Thursday, October 23, 2014

DEEPAVALI AND THE LIGHT

For some reason this time around my mind drifted back some 45 years ago and I remembered the excitement which filled the air as Deepavali approaches. Now that may sound strange to today's generation, as why would a Malay boy feel excited about an Indian festival. Back then my late father was an officer in the Royal Artillery Regiment of the Malaysian Armed Forces. The "Askar Meriam" as it was fondly called then was one of the several multi-racial military units in the Malaysian Armed Forces, the others being the Rangers and the Reconnaissance Corp (short form Reccee Unit) which today has morphed into Armoured Division.

Being multi-racial of course meant that every festival was as important as the next one. So our father would troop us to Uncle Raj (Sargent later Captain, I think he retired Major) to feast on the various sweets, muruku, various types of curry, apam, tosai, dalca and the whole works. That is how I got to educate my palate to the repertoire of Indian dishes. Of course my mother would exchange dishes and recipes with Uncle Raj's wife . Those festivals then were a raucous affair as celebrating them was nothing short of serious. Apart from Indians and Chinese there were also the East Malaysian Officers and Troopers, Iban, Bidayuh, etc, and of course the compliment of senior British Officers. To cut the long story short there was no shortage of excuses to get drunk then. But Malaysia was different then. I grew up in an era where Uncles and Aunties comes in various colors, shapes and sounds. Nothing was strange. Everything new is something to be discovered, not shunned and then you make up your mind. Did I grew up into anything weird, don't think so. Life being multi-colored was so interesting and exciting. Have you ever watched black and white TV? People take the trouble to learn about the other side. I remembered my father receiving letters from Colonel Webb, his former C.O. (Commanding Officer) written in Jawi (Arabic script) and in classical Malay. Or the sight of  a British Officer making his way through the Padi Fields to attend the wedding of one of his Malay troopers.

Yes, by today's standards the Malay Officers and troopers then may not be very good Muslims, what with the Messes always overflowing with all kinds of liquor. But as human beings the camaraderie, friendship and loyalty they shared remains strongly etched in my mind. They pain they shared when one of them gets injured or killed or the joy they felt when good news catches up with one of them, be it a new born and promotion or a son or daughter getting good grades. Or the care and attention shown in the regular visits made by the officers to families of soldiers who are out on operations to make sure that everything is in order and taken care off. To be sure, most of them in their later years try to be better Muslims, foregoing the liquor an such and this is my personal opinion, due to their varied experiences they became better Muslims with a better perspective of things and not too quick on the draw to pass judgment on others. They have been there, made their marks and now know the score. They were humans who erred and found they way back. Never for a moment did they thought themselves Angels in human form.

In my teen years I had the privilege of attending the Royal Military College. As luck would have it one of my instructors was a Sergeant who used to served under my father. In my really younger days I would play with him and called him Pak Cik Idris, but in College he showed no sign of recognition. One day my father came to take my back for the semester break. On the road out of campus we saw Sergeant Idris leading a group of cadets on a road run. Seeing the car he stopped dead on his tracks and gave a snapping salute. My father got out of the car returned his salute and exchange some words which I could not hear. What I did see was the gush of emotions in the faces of both men whilst still maintaining their composure. Then with the slightest hint of a smile he acknowledged my existence and continued with his cadets. I learned then the meaning of camaraderie and professionalism. No favor was ever granted to me by Sergeant Idris throughout the 4 years in RMC, though I suspect his eyes was always at the back of my neck.

Later in life through my international colleagues I learnt of the festival Diwali or Divali, which turned out to be the Deepavali as celebrated in in India. So the provincial Malaysian has finally come to the world. Diwali or Deepavali seemed to me then the only festival which celebrates light, what with all the lamps being lit up. And that was that.

But later on I discovered that the light theme is common in all religions. After all did not the Bible say "Let there be light" and did not Sidhartha Gautama Buddha and his followers aspire for enlightenment. And the Holy Quran is replete with references to the "Light". Every living thing, human or otherwise, prosper, strive under light. In fact light is the precondition of life in itself. Plants under shade tend to get stunted and my fish without sufficient light do not grow as fast as they should. Just as light is a source of life and joy, darkness means death, decay and the unknown. No wonder almost every living thing fear the dark

So light in its physical form is essential for physical growth. But there is also another dimension. There is the spiritual light which is a precondition for spiritual growth. And this light is not made of photon particles no does it travel at the speed of 186,0000 miles per second. It is the light which enlightens, the light which illuminates the criterion, attaching values to things and establishing everything in its proper places, the rights and the wrongs, the proper versus the profane. The light which establishes the balance. This is the spiritual light which enables the spirit to grow, to see the world in the right perspective, to appreciate every aspect and facet and by doing so enables the person to perform his duty on this earth true to the letter. Alternatively absence of this spiritual light results in a stunted spiritual self with all the attendant issues.

