Nation above all else

I AM not an avid theatre-goer. The last time I was in Istana Budaya for this purpose was some time back (admittedly due to logistical reasons too). But Ola Bola The Musical changed all that. I came out very impressed by the performance with the acts and movements made so "real" and "alive" even in comparison to the movie which in itself was inspiring. In short, the theatre was just awesome and could be literally a game-changer for all Malaysians.

What is so magical about it? Let's start with the all-Malaysian cast and production that was in a class of its own. It conveyed a clear message yet again that we cannot go wrong if we single-mindedly act as "true" Malaysians (sans ethnic qualifications). That the event depicted took place barely 20 years after the Merdeka declaration, and some 10 years after May 1969 speaks volumes for the post-Merdeka generations. Especially given the ethnic (ill-) feelings then (and worsening now), but were quickly submerged in realising a mission so unified to achieve a higher sense of purpose for everyone. There was no need for extra sloganeering. No new logos and symbols. Only the favourite "Inilah barisan kita ..." as a rallying call (not much heard nowadays) that absorbed all the vibrant energy neatly subsumed in a dream so strong internally that no artificial props were necessary. The team relied on the "genuine" friendship and cordiality (not the "hug-and-dagger" type) despite the many challenges that practically all faced in their daily lives. Being simple people they kept a big and determined heart. They were "true" Malaysians. This showed very clearly from the commitment displayed in the game against South Korea after lagging behind by one goal and heroically blocking a penalty kick awarded to the opponent. No need to pre-fix matches too.

The pride and commitment became even more evident when they eventually found out that Malaysia had decided to "boycott" the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games (following the invasion of Afghanistan). No doubt this shattered their hopes (every Malaysian's too) and they felt "cheated" of the dream to qualify for the Olympics after beating the Korean team. Yet they pursued relentlessly as though the Olympics was just an excuse and what mattered most was to distinctively bring the glory of a young nation called Malaysia for the world to see. Towards this end they had to "sacrifice" their own dreams, at times at the expense of their siblings and family. Likewise the family lent unequivocal moral support for the team to succeed in turn. For all intents and purposes they were uncompromising and resolute that the team and the nation must come first no matter what. "I cover you" became the mantra to ensure they survived as the force to catapult the nation forward. There was no Wawasan 2020, no TN50. Only Malaysia. And that seemed enough because it came from the heart.

The performance was so contagious that the audience came alive, some with teary eyes, when Malaysia played against South Korea, forgetting that it was merely a stage show and not at all a live game. That we were mesmerised owed much to the beautifully choreographed soccer dance sequences, meticulously executed by the worldclass all-Malaysian cast. No less. What with the superbly managed digital projections and displays (for the first time) – we would not want it any other way to celebrate the crowning goal for the team.

In all, during the three magical hours, we were (re)awakened as to who we really are? Siapa kita sebenarnya? And the power that it has. There can only be one answer: Malaysians! And as "true" Malaysians together we can make things happen against all odds as an emerging new nation that was anxious to earn its place in the world full of pride and enthusiasm. This we proved no doubt. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said when we asked the next difficult question: Dimana kita sekarang? Where are we now? We wish that there is another straightforward answer – but it is not the case. Today, for example, South Korea is way ahead of us in almost all endeavours (except in matters of corruption, even the recent Corruption Perception Index showed it has also surpassed Malaysia by 11 notches ahead [51 vs 62] of us).

How do we put back the spirit of Ola Bola into our lives as "true" Malaysians beyond a stage show, but on the stage of life – is our ultimate challenge together as a nation. Much of the lessons of sacrifice, sincerity and selfless compassion can be drawn from the musical only if we take the time to honestly reflect on the principle that the nation must come above all others to recover what we have forgotten if not lose it forever. The tragedy is indeed unbearable if we are still clueless for an answer.

Tomorrow will mark a reminder when Malaysians mourn the tragedy of MH370, longing for the loved ones who have been "lost" but certainly not forgotten. We can only pray that all the pain and suffering that has befallen us and the nation will end soon as we seek a new future.

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