Despite being on wheelchairs, two independence fighters and opposition of the Malayan Union didn't want to miss the National Day parade. Picture taken on Aug 31, 1986.

My first notion of being one with the nation was the day Tan Sri P. Ramlee died on May 29, 1973. I was only seven years old and living in Kuantan. I remember huddling behind a curtain as I grappled with a sense of sadness that suddenly enveloped me at the thought that our country had lost someone who had been so much a part of our lives.

Today, reflecting back, I find it strange that this moment defined me as a Malaysian — but define me it did. It’s not difficult to understand why. Until today, P. Ramlee movies have the power to make us laugh, cry and be sad together, no matter who you are or how old you are. And I guess that’s what being patriotic is — identifying with your fellow Malaysians.

Of course there have been many other instances through the course of my life when I’ve felt that strong sense of patriotism. As a member of the school band, I took part in the National Day parade for three consecutive years in the early 1980s. While studying overseas, I organised Malaysia Night events to showcase our culture and talents. All these filled me with a sense of national pride. So my question is, what really defines moments of patriotism? Having spoken to people from all walks of life, I realise that patriotism can present itself in many different forms yet the end result remains the same — the love for NegaraKu.

Through these conversations, it becomes clear to me why we need to share these patriotic moments. In them, we discover that deep down we all share the same passion and love for our country. In triumph, and sometimes even in defeat, we understand what it means to connect with our fellow Malaysians in patriotic fervor, regardless of age, race, gender and yes, even political divide.

Merdeka Negaraku, Malaysians!

JALUR GEMILANG. RUKUNEGARA. NEGARAKU.

Jamalee Bashah is the president of the social media group The Patriots. With 245,000-likers-strong and over 3.0 million organic reach, the group’s main aim is to inspire a strong sense of identity by promoting illuminating articles on history and heritage. The 36-year-old Jamalee shares that from young, his father had taught him to not merely love the Jalur Gemilang, but that it was also important to understand it, cherish it, respect it and live by its philosophies. “He also taught me to respect our national anthem, the Negaraku,” recalls the affable chap. “I’d always be the first to stand up (and sing it out loud too), wherever or whatever the occasion may be.”

The Rukunegara printed on the back of his exercise book back in primary school was Jamalee’s guide as his parents placed importance on its content long before quizzing him on multiplications and spelling.

When asked to define his personal moment of independence, his face breaks into a huge grin. Proudly, he replies: “It was the day I married the love of my life, Lia Ramli. We even chose Merdeka as our wedding day!”

ANIMATION AT NATIONAL DAY PARADE

In 2015, Hasnul Hadi Samsudin took part in the National Day parade for the very first time. The 43-year-old was part of the creative minds behind the award-winning animation for Life of Pi, X-Men and Snow White & The Huntsman.

He led the delegation representing the Malaysian animation industry in the parade with the likes of Upin & Ipin and BoboiBoy — our very own Malaysian characters and stories. “You can’t imagine how proud I felt walking in front of my brethren and hearing their heartfelt cheering. They truly love these characters with all their hearts,” recalls Hasnul.

Adding, he says: “Part of what I do in MDEC is to try to grow the animation industry in Malaysia, and this was proof that Malaysian animation had captured the hearts of all Malaysians. Not just that, we should be proud that our animation industry has gone global. Children of all ages from around the world are enjoying our local heroes and characters.”

MOMENT OF INDEPENDENCE

Retired government servant, James Entika anak Gubar from Kuching, Sarawak was born and brought up in the longhouse of Bangkit Rembai, Spaoh, which is today known as Bahagian Betong. He was a recipient of the Colombo Plan Scholarship in 1966 to undertake his BA at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.

Recalling his own Independence experience in 1963, the 72-year-old shares: “I was probably in Form Five at that time, standing with my friends at St Thomas Cathedral in Kuching, Sarawak watching the celebration for the proclamation of Sarawak’s independence within the Federation of Malaysia at the Central Padang (now renamed Padang Merdeka). I was in awe of the significant moment because it meant that our own people would finally be able to take charge of the government despite the challenges, which included threats on our national stability from the Indonesian confrontation, Brunei rebellion in addition to threats from the communist.”

THOMAS CUP 1992

Anyone who watched badminton in the 1980s and 1990s would recall the era with a feeling of nostalgia. To Michelle Nyam, a graphic designer for more than 20 years, the moment that defined patriotism for her was the whole period leading to the time when Malaysia won the Thomas Cup in 1992. Tournament after tournament, the build-up to the clash in Kuala Lumpur was epic.

She recalls watching the event at home with her late father, Tai Chi master, K K Nyam. When the last battle was won, Michelle remembers jumping with joy while the whole neighbourhood erupted with jubilation. It was a hard fought battle on and off the court for Malaysia.

The bubbly Nyam also believes that when we give our personal best in life, we do not need other people to tell us how good we are. That in essence is her definition of independence. Self-confidence is key, and when we’re confident in ourselves, the world will respect that.

MERDEKA STATE OF MIND

The National Art Gallery is perhaps one of the places Malaysians can come to enjoy unique self-expressions as well as to exercise self-reflection. The gallery’s curator and director of Kuala Lumpur Biennale 2017, Zanita Anuar believes that Merdeka is a state of mind, and that true independence lies in our ability to access, to learn, to gain knowledge — in universities, in forums and in dialogues through formal and informal platforms every day.

Hailing from Kluang, Johor, Zanita is very much a patriot at heart. Being of Malay, Chinese and Indian parentage, she feels she carries a broad essence of what being a Malaysian is. Funnily enough, it was ‘Indiana Jones’ who inspired her to pursue anthropology and archaeology to save our cultural objects from falling into the wrong hands.

Passionately, she concludes: “Merdeka to me means freedom (bebas) more than independence (berdikari) in the Malay world. Our heritage manifests and evidently shows our perennial state of inter-dependence. We find this in the form and soul of our crafts, art, literature, music, all imbued from our respect for Nature and God.”

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Bernama TV host Gerard Vincent Ratnam remembers vividly his father hoisting up the flag out of the window on the first floor of their shop-lot for Merdeka. The huge flag would be ironed first and the pole was secured by placing a heavy chair next to the window. It was quite an exciting affair for the-then six-year-old Gerard. The flags flying high above all the shops on Birch Road left a lasting impression on him.

Years later, in his first year with Radio 4, Gerard considers covering the Merdeka count-down at Padang Merdeka as his special patriotic moment. “I was in the studio all alone. The countdown began. Then Tunku’s voice, loud and clear, proclaimed Merdeka! The strongest wave of patriotism filled me and I stood to attention in the dark studio when the Negaraku came on. Until today, I have never forgotten that moment.”

SHARING THE AGONY OF DEFEAT

For 24-year-old Jaf Reen Natassia Iman, she’d never forget that fateful day when she was at a local McDonald’s restaurant with her friends watching the final set match between badminton greats Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan at the 2012 London Olympics. The whole restaurant was filled with Malaysians; they were strangers to each other and yet were cheering on the Malaysian hero with one voice. When Malaysian Lee Chong Wei lost the hard-fought battle, Iman cried FOR the champion and WITH him at the same time. For Iman, this sense of oneness is what defines patriotism.

The KL-ite shares that she finds her own independence through travelling, getting to know cultures, peoples and sights of other countries. Upon reflection, she says: “When travelling with friends, we have to look out for each other — financially and for security. This is how I find my way in the world. From working part-time and saving every sen, as well as planning the trips months before I get to actually travel, all these fill me with a great sense of accomplishment and independence.”

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