Time, time, time, See what’s become of me, While I look around,  For my possibility – Paul Simon’s A Hazy Shade of Winter 

 For sincere advice and the correct time, call any number at random after 3 a.m. – Comedian Steve Martin 

In the metaphysics of Hindu philosophy, we are all eternal beings residing in a temporal shell, a body, if you like. And we go on forever because we are eternal.

It’s even grounded in science: the first law of thermodynamics posits that energy cannot be created or destroyed. I can hear the sceptics: who says it’s energy? 

The counter is obvious: who says it’s not?  

If true, then time as we know it, only exists here. It is a man-made construct and only has relevance here on Earth. Shorn of dogma and other doctrinal trappings, I suspect most religions point to the same thing. No offence intended all round as this isn’t meant to be a spiritual discourse. Consider it a preamble to a rueful ramble through the temporal bramble.  

My point: if time is a man-made construct and completely irrelevant to our immortal spirit, couldn’t the powers-that-be have made that clear when we were growing up? 

Do you remember being woken up at the crack of dawn to go to school? That’s when good men of reason realise that the amount of sleep needed by an average person is always five minutes more. 

Everything was relative when we were young: the school hours felt interminable, while the holidays whizzed by. 

Over time, the arguments changed occasionally.  

I remember whining that if I’d only had an hour more during my Biochemistry lab finals – already going on eight hours! – I’d have aced it. It was unadulterated poppycock, of course, but All Was Vanity then.  

During high school, life seemed perpetually stuck in the slow lane: disconcerting during a time of rampaging hormones and dreams of greatness.  

I couldn’t wait to get out and know women, to grasp life by the scruff of its neck, to understand what it meant when they said the world’s your oyster. 

All too suddenly, life’s needle dropped into its fast forward groove and I was like beamed-up, transforming from callow, if pimply, boy to hairy man: a voter, a tax-payer, a husband, a father.  

Life had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and I’d been found wanting. I don’t know how I went from adik (younger brother) to abang (older brother), and all-too-suddenly, Uncle.  I guess Grandpop must be waiting around the corner. 

Time marches on but they should have warned us it would be across our faces. In relative terms, things are more like they are now than they have ever been before. Now we can finally understand what Lucy observed in Peanuts: “The secret of life is to hang around long enough to get used to it.” 

If you think about it, life is ironic. The philosopher Kierkegaard must have thought so as well because he observed that “while life was best understood backwards, it had to be lived forwards.” I suppose that’s what people mean when they talk about “age bringing a certain perspective.” 

Well, I still haven’t got it and I wish it would hurry up and tell me. I mean, they say time is a great teacher and all, but it has a certain downside. 

It kills off all its pupils. 



I do benefits for all religions – I’d hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality. – Comedian Bob Hope 

I have concluded that following Malaysian politics is foolhardy, an invitation to heartache, heartburn, and hypertension. 

Just consider Pas. To the fire and brimstone faithful of the Islamic Party of Malaysia, immorality is the morality of all those who occasionally enjoy a glass of beer or seven. 

Or, for that matter, the behavior of all those who aren’t immediately among its midst or isn’t an ally. 

It thinks it will rule by 2050 and I’ve no objection but only because I won’t be around. Ok, selfish, but there you are. 

But recent trends indicate a grimmer prospect. Which brings up a question: why aren’t more people heading for the hills?

Let me explain.

Pas has indicated, quite categorically, that Malaysia can only “progress” through a theocracy ergo it will implement the same when it takes over. And unless you are an oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Brunei, or an Iran, most Islamic theocracies in the world are pretty much failed.    

All “progress” should be taken with a good dollop of salt anyway. If a cannibal begins using a knife and fork, for example, is that progress? 

Malaysian politics has become too all-or-nothing for me which is why I’ve retreated to humour and fantasy. 

Example: I remember reading, and enjoying, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass when I was quite young. I can still recite the first stanza from Jabberwocky because I was so taken by the nonsense rhyme that I committed it to memory.  

Out of curiosity, I reread both to see if I still liked it. 

It was a blast!  The imagination of Lewis Carroll, a mathematics professor no less, leaves you breathless. 

