Today, I would like to pay tribute to both my father and the Malaysian police force for their contributions to me personally and to the nation we love.
Now, as with many things Malaysian, our police force has not come out completely rosy in the last 25 years what with custody deaths and corruption cases. But if anything, this tribute to my father – a police constable for 38 years who did many things for me – is about the three most important things he DIDN'T do.
I remember the day my father took me to St Marks Primary School in Butterworth, Penang, for my first day of school. My father was educated at King Edward Primary School in Taiping, Perak, until Standard Three when the Japanese invaded Malaya during WWII. He said he continued for another two years learning Japanese after that.
On that day, though, my father said to my teacher in perfect English, “If there is anything wrong with my son, ask for me at the Balai (police station) and tell them to find me, PC 28847”.
When I was able to read and count, that was the first five-digit number he asked me to memorise. It was funny to me then how he never emphasised his name but later I found out that most police officers referred to their service numbers in communication.
My father’s little diary, kept since the days he was a Police Hutan (Field Force) sergeant battling the Communist insurgency with the British Tuan, or officers, was littered with Private this and Corporal that and many PCs (police constables) with a list of serial numbers. Only the Tuan British officers were mentioned by name, like Tuan Graham.
As for my father’s contributions to the country, I wish to elucidate only a few, related to the Communist insurgency of 1955, the 1964 Confrontation with Indonesia, and the May 13,1969, racial riots.
Of his years in the Polis Hutan, I do not know much, as I was not born until 1962. I have often wondered why my father never told me any exciting stories about those days like some of my friends’ fathers in the police barracks.
My mother also never said anything except to tell a story when my father could not sleep well for two weeks and had nightmares every night after coming home from the jungle.
My mother had to take him to a bomoh (shaman) to rid him of the jungle’s sial (bad luck). When I asked why, my mother only said “Bapak hang tembak komunis” (Father had to shoot communists), and would not say anything after that.
It was only 40 years later that I understood why my mother suffered from gastritis, depression, anxiety and agoraphobia for 30 years because of the fear that her children could be made fatherless in the line of duty.
Later, when my father would meet up with his friends from the Polis Hutan group, I would listen in awe as they told stories about the skirmishes they had had while my father would just sit there smiling but never volunteering any anecdotes himself.
Perhaps he never wanted his son to listen to what he might consider a horrible part of the country’s history.
The second contribution was the Confrontation with Indonesia in 1964 over the creation of Malaysia in 1963. We were in Kuala Muda, Kedah, and I was only two and a half years old.
The earliest memory I have is of waiting for what seemed like endless days for my father to come home – he would usually return after two or three days of being on duty at the Balai. At that time, stories of Indonesian commandos parachuting into the country were whispered about and my mother’s face would show quiet anguish.
When my father did come home, smiling at me and my brother Khairuddin on the verandah, he brought home a submachine gun with many magazine rounds of ammunition. He also usually carried a Western cowboy kind of revolver, which I found fascinating. Once he also brought home a heavy Bren gun and placed it carefully in the one lockable room we had in the traditional wooden Malay house we lived in.
The other time was the bloody race riots on May 13 in 1969. My father would pick me up from school in a Land Rover daily but he never made it home for dinner in the next two months. Again, when he did come home late at night, he would shoulder a Sten gun and place it on the dinner table where my mother had prepared food for him. He would eat silently alone.
There were three important things that my father never did that taught me to be a decent man. He never once bad mouthed any race or faith. He had many Chinese and Indian friends both in the police force and outside.
He would take me around for Chinese New Year on his Vespa and I would receive ang pow with red RM10 notes and sometimes even the large RM50 that I seldom saw growing up. That was how I got my first bicycle, with ang pow money. My father respected all races and neither he nor my mother had any bad words to say against non-Malays.
The second thing my father never did was to shout at or hit my mother or any family member. Although my father’s voice could easily make you shit your pants, he was always guarded at home. As I recall, I had felt his hand on my bottom only once in my entire childhood. I would say that I failed that test as a father myself with my children.
The third thing he never did was brag about how he fought the “bandits” during the insurgency. Even though he was a policeman, violence was not his pride. I never even knew that he had received two medals for bravery and service until he died and my late brother showed me his little police diary, police identity card and the two medals.
He said to me when I was in Form Five after I received excellent results at the Malaysian Certificate of Education public exam: “Hang mesti jadi engineer atau doktor. Jangan jadi macam ayah ... polis cabuk (You must become an engineer or doctor. Don’t be like dad, a worthless policeman).”
“Cabuk” is northern slang meaning worthless or worn out. It was the one thing that he and I disagreed about, for I never considered my father a cabuk policeman for his contributions to family and nation. My father died in my second year as a lecturer at a public university and I never had the pleasure of rewarding him with things that a successful son could have later in life. When he died, I was still struggling to make ends meet with a wife and two children.
Although the police force in Malaysia has much to prove in terms of its responsibility to “menjaga keselamatan dan kesejahteraan rakyat (look after the safety and wellbeing of the people)”, I still hold my father in high esteem as a hero to country and family. It is for this reason that whenever I see any police officers eating at a Mamak restaurant, I ask the cashier to bill me for their food.
I make a point of leaving before they find out but once I was too late and one officer thanked me for my small generosity. I just smiled and said to them “Saya teringat ayah saya. Dia pun polis jugak. Nama dia Haji Mohamad Rasdi bin Daei PC 28847”.
Today’s column is dedicated to all police officers and constables in Malaysia.
Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.