About the 55-year old man in the mirror

“Who ever is going next, please do not shock us. If you can, please be kind to the people you leave behind. It’s bad for our hearts. Please pardon the black humour. What I am saying is, it is always sad to lose a friend.” – A July 2009 speech by Vic, who left us suddenly 19 days ago.

YM Tunku A’amash Tunku Dato’ Sri Adnan a.k.a. Vic

Putra putra dan putri putri,

Suami suami dan isteri isteri,

Murid murid tua, semakin tua yang semakin menjadi.

Please allow me to speak, in the language we were taught to speak in…English.

Honourable teachers, prefects and guests,

I am honoured for the privilege given of addressing you all. You are amongst the most treasured I have in this life. What I want to speak is about the 55-year old man in the mirror.

We are gathered here today to celebrate our ‘55th Year Bash’. Most of us, with a few exceptions, were born in 1954, or the year of the Horse as our Chinese brethren would call it.

91 of us entered College at the age of 13 in 1967. A little more than 74 came in Form 4 at 16 years of age and a handful came in Lower 6 at the mature age of 18. As teenagers, we’d try to sleep in till noon. For a number of us who have not changed, we still do not get out of bed early like we have been doing ever since our teens. These guys, even if their employers had given them a gold Rolex watch 30 years ago and not upon retirement, would probably never have come to work early anyway.

But that is the way we, with our idiosyncrasies, are. Time changes. Our value sets may change over time. But our idiosyncrasies do not. Jalok is as Jalok was. The same goes for Syed Nasir, Rashidi Aziz a.k.a. Rasputin, Bugs, Moza, Ideroih, Adzahir Temior, Bok, Mohd Hussein, Mat Jepun and Zainal a.k.a. Krako-nut, who make up part of the 173 boys we have in our batch.

You will find the boy in the mirror may now be a man. But look beyond the reflection, look into the eyes, you’ll find he has aged but not necessarily grown old. The man in the mirror is very much the same person. What I see in my mirror is a man whose face has grown old but has not grown up. To find out the science of this phenomenon, you can consult Dr Amir Farid, the second youngest amongst us.

We were told we were Le Crème de la Crème. Malaysia could not get a better crop among the Malay population than from those who make up our peers. If you’ve missed the point, it is you I am talking about, my friends. All along we have been living heartbeat-to-heartbeat, breath-by-breath, moment-to-moment, trying the best we can, to be decent and righteous human beings. We had choices, every step along the way. Are we succeeding? Who can proclaim! Who can be the judge of that? Not even the man in the mirror can.

In this life God gave this world as our stage. Some have chosen their home as their stage, refusing to venture further, while some others the globe. Even so, we tend to live amongst people we are comfortable with, that share the same beliefs. Eight hours in a day we are with those who serve us in our professions. We tend to listen to things we are familiar with and in this short life, have little time to appreciate the expanse of our Creator’s realm. The sum effect is the environment we choose to live in moulds us into the person we become. And who knows who or what the man in the mirror is? He may claim to be everything he thinks he is. But is he? God says in the Quran, “This life is none but Vanity, Illusion and Play.” So let us get serious.

We may know where we came from but no one knows where we are in the scheme of things and if we will end up still being amongst Le crème. At 55, this becomes all the more relevant. If I may, remember we only live once. And if we do it right, once is enough.

We came from a generation after the baby boomers, before the X generation and are parents of the Y generation. Do you know why the kids these days are said to be from the Y generation? Look at how low their pants are worn. From the back you can see the top Y outlines of their bums.

We came from a generation that experienced a revolution in music. During a time when there was a counter culture to the long established moral, societal and cultural values that had existed since time immemorial. It created a generation gap between our generation and our parent’s generation. This phenomenon was global. Getting my parents to understand my journey usually got me nowhere. Or so I used to think. Quite wrong I was, as there was a longer journey to travel. To each their own ends and I value every discourse and experience I’ve had with them.

We wore bell-bottoms. We had flowers in our hair. We made love not war. We cried out for PEACE.

But some would say, we were aping the West. It was trendy and fashionable to be following all I had mentioned. People like Wan Pauzi had hair longer than Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. Boom was much the same when they were both in Brighton. The difference between them came later, when Pauzi cut his hair and covered it with a ketayap, became what I’d like to think is a good man and married Maznah, a good girl whom I knew, long before Pauzi met her. While Bom, as he was losing his hair, the pair of horns he had, grew. Don’t get me wrong. He was always a woman’s man. A gift maybe, but a burden definitely. Perpetually horny, fortunately he got married to that lovely lady I affectionately call Rodi.

