With Remembrance to the Past of Tunku Abdul Rahman

17 Feb 2021 | Article

There is not a single individual in Malaysia who does not recognise the name of Almarhum Yang Teramat Mulia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. Just seeing the iconic picture of Tunku raising his right hand, fingers pointing to the skies, is enough for us to mentally hear his loud declaration of “Merdeka!” on the 31st August 1967. Yet I wonder how many would even be able to claim to know what he was like, as a man; an individual with his own quirks and strengths.

I was born in 1992, just two years after the passing of Almarhum Yang Teramat Mulia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-haj on 6th December, 1990. As such, I am among the first generation of those who were born with literally no first-hand view of knowing what Tunku was like. To those in my generation, the idea of Tunku is rather mythical – we have never seen him live on television or heard his voice broadcasted over the radio, except through what was captured in writing or in past archives. Like a very complex puzzle, we need to work with fragments that were shared about him to craft an idea in our heads regarding the kind of person our first Prime Minister was like.

When reading about the history of Malaysia for history classes in school, many accounts portrayed Tunku as a charismatic leader, the Father of Malaysia, who had united the citizens of the country and gained our nation’s independence. Whenever Merdeka came by, my school would busy itself with decorations of the Malaysian flag and the Bunga Raya. Every Monday, we would stand in the school assembly and sing the Negaraku. There were touchpoints of Tunku throughout our lives, yet as a generation, we grew up never realising these touchpoints.

Years passed, and in 2010, as a young undergraduate, I and many others from various universities were given the title as Tunku Scholars by Yayasan Tunku Abdul Rahman. Slowly, we began to realise that there were many pieces to the Tunku puzzle and that he was a leader unlike many others both before, during and after his time.

When I began to read about Tunku, it surprised me to learn that Tunku was known more for his agility in sports than his ability to excel in exams. In fact, word has it that he had performed rather poorly at one point during when he was reading law at the University of London, that it took him 25 years as a student for him to pass his Bar exam. And yet, he is the man behind our nation’s independence. What did he possess that allowed him to unite an entire country, if not excellence in studies?

The answer, to my immense surprise, was humility. One recollection after another of those who wrote about Tunku, in the book Prince Among Men which all Tunku Scholars possess, touched upon his character and humility. History books talked about his ability to unite all Malaysians, but they never spoke of his quirks and personality, which sadly may be lost knowledge if we do not actively preserve it.

How many of those in my generation would realise, for instance, that there is no road named after Tunku in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia? There is a Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, but that is a road named after first Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia, not Tunku. Because they shared the first name, Tunku had insisted that no roads are named after himself to avoid confusion. To him, it was more befitting that our nation remembers the name of our first YDPA, rather than the name of the first Prime Minister. That is only a small part of the puzzle piece.

How many of those in my generation would recognise Tunku’s nickname as the Father of Independence, yet never knew that many Sultans had affectionately called him Ayah when he was alive?

How many would know that the song Negaraku exists because of Tunku’s love for the traditional song Terang Bulan, which forms the basis to the Negaraku song that he himself helped to write?

How many would know that Tunku never turned anyone aside? Once, a vagrant had approached him at Merdeka Stadium, and Tunku took his own shirt off to offer it because the vagrant said his own clothes were in tatters.

The unity of this country did not happen because Tunku was academically gifted, but because he was humble and compassionate. He made the effort to understand the aspirations of those from the kampong. He loved everyone, and had a gift for empathy and fostering unity and harmony. “To win the hearts and minds of all true Malaysians” was Tunku’s own words in leading the country towards independence. While it has been recorded often that Tunku never considered himself an intellectual, it cannot be denied that he is truly an intelligent man, with insight on what is truly important to unite people together. Humility. Compassion. Understanding. Love.

It is my greatest hope that my generation, this generation who had never had the opportunity to see Tunku in person, will be not a smarter generation, but a kinder and more compassionate generation, in honour of this man who had brought this country together.

Written by:

Maisarah binti Ahmad KamilTunku Scholar Alumni who currently works as English lecturer at University Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam.


Dengan semangat Tunku, kami menumpukan perhatian kepada potensi pemimpin Malaysia masa depan, tanpa mengira bangsa atau kepercayaan.