No short shorts please, we’re Malaysian

Instead of looking at its role in being repeatedly complicit in these transgressions, our sterling civil service and the “little Napoleons” who run the service, are more interested in monitoring how short my short-pants are.

Shankar R. Santhiram, Free Malaysia Today

“No shorts in case of an accident while driving”. I had to remind myself of this while on my weekly drive from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, last Sunday.

I mean in the unlikely event we get into a mishap along the way, which then requires us to show up at a police station, I didn’t want to be turned away. Turned away like some Malaysians have been recently, on account of not adhering to the strict moral code of dressing that the civil service is adamant in upholding.

I was stern with my Austrian wife, too. I took a tape measure to the dress she was wearing before we left at 6.45am on the day. For her, it looked decent enough. It was with sleeves, albeit not till her elbow, and almost touched her knees.

But I put my foot down.

There was no way I was allowing her in the car if her dress did not cross her knees by at least 10mm. The dress failed, and eventually, we left at 7.30am, after a deep dive explanation about the dressing rules and regulations in our country.

My Austrian wife, although she has lived in Malaysia for almost 25 years, was extremely confused.

What new laws are these, she asked.

My wife argued that I was speaking nonsense by reminding me that in 2015, the then Minister in the PM’s Department in charge of law, who is currently also a minister in the PM’s Department, but now additionally in charge of institutional reform as well as “the law” had said that there is no dress code for the public when dealing with government departments and agencies.

It was way too early in the morning for me to start a debate with my wife about the complexities, vagaries, and strange inner workings of the government of Malaysia.

So, I brushed her comments aside with some flippant reply about being dressed up decently when we drove to Penang. And, how it was important that when we arrived there, she looked the part of a serious veterinarian.

She then looked at me in the most perplexing and accusatory manner. You know, in that disbelieving way. The way some wives look at their husbands when they think their man has lost his marbles. This was that very same look.

I slinked away quietly, and hoped that my insistence in being a “morally upright” Malaysian, at least when it comes to dressing in accordance with the prescribed way, by no less the all-powerful and omnipresent civil service, would quell my wife’s annoyance with my stance.

I think it was too early for her to pick a fight with me that morning, so I got away with it.

She went back in and came out after a long 20 minutes, donning a pair of jeans and a fully-sleeved top half ensemble. Nothing more was discussed that morning, about the choice of her outfit. But, suffice to say, it was a terribly frosty three-and-a-half-hour drive to Penang, last Sunday.

Only in blessed Malaysia can these types of moral quandaries exist.

This is the land where one former prime minister is already languishing in jail, because he was found guilty by the apex court that he fiddled with the national coffers, while all the time, claiming to be “morally upright”.

And now, another former prime minister has been charged with more corruption and abuse of power, albeit while insisting with full “moral” authority that he is a victim of political persecution.

But Malaysia has phenomenal “moral policing”.

You will not be able to enter a government building, where public servants work, with shorts that are too short. This is just in case the diligent, highly competent, and deeply motivated civil servants there get mesmerised by your physique and get distracted, or type the wrong keys on their keyboards, or turn a blind-eye to misdemeanour you might commit.

If a civil servant glimpses at your “aurat” or an approximation of your private parts, there is a serious chance of them not being able to do their jobs with the utmost sincerity and conscientiousness.

It is perplexing that I’ve not seen Najib Razak, or Muhyddin Yassin, our erstwhile prime ministers wearing really revealing and provocative shorts in public, showing off their physique.

I mean if they did, at least it would explain why Najib got away with all the misappropriation of funds, right under the noses of the very civil servants, whose only job is to be our custodians.

Malfeasance and corruption are no longer just an allegation. It has been proven, while more allegations have surfaced, with yet another prime minister.

But, instead of looking at its role in being repeatedly complicit in these transgressions, our sterling civil service and the “little Napoleons” who run the service, are more interested in monitoring how short my short-pants are.

There I was thinking that the “tie-less, slipper-wearing Anwar Ibrahim age” had arrived, where your dressing-up or dressing-down will not matter. And instead, you would be respected for your mind, your ability, your integrity, and your compassion.

But alas, we cannot expect Anwar to fight every battle for us. Sometimes, we must fight our battles. So next week, when we drive up to Penang, I am asking my wife to wear whatever she wants.

If, God-forbid, we have a problem along the way, and the civil service does not help us because of my short shorts, or her dressing, then I know that Malaysia is truly a joke!