May 13 - The glue that binds us
Datuk Mahadev Shankar
May 13, 1969 is nearly four score and ten years behind us.
What day of
the week was it?
Alas I cannot now remember!
Perhaps it was a Friday.
Friday the 13th has always had such an ominous ring to it.
It was certainly
before Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (the former prime minister) set our clocks back
half an hour and thus took centre stage in our psyche. Of that I am sure.
sure as I am that in 1969 with our Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime
minister before he was deposed, we rose at sunrise and retired at sundown.
Friday the 13th 1969 marked a turning point in the history of our nation.
had finished with the Fitzpatrick case at Court Hill, and made an uneventful
return home a little earlier than I should. My wife and children were out
somewhere in town and got back just before sunset.
By twilight, all hell had
The shouting of a mob in full flow, seemed to be coming from
the junction of Princess Road (now Jalan Raja Muda) and Circular Road (later
Jalan Pekeliling and now Jalan Tun Abdul Razak) which was less than half a mile
from our house on the corner of Jalan Gurney Dua and Satu. We were well within
ear-shot of the commotion.
I was then out on our badminton court with my wife
and children when I saw a young Malay, face ravaged with shock as he ran past
us, intermittently stopping to catch his breath and then run on.
The panic he
radiated was very contagious.
A few moments later, my neighbour Tuan Haji
Ahmad shouted from across the road that a riot was in progress at the Princess
Road junction and that we should immediately get back indoors.
afterwards as the darkness set in, we saw red tongues of flame crowned with
black smoke go up from the direction of Dato Kramat. From town there was a red
glow in the sky of fires burning. The acrid smell of smoke was coming from
everywhere. More to the point, the very air around us seemed to be shivering
Fearing the worst, we locked ourselves in and huddled around the
Then I heard this high pitched wail. It was a female voice in
distress -"Tolong, buka pintu, tolong. buka pintu!" (Please open the door!)
diminutive woman, with a babe in arms, was desperately yelling for shelter,
obviously not having had much luck with the houses nearer the Gurney Road
Without a second thought, I ran out, unlocked the gate and let her
in. She was wide-eyed with terror and the baby was bawling away.
relief seemed to have silenced her and she was not registering my questions. And
she was not talking.
Once inside, she slunk into a corner in our dining room
and just sat there huddled with her baby, not looking at us but facing the
It was now evident that she was Chinese, spoke no English, and was
quite unwilling to engage in any conversation except to plead in bazaar Malay
that she would give us no trouble and that she would leave the next day.
attention soon shifted from her to the TV set.
A very distraught Tunku Abdul
Rahman, came on to tell us that a curfew had to be declared because of racial
riots between the Malays and the Chinese, caused by the over-exuberance of some
elements celebrating their election victories, and gave brief details of
irresponsible provocations, skirmishes, and fatalities. He stressed the need for
calm whilst the security services restored law and order. Well do I remember his
parting words to us that night,
"Marilah kita hidup atau mati sekarang." (Let
us choose to live or die now.)
As my attention once again shifted to the tiny
woman and her tinier baby, let me confess to my shame, that the thought crossed
my mind that living in a predominantly Malay area, I had now put my whole family
in peril by harbouring this Chinese woman. It was manifestly evident from the TV
broadcasts that her race had become the target of blind racial hatred.
was an ignoble thought I immediately suppressed as unworthy of any human being.
She too had been watching the TV and perhaps even more intently was watching
me, and must have seen the dark clouds as they gathered around my visage.
None of us were in the mood to eat anything. We all just sat and waited and
waited and waited, not knowing quite what to expect.
Hours later there was a
loud banging at our gate accompanied by a male voice shouting.
then my moment of truth had finally arrived. I asked my cook Muthu, a true hero,
if ever there was one to accompany me to the gate.
In that half-light, I saw
the most enormous Malay man I ever set my eyes on.
With great trepidation I
asked him what he wanted.
"You have got my wife and child in your house and I
have come for them," he said in English.
Still suspicious I asked him,
"Before I say anything, can you describe your wife?"
"Yes, yes I know you ask
because I am a Malay. My wife is Chinese and she is very small and my baby is
only a few months old. Can I now please come in?"
I immediately unlocked the
gate. In he came and we witnessed the most touching family reunion.
thanked us profusely and without further ado they were on their way.
excitement we did not ask his name or address.
I saw where my
duty lay and immediately called the Emergency telephone number to volunteer for
An armoured car appeared the next morning.
I was taken to
Federal House and assigned to assist the late Tun Khir Johari (as he
subsequently became) and the late Tan Sri Manikavasagam.
Our task initially
was to transport and re-settle the refugees into the Merdeka Stadium and thence
into the low cost municipal flats in Jalan Ipoh. We then tied-up with Dato Ruby
Lee of the Red Cross to locate missing persons and supply emergency food rations
to the displaced. Some semblance of law and order was restored and the town
slowly came back to life.
If that baby who sheltered in our house that
fateful night has survived life's vicissitudes, he would be 48 years old today.
All the ethnic races which compose our lucky nation were fully represented
in our house that evening when the Almighty brought us together for a short
With our 50th Merdeka anniversary fast approaching, and our hopes for
racial unity so much in the forefront of our minds, may I leave it to my readers
to ask themselves whether there is a pointer here for all of us.
our experience of the night of May 13, 1969 was there not the glue that binds
all of us with the message that we must love each other or die?
Shankar retired as a Court of Appeal Judge in 1997. He was a lawyer in Shearne
Delamore & Co at the time of May 13, 1969. He would be happy to make contact
with the mother and child who sought refuge in his house on that day.
07:12PM Wed, 22 Aug 2007
Thursday, 23 August 2007
What Makes Us A Malaysian
This article that appeared in the Sun really makes me proud to be a Malaysian as something similar happened to my family and I am sure so many other. By remembering the human stories in what is supposed to be a sensitive issue in our past, I hope we can remember the glue that binds us together.