In Through the Looking Glass, for example, Alice climbs through a mirror where, predictably, everything gets reversed. Example: running helps one stay stationary while walking away from something brings one towards it. 

Carroll was a forerunner to many after him: Tolkien and J K Rowling spring to mind. And its characters have burst onto the language – “as mad as a hatter” is just one example.  

As an aside, the cinematic character was played by Johnny Depp who came across as a saturnine yet servile hatter (to the Red Queen). I thought he got it just right. 

And it crept into the music. In songs like I am the Walrus, Glass Onion and Come Together,John Lennon borrowed heavily from Carroll, both in imagery and in lyrical content. 

The writer John Irving – the World According to Garp – singled out Charles Dickens as one of his greatest influences. I’d read A Tale of Two Cities when I was young and was moved to tears, but it was an abridged version. 

As an adult, I thought I’d do the real book and added Great Expectations for good measure. Both would have done well as doorstops. 

Which is why you should leave some things well alone. I found both unaccountably depressing.

The pedants of literature will, doubtless, be horrified but I think life’s too short for depressing stuff. Let us have laughter or, better yet, wonder. 

Indeed, we can all take comfort in the last words of Steve Jobs. Apparently, he said three: 

“Wow, wow, oh wow.”



If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

What’s with Malaysia? Do we always have to be involved in some meaningless controversy or another? And do they almost always have to be about race or religion?

Other countries are advancing, moving on and getting things done. Even India – which we presume to condescend to – is getting its act together and embarking on the world’s largest vaccination drive in history.

Moreover, it’s produced its own vaccine and gifting it to poorer countries to boot.

Closer to home, Singapore thinks it will vaccinate all its people by July. Even Indonesia has begun to inoculate its people without too much fuss.

Meanwhile, apart from running our healthcare professionals into the ground amid successive lockdowns, what have we achieved?

First, there was a debate on whether the vaccine was shariah-compliant. Then, we seemed to want to hold out for our own “clinical trials.”

It was as if the country had been testing its own homegrown vaccine. Only it’s not, so let’s not waste time and money re-inventing the wheel.

Then there are the needless, inconsequential controversies.

A few days ago, Sanusi Md Nor, the chief minister of Kedah decided – for no other reason other than he could, apparently – that Thaipusam, a Hindu festival, would no longer be a state holiday. He said there would be none since all activities in the annual festival had been cancelled because of the movement control order.

All it did was to demonstrate his contempt for the festival. Reason: his reasoning would necessarily exclude holidays for Chinese New Year, even Hari Raya if the MCO stretched on.

Apart from showing Mr Sanusi’s lack of inclusive acceptance, not to mention intelligence, the controversy he began was pointless to say the least.

And what’s with the hypocrisy? Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin recently urged his party not to tolerate “liberalism, humanism and secularism.”

That is bunkum and, deep down in places he will not admit to, the premier knows it. It’s been our tacit adherence to secular, liberal values that’s brought Malaysia this far in the first place. Going forward, however, increasing conservatism will only hinder our progress.

The countries like those of East Asia and the West that profess fealty to secular, humanistic values are the ones progressing. No theocracy has done as well nor come close.

Indeed, Muhyiddin recently called on Asean to be tough on hate speech “including those based on gender or sexual orientation.”

Don’t look now Mr Prime Minister, you just came across sounding mighty liberal. But no one here seems to think it’s hypocritical to tell different things to different audiences. What happened to the so-called “Islamic” values espoused by the leadership?

And what’s happened to our sense of humour? When it comes to religion, it now appears that the two are mutually exclusive.

That conclusion would have horrified Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s easy-going first Prime Minister.

After he retired in the 1970s, the Tunku began a long-running column in the Star. One of his columns in the 1980s was especially critical of Hadi Awang, the firebrand leader of Parti Islam SeMalaysia, or Pas.

The ever-sensible Hadi had suggested that stoning should be prescribed for Muslims caught for adultery.

An indignant Tunku lambasted Hadi in his column and dismissed the proposal out of hand.

Reading his column then, I thought his reasoning was sound. I agree even more now.

“I know my country and my fellow Malaysians,” declared the Tunku cheerfully. “There simply aren’t enough stones to go around.”