The award of titles in Malaysia (the conferring of the title of Dato’/Datuk [and its meaningless variations], Tan Sri’s, Tun’s, and other lesser awards like AMN, JPK, ETC. ) has paralleled political developments in our country since Merdeka – a steady unflinching march from honour to farce.
In my childhood during the 1980’s meeting a Dato’ was an occasion because they were rare (and so rarer still was the Tan Sri-ship and Tun-ship). Back then the government and Sultans (well, not all of them) appeared to possess a semblance of restraint and a much higher standard in recognizing selfless devotion to country. The title was awarded to a few people and usually only to those with unimpeachable integrity and character. And often you could trace easily what contribution they did for our country.
This is how it should have continued to be.
But since Tun Dr. Mahatir desecrated most of our hallowed institutions to achieve materialistic glory for our country, the conferment of awards has followed this materialistic reckless trend. The discretion to award titles may have been secret before but their choices at least reflected patriotic concerns. That discretion now is exercised so generously and perversely that just about every Tom’s Hairy Dick can buy one. Throw a stone these days and you will hit at least half a dozen titled people before the stone finally hits the marbled floor.
My grossly inaccurate estimate evisages that if this trend continues by 2020, half our nation will be comprised of Dato’s. These are some of the ways the government and the Sultans have ruined the titles in Malaysia:
Remember Abdul Malik Mydin? In 2003, the 28 year old that was awarded a Dato’ship for his glorious feat of mediocrity by swimming the English Channel with barriers in 17 hours and 42 minutes with great accompanying fanfare. In contrast, Lennard Lee, a 20 year old Oxford medical student from Malaysia in 2004 swam it for charity without any barriers or fanfare did it in 9 hours 45 minutes hardly garnered a mention in our local press never mind a title. Dr. Lennard Lee in 2008 then conquered the Gibraltar Straits in 3 hours 45 minutes. Question: Has Datuk Abdul Malik Mydin done anything worthy of mention since 2003? If you do let me know because I cannot find anything of worth about him on Google.
Or how about our career sportsmen, Datuk Nicol Ann David or Datuk Lee Chong Wei? I am proud of them, think them great athletes and wish them the best. But the awarding them a title in the midst of their careers is just wrong. You confer an award for a lifetime of accomplishment and integrity not simply a promise of great things to come. By awarding them those titles, they have cheapened the titles awarded to the earlier great sportsmen of our nation who received their award after their retirement from the game. Do we hear of the Queen of England awarding knighthoods to athletes during their careers? What next for Malaysia? Win the Batang Berjuntai Open and get awarded a Dato’ship at the podium too? Buy RM 5 million worth of property in Putrajaya and get a Dato’ship for yourself and a friend?
Or how about the anonymous young special officers in the Prime Minister’s ministry that were awarded Dato’ships? What sacrifice, what significant initiative did these fine gentlemen do for their country instead of merely manufacturing lies, concocting fraudulent policies and wasting all our time and money for the current regime?
Or how about all these businessmen who throw their titles about? What sacrifice have they made for our country aside from merely enriching themselves? What novel industry have they done to enrich our country? And is merely being businessman sufficient criteria to be awarded one of those titles? Or how about all those half-baked politicians or gangsters or criminals?
The government and the Sultans themselves have reduced the honour and nobility of titles to such a state that I dare say those things have become near worthless as symbols or badges of integrity, honour and patriotism. Their generous bestowments have perverted the idea behind the conferment of a title to such a degree that if you have a Dato’, the rebuttable operating presumption is that (i) you are dodgy, (ii) you paid for it and (iii) you are or have been up to no good.
Some are fortunate enough to possess enough integrity and honour to rebut those presumptions, but they are in a minority. The government and the Sultans fail to realize that by issuing (because that what it really is) titles they have not only soiled it but soiled the titles possessed by those truly deserving too. Does anybody think Tun Eusoffe Chin on par with Tun Hussein Onn or Tun Dr. Mahatir? Is Tan Sri Dato’ Eusoffe Abdoolcader the equal of Tan Sri Vincent Tan? There is much incongruity in the personalities awarded such titles.
But if you think that is the bottom of the barrel, you are wrong. In Malaysia, you can go past the bottom to those that cling and feed to the underside of the bottom of the barrel.
In this category of persons are those that seize on their father’s titles by putting them at the back of their names, for example, Encik Tak Tahu Malu bin Tan Sri Dato’ Paduka Dr. Haji Bontot (any resemblance to any person’s actual name is unintended). I have seen and been given a fair amount of cards with such misdescriptions. I tend to refer to these people as Belakang Punya Dato’ (BPD). Those that tend to do this are generally the Malaysian Malays because the format of their name permits it. Malaysians of Indian heritage can do this too but I have not seen it.
Why bottom of the barrel?
First, it is bad enough that the integrity of our locally awarded titles are near non-existent.
Second, to actually attempt to use that title by putting it at the back of their names after the bin is so crass. After your name is supposed to be your father’s name. That’s all. The purpose of that was to trace your lineage. So it is not a holding place for you to slide “Tan Sri Dato’ Paduka Dr. Haji” upon your father’s conferment of those titles. That’s not part of your name. And that part of your name is not for grand standing.
The sorry part is that this notion of sticking your father’s title at the back of your name is so ubiquitous that now people simply do it without even asking whether you are comfortable with it. I know this because my father is one of those that were conferred with a Datukship (entirely deserving of course!) a few years back. Soon after word got around, I started receiving letters addressing me as “Fahri bin Dato’ Azzat.”
That is wrong on 3 accounts: (1) I have no bin in my name. I have adopted Azzat as my surname, so it is now my surname and not separate from it (2) My father was awarded a “Datuk” (from Federal) not a “Dato” (from the States generally). (3) That is not my name.
I cringe whenever I am addressed in that offensive manner. The sender may think it shows respect and sensitivity but as I have explained it demonstrates the contrary.
What does an attempt to use one’s father’s title by sticking it at the back of one’s name suggest?
It suggests an acute sense of inferiority borne out of their own mediocrity, or perceived mediocrity. They have no worth of their own, so they try to borrow some of their father’s glory. They think using their father’s title in their names, would add value to them; it would show others that they have some influence and are “connected”. They fail to realize that doing that merely demeans themselves, their father and the title itself.
It suggests a highly narcissistic tendency because by assuming that title at the back of their names they have “bestowed” that title on themselves by insisting that it be used in their names. Finally, it also shows them to be cheapskates.
I mean, if you want one so bad, go buy one yourself. I’m sure a discount can be negotiated or an instalment plan worked out. This is Malaysia. I would certainly be very disappointed if a person cannot purchase a title at a high-class mall with with a credit card and easy payment plan because it would mean that our government and royalty are not keeping up with the times where titles are concerned.
But then what does a mere Encik like me know? They may have other more important lucractive businesses or bourgeois sporting functions to attend to.
LoyarBurok Editorial Note: “Encik” is the equivalent of “Mister”. If you want a summary of the Malaysian titles and name pre-fixes, go here. Note that cops in Malaysia would prefer if you call them “Encik” instead of “Datuk.”