KUALA LUMPUR: The Malay proverb “Harimau mati meninggalkan belang, manusia mati meninggalkan nama” (A tiger leaves its stripes in death, a man leaves behind his name) is probably the most apt to use for Khoo Kay Kim – who is dead, but his deeds live on.
Khoo was a historian through and through and no one can deny his contributions as sources of reference, especially on matters concerning Malaysia’s history.
The country’s most influential historian died on May 28 last year, and many, including members of the press, sometimes wish they can still call him for his opinions and comments, especially with the celebration of the Rukun Negara’s 50th anniversary on Tuesday in conjunction with the Merdeka Month and National Day 2020.
Khoo was one of those who had drafted the principles of the Rukun Negara before they were declared on Aug 31, 1970.
Known for being firm, principled and fair in giving his perspective of the country’s history, Khoo was also a nationalist and a patriot.
“My father was always proud to introduce himself as a Malaysian,” his eldest son, Eddin, said when sharing Khoo’s aspirations on the Rukun Negara and unity in an interview with Bernama.
Eddin, 51, a writer, cultural activist and patron of the cultural organisation Pusaka, is continuing his father’s legacy, especially in thoughts and views about Malaysian politics, history and cultures.
“As the eldest of three siblings, I was close to my father. When I was five or six, I used to follow him to schools and other places across the country where he engaged in information programmes.
“Indirectly, he introduced me to the Rukun Negara and told me the history of the places we went to, which at the same time, built my interest in the Malay language as my father had a good command of it,” he said.
Eddin said he and his siblings were raised to be courteous, polite and respectful of others, besides being open-minded to embrace ethnic, racial, cultural and religious diversity.
“No racial pride and prejudice was allowed in our house.
“My father was a Peranakan Chinese from Kampar, Perak, my mother (Rathi Khoo) is Tamil and (when I was small) I was cared for by a Malay aunt who lived with us.
“It was an extraordinary experience to have three major races living in the same house, practising their culture and religion in peace.
“It was that peaceful environment that made me hesitate to leave the house because I knew things were different outside,” he said.
The Rukun Negara was introduced following a meeting of the Majlis Gerakan Negara (MAGERAN) set up after the May 13, 1969 incident. Its main purpose was to forge unity for the sake of the success and stability of the country.
Sharing his experience of interviewing his father in a programme which focused on the Rukun Negara, Eddin said what impressed him the most was Khoo’s open-mindedness in hearing the opinions of others.
“The discussions were rather heated as they were talking about the first principle of the Rukun Negara, Belief in God.
“What was concluded was that most people have their own religious faith and they believe in God. But my father did not dismiss those who didn’t, such as the atheists. This (open-mindedness) is the trait that was needed to enable such a topic to be discussed in greater depth,” he said.
Eddin said although the Rukun Negara has been well accepted by every Malaysian. there is still a lack of observation and appreciation on the people’s part.
As such, he hoped that more efforts would be taken to nurture the spirit and respect for the Rukun Negara, especially among the younger generation.
“Although my father retired from the education service in 1992, many knowledge-seeking youths and students still came to his office at Universiti Malaya to seek his opinions on certain topics.
“I was so touched by this, and to know that five years before he died, he had engaged himself to meet and share his words of wisdom with as many young people as possible, made me very proud. I think he succeeded in that area.”
Eddin said he believed a society capable of holding discussions and finding it all right to agree to disagree is indeed a mature society.
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