Carpe Diem.

I seem to always have an opinion on everything and today I do too but then I received this story from my aunt and feel strongly about sharing it with the world.

For those of you who do not know P.Ramlee – he is a truly, truly talented man. He has been honored post-humously with  a road named after him and his house is now a museum of sorts.  The place is just a stone’s throw away from where I live. (well, perhaps you might need a slingshot).

One of the questions in the email my aunt forwarded was whether the Malaysian diaspora should return.  Under the Malaysian Economic Transformation Program the government is luring the hundreds of thousands of talented professional Malaysian diaspora to return. But I have a feeling  Michelle Yeoh and Jimmy Choo may find Hollywood and New York too good to them to return. For other Malaysians who are considering returning the email cautions : Caveat Emptor.   – But then again, here’s another way of seeing it : Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

The 21st Century is a different time. We have technologies and abilities that were not possible for P.Ramlee.   My horrible practice rendition of R.Ramlee’s Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti (Where in the world can I find another like you) on YOUTUBE has now over 6,500 views (when combining practise 1+ edit 2).  Trust me, it is a very horrible piece of playing which is why you are not getting a link to it.  If you insist then search it out at your own peril – you have been warned.  My point is that  if P.Ramlee had lived in this decade being the same age he was the outcome would’ve been different. So different.

The theme of the letter I am about to post states, that in Malaysia, it is about “Who You Know” not “What You Know”.  I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily untrue but I will not surrender to that.  And I think it’s really important that people realize this distinction : There is the status quo but change can only happen if you do not subscribe to that status quo.

All my life I have never been impressed with the “Who-s” of Malaysia and I’m even less impressed by people who bother telling me which Ministers they just had dinner and drinks with.  I’m not even a member of the MELTA or PELTA (Malaysian English Language Teachers’ Association) nor do I bother doing a PhD for the sake of esteem.*  I’d rather work associatively with people who are Real; genuine humans with passion and integrity. I’d rather affect change 1 person at a time than wait for handouts or approval from any self-perpetuating party.  Some people wait and wait and wait for 1 Big Shot to pull them up; I’d rather spend that same amount of time and mental expansion connecting with The Salvation Army of the Little People.

I know that I have come of age in a different time, a time when students  Sergey Brin and Larry Page can eclipse then giant, AOL, a time when a Harvard dropout gives a commencement speech at a Harvard graduation and a time when America elects her first Black President.  We, as parents and educators, must not let this age and our prime pass us by without seizing the opportunities that Social Media and Technologies have created for us, opportunities that were never possible in P.Ramlee’s time.  We have to become Enlightened Warriors, both for our children and for those who never stood a chance.

Read the forwarded email content with the context here.


Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti

Forwarder 1 comment : This article is extremely true to its content. I watched the documentary too and it is really sad that the man died leaving no money for his burial. It was his friend H.M. Shah who gave Saloma RM3,000.00 for his funeral expenses.
Forwarder 2 comment : Truly a Malaysia boleh story which must be passed to all those you know.

Subject: Fwd: Malaya got Talent

Forwarder 3 comment : P Ramlee was an icon in my days; I am sure many of you would recall him and Saloma.
Read this write-up below based on the latest NGeo History Channel depiction of his life.
Sad ending though for such an iconic film actor/director/composer. 



Malaya got Talent.
Read the piece below and understand there’s
no hope whatsoever for talented people if you only know what and not who in this bodohland.

The Story :

Ramlee was poached and enticed to return to Malaysia which he did in 1964. Wrong step it seems. All promises “back home in Malaysia” were not kept by his new masters. Sounds very very familiar here.
By The Ampas Man
Question:        Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti?Answer:          Not in Malaysia

Those who watched the heart wrenching P. Ramlee documentary on the History Channel on 31st October 2010 must have gone to bed with a heavy heart. It transpires that Malaysia’s one and only film icon had died penniless and shunned by the public including his own colleagues. And the way it was done appears to have uncanny resemblances to what’s happening today in Malaysia, almost 45 years after Ramlee returned to Malaysia.

The documentary, narrated by British actor, Timothy Watson and 12 years in the making included precious interviews by some of his friends, actors and actresses who had passed on. The underlying tone was one of profound melancholy.

Ramlee, borne out of poverty along Caunter Hall Road at an Achenese community in Penang, had to endure a brutal Japanese occupation whose schools incidentally inculcated a certain discipline in him. In his formative years then, this discipline proved crucial as a founding platform for his eventual brilliance, creativity and innovation in film and music.

He subsequently gained phenomenal success at Shaw brothers’ Jalan Ampas studios in Singapore. His success at Jalan Ampas was the apparent result of the studio’s incredible milieu of experienced film crew, choreographers and directors which the Shaw brothers had assembled from India, Hong Kong and Indonesia. With the load of management and finance off his shoulders, Ramlee was able to thrive and focus on his talent of creating music, acting and eventually direction, screenplay and editing.

The Shaw brothers invested and created such a conducive environment at Ampas that Singapore became the mecca for the Malay film industry for an entire genre of actors and actresses from the whole of the Malay Archipelago from Pontianak, Penang to Medan. Apart from Ramlee, Ampas provided careers for other actors and actresses like Nordin Ahmad, S. Kadarisman, Ahmad Daud, Normadiah, Saloma and Saadiah.

