Datuk Halimah Mohd Said has her hands full organising and curating back-to-back art exhibitions at The International Gallery in KLGCC Resort, Kuala Lumpur, where we meet.
"I also put together this book," she says, her eyes twinkling with pride as she flips through a copy of Roots Living Heritage. It is a collection of 18 essays by a group of Malaysians who fundamentally believe there is an urgent need to present the past in a more personal and intimate manner. Halimah’s artwork adorns the cover.
"The book project took close to two years from its inception to publication in December 2022. All the manuscripts and images went through several rounds of editing and checking to ensure they abided by the guidelines," shares the long-serving educationist and academician who has dedicated the last chapter to her sister-in-law, actress of yore Maria Menado, whom she admires for her fine manners and polite ways.
Halimah says Maria, who is married to her husband’s oldest brother, is firm and resolute with high standards of excellence underneath her charming exterior. "In modern terms, she is talented, highly skilled and works hard to produce great outcomes. Her story needs to be told and read as she has the attributes that every woman should nurture: a winning personality, confidence and meticulous standards."
The authors of Roots Living Heritage represent a good cross-section of Malaysians: academicians, historians, socio-cultural enthusiasts, history buffs and lay writers who were invited because they had an interesting tale to tell about the contributions of their subjects to the socio-cultural, economic and political development of the country.
"Readers are invited to read the stories of ordinary people and how, in their own small way, they played a part in Malaya-Malaysia’s historical development. They are encouraged to explore these narratives of people’s ancestors, family and friends who are lesser known or even unknown, to appreciate the rich legacy they left behind."
She turns over to chapter seven and shows me the story of Colonel Dara Singh, described as a Malaysian Sikh patriot, by Pritam K Dhaliwal.
Until this book came along, as a fellow Punjabi, I was totally unaware of this illustrious war hero who even caught the attention of leaders like Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Commander Joseph W Stilwell (US Army general who served in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II) and the last viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten.
"Malaysians should be encouraged to research and write about their own family members, friends, associates and community leaders who have led interesting lives and achieved much in the different sectors of the country’s development. They may be ordinary people, but they have been leaders in their areas of expertise,” she urges.
Roots Living Heritage is co-edited with Danny Wong Tze Ken and Sivachandralingam Sundara Raja, both professors with the Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Universiti Malaya.
The book retails at RM72 and is available from UM Press, Kinokuniya, MPH, Popular and Shopee.
This article first appeared on Feb 27, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.