“This was the only place I saw my mother cry, after my father passed away.”
I am standing with Tan Sri Nazir Razak on a balcony off the master bedroom in Seri Taman. Across the lawn, over a tangle of rainforest, rises the CIMB headquarters. It is a poignant moment. Standing in his childhood home looking at the conglomerate he grew into one of the region’s leading universal banks. His late father was of course Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, and the nation’s Father of Development. Part of the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial Complex today, Seri Taman with its graceful geometric columns and classic ’60s architecture, is open to the public as a museum.
There isn’t much sentimentality in Nazir’s musings about his old home but there is obviously much affection. “If I could turn back time I’d absorb it all more.” He points to the old slide-door television in his father’s study where they watched Germany win the 1974 Football World Cup together. “We were rooting for the other side.”
A coterie of people are following us on our exclusive photo shoot in this hallowed space. Haniza Jonoh, the newly-appointed director of Statesmen Archives is visibly star-struck. Nazir is relaxed and open. Just showing some friends around the place he called home for the first decade of his life. He shows us his old bedroom, his father’s old diaries. He notes that the 1966 diary doesn’t have an entry on his birthday but there is one for Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in his mother’s handwriting. His birthday parties are mentioned as casually as the state dinners his father hosted for Queen Elizabeth and Muhammad Ali.
The Razak name looms large on the Malaysian political landscape in much the same way the Kennedys did in the USA. Both seemingly anointed political dynasties were headed by towering patriarchs elevated to mythical status when their dynamism, and astonishing political wattage, were tragically extinguished at the height of their careers. Both holding the highest office in their countries, leaving behind strong wives of refined ancestries raising young photogenic children alone. What do you do when your name is on roads, libraries and foundations? What do you do when you are nine years old and your name is an institution?
Nazir asks and answers this question in his recently launched book, What’s In A Name. It is a compelling read and for those who know him, written very much in his wry, self-deprecating voice. There is plenty to applaud as Nazir weaves a layered generational and personal journey with insightful observations, placing man within the system he finds himself in before laying out what he believes is an urgent need for resetting said system.
Much is said in and between astutely crafted lines. The elegantly subtle barbs may be clever writing assisted by legal guidance or simply traditional Malay manners. There are ways of making one’s point. The very human emotions, relationships and revelations are peppered oh so casually with appearances by titans in government and the corporate world. He names ambitious corporate work horses, he alludes to shadowy rasputins.
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