And where does this non-physical light come from. It is inspirational, whispered by the Almighty to the hearts of men who care to listen, whose inner ear is open to perceive and the heart open to receive. When the heart opens up each wave of light exposes a new vision of the thing we thought we already knew, light upon light.  

"In the Name of God Most Gracious Most Merciful"

"God is is the Light
Of the heavens and the earth
The parable of His Light
Is as if there were a Niche
And within it a Lamp:
The Lamp enclosed in Glass
The glass as it were
A brilliant star:
Lit from a blessed Tree,
An Olive, neither of the East
Nor of the West,
Whose Oil is well-nigh
Luminous
Though fire scarce touched it;
Light upon Light!
God doth guide
Whom He will
To His Light:
God doth set forth Parables
For men : and God
Doth know all things.

- Surah An-Nur verse 35

Or (the Unbelievers' state)
Is like the depths of darkness
In a vast deep ocean
Overwhelmed with billow
Topped by billow,
Topped by (dark) clouds :
Depths of darkness, one
Above another : if a man stretches out his hand,
He can hardly see it!
For any to whom God
Giveth not light,
There is no light!

Surah An-Nur Verse 40

Verse 35 is most celebrated with volumes written on it to elucidate its meaning the most notable being Imam Ghazali's Mishkat -ul-Anwar. In the West, Imam Ghazali is know as Al Gazelle. So I shall not even attempt to compete with Imam Ghazali.

Seen in this light (no pun intended), Divali is no simple festival. If the Divine Light is synonymous with the truth, the Divali is the celebration of truth and God is Haq (Truth).

So we see some common ground, so where then lies the differences which saw oceans of blood spilled from memories now dimmed. Perhaps the differences lie in the definition of the truth. Such contradictions, that truth in itself can have so many interpretations. But like Agent Mulder would always insist, much to Agent Scully's consternation - "The truth is out There".

So to our Hindu friends have a blessed Deepavali/Divali and may the light of enlightenment shine on us all.

Pak Din Uluhati

Sunday, July 6, 2014

DURIANS AND RAMADHAN

Just as the Keeper of the Royal Seal announced the arrival of Ramadhan last week, the first thud of a falling durian was heard at the western end of the farm. Great, I said, perfect timing. What are we going to do with those fruits during a month when nobody (Muslims, that is) eats during the day. Of course we can try finishing them off upon the breaking of fast. That we did for the first 2 days, but a bout of sore throat, cough and high body temperatures finally convinced us that durians and fasting do not get along well together. So now we just watch as the deers, goats, horses and chicken helped themselves to the durians. 

Yes, all these animals eat durians in their own fashion. The bigger ones like the deer and horses would break them with their hooves or horns and the smaller ones like goats, dogs and chicken would help themselves to the leftovers. The deers were particularly enamored by the durians, refusing to get in the pen for the night, feasting on durians all night long. But its been one week since and even they have had their fill. Too much of a good thing is not that good afterall. Even the squirrels who have been cheekily dropping off unripe fruits earlier in the season have got tired and moved elsewhere. 

We also had a long forgotten visitor. At first we thought it was just our speculation, but a chance conversation with the neighboring farm confirmed that a clouded leopard had been making its durian rounds early last week, something we have not seen for at least 10 years. You see, the big cats, tigers and leopards, also love durians. It is easy to recognize their handiwork. Using their long and sharp claws they would prize open the durian into a perfect petal formation. They would then lick the flesh clean off the seeds. But nothing to worry about, our seven dogs made sure the leopard did not overstay. One to one, even the strongest of dogs is no match for a leopard, but seven dogs is something else. A leopard being wild is certainly fitter then  a domesticated dog, pound for pound. Have you even seen how a cornered cat, fights off a dog even though the outcome is predictable, so what more a full grown leopard.

Anyway, this must be my 50th year of fasting. Quite funny when you look at it that way. That  makes it about 1500 days, if I had not missed any day (of course I did), or about 4 years. That's helluva (oops) long time. 
 Just the other day I saw this caption on a news article, "During Ramadhan, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed, whilst satan is being bound (unable to do any mischief)". I smiled as my old cheeky questions automatically popped up in my mind;

1. I thought the gates of heaven and hell are only opened up on the day of judgement
2. if satan is bound up during fasting month, how come the crime rate did not drop to zero during fasting month.

My smile slowly turned to horror as I realize that my 3 year old granddaughter, Nur Iman Sofia would soon be popping these same cheeky questions to me, followed by her cousin, Idris and her sister, Nureen Farhah. I better find the right answers fast lest they become "bad" Muslims and I would have failed as a grandfather, a "badder" Muslim.

Soon enough my panic subsided and I marveled at this thing called age. With age you tend to see things in a different perspective, provided you have seen and done the things I have. With age too you a a special license, but that's another story.

