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| December 2014



Indian and his name is Das. What will happen? Can

you imagine? Tan Das

similar in pronunciation to

“tandas” which in Malay means toilet] would become

a laughing stock wherever he goes.” Hence it was

Tunku who proposed that the title “Tan” which I had

suggested be changed to “Tan Sri” instead.”

Tan Sri Khir had another interesting anecdote. Not

long after independence, Timemagazine sent a lady

photographer to take Tunku’s picture. During one

sitting she took about 50 photographs. At first it was

easy for Tunku to smile, but after a while he simply

could not. The photographer tried saying


and that worked for a few shots. Finally, Tunku had

an idea. He “taught” the photographer a four-letter

word which he told her was the Malay equivalent of

“cheese”. Each time she mentioned this word, Tunku

would smile broadly. The photographer was pleased

with her success. After she had taken enough shots

she left for her next assignment – at the Yang Di-

Pertuan Agong’s Istana. It was only after she left that

Tunku imagined what would happen if she tried to

use that word at the Istana. After a hurried pursuit,

the photographer was stopped at the door of the

Istana, and warned in time.

Tun Razak was one of the more serious Ministers

in the Tunku’s cabinet. But he was not to be spared

either. Tunku used to tell this story. One day Tunku

hosted a dinner at the Residency for Mr. Serrano,

the Philippines Foreign Minister and his wife. Tun

Razak and the other guests were also present at

the dinner. The Tunku asked Mrs Serrano to guess

Tun Razak’s age. Immediately Mrs Serrano replied

that he was probably 60 years old.

“Oh! Tunku said.

“You are paying hima great compliment.” Mrs Serrano

answered, “I was only being polite. As Tunku explained,

“At that time Tun Razak was only 35 years old, but his

scowling, serious countenance and receding hair

belied his age. The other guests burst out laughing

to the great embarrassment of Mrs Serrano when she

understood what my joke was all about.”

One day Tun Tan Siew Sin, the Finance Minister told

Tunku that he intended to take a long vacation to

go abroad, and asked who would be replacing him

in his absence. Tunku was reluctant to approve the

leave, but did not want to appear inconsiderate

either. So he replied, “I will take your place as

Finance Minister.”Knowing Tunku’s lack of prudence

in financial affairs Tun Tan Siew Sin said resolutely,

“In that case, I am not going.”

To Tunku, the sporting spirit and ability to laugh are

important elements that contribute to the success

of a multi-racial and multi-religious society such

as ours. Touching on the question of sensitivities

brings to mind an incident that was narrated

by Tan Sri Lim Swee Aun, the former Minister of

Health in Tunku’s cabinet. There was an unwritten

law that during the fasting month nobody should

smoke during Cabinet meetings. Tan Sri Lim was

an incurable pipe smoker, a habit of 30 years, so

he used to absent-mindedly take out and smoke

his pipe during the fasting month. As a result the

other cabinet ministers would give him a hard stare,

but Tunku would simply smile and say,

“Don’t worry,

doctor, keep on smoking. At least I can smell the sweet

aroma of tobacco.”

On racial sensitivities, there is one joke that Tunku

used to share with Tun Sambanthan, and it relates

to the pre- Merdeka discussions on what should

go into the Malayan Constitution. Some of the

MIC members were against the proposed clause in

the Constitution granting special privileges to the

Malays. The MIC had a heated debate on this issue

just before Tunku and his delegation left for London

to attend the Merdeka Talks. Tunku recollected,

“One delegate lost complete control of himself, pulled

out a knife to kill himself. Luckily, however, he kept the

knife long enough until someone finally grabbed it

away from him.”

Besides such jokes that they shared in common,

they also reinforced each other’s belief in the

supernatural, and enjoyed eating Indian food on

banana leaf. Speaking about banana leaf, there is an

anecdote that Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Jalal, the late

Tunku enjoys a joke with Lee Kuan Yew. This picture was taken at

Tunku’s Residency not long after Singapore’s separation from