Hornbill Unleashed

February 21, 2012

‘I don’t want to die useless’

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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Aneesa Alphonsus

National laureate A Samad Said believes that Malaysians chose to keep their mouths shut, doing nothing; then ‘don’t blame the government. Blame yourself’.

Walk into the National Museum and head into the “Malaysia Now” Exhibit at Gallery D and you will see him among the nation’s literary greats. National laureate A Samad Said, a dimunitive man with a larger than life persona and much revered by Malaysian.

Conversation with him is a surreal experience, more so when he ordered a hot chocolate with an impish smile, dashing the notion that all serious literary people drink coffee – black.

At 76 years old, Pak Samad has the kind of zen persona that makes even his most vitriolic statements sound like poetry. It does then seem odd that he should co-chair the Bersih coalition.

So how did this quiet, unassuming man get involved in one of the biggest demonstrations the country has seen?

Those who saw the photos or who were at the walk in July 2011 are likely to remember for a long time to come, the sight of him walking barefooted to the palace to deliver a memorandum after having lost his slippers in the foray of the demonstration.

After so many years of quiet, why now at this age, did he decide to lend his voice and be a part of such a rally?

A native of Belimbing Dalam, a villager near Durian Tunggal in Malacca, Pak Samad received his early education during the second World War years at Sekolah Melayu Kota Raja (Kota Raja Malay School) in Singapore.

When the war was over, he continued his education at Singapore’s Victoria School and went on to work as a clerk in a hospital.

Pak Samad confessed that he had always wanted to be a writer. He began an unsuspecting career in 1954 by writing short stories, poems, features, dramas, novels and even diaries.

Later, he would get a job with Utusan Zaman in Singapore and other well-known Malay language magazines like Mastika and Remaja. He added that the reason why he wanted to write to much was so that he could chronicle everything he saw as sincerely as possible as seen through his eyes.

His calling as a writer was cemented in the years of 1957 and 1968 when a novel he had written won the consolation prize in a writing competition organised by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

The novel was Salina. Salina was the story of a woman who, due to poverty, finds work in the Singapore’s red light district of the 1950s.

Salina the novel, is today touted as a literary masterpiece, moving in its portrayal of humanity.

Much ugliness in Malaysia

When asked if Pak Samad personally knew a woman like Salina, he proffered that he knew and met many women like her. Salina, he said, was a composition of characters he had met.

“When I was in Singapore in the 1950s, I lived in places like Lorong Lalat before moving to Rangoon road. Both these areas and the surrounding ones like Johor Road and Deskar Road were red light districts.

“The rooms and houses were cheap, so that’s where I stayed,” he smiled.

“It was during this time that I got to know a few waitresses and sex workers. I would say that the character of Salina was a combination of these women I met.”

Salina took Pak Samad to greater heights and his writing career flourished.

As the years began to roll out, he realised that settling to recording and writing what he saw wasn’t enough.

Leaning forward in his chair, he said: “Here there were so many ugly things happening in front of me. I would see unfairness, intimidation, fraud and this moved me a step ahead from what I was used to.

“I saw that after 54 years of independence, we have come to point zero again. We have become racial when we want to win votes.

“I think there’s something wrong somewhere if, after five decades, a nation cannot stand on solid ground; I think it has failed.

“This is why I decide to walk, as you asked me. I wanted to do more than just write about what I saw.”

‘We need sincere leaders’

Pak Samad has his own idea of what it would take for the country to thrive as she should.

It’s a big idea, but he put it simply when he said, “We need sincere leaders with a vision and with a real project in mind to galvanise a nation. We don’t have that right now.”

He added that having said that, it would only be fair to exclude Tunku Abdul Rahman from the equation.

“Tunku Abdul Rahman was the beginner… who started things.

“Tun Abdul Razak may have had a vision but this didn’t quite turn out because he was too pro-Malay.

“After that, everything became rojak… because things became messy; you don’t come to the ideal to have a nation which is now symbolised by a motto – 1Malaysia. That’s what it is – 1Malaysia is just a motto, an advertisement.”

At this point, Pak Samad opened his eyes wide in mock annoyance, then quickly breaks into a smile and laughing heartily he asked, “Do I look angry? I’m not angry. I just act angrily.

“My wife always reminds me to be careful about what I say and write. But I know that whatever I write, there will be repercussions. I have always said that poems are weapons. I even have an anthology out called Puisi Itu Senjata but people don’t read it.”

But Pak Samad’s sense of reassurance is settled in the fact that Malaysians are beginning to voice their thoughts.

He said he believed that the younger generation is making an impact in some of the changes being witnessed. The “old people” he has discounted because they already know who to vote for.

‘Don’t blame the government’

Pak Samad is hopeful that this will eventually bring about the balance which is needed for democracy.

He said that this equilibrium will end what the government is doing by giving abrupt citizenship to immigrants just to make sure they vote for Barisan Nasional.

