instead of you  a lousy kampong rubber tapper.

The good Eng Choon was the savior. Perhaps that explain why Long’s children we called Cucu eng choon, the grand children of eng choon.

I do not know whether he went to the chettiar, but I remember accompanying abah to one of the chettiars shop. It was behind Jalan Rahmat. The Chettiars were seated in a row behind these small tables.  I saw this old low table  in one antique shop in Kelana Jaya. He managed to clear the debt and get the land title back. The debt was for a few hundred dollars.

If Kedah could be “sold” for a couple of millions to the King of Siam what was a couple of hundreds for a commoner. Abah managed to claim his land back, but for Kedah it was lost of soverignity and it took the British to exchange Songkhla fo Kedah. That was and still is the hazard of Malay weddings.


Old malaya – The Parit Water babies

June 28, 2009

In Kedah canals were dug to irrigate. In Johor canals were dug to drain the peaty and swampy low lying plains. You see hundred of  PARITS as they are known as you travel  the length of the western coast of Johor.

It was an engineering feat. By the middle of the 19th century, the whole of the west coast  Johore was opened up for agriculture. It became heavily populated. The combination of a visionary Sultan and the hardworking Javanese made Johore one of the wealthiest Malay state and no more the back water of Singapura.

My kampung, Bagan, was the second oldest settlement in Batu Pahat. Minyak Beku where the name Batiu Pahat got its name is located, is the oldest.

Almost all  kampungs have been named after the Parits. Parit Besar where my family settled down was the biggest parit in the settlement or Mukim of Bagan, thus the name, Big Parit.

Now, at 20 feet wide and six feet deep,  it is half of its original size.

I could still visualize a few images of the man made canal.

The Parit was directly draining to the Straits of Malacca. For all intent and purpose it was  a man made river, with high and low tides .

In the 1800s, the parit was alas the main infrastructure for transport. Before the opening of Batu Pahat in 1890, the wealthy shopped in Singapore. The mode of transport were the sampan. It was door to door. Get into the sampan, sail to Singapore, do your shopping and sail back to Bagan and row upstream with the sampan fully laden.

The Parit was the source of fun for the kids a generation ahead of me. The weekends when there were the morning tides, meant Friday and Saturday mornings of fun in the water. My brother and cousins who were about  10 to15 years older then me , had their own dug out. They built their own dug out from trunks of pulai. They were the water babies.

I could visualize the school of belanak during high tide, swimming a good 2 km upstream. These are things you could not see even at the shore now. Then there were the belangkas which nobody bothered to catch.

At low tide,  thousand of tiny red crabs would start appearing on the muddy banks of the Parit. There were even crayfish which the locals call lengkoro. I saw similar creatures on Christmas Island in Discovery channel. During low tide the cray fish would make openings out of its nest leaving a volcano like heap of mud called senjabut. Unsightly. These biological terms are no longer in use.

In the mid sixties, the West Johore Drainage Program started. Tidal dykes with tidal gates were constructed, along the whole length of the west coast of Johor. That was the end of marine life in Parit Besar. That was the end of the tide, the belanak, the sejambut, lengkoro, and the dug outs.

I wanted to have my own dugout but by the time I was ready, the man made river literally dried up.

Man versus nature. The landscape also changed. Instead of Coconut, rubber trees became dominant. Now it is oil palm.

The Parit got clogged up. In 2007 the upstream kampung experienced the worst flooding in years. The grandchildren of the buffalo soldiers and drainage engineers, just could not appreciate the importance of the parits.  After 200 years, history is repaeting itself.


handicapped Ulama – The banning of the sale of alcohol by the Selangor Government

June 14, 2009

Islam is a sensible,logical, practical and simple religion. If one is knowledgeable, or alim or ulama in plural  arabic, one would be able to explain the many wisdoms contained in the message of God. However many of  religionists  who claim to be alim or ulama, fail miserably.  They are mainly  self seving religionists with inflated ego of piety, self righteousness, and holier then thou attitude. The unnecessary separation of knowledge between secular and religious knowledge  are self imposed, self inflicted limitation of knowledge. As a result they cannot present, sensible, logical argument to bring good over evil.

How would you explain the action by the state government to ban the sale of alcohol based on the argument that the Muslim majority demands so. No culture ever unreservely say that alcohol is good. Every culture knows that that alcohol brings more bad then good things.

My quesrtion, why was this argument not used? That there are bad things then good things about alcohol. The Quran says so.  the people knows this. Why wasn’t  this argument  used? The fact that the muslims are in the majority the government can see the legislation going through, but the fact remains that using logical, sensible, quran commpliant argument, not only promote the religion but it shows how  logical, sensible, practical and simple  the religion is.

Am I a secularist? Yes if secularism means the study and the practical implementation of the sunatullah or the knowledge of God.


Negara utopia saya – Hak Rakyat perolehi ilmu

May 3, 2009

Pernah disuatu ketika, seorang rakan mengajak saya memulakan perniagaan menubuhkan institusi pendidikan. Dengan nama yang keinggerisan, dan model niaga yang menarik ia satu cadangan yang “bankable” yang bermaksud bisa dibiaya bank. Namun saya menolak kerana berlawan dengan prinsip saya.

Prinsip saya amat mudah. Tanggugjawab kerajaan sesebuah negara adalah menentukan ilmu mudah diperolehi rakyat. Ilmu hak asasi manusia. Ilmu tidak boleh dijual, kerana tiada siapa yang punya hak mutlak atau monopoli terhadap ilmu.

Berbeza dengak hak intelek, iaitu hasil kreatif berasaskan ilmu. Ilmu adalah hak Ilahi, segala prinsip fizik dan sains di sekeliling adalah sunatullah,  dan adalah fardu meyebarkan ilmu. Hasil dari ilmu, manusia berkarya, mencipta, mereka, dan hasilnya harta intelek jadi hak milik masing-masing.

Ilmu jika tidak dibebaskan perolehannya akan mengakibatkan penindasan berterusan. Disebaliknya, ilmu sahajalah yang membolehkan mobiliti sosial paling berkesan, meritokrasi sebenar diamalkan, dan hasilnya manfaat takterhingga kepada masyarakat dan negara.

Adalah berlawan dengan prinsip saya keadaan dimana pendikan dijadikan suatu perniagaan.

Lihatlah contoh negara Germany dimana pendidikan sehingga peringkat Universiti adalah percuma. Hasilnya, negara Jerman, suatau negara yang kaya dengan harta intelek dan karya -karya agung  dan jenama terunggul didunia.

Lihatlah sahaja negara Great Britain, yang mengubah polisi pendidikan percuma kepada pendidikan sebagai perniagaan. Perubahan ini dilakukanpada tahun 1977. Great Britain terus ketinggalan jauh dari segi ekonomi, kejuruteraan dan harta intelek. Kesemua kemegahan British, Mini, Harrier, komputer, enjin jet dicipta sebelum 70an.

Malang sekali Malaysia mengikut jejak langkah yang mengejar kekayan cepat olih sesetengah individu dan institusi. Tunggu sahaja akibatnya dari sudut sosial,daya saing  dan ekonomi.