I figured out that the meaning is not literal but metaphorical and is personal to holder, meaning to say, a person who fasts properly, i.e. with his mouth and his heart, would have the gates of heaven opened for him and the gates of hell closed to him when Judgement Day arrives. And if he continues on this discipline for the rest of the year until the next Ramadhan, he would have ensured that he lives a good and righteous life, whose reward could only be heaven and hell barred for him.

As for satan being bound, again that is personal to holder. The Prophet, peace be upon him, did say that satan assigned one of his minions to every human being, whose sole mission is to destroy his humanity, through his ceaseless whisperings and persuasions. Herein lies the catch. Satan only does the whisperings, the choice is still ours to make, to succumb or ignore. So we cannot get away with the argument; "the devil made me do it", as some guys discovered to their surprised disappointment in the human court, what more in the Celestial Court.

So anyway, here we have satan going about his assigned duty to persuade humanity to do his biddings, but when the one assigned to a properly fasting person practices his careless whispers, the fasting person ignores him. So satan is powerless against such a person. His hands, his powers are bound, so to speak. But then again there are people during Ramadhan who do not fast or whose fasting is not as it should be. Hence the still positive reading on the crime index.

So the opening of the gates of heaven and the closing of the gates of hell and the bounding of Satan is not global, but personal to holder. It is not literal but metaphorical. God knows best.

Talking about the license of age, I cannot remember whether it was Abraham or Moses , may peace be upon them, who asked God about the grey streaks they found in the beard. They ask God, "what is this my Lord". God answered that is was wisdom and they said "give me more". Contrast that some of us who feverishly dye the grey streaks in our crowing glory.

Well my license was not that glamorous. It is just that at this age you get away with almost everything, except murder. I once went to see a friend in a very posh private hospital who had a heart attack. Coming strait from the farm I had my usual kampong adidas (rubber shoes) on, not that it mattered to me. At the reception the security guard gave me a thorough run down, paying special attention to my kampong adidas. Noting his interest I gave him a full rundown of its specs, attributes, special qualities (waterproof), price and where to get them. I even offered to get them for him if only he would give me his shoe size and RM8-50. Not that I don't trust him, but I don't. For some strange reason he refused my offer and ushered me in rather hastily. There were some strange chuckles at the back of me.

Or the other time when we bought a simple phone, to replace the one which had gone swimming in the river. We managed to bargain from RM130-00 to RM90-00 and spent the next hour persuading the sales person to also include a memory chip, camera plus a 5 year warranty. Of course we did not get any of that but it made the trip to town, through all that jam, well worth it.

I sometimes wonder why the sales person in some of our usual shopping outlets tend to look very busy or elsewhere whenever they see the strange old man with his cowboy hat and kampong adidas strolled in to their shops.

Anyway, have a blessed Ramadhan and may our endeavors be accepted, worthy of our intentions. May peace and goodwill take roots and prevail among all mankind in these trying times.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

NUR CALIPH MONTESORRI HOUSE - MOTIVATIONAL AND TEAM BUILIDNG WORKSHOP

We have been priviledged again to be chosen as the site, coordinator, manager and instructor for the above workshop held at Uluhati over the weekend. A prior meeting with the management revealed that Nur Caliph Montesorri House (NCMH) is a relatively new set-up (some 3 years) looking forward to brighter and greater future ahead. To prepare for this the management has taken a proactive measure to ensure that all the staff are on the same page, i.e. rightly motivated and gelled together as a tight and cohesive team working together towards shared and common goals.

Currently having 3 branches (Dataran Wangsa,, Puchong and Shah Alam) NCMH is a specialized (for the lack of a better word) kindergarten which not only teaches pre-schoolers the educational basics but also trains them the essentials of independence and living skills together with the emotional and spiritual developments required to better prepare them for their later years. A challenging task by the sound of it, which certainly calls upon all the perseverance and ingenuity of the teaching staff. A tasks which calls for a high degree of motivation and teamwork. Hence we saw 16 of them at the gates of Uluhati at 8.30 a.m. on Saturday morning for  a jam packed program over the next 2 days and 1 night.
welcome and get introduced to the farm

 
making a point
I'm making a point too
 

kampong lunch complete with ikan patin masak tempoyak


Uztaz Safwan doing his thing

Uztaz getting them in stiches


teams within teams

awkward at first, but by the second round the screams made the monkeys blush and the squirrels stopped in mid flight.
The program began almost immediately upon arrival with Pak Din (yours truly) conducting the motivational and team building content and Uztaz Safwan providing the spiritual input. It stretched to almost midnight on day 1. Day 2 began at 4.30 a.m. for the spiritual segment with Uztaz Safwan and ended at about 5.00 p.m.. Despite the high intensity, participants seemed highly connected. In between of course, were the customary games and outdoor activity to loosen stiff limbs and get the oxygen running smoothly again. We even managed to slip in a tai-chi session in between, a new and surprising experience to most of them.

