By Mohsin Abdullah
I'll start by stating the obvious. Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, our health director-general, is a national hero, a title accorded by the people of this country themselves because of the way he is handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and his persona. No elaboration needed as everybody knows the story.
Recently, 21 April to be exact, was his birthday. Dr Hisham turned 57 that day. The heavy responsibility he was (and still is) carrying meant he simply didn't have the time to celebrate. But the people celebrated it for him, in many ways: coming up with videos and birthday messages. Even the media joined in, with a cake and birthday song, albeit social distancing, at his daily media briefing.
Sin Chew Daily gave prominence by carrying a front page story on Hisham followed by two full inside pages of stories about his life and career, along with four pages of happy birthday wishes put out by readers which they paid as advertisements.
According to a Malay friend, the Chinese "were rejoicing because of Hisham's roots". Another friend agreed, saying, "that's the reason for the grand celebrations".
Incidentally he is also a Malay. Feel free to interpret on what can be made out of such comments, if anything at all.
Although they did not say it specifically, I think both were referring to this "belief" that Hisham is Chinese, or at the very least has "Chinese blood". Talking of him being Chinese made the rounds when his top class performance in carrying out his duties fighting COVID-19 received attention and praises in as well as outside the country.
Another friend of mine who is Indian, texted me this via WhatsApp: "The Chinese are proud of Dr Hisham because he was born a Chinese. The Malays are proud because he was brought up a Malay, and the Indians are proud because his misai is like MGR."
That was meant as a joke, especially the "misai" (moustache) part and MGR or the late Maruthur Gopalan Ramachanran, one of the most influential actors of Tamil cinema, who also happened to be politician, philanthropist and humanitarian icon.
Yes, MGR spotted a moustache sometime during his acting career, but I don't know if his was like Dr Hisham's.
Anyway, what about the "reasons" for the Chinese and Malays being proud of Hisham as in the message sent by my friend? Are the so-called reasons also a joke? Or are the reasons real?
Is it true the Chinese are proud of Dr Hisham and love him just because he is Chinese? Well, maybe some Chinese?
What about the Malays? This "story" of Dr Hisham being Chinese is somehow "downplayed "among the Malays, including the Malay media. Is this because Malays do not want to acknowledge or accept the fact the doctor was born Chinese? Well, maybe some Malays?
But in the first place, is is true Dr Hisham is a Chinese or has "some Chinese blood" in him? If that information can be found in his biography, I have not seen or read about it. I don't know about other people. Maybe they saw something I didn't see.
Until now I have not had the honor of meeting Dr Hisham personally. Sadly never had the opportunity, but if somehow I do get the chance to meet him, I will not ask him about his descent.
I don't care if he is Chinese, Malay or any other race. That is of no interest to me.
He is Malaysian who is making Malaysia and us fellow Malaysians proud. That's all there is to it.
Whether he is Malay or Chinese doesn't matter. He is helping all Malaysians and in a way helping other people the world over as well in facing the nightmare we are experiencing.
Who your ancestors are doesn't matter. It is what you are and what you do that matters.
And if we really want to talk about descendants, ancestors and what not, another friend who is Malay have this to say: "If you take a DNA test, most of us Malaysians would have either Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai, Javanese, etc. in our genes. Very few would be pure Malays, Chinese or Indians, so to speak."
Pure or not, I would say most Malaysians, regardless Chinese, Malay, Indian, Punjabi, Kadazan, Iban and other communities love Dr Hisham for what he is and for what he is doing. End of story.
Happy belated birthday, Dr Hisham. Selamat berpuasa.
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)