Living life in the fast lane

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Pushing the envelope and living life in the fast lane has always turned me on, even at a very tender age. Different strokes for different folks, they always say. I don’t know whether it is my Welsh blood from my mother’s side or the Bugis blood from my father’s side that makes me so reckless. But my uncles and aunties say that I am cut from my father’s cloth as far as my temper goes — so it must be the Bugis blood then.

I experienced my first motorcycle ride in 1961 when I was just eleven years old. I was then in standard five in the Alice Smith School and I was visiting my grandfather, the Governor of Penang.

One of the ‘boys’ (male servants) had a Honda Cub 50cc motorcycle and I fell in love with it the instant I laid eyes on it. I managed to convince him to let me ride it and he, of course, had no choice but to reluctantly agree. I was, after all, the grandson of the Governor, so how does one say ‘no’ to someone of my ‘status’?

I raced down the Residency grounds with my grandfather shouting for all and sundry to stop me. He was horrified. He thought I was going to crash into one of the many trees and probably break my head.

My grandfather gave the poor boy a tongue lashing of his life. Understandably, the boy refused to talk to me the rest of my stay there. My grandfather made me promise to never ride a motorcycle again and to induce me to keep my promise he agreed to buy me some wheels of my own.

Two weeks later, my new bike arrived at our home in Petaling Jaya. But it was not a motorcycle. It was a maroon Jump bicycle.

Sheesh, a bicycle! I was hoping for a Honda Cub.

Anyway, two wheels without any engine did not deter me. What I lacked in horsepower I could always make up for with the help of gravity. I rode to nearby Gasing Hill and pedaled furiously downhill until the bike was moving faster than my legs could pedal. When I reached the foot of the hill, I learned my first lesson about speed: and that is it is easier to reach zero to fifty in ten seconds but not possible to achieve fifty to zero in that same timeframe. Bicycle brakes are just not meant to stop a speeding bicycle with no space to spare.

I experienced my first crash on two wheels and ended up in the Assunta Hospital with a ripped ear that had to be delicately sewed back on.

It was not until I was fifteen before I could proudly own my first motorbike licence. A Yamaha 90cc soon followed which I traded-in for a Yamaha 100cc Twin after my tenth crash. The bike was so beaten up even the Japanese engineers could no longer recognise it.

My most ‘spectacular’ crash was during the Malaysian Grand Prix of 1968. I was then eighteen. I was trying to block the famous Honda Tan from overtaking me when I suddenly discovered that the race track had disappeared. I hit a wall and flew into the air with the bike somersaulting behind me. I could hear the engine snarl in my ear as the bike sailed over me and landed a few feet away.

I shot up, rushed to my bike, but my left arm would not follow my instruction to pick the bike up and continue the race. I zipped open my racing suit and found that my left wrist was broken.

That ended my very short career as a Grand Prix racer.

I spent a few days in the University Hospital as they tried to repair my smashed wrist. When I was finally discharged, I removed the plaster from my wrist and continued riding my bike. Invariably, my wrist did not set properly and they had to break it again and, this time, graft a piece of bone from my hip to reset my wrist. But they would not allow me to leave the hospital lest I meddle with the plaster again.

It was boring spending all that time in a hospital bed with nothing to do, so I asked that I be allowed to move around. They obliged, but only if I move around in a wheelchair, as the wound in my hip had yet to heal.

That was when the University Hospital experienced its first wheelchair race. I beat an Indian patient I had befriended and, in the process, almost knocked down a nurse in the hospital corridor. They took away my wheelchair and gave me crutches instead, which was a safer alternative. Yes, I had already enjoyed my first ‘crutches’ in 1968, two years before the New Economic Policy was conjured.

As I said, pushing the envelope and living life in the fast lane has always excited me — breaking the rules, shocking everyone around me, the danger, cheating death, the spills, and being able to walk away from it and talk about it later. Now I can no longer race motorcycles though I still do enjoy riding. Next month, on 27 September, I shall be 55; what would be considered retirement age in Malaysia. People expect those who are 55 to spend their time bouncing their grandchildren on their knees — and I do have two of them.

But I can never be satisfied with the life of a retired grandfather. I still need to seek the thrill of danger and the spills associated with it. Today, I no longer flirt with danger on the chocked streets and highways of Kuala Lumpur. I do it through the Internet Superhighway.

Certainly, propagating and encouraging free expression is an exercise wrought with danger in a country like Malaysia that does not tolerate such ‘Western’ ideals. I have been arrested twice before in 2001 and my third arrest is probably being planned even as you read this.

Last week, I phoned ASP Aibee Ab Ghani to ask him what has happened to my computers that they confiscated a month ago on 14 July 2005 and whether they are going to press charges against me. Aibee replied that they have completed examining my computers and the report should be out in another two weeks or so. But he does not know if they will be pressing any charges against me as this is all up to his bosses in Bukit Aman. And he would not reveal whether they have found the evidence they are looking for.

Well, they can do their worst. It took 13 motorbike crashes before I would hang up my racing boots. It may have to take that same number of arrests to make me put away my computer keyboard as well.

They can come arrest me over the next couple of weeks and bring me before a magistrate to be charged for sedition if they so wish. I am sure bail will be granted but I will refuse it. I will not pay one cent in bail money as a matter of principle and as a mark of protest. I would rather sit it out in prison than give them the satisfaction of getting their hands on my money.

I also put them on notice that I will refuse all prison food and drinks. I will not touch one morsel or one drop. If they want to put me on trial then they have a week to do so. By the eighth day, they will have to send me home, one way or another.

This is not a threat. This is a promise. And I have been known to sometimes keep my promises.

By the way, I thank all those who have publicly and through private e-mails offered to pay for new computers to replace the ones confiscated. I did not respond or accept any of the offers because I do not want it to appear like Malaysia Today is taking advantage of this situation by canvassing for donations from the public. This may give the wrong impression.

Then again, maybe I am just too proud — too proud to admit I need help and too proud to allow the government to break me. And, mark my words, the government, for sure, will never break me till the very end.

“And why are you saying all this?” you may ask. Well, if this was a closely-guarded secret and a promise I make to myself, then I have the option to break it if the going gets tough. But now that I have publicly declared my stand, I am ‘locked’ into it and have no choice but to follow it through, or else lose credibility. I suppose it is like a New Year Resolution. Resolutions you make to yourself can easily be broken. Those you make openly need to be adhered to whether you like it or not — or else you ‘lose face’.