About The Author

Kam Raslan is a writer and director, working in film, TV and theatre in Malaysia. He is a columnist in The Edge weekly and Off the Edge magazine. His writings were previously compiled in Generation: A Collection of Contemporary Malaysian Ideas. He also writes for the Instant Cafe Theatre and will one day make his own feature film.

Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures is Kam's first book and is available at major bookstores in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, and is also available online at Amazon.com

If you wish to contact Kam Raslan, email to:
kam at kamraslan dot com.

Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures


Download the following samples from the book in PDF format:

Exposé on the Old Boy

The following exposé on Dato' Hamid appeared in the April 2007 issue of the Malaysian magazine Off The Edge

Old Boy spills the beans
The Salad Days of Malaya through the eyes of the former civil servant

Regular readers of this magazine may have noticed that from September 2005 throughout 2006, Off The Edge published a series of stories about the retired civil servant and Malay College Kuala Kangsar Old Boy, Dato' Abdul Hamid. In these stories he describes his adventures and love for luxury in KL, London, Switzerland, France and Algeria, from the 1940s to the present century and, along the way, his weak and cowardly personality was corrupted and/or bullied by bankers, exotic women, royalty and his wife.

Some of you who read the stories tried to work out the real identity of Dato' Hamid. Well, I have a confession to make: I wrote them. To anybody who read the stories and imagined that he was real, I wish to apologize because he's a work of fiction — but fiction based on truth. And now the stories that appeared in Off The Edge (plus one extra, Murder in Parit Chindai) have been compiled into a book to be published by Marshall Cavendish, called Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures.

I like to think that Dato' Hamid is very real (even though I made him up), and that he encapsulates a breed of person that many of us know and most of us can recognize. He is of that old breed that has been airbrushed out of Malaysian history, but who would sooner quote Shakespeare than wave a kris (and would spell it as keris); would be more at ease in a cocktail party than a kampung (spelt kampong); and would rather relax with a whisky stengah than an imam.

The present great-and-thegood are still this but Dato' Hamid makes no pretence. In the case of Dato' Hamid, he is Malay, but his peers could be any race or gender because in the end, they are Malayans. I'm sorry, I meant Malaysians. At their best they were (still are) urbane, international, sophisticated and charming but at their worst, arrogant patricians, quietly greedy and remote from everyday life. They couldn't represent the average Malay/Malaysian and they had to go. They also did some terrible things. I think I miss them.

Many of us gaze over the serried ranks at an Umno general assembly and do not recognize ourselves or our aspirations in that crowd. These are the Malay masses, and they deserve to be represented vigorously. But I'm not one of them. Where do we go if we're not one of them? In my case, I have gone back to the past. I wanted to find a voice in another outsider.

It took me seven or so years to write Dato' Hamid's stories. There were long gaps when I didn't write anything, and there's one story where I had a two-year gap in mid-sentence. I finally finished when Italy played France in the 2006 World Cup Final. At 3.20am, I typed 'The End' and punched the air in silent celebration and heard a crowd cheer in the distance. I switched on the TV and Italy had just equalized. I was supporting France.

I wanted to tell his story because I felt close to the guy. I felt that his life needed to exist. I haven't really tried to work out how old Dato' Hamid is, but he was born somewhere between 1925 and 1935. He was educated by the British to be a civil servant and he believed that civil service was the only job with honour and purpose. Times have changed. But Dato' Hamid is immensely lazy, unambitious and likes expensive things. Maybe some things remain the same. His generation is Anglicized but not Anglophile, although they do enjoy shopping in London.

Dato' Hamid himself is an Anglophile, and this makes him more of an outsider. I'm sure that there are Dato' Hamids all over the post-colonial, post-Independence world. These were men who were young when Independence came, but who were already culturally embedded in the world of their erstwhile colonial masters.

The first wave of post-colonial leaders were Anglicized and effortlessly Anglophonic. Men like Nehru, Ghana's first prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah, Jordan's King Hussain and of course, Tunku Abdul Rahman, were educated in Britain and inculcated in some of their values. But not completely. After Independence, Nehru made sure that India entered a long period of isolation and self-reliance. (Colonel Gaddafi went to the military college of Sandhurst, and look how he turned out.)

