THE week before Ramadan began with a novelty shooting event organised by the Royal Signals Regiment (of which the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan is Colonel-in-Chief). While it was fun shooting revolving clay ducks and balloons with a variety of guns, merely being in the presence of soldiers was a reminder that our armed forces are ever ready to defend our nation in the name of king and country despite the comparatively pitiful battles that our politicians engage in with each other.
That evening I was at Cempaka International School to watch – as I try to do every year at the invitation of the school’s founder Datuk Freida Pilus – their annual musical box office production. This year was unique in that their take on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was specifically written and composed for them. As usual the production values were insanely high and the acting was astonishing (given further credence by numerous nationwide awards Cempakan students have received over the years). In my customary speech at the end I made a reference to the moral lessons that came through the performance, and Alice’s Wonderland contained many on trust, leadership and the notion that for all the wonders of Wonderland, we often ultimately want to go back home.
After a spirited session of doubles squash in Seri Menanti the following morning, I joined my family to attend a cat show organised by Kelab Kucing Malaysia in Senawang. Dozens of gorgeous felines were proudly displayed by their owners (or, as some cat aficionados would appreciate, staff) and the international judges told me that the diversity of breeds and quality of grooming in Malaysia is indeed world class. The docility of some of the enormous Maine Coons provided a suitably massive contrast to what was to come in the week ahead, as the corporate, charitable and diplomatic sectors took their turns to cram in events before the beginning of the fasting month.
Under normal circumstances, 10 board meetings, an annual general meeting for a public listed company, a national conference for a think tank, and three diplomatic receptions would take place over a period of two to three weeks.
But cramming them all in the space of five days enabled an appreciation of something they all had in common: a keen awareness that the livelihoods of their endeavours or organisations depends a great deal on the government’s domestic and foreign policy decisions.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh was very clear in his keynote speech at the National Higher Education Conference organised by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) that the government remains committed to increasing the competitiveness of our public universities, with autonomy being a key ingredient in that process. I cheered that, but some of the other presentations reminded the audience of the fact that once upon a time, Malaysian public universities were already seen as centres of intellectual and ideological contestation, where student activism was the norm and where even opposition politicians played important roles in policymaking on campus, until the University and University Colleges Act definitively changed all that. ‘Rugi,’ remarked someone on my table, “if only we didn’t interfere before, we’d be so far ahead now.”
The impact of long-standing regulations on certain sectors formed the basis of contention at the annual general meeting of the insurance company where I’m a director. With an impending liberalisation process beginning with detariffication in motor and fire insurance, many shareholding customers were naturally concerned about how their premiums would be affected.
The CEO reassured the audience that good drivers should have nothing to worry about.
It is well known that the week before Ramadan is typically the busiest of the year, and the last seven days have been no exception. But perhaps with the exception of lunch meetings, this urge to fit things in before the new moon is sighted shouldn’t happen, since in theory the point of fasting is to carry on doing what you normally do, while just abstaining from food and drink. Soon, the culture of lavish buka puasa events too will start. I have refrained from attending too many of those for some years now, for they also can contradict the spirit of constraint that the month is supposed to represent.
One event I could not attend was the launch of ‘Dialog’, a beautiful book designed by M&C Saatchi and co-published by Gerak Budaya and Ideas, consisting of more than 20 essays and contributions from Malaysians of all walks of life. The exhibition is still on at Bangsar Village II until Sunday (May 28), and the book should make suitable reading during Ramadan.
First published in Borneo Post Online by Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin