I spent most of my childhood watching the Merdeka parade on TV. My cousin, Chimps and I would wake up early just to tune in to the proceedings. And we usually stayed for the entire duration of the show too.
I can't remember exactly when it was that I stopped watching. Or why. But I outgrew Merdeka long ago. It stopped doing anything for me.
But there I was, yesterday in the thick of the action and for the very first time in my life. A church thing had gotten us downtown, and since we were there, Mae and I stopped for awhile to look at the parade as it went past Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. It was quite a display - the pomp and splendour, the colours, the people...
Along the way, someone thrusted a bunch of mini Jalur Gemilang into our hands. I held on to it, so as not to disrespect the flag, but there was no way I was gonna wave it about like some dumbass tourist, I told myself.
And so the procession went on. And as it did, something happened. As some secondary school brass band marched past, I was taken back to a time when I too was in a marching band.
I must have been about 9 or 10 when I auditioned to play. I didn't know any music as I never had the luxury of music lessons, but I decided to give it a try anyhow. One thing led to another and suddenly I was playing the Pianica in our school marching band. When I came home that day with my band boy cap and my tassles and what-nots, I was the happiest little kid on my street.
I could never read music, but I played by ear pretty well. And so I faked my way through my long and illustrious career in the band. We played at school functions. We got so good that soon, we were invited to play at other schools too. And other functions - Wesak, funerals, sports events, and the like. Though I longed for it, we never did get invited to play at the Merdeka parade. It as probably because we were a small band, and possible also because we were made up of mainly Pianicas and Recorders. Still, for some reason, every time I got into the uniform and marched about, there was this sense of pride and perhaps a sense of belonging.
So there I was in the midst of the madding crowd of our 50th Merdeka celebration, when I felt that familiar feeling again.
I don't know what it was that brought about it. Perhaps it was the sight of the band, in full regalia, beaming with pride as the Drum Major led them down the street. Or maybe it was the non-uniformed units, each trying their damnest to stay in step and in line with their compatriots. Or it could be our valiant commandos, in their green fatigues and jungle facepaint singing patriotic songs. Or maybe it was the crowd from all walks of life, in every colour and creed, cheering our brothers and sisters along.
At that very moment, for just awhile, I felt the sense of pride and belonging that I once experienced as a child. Except that, as an adult without the rose-tinted glasses, the feeling overwhelmed me and brought me to tears. So, right there in the madding crowd, I wept as I waved the little flags and cheered to encourage the folks in the processional - knowing that they do it out of love, and that that love may never be reciprocated. And there, for the first time in my adult life, I felt patriotic.
I also felt a little bit like an idiot, but that was much later when I had the chance to visualise what a ridiculous sight I must have looked. Thankfully, Mae was polite enough not to make me feel like a jackass.
Happy Merdeka, folks.