Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa - 60 years later

WITH the close of a successful 9th Asean Para Games we can safely conclude that the overall national celebrations have come to a happy ending.

Malaysia can take pride that it has done well as a country united, more than just winning medals. Especially her younger generation based on their sterling performance at both the games. It is a gratifying feeling and augurs well for the future.

This perception was enhanced recently when popular movie Adiwiraku won the best film award at the 2017 Festival Film Malaysia Ke-29. It also bagged the best actress award which symbolically goes to show the younger generation is more inclusive and sensitive than usually (mis)understood. Its director noted that the students turned actors exhibited more than the 1Malaysia spirit as reflected in their daily interactions.

The film, based on a true story, depicts the challenges – the proficiency of English is the central theme – faced by the rural-based Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pinang Tunggal in Kedah and how the determined cikgus and colourful murid go about creatively solving them.

Unlike social media that often mocks and employers who complain endlessly, the movie clearly illustrates how the solution to many issues is within our means; we just need to stop whining and get our act together (in this case, there is no need to "import" English teachers) as united Malaysian citizens. Their social cohesiveness is felt beyond the school, by their families and eventually the local community. It gives due recognition to those who opted to join the Teach for Malaysia programme that becomes a burning platform realising compassion as the prime impetus for change. This is something only altruistic Malaysians can experience and appreciate and is no different from the founding generations who fought for independence that we recently celebrated.

Such "experiences" are the building blocks for the future of the country. The movie also showed examples of how the school as a community succeeded where the older generations were struggling to do so. One such case was highlighted by the prime minister when he made a call for Malaysians to be fluent in the use of the national language. Ironically, this came at a "patriotic assembly" organised by a political association as part of the national day celebration. Members of the association were reminded that this is important for a united Malaysia – something that Adiwiraku in real life would not be possible without it. While having to make the call after 60 years of independence is really "awkward", it only goes to show how "oblivious" some segments of our society have been.

Although leaders of such associations were praised by the PM for having superb command of the language, it took the premier himself to point out what was amiss among their members. The PM was even heard speaking in English in making the appeal, while assuring them that the use of mother tongue in schools will be supported in exchange. That we are still "horse-trading" on basic issues makes the whole episode bizarre assuming as citizens we recognise the need for a national language to keep the nation glued together.

It is no longer a political thing to be negotiated. Yet, at one point in his address the PM had to refer to himself as their prime minister in the vernacular language.

"Perdana Menteri" does not seem to cut it. This somewhat summed up how "desperate" the affair is but not nearly bad enough for an association that always claims to "cooperate" with other communities in developing the country.

A quote placed on the main wall of the Kuala Lumpur headquarters of the association substantiated this. It is attributed to the founder, written in vernacular language, and translated into English. But the Bahasa Malaysia version is glaringly absent. Although the quote refers to "One Country, One People and One Government", one national language is obviously not a priority for the association. Hence, the need for the PM to bring it up publicly.

Could the omission be an oversight? Considering there was not a single BM word sighted on the wall that displayed what is dubbed as the corridor of history for the association this is hard to believe. Evidently, adorning a good portion of the wall were records of the association's progress from the 1940s to 2015. That is proudly told in the mother tongue and English. But not in BM.

Perhaps so in the early years, such an omission would be understandable if one were to be generous, but as late as two years ago? With the PM's picture in action plastered all over the wall, was he taken for a ride? One shudders to think if it was by design despite all the noise about 1Malaysia Negaraku Sehati Sejiwa. New logo and all. The contrast with what the youngsters collectively did is remarkably different.

As an extension, it also helps to explain why a foreign branch campus closely linked to the association has also no BM version on its foundation stone. Likewise at the launch of the East Coast railway project that saw a dismissive use of the national language as shared in the social media and commented by netizens. But, as always, these are quick to be put down as being "ultras" so that the national language can justifiably be cast aside conveniently. So can we fault the foreign partners if the locals set a poor example?

That brings us to another incident reported online by a person who was ridiculed for allegedly not speaking her mother tongue well. She was more conversant in English and BM. She was mocked in public by the older (ultra?) generation, but this person stood her ground as a Malaysian and chose BM. The younger generation is again making its voice heard.

Ultimately, not understanding the national language makes nonsense of slogans like Sehati Sejiwa or the Rukun Negara, even the anthem Negaraku. For example what would "tanah tumpahnya darahku" count for? No amount of logos can rectify this except in a "hypocritical" way.

So it is time to heed the PM's call once and for all, and put right all the "oversights" and undue practices. And let us converse naturally in BM like the Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Rohingyas who have just set foot on our shores but speak better BM than some Malaysian citizens! Perlu diingatkan bahawa Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa. Bahasa Malaysia itu adalah Jiwa Bangsa Malaysia.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com