>> Isnin, September 16, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 — Long past the retirement age, Datuk A. Samad Said, or Pak Samad as he is more popularly known, has taken on a new “job”.Activist.
He famously took to the streets at the last two Bersih demonstration to champion the cause of free and fair elections in Malaysia, a country over three decades younger than him.
Describing himself as a man “nearing the grave”, the poet turned to political activism to push for reforms, saying that there is “so much” work for the country to do.
Pak Samad explained that he had simply joined Bersih 2.0 a few years ago on the invitation of the polls reform group, coming out of his quiet life that revolved around praying, reading and writing.
“I was living a calm life, then I was invited. And I believe this is a good cause so I accepted the co-chairman (post) of Bersih,” the national laureate told The Malay Mail Online recently.
“I should stay at home. I’m 81. But I feel responsible when people want me to be active. I see the cause, I like the cause so I do whatever I can for the benefit of society,” said the Singapore-born Pak Samad.
He became a Malaysian after setting foot in Malaya a few months before Independence.
He sees joining Bersih, which has organised three massive rallies for electoral reform, in his late 70s as a way for him to work towards the country’s harmony.
“Especially Bersih we want a clean government, we want a clean election, and we want it to be fair. If the election is not fair, the government will always be unfair,” he said.
This is not the first time he has made a drastic change in his life, having decided to leave the world of journalism at the age of 49 to write and give talks.
Pak Samad penned novels and poems and his literary efforts earned him the National Laureate title in 1986, having been awarded the Pejuang Sastera title after clinching the Southeast Asia Write Award in 1979.
But Pak Samad, who has a lifelong passion for books and words, has not stopped writing, with his recent poems like Unggun Bersih becoming a rallying cry for the public to act.
Pak Samad noted that what is seen as a career change is actually a continuation of his efforts in his works to voice out and record his dissatisfaction.
“I did that before in my writing. Whatever disturbs me, I put it into my novels, my drama, my essay.
“Now of course after being co-chairman of Bersih, it’s not only writing... I have to be
on the streets as well,” he said, saying it was initially exhausting for him to go out and meet people and join demonstrations.
“But I’m happy doing that,” he added, breaking into a smile under his white beard; glad to be able to do something for the people.
The sight of the frail white-haired and bearded man walking barefoot in the Bersih rally on July 2011, determined to hand over a memorandum to the palace, cemented Pak Samad’s image as the conscience of the country.
Although Pak Samad is now widely-regarded as a symbol of the people’s movement, he gently said that others can easily fill his shoes and do what he viewed as being quite an ordinary feat.
“I appreciate that. I think what I do many other people can do also. It’s not something extraordinary. They think I’m doing something good, I’m happy,” he said.
Pak Samad, who appears to be content letting others take the limelight, said he usually does not speak, except for instances such as when he defended Bersih 2.0 co-chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan against a group of former army veterans performing a butt-dance.
“When some of these things happen, then I come in. But most of the time, it’s Ambiga. It’s Ambiga who really gears up the thing, I’m just helping,” he said.
When asked what he thinks of Malaysia turning 50, Pak Samad said that the country now is not stable and mature, owing to politicians stirring up racial issues to divide the people.
“We should have been a stable country, we should have been a harmonious country and we shouldn’t end like what is being visualised by this Tanda Putera, giving the impression that the Chinese are the enemies of the country, which I think is wrong,” he said, referring to the controversial local film which has been criticised for its allegedly unfair depiction of the racial riots of May 13, 1969.
“Every race has given something to this country,” he added.
“We are still unstable because of the race issue which they try to magnify unnecessarily,” he said, referring to the politicians who he said tend to bring up racial issues during elections and pit Malaysians against each other.
Pak Samad said Malaysia needs mature leaders with a vision of harmony, accusing the leaders from the current administration of disregarding harmony to keep their grip on power.
“It all depends on the leaders—what sort of country they want, what sort of nation they want. It’s on the top, they have the power, they can do it,
but the trouble is they dont want to do it because the most important thing is the power.
“If you can have the power by destroying a nation, they will do that. Because the power is important, the nation is not important to them,” he said.
“That’s why it’s your time now to make sure that this does not happen by casting your vote for real leaders, sincere leaders, visionary leaders, very caring leaders,” he said.
Pak Samad said Malaysians must learn to think as a nation, and not as different races, citing the nation’s many decades of living together.
“We must work hard to make this country a harmonious country, just and fair to all. And accept everyone who has been born here, educated here, and work here; this is our nation, these are our people,” he said.
At 81 years old, Pak Samad said he wanted to be a writer when he was growing up, but the devout Muslim now wants “a good place in heaven.”
He also said he has no heroes except for Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, but pointed to DAP veteran leader Lim Kit Siang and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng as Malaysians he admires.
“Well, I admire Lim Kit Siang, I admire Guan Eng for what both of them are doing for this country. I think we need leaders like them, very sincere, very focused and have a vision of a good Malaysia, of a prosperous Malaysia, a harmonious Malaysia. Unfortunately we have few people like them,” he said of the DAP father-and-son duo who were once jailed under the now-abolished Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960