Anything but politics: The revered Dr Syed Husin Ali

Francis Paul  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Renowned academician and politician Dr Syed Husin Ali has been described by many who knew him well as one of the few Malay patriots whose ideals and principles in life have stood the test of time.

When I told a good friend of mine that I would be meeting up with Syed Husin the day this interview was conducted, he remarked, "Prof Syed Husin is one of the few genuine Malay politicians left in this country." I agree.

Rentakini was recently honoured to have a chat with the good professor - chatting about, well, anything but politics.

What is a normal day like for you now?

Basically, over the past three or four years, I have been almost a full time driver and sort of male maid to my grandson - just looking after him with my wife. He is our first grandson. I think I pamper him too much, driving him to kindergarten and everywhere else. Hazim is now six. During the holidays, I will take him to the museum, science centre, well, wherever he likes to go and where I can drive him to.

You have to be the most dotting grandfather in this country then.

Well, I do love reading too. Pampering a child is also educational, you also build a healthy relationship. I get educated by the boy and he also get educated by me.

So you have been staying in Petaling Jaya for many years now.

Actually when I shifted from Singapore to do my masters in Kuala Lumpur, I stayed in Section 3 of PJ. There was a community of journalists and politicians in Section 3 - Samad Ismail was there, Syed Zahari, Usman Awang were there. In a way, it was a rather intellectual kind of community. I had enjoyed myself in this community. Later, they moved to KL because Utusan Melayu had moved to KL - they were working there. But I am still staying in PJ, but a different area of PJ now.

Now PJ had grown and changed so much. What do you miss about the PJ of old?

Well, those days there was no traffic jam. You could drive very leisurely and I like to sing when I drive too. Certain roads I was fond of - from the university, full of trees falling down to the canopies and I loved driving there. Now, you have the business centres there and more and more shops are coming up. I used to sing quite loudly in the car but now I can't because the driving is a hazard. In that traffic maze, I can't sing anymore so I can't enjoy my voice. Sad uh!

What will be your priorities if you are in a position to right the wrongs in PJ today? What are the important things you will want to change first?

I would like to see improvements made especially in the Malay areas. Now, we can see wooden Malay houses being replaced by concrete homes and they are also being clustered around business centres. This is not so conducive to Muslims in a way.

Also, many areas in PJ are now prone to floods and when this happens, it gets so dirty and the stench is just terrible. This is the result of poor town planning. In terms of population, income and lifestyle, PJ and Singapore are almost at par but compare how things are done in the island city and PJ. Why is it that in areas like Taman Medan for example, which is a huge housing estate, it is now next to a shopping mall. I feel you can't have two worlds in one small area. This is not good.

Do you still have any soft spot for any area in PJ, despite all the monstrous structures and other developments surrounding the city?

I used to like the Taman Jaya park, the pond there. I like to bring my grand kids there now and again but somehow, it does not have that old serenity anymore.

There was this recent UKM study claiming that the majority of girls are experiencing sexual encounters at a very young age. Do you think this is true in this country?

I have more respect for young people. I don't think it is as bad as out of 800 something, you have only one who has not experienced sex. Now they are saying it is three percent. Even that figure, I have my doubt because you can't make a mistake in statistics. It originally said that just one person and now it said three percent. Here, you are not talking about normal young girls, you are talking about young girls who are problematic socially, so those are two extremes and we must know how to differentiate that.

How can we overcome such a problem?

Some of the main causes are influence and poverty. We have all kinds of influences, media and movies they see around them. You will find it difficult to really tell them what to do and what not to do - their impulse will make them do what they want.

Then there are a lot of social problems associated with this - poverty is one. In the Malay areas, they see a lot of things happening. Even in my kampung, there is a school there and my wife was teaching there and even in those days, I knew there were teenage girls who were forced into prostitution because of the conditions of their parents.

That is one story. The other thing is that, there are a lot of things happening, in terms of sex or whatever, in those congested areas. I remember those days even in the school, condoms and all that were found. There were also cases where young boys and girls were caught. In other words, this is clearly a problem associated with legal issues and however religious your educational training is, there is no guarantee that people will abstain from free sex. As you are seeing now, all kinds of religious people are also involved and this is worrying.

Will you advocate sex education as a subject in school?

Well, there is nothing wrong in that. Even in the religious schools that I went to, they were already educating people from the science point of view, on sex relations, on various aspects of science they have to look for, ideology, the age of puberty etc. We have to understand that it is nothing new, and if properly taught, it is an advantage for children. I think the development of society is such that there will be more contacts, more freedom and more to individualism and more sexual encounters.

