MAY 13 — Welcome to May 13 Day. We never fail to observe the day — we just can’t say we do since it is taboo.
Odd since this taboo is about an episode told to us in the oral tradition — arrived at through first-person recountings filtered by embellishments, respective one-sidedness and prejudice.
The only thing we are officially allowed to know is that post-election violence in 1969 led to the deaths of many.
Which is why you can empathise with those who want to use it as a pride day, even if the parade has been called off.
How can you fault anyone for interpreting it anyhow they feel like when everything about it is a state secret? You can only misinterpret when there is a sane way to interpret it, and you can only sanely interpret anything if you have the facts of the case. In this case we never had. At this juncture, the quip “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” comes to mind.
But let’s work on what we can establish, and build from that.
Those who died on the evening of May 13 and the following days of violence were in the majority from the working class, the poor. Tall, short, funny, boring, with an attractive haircut or not.
The day would have started plain and simple for everyone, and by the time the violence self-perpetuated enough, no one could tell a transgressor from a victim anymore.
Which is why I feel deep disgust when politicians tell us in the aisles that that violence reinforces the need to support their politics. Otherwise you never know.
That is not a rejection of violence; that is a threat.
No one wants to be hiding in a corner while many feet shuffle in the dark, with hate in their hearts and arms in their hands. The fear grips you, the anxiety grows and you feel all alone. The sense of abandonment is almost complete.
Of course it is not a desirable situation.
That is why political leaders need to reject violence, not dangle it as a trump-card.
My first experience with group death was when my uncle died in the 70s. Three boys — friends — died in a construction mishap. They drowned in a body of dirt and mud.
I was too young to capture the details, but the large congregation was quieter than most Indian funerals. It was as if they were trying to make sense of the young they had lost.
Tragic events need to be recognised and remember, but they cannot be the source of hate.
As Theodore Roosevelt put it, “Death under all circumstances has to be a tragedy, if not life itself has become one.”
The Burmese Death Railway, the fields of Normandy or Gallipoli are memorials to sacrifice and unnecessary deaths. Visits and events there are not about celebrating the violence of either side. We go there to remember the dead.
Remembering the cost of violence does not mean you celebrate the violence. We can’t forget the violence of the past because it is painful. It is exactly for that reason we remember it. We can’t consign the victims as unfortunate data from a time we are all better off not talking about.
So what should we do with our May 13 Day?
Since there is a May 13 we regret, why not use today and future May 13s to do things we won’t regret?
That can be a start. List three persons you loathe for their political/ideological beliefs and call them. Say “Hi”, and ask how they are doing. Ask them about what they are up to, and give them a quick rundown of what you are up to. Then politely end the phone call.
Your adversaries are not going to change their minds about you, but they are going to find you less detestable. Less detestable is a long way from book club buddy, but it is something.
For my part I offer to hug it out with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. I’ve always had misgivings about the man, but since it is May 13 Day I should try to reduce the animosity.
To the rest of you, go find your own Perkasa member to hug it out with. Happy May 13 Day!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.