As National Day approach my mind went back to 31st August 1957. It was 53 years ago that this country achieved its independent.
I was hardly 17 in the Lower Six Form at the Anderson School, Ipoh at that time. The past few months were full of excitement hearing and reading the progress to Merdeka.
Our house at the then Hill Street, next to the Perak Police Contigent Headquarters was always visited by the local luminaries updating on the progress in Kuala Lumpur and further away in London. My father was the Penghulu of Mukim Ipoh and among the central figure in the going on locally. He was close to Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab, the rulers’ representative at the Merdeka talks. So I conclude he has fair knowledge of events.
I used to eavesdrop at these conversations that sometime went on into the wee hours, and my mother was busy preparing the coffee to fuel the patriotism in the participants. So I more or less knew the progress almost “first hand”.
At school I was in the Cadet Corp. It was decided we would represent the school in the celebration at the Ipoh Padang on the day of Independent. The main committee could not garner enough bands to lead participating groups. So it was suggested we formed a small band. I was chosen to be one of the bugle players. It was fun as I was not musically inclined. We worked hard for a few months to perfect our rendition as well as our marching. Ours was supposed to be a “marching band”.
We had a stickler in the late Ismail Jah, my colleague later at RTM, as our sergeant. He was then in Form Five and dubbed “stylo” for being polished in his physical appearance. When the teacher in charge was not around he took over the task.
Two weeks before Merdeka Day we have perfected our performance and were ready for the big day. It was a daily regime after school hours.
We had two rehearsals at the Padang before the big event. Both went smoothly. It was decided we would walk from the School to the Padang on the actual morning, a distance of slightly more than a mile along Ashby Road, Brewster Road and Belfield Street (regrettably I am not familiar with their post Merdeka names). Much of the roads and areas along the way existing today especially to the right sides of Ashby and Brewster Roads from our school were not around then. I would say we covered the distance in about 15 minutes.
It was very early morning of the 31st August 1957 that we cycled to School and get together for the march. Along the way we put on the show as a practised for the big one at the Padang. We were eagerly supported and cheered on by the happy and patriotic crowd on both sides of the roads with shouts of “MERDEKA” which boosted our eagerness to make a good show.
We took our designated place and went through the rigmaroles. Frankly I could not make out the announcements and speeches as the public address system provided by the Information Department was inadequately wanting for the big participants, invited guests and the eager crowd. So we stood there under the blazing morning sun waiting for the march past to get through. Somehow the ringing sound of MERDEKA was very clearly heard and we joined in the chorus of the new joyous word in the vocabulary of the nation.
We joined in the march along the roads around the Ipoh Padang and gather back where we started before the big events ended. Then it was the marching back to school along the same route we came.
It was a proud day for me to participate in the Merdeka Day proclamation in Ipoh. I have been to the later anniversaries of the Day on many occasions at the Selangor Club Padang as a spectator in my student days as well as a commentator for the Malay Broadcast of Radio Malaysia and later for TV Malaysia for many years. I represented RTM in the National Organising Committee of the celebration for several years. The most memorable was the one in Kuching when Sarawak was chosen to host the celebration, and I happened to be the Director of Broadcasting (RTM) Sarawak then.
Sarawak was celebrating its 30th years of independent in Malaysia in 1993. The State Organising Committee headed by the late Dato’ Taha Ariffin, who was the Deputy State Secretary always referred to me for advise, perhaps because of my past experiences. As usual I was automatic choice to head the Broadcasting Committee. My able Deputy at RTM Tuan Haji Ahmad Shafiee Yaman was a pillar of strength. He volunteered to head RTM’s marching team for the big day. The team had a year of practice with the assistance of our forces broadcasters. Haji Ahmad went round town to get willing well-wishers for the uniforms, including shoes, berets and scarves for the ladies. The Department budget was not affected. Many of the staff was sceptical about our participation at first. Those who shunned the team initially were regrettably rejected when they volunteered later as we had more than enough people.
The RTM team did well to win a prize and runner-up in another category competing against more professionals and well prepared teams. Syabas to Haji Ahmad and his team.
On the broadcasting front, we faced massive problem as we didn’t have the luxury of space as the Selangor Club Padang (Dataran Merdeka). The Merdeka Padang in Kuching was surrounded by roads and big trees. Cik Hajjah Nurhyati Ismail (now Dato) was in charge. Somehow she had to squeeze in the best available camera positions for the events to be seen nationwide on TV Malaysia.
I had a difficult task of doubling up as “Special Assistant” to the State Chief Guest of Honour, Tan Sri Khir Johari. Pak Khir as he is fondly referred to insist on that to Dato’ Taha who was perplexed as to whether it was the usual joke from Pak Khir or he was serious. He decided on the later and asked for my opinion whether I could handle both jobs. I told him I have no problems as I have able assistants in Sarawak in Ahmad Shafiee and Nurhyati.
I came to know Pak Khir since my posting to Penang in the 1960’s as he has always been pally with the media. Somehow I was in his mailing list at most of his private functions when I returned to KL.
Pak Khir represented the Cabinet to declare Sarawak Independent in Malaysia in 1963, hence his position as the most honoured guest in 1993. Knowing Pak Khir he felt more comfortable with people he was familiar with. It was an easy job as he wanted my company at certain occasion and time only. The rest was handle by his personal secretary. The only thing he insisted was he wanted to have lunch in my house home cooked northern style. So Jun obliged him with whatever knowledge she had. Anyway he was happy and did not complain.
Today Merdeka Day is better known as “Hari Kebangsaan” (National Day) in step with most countries of the world. Merdeka Day has the connotation of being a former colonised territory or colony. National Day evoked the spirit of patriotism, the sense of belonging and the feeling of being wanted.
On this Merdeka Anniversary let us reflect the past, the hardship and sacrifices of our forefathers in gaining independent to this country against all odds and the struggle against the enemies within. Let us stand together to fulfil the spirit of “Unity in Diversity” in its true sense.