Now, please look around you, and if we are to look at each other’s wives, I think you will agree we get what we deserve. I am unable to guarantee the ladies got what they deserve though. But I hope, for our wife’s benefit, life with this motley group of men has inspired you ladies to better things.

Those born in 1954 are said to have certain common characteristics. The batch of 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72 differ from each other. As a general rule, we have a tendency to love women, and that is common. Some of us married them. A few remained single (they don’t know what they are missing). And a further few remained unchanged since their days in college, (they’d probably say we don’t know what we are missing).

We came from a generation the government of the day saw the need to mould to re-engineer society. I can’t quite call this government the government of the day anymore. They have been around for about as long as we have and can celebrate as many birthdays as we have. But if I say any more in this vein, I’ll be digressing.

It is during our time we saw on our shores the racial conflict of 13th May while the counter-culture mentioned earlier was occurring on other shores. Collegians of our age were put at the forefront of the cycle for change. We were to leapfrog into bringing order and balance to Malaysia’s multi-religious, multi-ethnic but disparaging society. We were goaded into becoming engineers, scientists, and whatever else the government wanted us to be. We felt the responsibility on our shoulders and strived to do their bidding in order to give back to society a better country.

Our teachers, prefects, seniors, and juniors even the houseboys have been instrumental in creating the diverse people we are today, as the country needed. We lived in an environment no other school could replicate. I must confess I did not go to other schools, so, how am I to know? The proof is in the pudding. Just look at the camaraderie amongst us, the sense of belonging to our alma mater that has survived nearly 43 years since we first met. Show me a school that can match the kind of bonding we have. For my pride maybe misplaced!

But the country has changed since with or without our participation. Now I am 55 and should be retiring, I look back and ask, have I given back to our people, and the future generation a better country, regardless of their race and beliefs?

For a long time, we thought we could happily retire at 55. But that has since changed. Many people’s favourite Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad brought about this change. We can now work till we are 58. He carried on till he was 78. Being a heart patient and a doctor, he probably knew, had we retired at 55, every year our blood pressure would have got higher, while our bank balance got lower.

There are those who are afraid that with old age comes poverty. Some endures to stay middle-aged but worry knowing they will grow out of being middle-aged. Many would like to live long, but no one wants to grow old. Just remember when you are over the hill, you begin to pick up speed. My advice is: enjoy the ride. To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am. (No offence meant to our teachers, sirs). But why should you worry? Some of you have discovered the secret of eternal youth. Just lie about your age! Another tip…if you keep a moustache and it’s as white as snow, use mascara, you’ll lose 10 years immediately.

Remember what I said earlier? Life is none, but vanity, illusion and play.

We have to this day lost many close college friends, none to old age. Most recent amongst our losses is Nan Azmi. It was a shock, like a thunderbolt that hit me when I heard of his death. He was ever so pleasant. Always beaming his infectious smile. I had wanted to see him again, only to find out it shall remain a wish I can’t fulfil.

Then came the tragedy that befell Jiman Hussain. It upsets me to this day. He died a day after celebrating my 55th birthday. After hearing from Zain of Jiman’s debut with cancer earlier, I called him about three weeks before he passed away. We had a pleasant chat as we do occasionally. Joe Razak and I wanted to see him, as we were very close. I suggested either 19th of May or in early June. I also asked him if he would come to tonight’s bash. He said he will try, but it is still a long way away. Let’s meet up first. We could not see him on the19th. So we deferred it.

A few years ago I brought him back for the old boy’s weekend. He reluctantly followed. I coaxed him to come back into the fray and join us again. He said not yet but will be very happy to, once he retires at 55. I was holding him to his word…and now you know where we now all are.

Who ever is going next, please do not shock us. If you can, please be kind to the people you leave behind. It’s bad for our hearts. Please pardon the black humour. What I am saying is, it is always sad to lose a friend.

Finally, I’d like to thank all those who have made tonight a success, in particular Adzihir for his tireless contribution. To Ku Yong, TK’s better half and my better half, Mahiran, for helping out. To those who have donated in cash and in kind and to underwriting this evening, like Dato’ Shukri and Joe Razak. To my maid for making me coffee last night, to keep me awake till 4.30am to finish this speech. And to you, each and every one of you for being here and making this a night to remember.

Be kind to yourselves. Forgive each other for where we have erred. We are now 55. The parts we have from every part of our body, soul and heart are not interchangeable or easily replaceable. You can see what is happening, from the visuals of the man in the mirror. I hope you will enjoy the night. It is after all your 55th year bash.

Have a great life of what you have left ahead and may Allah have mercy on all of us.

Thank you and salam.