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| December 2014


diplomat, used to recount to the writer. According

to the story, when Tunku visited New Delhi in the

early 1960s, Tun Sambanthan who was with him,

planned to entertain Tunku at his favourite “banana

leaf” restaurant in Madras (now


). This

meant that Tunku’s official tour of Bangalore had to

be cancelled, much to the dismay of Banerjee, the

Indian diplomat, who had painstakingly planned

the official itinerary. Banerjee then contacted Tan Sri

Abdul Rahman Jalal and explained that Tunku’s visit

to Bangalore was important in terms of impressing

upon the Malayan Prime Minister the progress India

was making in the modern world. Tan Sri Abdul

Rahman desperately tried to contact Wisma Putra in

Kuala Lumpur to request their advice, but received

no response. Puri, who was then serving as the

Indian High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur advised

that the official itinerary be followed, and that the

food from the same restaurant in Madras could be

brought to Bangalore. But Tunku, goaded on by Tun

Sambanthan, would have none of this.

“We’ll leave

Banerjee to lunch in Bangalore. I’m heading straight

South with Sambanthan for my banana leaf!”

Tunku used to recollect the early days when Tun

Sambanthan wore his dhoti and scarf of which he

was very proud. UMNO’s protest against a federal

Minister’s use of the traditional South Indian attire

fell on deaf ears. Even Tunku tried many times to rid

him of dhoti and scarf, but to no avail. The occasion

came, when Tun Sambanthan had to accompany

Tunku to London. Despite the extreme cold, Tun

Sambanthan insisted on wearing his usual attire.

When walking he would always trail behind as he

could not step out far enough to keep pace or catch

up with Tunku; or perhaps Tunku walked faster on

purpose. One day when they were out for a walk,

Tunku led him into Simpson’s store in Piccadilly

where Tunku asked the tailor to fit Tun Sambanthan

with good, ready-made suit. The Tun protested in

the beginning, but yielded later to the inevitable.

Finally, he came out looking a new man – a brand

new suit, West-End tailored, brand new shirt, new

tie, new shoes and socks. When he left that store he

was a changed man. On the way back to the hotel,

Tun Sambanthan walked so fast that it was now

Tunku’s turn to chase him.

The same night Tunku asked Tun Sambanthan to

follow him to Sir Gerald Templar’s home for dinner.

To Tunku’s great disappointment, Tun Sambanthan

appeared all over again in his usual dhoti and scarf.

As soon as they entered the house, Tunku removed

the scarf from Tun Sambanthan’s shoulders and

presented it as their mutual gift to Lady Templar. At

first Lady Templar refused to accept it, but later she

received it when Tun Sambanthan kept on insisting

that she accept the gift.

After that Tun Sambanthan began to wear his suit

with a fashionable London tie. Not satisfied with just

one suit, he went out alone in secret and bought a

few more for himself.

Tunku’s jokes about his colleagues were always

taken in good spirit. Very often, he pointed out his

own shortcomings, and laughed at himself before

anyone else could. He demonstrated his humanity

and openness in this way, and took away his

detractor’s ability to laugh at him.

Tunku exemplified the truth of Dwight Eisenhower’s

observation that

“a sense of humour is part of the art

of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting

things done.”

At this critical juncture of our nation’s

history, we need to bring the healing touch of

humour back into the life of the nation, a legacy

left behind by none other than the world’s happiest

Prime Minister.

Despite tense

political situations,

Tunku never failed

to find humour in

the company of his

political detractors,

Sukarno (left) and

Lee Kuan Yew