Amongst the feedback at the end of the program were;

- lots of learning points - nice to hear
- great to hear first hand from people who have actually walked the talk - also nice to hear
- ready to reassess and realign their situations - we seemed to have done something right
- got closer to staff from different branches and also got to know the bosses better - that's what they were here for
- got new perspective on familiar issues - great
- not enough games - our apologies. Time was a constraint, but we will address that in future
- program to short, a lot to absorb - quite right, though the idea was to plant the seeds of thought to be nurtured into full blown ideas and conviction with reminders and refreshers in the future.
- food, accommodation, surrounding and facilities fully satisfactory

We had a great time hosting you. Thank you Nur Caliph.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

MALAYSIA - 50 YEARS FROM TODAY

Browsing through the web I came across this article I wrote 7 years in celebration of Merdeka Day. Reading it now I find it quite amuzing. Enjoy it if not for anything else, or you have nothing else to do.


Shaipudin Shah Harun: A cleaner, road-less future
Description: PDF
Description: Print
Description: E-mail


Thursday, 30 August 2007 06:04am
©The Sun (Used by permission)
by Shaipudin Shah Harun



It's already 7.00 am. Still no sign of the boy. Children today have no sense of timing.

Maybe it’s just me. At 100-years-old, it’s difficult to get rid of old habits, easier still to blame someone else. I’ll wait a while. Good to have some time of your own. Come to think of it, that’s all I have now anyway. Lots of time.

The landscape has changed beyond recognition. I would have never imagined it such 50 years ago. Who would imagine that all the trees would come back and that all the roads would disappear?

Back then, the world was only going one way - downwards. Almost every possible piece of land had been converted to either buildings or roads with entire cities transformed into huge parking lots.

The word “greed” was redefined and everyone was making and selling cars like there was no tomorrow. Reminders by the sane few were treated with hilarious disdain.

Back then, I was running Prasarana, one of the few, I believe, who was trying to save the world from mass suicide by being voluntarily gassed by the billions of cars on the streets.

No one listened until, of course, the earth itself staged its own protest.

The day came when global warming no longer became just a fashionable pre-dinner conversation topic. Fed-up with all the abuses heaped on it, the earth decided to make a point by rearranging the world map.

In a matter of months, Manhattan became the “New Atlantis”, swallowed by a massive meltdown of the polar ice. Soon afterwards, Singapore became the “Atlantis of the East”. Of course, the Pacific Islanders had to learn post haste how to sail again just as their ancestors did in search for new homes.

In no time, 25% of the known world surface has disappeared beneath the waves. That certainly got everybody’s attention. In between the flurry of finger pointing and hand wringing, somehow everyone miraculously agreed that we had indeed overstepped the boundaries and something needed to be done fast.

It is amazing how solutions can be found when your very existence is being threatened. Everybody agreed that the first thing to do would be to address the fuel policy, not that there was much left to manage anyway.

In the last 25 years, except for the goatherds, everyone else has moved out of the Middle East and the once gleaming skyscrapers are fast competing with the pyramids as symbols of human arrogance and folly. The meagre ration of oil left has been earmarked for the most urgent needs which certainly does not include private transportation. They were banned practically overnight and public transport became a religion of sorts and these had to be run on clean fuel, i.e. nuclear generated electricity.

Now, you may wonder how the world survived this long without blowing itself to pieces with all that nuclear arsenal at hand. Well, it almost came to that.

After we lost Karachi and New Delhi in a frenzy of mutual nuclear destruction, everybody finally agreed that these were indeed dangerous toys. Now, nuclear energy is only preserved for peaceful use, including transportation.

Here I am now sitting at a city station, 150 km away from my farm, a journey of barely 30 minutes.

They call it High Capacity Highly Quiet people movers nowadays. Run on clean electricity and based on the levitation principle, these people movers reach almost every corner of the country, providing a fast and reliable form of transport.

Being levitated not only makes it quiet but also operationally efficient due to less wear and tear. Cars are things of the past, a nightmare best forgotten. All the roads have been dugged up and forests and rivers restored.

Now you may wonder how all of these were funded. Simply put, all the money and resources spent on roads and vehicles were diverted to public transport.

The beauty of it was that there was economy of scale. You need to build only a fraction of the infrastructure required because the trains are certainly more highly utilised than the cars. And guess what, the trains actually make money. Of course, absence of competition helps.

Here he comes, my youngest grandson.

They are restoring river systems reclaimed from some old roads. They say the fishing there is good, complete with the legendary kelah. Ok, it’s genetically-modified, but you can’t win them all.

How do you think I got to be 100 years old and yet still continue to have a good time with my grandson?

Shaipudin Shah Harun is executive director and chief executive officer of Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd.