Actor Mano Maniam peels away the facade and discovers that Malaysia lost its liberty when it was covertly replaced by feudalism under the labels of 'Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera'.
FEATUREWhen Mano Maniam speaks, the world takes a deep breath and perceptibly slows down.
Mano has a manner of articulating his thoughts with the steady calmness that only illuminates their strength.
It’s with this same calmness that he refuses to have his picture included alongside this interview lest he is tagged as “that Kopitiam fella” and his words dismissed.
The potentiality is particularly worrisome because Mano, 66, has a lot to say on liberty in Malaysia. Two full pages of thoughts to be exact.
“I came home dog-tired last night and went straight to bed but got up again to write all this down,” he said, showing off his scribbled notes.
“I told myself that someone was going to ask me about liberty today and I had better have something worthwhile to say.”
He begins reading aloud.
“Liberty is a state of being. A natural organic environment where the ‘be’ in human being is simply allowed to realise the true and full state of being but never ‘becomes’.”
“When you ‘become’ it is a finality but to ‘be’ is a state of process.
“When you lose your liberty, you lose that state of being, you are forced to conform and you become.
“And that state of becoming is a natural organic death.”
Loss of liberty
By the time he looks up again he has morphed from a public personality with an opinion into a national patriach who takes liberty very seriously because he knows how much of it has been lost.
While many lament the loss of liberty, Mano scorns its facade in Malaysia.
From where he stands, Aug 31 should be a yearly milestone in the strive for liberty rather than the celebration of a non-existent state of being.
With a social activist and freedom fighter as a father, his views on liberty are far from cliched.
But he will tell you that those of politicians are very much that.
“If you ask them whether there really is freedom in this country, they will say that freedom is abstract, needs definition and limitation and cannot exist in totality,” he parrots.
“Everyone knows that! But they say that to justify the curbing of freedom under their terms.”
“Over the years you can see the dumbing down of individual ideas, individuality and originality.
“This is especially apparent in youths aged 17 to 27. So what we have lost in terms of liberty is a whole generation and its ability to think,” he adds.
Mano’s description of the Aug 31, 1957, aftermath is waking up to a song titled “Negaraku”, an identity card and a flag that was no longer red, white and blue.
‘We didn’t fight for freedom’
His 12-year-old self then joined a sea of others who were also defining themselves by these symbolisms, which were attached to meanings and changes that no one quite comprehended.
Malaysia’s liberty, Mano points out, was grayer than in nations where blood, gunshots and strife won them independence.
“We had adopted the modern concept of nation-state without understanding what it meant because we didn’t have to fight for it,” he said.
“And without a fight what did we gain independence from?”
“OK, so now we have our own way of doing things, we make our own decisions and we don’t have someone from Westminster watching over us… but we had to create what liberty meant to us as we went along.”
Mentally walking through the passages of time, Mano notes that liberty began seeping out of the young country just a few years after 1957.
The new citizenship rules had placed the non-Malays on an almost equal footing with the Malays and this revived bitter memories of 1511 when the Malay culture temporarily faltered.
“The Malays saw 1957 as a restitution of what they had lost generations ago and they wanted to take it back,” he says.
“Anyone who was not part of that group was in a servile state.”
“So has liberty been eroded through the birth of the nation?
“Yes. And what we live in now is a totalitarian feudal society masquerading as a functioning democracy in which there is a clear division between the Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras.”
‘Nobody can be a negative’
The latter term is one which Mano deeply loathes.
These days when called a “non-Bumiputera”, he summons enough strength to walk away and keep his cool.
But he isn’t above turning right around and branding the name-caller a non-Indian either.
“If you call me what I am not like you, then I have the right to call you what you are not like me,” he says hotly.
“Non means negative and nobody can be a negative or a minus anything.
“It was at this point that we started losing our liberty.”