But this talent could not have been developed without the expertise of directors such as B. S. Rajan, L. Krishnan and Phani Majumdar. Directors such as Majumdar already had something like 15 years experience in directing films in various languages in Calcutta and Bombay before they came to Singapore. It was on this wealth of experience that the Malay film industry flourished.

Majumdar directed Ramlee in “Anakku Sazali” which won Ramlee Best Actor in 1956. And when Majumdar returned to India, he discovered another great Indian actor, Feroz Khan and directed Khan in his first big hit “Oonche Log” in 1965. Yes it was happy times then at No.8 Jalan Ampas and Boon Kheng Road. But it had to end. Or so it seems.

Things appear to have taken a turn for the worse during the confusion of the Malaysia-Singapore separation in 1963 when Lee Kuan Yew had trouble reigning a tight leash on Trade Unions involving Lim Chin Siong, and his own PAP leaders led by Che’Awang and Devan Nair.  Ramlee appears to have been an inadvertent victim of the unions’ unreasonable demands leading Shaw brothers to call it a day at Jalan Ampas when they couldn’t keep up with unions’ demands for higher pay.

Other views suggest that Ramlee was poached and enticed to return to Malaysia which he did in 1964. Wrong step it seems. All promises “back home in Malaysia” were not kept by his new masters. Sounds very very familiar here. Merdeka studios was poorly equipped and its rookie staffing meant the legend had to multitask which ended up eventually in him churning out shoddy movies. All 18 movies he directed in Malaysia flopped. Sounds like the same stories we hear from some of our Malaysians “trying” to return home from overseas.

Ramlee lost his glitter, his money and apparently so his fame. His partner and colleague, H.M. Shah, tried to form a company called PERFIMA to enable Ramlee to relaunch his career and produce his dream of colour films. But PERFIMA apparently ended up in the hands of inexperienced and connected cronies leaving the talented Ramlee then, as in now, even as a Malay, blatantly unrecognized, ignored and out in the cold.

The documentary brutally exposes how Ramlee tried in vain to set up P. Ramlee productions, but was again shut out by this country’s media and entertainment industry including RTM. He had to sit in the canteen at Ankasapuri while Saloma had her own show in RTM! He could not secure any government aid, grants or “Private Financial Initiatives” despite his passion for Malay music and culture.

He tried to reinvent himself and sought a bank loan – but was rejected! With his wealth of experience and in his early 40s then, he should have easily qualified. Poor Ramlee didn’t know that in Malaysia it is the “know who” that counts then the “know how”. If he had known George Tan from the Carrian Group then, Ramlee may have received a few million from BMF without even having to pay back. Or he should have “nurtured” some connections like how Daim, Halim Saad, Tajuddin Ramli, Syed Mokhtar and Amin Shah did.

Ramlee by now, tragically stressed out, overweight, disheveled, completely down and out with passion and spirit broken, had to now do almost any job he could including running mahjong tables and singing at weddings and other functions to put food on the table for his family. He had to live on rice and eggs. It was truly Air Mata di Kuala Lumpur for Ramlee. A court summons a day prior to his death for being a guarantor finally tipped the balance and done him in when he suffered a massive heart attack and he died on 29th May 1973 at the age of 44 years.

On the day he died, there was no rice in his house. And Saloma had no money for his funeral. The man and legend, P. Ramlee paid a very heavy price returning to Malaysia. The country just did not have the infrastructure, manpower and expertise to accommodate his enormous talent. He would have been better off in Singapore even with the unions there. He would not have gone broke in the club and wedding scene there and perhaps Singapore TV could have given him a break as compared to our own RTM. All the belated accolades and titles were a waste of time as far as the man himself was concerned. He died hopelessly broke and broken.

The documentary is not only an eye opener but a very good case study for anyone contemplating returning home to Malaysia. Whether you are a scientist, engineer, accountant, doctor, etc beware of the conditions enticing you to return. If your kid is an aerospace engineer, a naval architect or a transplant surgeon, it’s a no brainer that he /she should not return at all unless you are absolutely sure the country has the infrastructure and skilled manpower to support these fields. Don’t believe in these stories that you should come home to “help” and “develop” your areas of expertise. That’s not going to happen. That sought of thing will only go to the chaps who have the connections. Assess any offer carefully and do not trust anyone including this government. Make certain all agreements are enforceable in Singapore and the UK .

In retrospect P. Ramlee, with no formal education but was able to compose more than 360 songs and 66 movies, probably returned to a society that was not developed nor had the brain power and skills to match up to his vision. In short he was just surrounded with a whole lot of officials and journalists with serious hang ups who were not interested in the industry itself. There was no driving force like another Shaw brothers.

And the prevailing attitude at that time and probably even now was and still is a third class mentality. In an environment such as this, no one with creativity, innovation, skills and brains can ever hope to survive let alone thrive. Its better they stay back where they can develop and nurture their talent. If a star as bright as Ramlee could be extinguished with such impunity, the rest are nothing. Ramlee and his entire family had been wiped out financially despite his immense talent. But he remains still till this day, the Malay Archipelago’s cinematic legend. With apologies.

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