Why should someone who has just been here for three or five years be given the power to determine the country’s rule is a question he posed.

He said there were millions of other genuine rakyat who are not been given that chance.

“I will come back to the same thing again and again. I’m afraid that Malaysians won’t do their bit.

“If you keep your mouth shut doing nothing, don’t blame the government. Blame yourself,” he stated.

Perhaps it is this dogged determination which he says is part of his personality that has kept him doing what he has all this time.

To those who are not familiar with Pak Samad, fiery is not how one would describe him. But make no mistake that he is.

He doesn’t suffer fools gladly but is still very compassionate about the rights of Malaysians and there isn’t an iota of doubt that this is a man who is in love with his country.

He laughs at his repetitive self and says he knows he sometimes sounds like a broken record.

‘I am still same person’

But he doesn’t mind, of course, because someone has to say something. And at the risk of getting into trouble for it, he is completely at peace with it being him.

Acknowledging that he is in the twilight of his life, Pak Samad expressed a desire to see Malaysia become an example of a new country – harmonious, rich, fair, respectful and dominant in a way that her voice will be internationally respected.

“Some people have told me that I have changed as a person. But I know I am still the same. I do what I do, say what I say and write what I write because I don’t want to die uselessly.

“I want to be able to die knowing that I did something for my country, even if it’s a small part, to bring about the change I hope to see in my lifetime.”


  1. National laureate A Samad Said believes that Malaysians chose to keep their mouths shut, doing nothing; then ‘don’t blame the government. Blame yourself’.

    Shouting in itself is also quite useless, but to not die useless, Samad should run for election as a independent candidate. Some of us have been sabotaged so severely we may no longer be viable, but Samad, well loved and still very much alive and claiming to be concerned about Malaysia has no reason not to run as a candidate. Die useless? Samad is only as old as Ron Paul U.S. Representative for Texas’s 14th congressional district, Ron Paul is this very day revving up for his presidential candidacy in the USA and Samad talks about dieing useless? Pathetic. Little wonder the difference between USA and Malaysia. What on earth Said Samad TALKING ABOUT?!? Get off your Laureated a$$ and run for candidacy yer privileged coddled fogey!

    Comment by AgreeToDisagree — February 21, 2012 @ 10:31 PM | Reply


    “Acknowledging that he is in the twilight of his life, Pak Samad expressed a desire to see Malaysia become an example of a new country – harmonious, rich, fair, respectful and dominant in a way that her voice will be internationally respected.”

    Malaysia can never be a “harmonious, rich, fair, respectful and dominant” as long it is based on the colonial domination of Sabah and Sarawak.

    Without Sabah and Sarawak there will be no Malaysia. Their relationship with Malaya is not marked by ” harmonious, rich, fair, respectful” treatment but by domination and discrimination against the 2 parts.

    What apparently was to be an equal relationship of independent states partnership/federation, Sabah and Sarawak have been reduced to colonial status as Malaya exploited and looted their resources and people. They failed to Borneonize the administration of the 2 countries but Malayanised them as colonies.

    The Sabah and Sarawak people have endured 48 years of deprivation while their oil and gas wealth and taxes have been drained to pay for the development of Malaya. Ex-PM Mahathir became a billionaire by plundering our petroleum resources through his control of private companies favoured with Petronas contracts and still does.

    The people of Sabah and Sarawak must wake up from their foolish dream of “independence in Malaysia” when they do not need to be in Malaysia to survive as independent states! We are rich enough to be independent of all of foreign rule!

    If we do not break free from the Malayan colonial grip, our wealth will be stripped bare and there will be nothing left for us!

    Wake up!- Without Sabah and Sarawak there will be no Malaysia.

    Comment by anon — February 21, 2012 @ 3:02 PM | Reply

  3. At Bersih, I saw Malay, Chinese and Indians unite. I saw them able to set aside racial or religious differences bcos they are united in same cause. I saw they helped one another regardless of race and religion. We all want the same thing. And that day was a day I was convinced Malaysia has hope. That day i felt our children has hope. That day reflected what PKR, DAP and PAS can bring together. 50 years plus is enough chance, what more can I give to u BeeAnn? Since you won’t change, well now my vote will.

    Comment by Tango — February 21, 2012 @ 1:52 PM | Reply

  4. yes, our parents are to be blame for what we are in today…..tidak apa atitude….now we the younger generation have to bear all this in our country malaysia as a whole…..if petra jaya is a city of corruption then putra jaya is the capital city…..where we are going to in the future,we have to decide now…its never too late for a change for a cleaner country.have a strong opposition and a good watchdog in putra jaya….no more maladministration and misused of public funds.too much stories that malaysia is full of live dramas,we should just enjoy live dramas and have no need to soap operas.

    Comment by kuching hitam — February 21, 2012 @ 1:21 PM | Reply

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