Monday, September 15, 2014


By Mansor Puteh 

It is not easy to be a national leader, much less to be the Father of Independence of the country. 

At a very young age, and having attended several schools in Kedah, Penang and Bangkok, Tunku Abdul Rahman finally got a scholarship from the Kedah state government to further his studies in a private school in Little Stukeley, Cambridgeshire, not far from the town of Cambridge where there is a prestigious university in
England – the University of Cambridge. 

Many feared for the Tunku who at such a young age, only sixteen years at that time in 1919 could bear to sail across the vast Indian and Atlantic Oceans to finally arrive in England a month or so later, to begin his studies England and in English, which was not really a foreign language to him at the time since he had studied in English language schools in Malaya and also Bangkok. 

He was able to speak and write in English, but did not have much opportunity to use the language on a daily basis because he was being surrounded by children his age who speak the Malay language and in the Kedah dialect where his father was ruling as its Sultan. 

The Black Boy, was a nickname given to Tunku as a child had now gone to study in a White  Country. 

Pak Tam, is a name still being used to describe him by close relatives till today. 

Pak Tam, or Uncle Black or Tunku Abdul Rahman had finally become a man who the country could depend on in its hour of need. 

He was not sent by his father Sultan Abdul Hamid, when he was the Sultan of Kedah then to further his studies at just any school and university in the Arab world, because they knew that Malaya was occupied by the British; so was not suitable for Tunku the ‘Black Boy’ or Uncle Tam (Pak Tam) to be sent to Cairo, Egypt, or Amman, Jordan. 

His father, Sultan Abdul Hamid of Kedah preferred his son to go to England. 

And he did not want him to go to just any place in England to study, but in Cambridge, where there was the oldest university in the country called the University of Cambridge which had produced many graduates who became prime minister and senior officials of the British government. 

And it is here where the Sultan felt it proper and more appropriate to send Tunku at. 

The Old Rectory in Little Stukeley where Tunku studied from private tutors. And here was where Tunku lived with other English children  from distinguished families of his age. 

There were also a number of non-English students who studied with Tunku then, who came from foreign countries, but not one of them who eventually became like prominent like Tunku, who would later liberate Malaya from British colonial rule. 

Near Little Stukeley was a racecourse. And it was here where Tunku also became interested in horse-racing as a sport. 

When Tunku was finally able to study at the St. Catherine’s College at Cambridge University, he rented a room at 11 Grange Road near the campus. 

And by coincidence near the rented house there was a football field. This was where Tunku became interested in this sports and was able to count as his friends the others in the club who comprised mostly of students at Cambridge University, although they were at the different colleges and who did not eventually become prominent political leaders of their own countries like Tunku did. 

Tunku enrolled at Cambridge University in 1922 for four years to finally graduate from it with his degree in law. 

During his time at the university, it was unfortunate that Tunku had to personally experience various types of racial discrimination particularly from the university dormitory administrators who thought he was not fit to board in the dorms. 

Tunku complained to the Kedah state government who sent the Resident of Kedah then to Cambridge to explain the administrative officer of the dormitory that Tunku was a prince from Kedah in Malaya. 

officer was shocked at the revelation coming from a fellow senior officer of the colonial government in Malaya, so he finally agreed to offer Tunku a place in the dormitory. 

However, Tunku said he could not accept the offer because he said, he would be leaving the university now that he would be graduating from it soon.

So he continued to stay in the room he had been renting at Grange Road, where he could continue to enjoy the freedom and luxurious lifestyle he had enjoyed since arriving at Cambridge, driving an expensive car and riding the most modern motorcycle there were with the car that he bought in a car show, which is the university vice-chancellor or any dean or senior university could not afford to buy because the prices were too exorbitant for their wages and lifestyle. 

So the Black Boy or ‘Budak Hitam’ finally felt 'angry' spells as a young man living very far away from his family and close friends, the village boys who he was unduly closed to; but the anger he felt then were nicely stored in his mind and philosophy which he would draw on until he became a senior officer of a nationalist party in Malaya called the United Malay National Organization or Umno in short, where Tunku remembered the humiliation and discrimination he had to endure in England studying at Cambridge. 

Tunku told me in a recorded interview I did at home in Bukit Tunku in Kuala Lumpur in 1989, that this personal bitter experience remained in him for so long, and it was what had made him want to ‘kick the British out of Malaya’, given the chance, although he did not mean it literally, but diplomatically as his later actions proved when he was negotiating with the British to wrest Malaya or Tanah Melayu from the British. 

However, the Tunku did not use physical action or force to do that, he preferred to be subtle and in the English style and using fine diplomatic skills he had acquired while studying and living in England especially at Cambridge where he was introduced to the English ways and who could manage to delve deeper into their thinking and displaying the royal attributes he had had growing up in the palaces, which even the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who has now reached the age of 90 years, who would said he often found it difficult to fully digest and understand the thinking of Tunku. 

Without Tunku, Malaya would be reeled with confusion whose leadership roles might have been fractured between the Melayu themselves as much as it would be between the non-Melayu, who all had gone through phases that saw hardship and pains as well as anger, so Tunku had to engage his diplomatic skills to engage the Melayu and the other races to unity behind a single banner that the British had wanted him to do to be able to negotiate with them at the table instead of in the fields using arms and spouting angry words. 

But fortunately Tunku managed to do this, and we must feel especially proud of that because he had achieved Independence or Merdeka for Malaya or Persekutuan Tanah Melayu 'without spilling even a single drop of blood' or 'tanpa menitis setitik darah.’ 

Mahatma Gandhi, India's independence fighter, also studied law in England, like Tunku did, but the way he gained independence for his country's caused hundreds of thousands of Indians to be killed with the country ending up being split into India and Pakistan, and then to the three countries, namely India, Pakistan and 

So when all Malaysians celebrate the 57th Independence or Merdeka Day it would be good and proper for all of them to remember Tunku Abdul Rahman’s, ingenuity, charm and leadership which had now allowed the country to be in peace with its people enjoying greater prosperity and harmony…

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