The legacy of the British empire remains to this day, in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable for post-Independence leaders to accept. I've seen in our history schoolbooks a map showing the locations of insurrections against the British, but I believe that every example is a deliberate misreading of history. Each episode should be read as factional in-fighting, where one side vied for control over another and where one was backed by the British. If these were rebellions against colonial rule by a populace seething with anti-imperial resentment, then how come there were so few?

In every corner of the empire, the British managed to govern with a tiny force of soldiers and policemen. They could have been swept aside in a day. Instead, they were able to succeed with a clever policy of divide and rule, and indirect rule. The British Raj of India was never one country; it was made up of over 500 states and sometimes tiny principalities where the ruling elites were given control over many areas of government. And we were/are exactly the same.

Architecture played its role. KL's railway station is still a wonderful sight with its minarets and domes. When it was built, it must have dazzled the people of KL. But it's an entirely fanciful design with elements borrowed from India. What it really says is: 'We own India. We build technology. Don't mess with us.' Today, the domes are copied endlessly in big mosques up and down the country, as if the design were indigenous to our peninsula. In fact, older mosques have a simple pagoda style that's very Chinese. And if you look up the hill from the railway station, you'll see a big remnant of the empire — Bukit Aman. This is where the police have always been, because it has such a commanding view over KL and is readily defensible.

Dato' Hamid was born and raised in this world of imperial certainties, although he doesn't come from KL. He grew up with its clean mythologies of fair play, team sports, rewarded effort, class distinctions and elites. He also grew up with its language. Even today, some of the words from the empire remain, such as 'outstation', 'fellows' (as in, 'you know, the Chinese f'ler'), 'bad hats' or 'wee hours'. Like so much else, they are words that are never spoken in Britain. There's a slim chance that 'lah' comes from or went to England, because people in the port city of Liverpool say it.

But Dato' Hamid isn't just about his Anglicized ways. He is worldly and sophisticated and can mix with people from around the world, with perhaps more ease than he can mix with his own kind. This is something that I feel saddened has been lost. Malaya/Malaysia has always been open to the world, and the world has passed through here, taking and leaving language, religion and culture.

But over the last few decades, there has been a closing of the Malay/Malaysian mind as we've come to imagine that Malaysia is the world. Malays have always traveled, and the first Malay document consists of laws pertaining to how people should travel on ships. In one of the Dato' Hamid stories (The Beat Generation), I wanted to show the Malay/Malaysian wanderlust as he gets dragged along to work in Paris and Algiers to work as a drummer in a nightclub in the 1950s. Dato' Hamid came back after his adventure, but so many Malaysians have traveled and have never come back. I've met some of them in Denmark, America, provincial England, as well as in London. What happened to that spirit of adventure? Who let the complacency in?

Dato' Hamid is too much of a coward to have a spirit of adventure, and for him, the most exciting thing would be having tea at the Ritz. But that costs money and is beyond the pay of a mere, humble Malaysian civil servant. What do you do when your tastes have been conditioned to be expensively international, but your training is to be a government functionary?

There must be a way.

The temptation to take short cuts to wealth must have been great, and, without public scrutiny the elites can do whatever they want. In Ariff and Capitalism, Dato' Hamid experiences the beguiling and human quality of corruption as he is tempted by a ruthlessly ambitious Malaysian banker in the London of the 1970s.

I met up with a friend of mine recently, and she asked me what I was up to. I explained that I had a book coming out about a retired civil servant called Dato' Hamid. Before I could even finish, she was shocked and appalled because she had read the stories and had hoped that he was real. She was angry with me and I found myself having to apologize to her. She wanted him to be real. I think he is.

Kam Raslan's Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures (ISBN 978 983 3445 00 4) was first serialized in Off the Edge magazine and is published by Marshall Cavendish Editions, an imprint of Marshall Cavendish International.