In what age do you think children should be taught more details about sex?

Well, I suppose by the time they are in secondary school, it should be suitable.

When did you teach your children about sex?

I did not teach them in the formal way, but through suggestions, giving them books and asking them to read and all that and I did.

What car do you drive?

Now, it is a Volvo. You know it is a strong car and fuel consumption is not really high. Well, the spare parts are quite expensive, but then it is because it is a good car, and you don't need to change the parts often. I have been using the Volvo for more than 10 years. Before that, I had a Peugeot. When I started working and have money to buy a car, my first one was a beetle - that sturdy, reliable, good old Volkswagen. Laughing know I moved from Germany to France and now Sweden. But never a Proton and Proton is not good for the country.

Seriously, what do you think they should do with Proton today?

I don't think people will buy it because it is cheaper by one cent or one dollar as they are sold like the Lotus here. Certainly, what we need is a real national car and Proton is not really a national car. It is only assembled here - the other parts, the engine and all that are still from Japan.

What do you think went wrong with Putrajaya since its opening?

I think it is one of the worst planned cities or towns. What is wrong is that somebody made a lot of money out of big projects and together with others who also wanted to make money, they didn't care whether people will shift there or not.

If you talk about traffic friendly, Putrajaya is very very unfriendly. You have a palace of justice where there is no justice, You have the biggest palace in the world, but where is the justice and how much money was used to fund those big projects. Finally you are not concerned about the facilities for the people. Let's take for instance, the court itself, the high court and federal court in Putrajaya. The courts are attractive, inside and not outside. How many seats for ordinary people to be there? It is not enough.

I was looking at the number of cars and parking lots in the new court - only 300 for the public and the number is also the same for court staffs. They create buildings, they don't create the space for the public to park, and if you park at the wrong place, you will be summoned. So what is the idea - the whole place is not only traffic unfriendly, it also has an unfriendly legal system.

You will never buy a house in Putrajaya?

No, I will never.

How many times have you been to Putrajaya?

I think about three times in recent months, twice because I was summoned to the Home Ministry because they want to ask me questions about our party (PKR) newspaper. Another time, I went there with some cousins from Yemen. They came here and were keen to visit Putrajaya. You can imagine driving there without knowing where to go. But I went quite often when Anwar was on trial there, so every time I went to give support - all in all maybe a dozen times and most of them related to official purposes.

I must ask this - at your age (71), what is your opinion of a sexy woman?

I don't see a woman in terms of them being sexy. I see a woman as an equal partner especially if she is your wife - so the sexy part does not cross my mind. Those people who are obsessed in terms of sexy, they see women only half naked. We must be able to see a woman as a whole person, as a wholesome human being and treat her with respect. I think those people who frequently view women as sexy or as sex objects must have an unhealthy state of mind.

How would you advise your son to choose his wife?

This is one thing I will not advise, he is 34, not married yet. I will not pressure him to get married yet because I want him to break my record ( laughter ) - I married only at 34. If I start to advise him, he will turn around and tell me 'what did you are late also'. Of course like any father, I would like to see the children have a good family in future. A decent, pleasant, good, God-fearing partner will, of course, be ideal.

You say you like to sing. Who are some of your favourite singers?

In the 60's, my favourite was Nat King Cole. There was also Paul Robson who sang a favourite number of mine - Old Man River which talks about Moses and also the Jews. I don't know why but I had never fancied the Beatles. I don't like their singing style. I suppose when the Beatles came, I was already an old beatle. I used to listen to Paul Robson, Nat King Cole who belted out real classics. Then you suddenly have all the noise, but I was able to appreciate the social aspect of the kind of anti-establishment feeling of the youths. Well, people also enjoy the very active kind of music and they also see it in their hairstyles and dressings.

Have you ever bribe the police before ?

I have not given a bribe to anybody.

Who do you think you will bribe in this world?

I will never bribe anybody.

If you were born again, would you still want to be Dr Syed Husin Ali?

Yeah, I think I love the life I led, despite the ups and downs. It is a combination of all the things that I have gone through and I am thankful for all the blessings.

FRANCIS PAUL has the highest regard for the ever-so-humble Dr Syed Husin Ali and is proud to consider him a good friend. Comments can reach Rentakini by emailing [email protected] Selected letters will be published.

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