In conjunction with Merdeka and in the lead up to Malaysia Day, Prestige Malaysia explores historical streets named after important national figures, with tales of their triumphs as shared by their proud descendants. First in the series, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s grandchildren Tengku Nur Qistina Petri (TNQ), Tengku Yahya Aziz Petra (TYA) and Tengku Abdul Rahman Petra (TAR) graciously share reflections of their grandfather.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah is to this day regarded as the father of independence and Malaysia. The first chief minister of the Federation of Malaya from 1955 to 1957, he guided the process of independence that came to fruition on 31 August 1957. He served as the nation’s first prime minister for 13 years.
Many places are named after him, including Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in Penang, Malacca, Kedah, Perak and Putrajaya. Other namesakes include Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park in Sabah, and Bukit Tunku in Kuala Lumpur.
What do you feel was his most important contribution to society?
TNQ: I believe his most important contribution was fostering unity. Back then, unity between three races (Malays, Chinese and Indians) was something the British fought very hard to avoid and that is reflected in geographical and racial segregation of the areas. To get people to come together, united in establishing a consensus was a great achievement.
TYA: I believe our independence and the manner of it were his greatest contributions. He helped the nation through a period of orderly decolonisation, where we did not fall prey to irrational thought and adopted a stance that can be aptly described as ambil yang jernih, buang yang keruh, letting bygones be bygones.
What kind of stories did your family share about Tunku Abdul Rahman?
TNQ: My mother has many stories, but I would say most focus on his great ethics and morality. These tales influenced us, and how we were brought up. Stories about my grandfather proved that kindness takes you far regardless of what people say. People say the world is a nasty place, and it is easy to be cynical, but he got very far and achieved the impossible, with a kind heart, integrity and honesty. I am very lucky to have grown up with someone like him to look up to.
Can you name a quote of his that had the biggest impact on you?
TNQ: “If you think you’re rich, there are many who are richer than you. If you think you’re clever, there are many cleverer than you, but if you think you’re honest, then you’ll be among the few and in this instance, it is best being among the few.” I really like that. I think in society today, you seldom find many honest people.
TYA: “Fikirlah. Masing-masing yang keluarkan cakap yang bukan-bukan itu, bukan kerana apa, bukan kerana ada sebab, semuanya adalah kerana takut, bimbang dan tak percaya. Inilah tiga perkara yang menjadi racun yang besar kepada mana-mana negeri pun, kepada mana-mana bangsa pun. Jikalau kita berani merdeka, kita berani hadapi apa yang datang.” (It loosely translates to fear, doubt and distrust are poison to nationhood. If we dare to be independent, we can overcome anything). I think it is an apt and timeless description of the problems plaguing inter-ethnic relations in Malaysia, and so I quite like that one.
What does it mean to your family, knowing that your grandfather’s legacy is so immense that he continues to be commemorated throughout the country?
TNQ: I am humbled and honoured. It gives me a sense of responsibility. No one tells you to be responsible for a legacy, but you endeavour to live up to it because it is something that you hold dearly. It is a constant reminder for us to work hard to support something that, not just him but other founding fathers, have fought for. Especially in knowing how much effort went into gaining independence and, most importantly, political stability.
TYA: I agree with my sister. It is humbling but also a fitting tribute to a man who had sacrificed so much for the country.
TAR: Some of him lives within me, and to a certain extent I do not want to live off the past. Instead, I want to reflect and build on it to leave my own legacy – one that he would be proud of.
If you could guess, what do you think he would feel about the state of the nation today?
TNQ: I think he would say that we are growing. With the current political climate in the nation, I know some would expect a negative answer, but these have been growing pains. I found a quote by him that goes, “people think as soon as you plant a tree, it must bear fruit, but you must allow it to grow a bit.” And I think that is what the country is doing right now. Furthermore, it is not just the nation that goes through growing pains but also society, which is completely independent of the nation and politics, as it matures.