Meet Michael and Daniel Veerapen, a musically inclined father-son duo, who share with us their personal takes on Merdeka. While we might expect significantly less pomp and parade, we could certainly do with a lot more of the Merdeka spirit.

If anything, our multiple lockdowns have laid bare the social pressures and inequality faced by the varying stratas of our society. Honouring our national birthday is a great way to remember how far we’ve come collectively, and an awesome reason to celebrate our humanity. As long as we’re jogging on the great wheel, we’re going to need each other. So we reached out across the generational divide, asking a veteran and scion what Merdeka means to each generation. Here’s what we heard back from Michael Veerapen, the musical virtuoso and founder of the Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival along with his son, Daniel Veerapen who is a music producer, director and film scorer – not forgetting also our 2021 A-Lister.

Michael Veerapen

Thinking back on your younger days, how do you remember our country?
Less racial division. When I was younger, Malays, Chinese and Indians displayed more unity and understanding than today.

How do you feel about modern life becoming intensely digitalised?
In many ways it makes life so much easier. Access to information and communication is instantaneous. I used to write letters back home and a ‘round-trip’ of 14 days was considered fast! But the downsides are also worrisome. People live in cyberspace, glued to their devices and they don’t relate except through their devices.

What values are Malaysians paying less attention to?
I would like to see more racial equality and a level playing field based on meritocracy so that our society rewards hard work and effort.

What is a unique quality that you’ve picked up from the generation before?
My late mother was Hokkien. My siblings and I all inherited her ‘kiam-siapness’ (frugality) and the ability to talk oneself out of spending on oneself.

Can you recall a time or happening that made you feel proud to be a Malaysian?
It was at the Opening Ceremony of the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. It was a world-class effort and it stood head and shoulders over anything else our neighbouring countries had done and have done since.

Considering the younger generations to come, what’s an evergreen adage that our nation should always remember?
We can only progress forward as a nation through unity amongst the races. Sounds corny but it is true. United we stand, divided we fall.

What’s your view of Malaysia in the next 10 years?
Those willing to work hard and wanting to succeed will still find a way forward. Malaysia has always been able to produce world-class talent in all fields. But corruption will still be rampant and racial politics will still divide the country

Daniel Veerapen

Thinking back on your younger days, how do you remember Malaysia? Describe a national sentiment you grew up with, and how it might have changed.
Opportunity and optimism. Back in the ‘90s Malaysia was at the forefront of developing SEA countries. The youth saw their futures in Malaysia. But today our young and talented only seem to want to leave the country.

What are the drawbacks of social media that Malaysians don’t see?
People need to unplug from time to time. No doubt, we now live in a world of information overload. Maybe too much and too fast for some to process. With high levels of data so too comes high levels of fear, anxiety and depression. As well as a rapid spread of unchecked, dangerous disinformation.

As we do our best to grow as a country, what’s something you’d like to see?
Malaysians need to stop putting too much value in individual accomplishments. Competition is good, but if your success comes at the detriment of others it only serves to bring the community as a whole down.

Can you describe a quirk that you picked up from your parents.
This one ah… definitely my durian eating style! Since I was born I’ve been eating durians with a spoon, thinking that was the norm, until I got weird stares from my friends when I was a kid. Why not though? It makes so much sense!

Tell us about a moment in our history that made you proud to be Malaysian.
Definitely the 2018 elections. Politics and parties aside, it was a momentous triumph for democracy in Malaysia. A time when Malaysians felt they had the voice and power to define the future of their own country where most countries could not.

What’s a message you want all your fellow countrymen to hear?
History shows, we are always strongest when we are united together, let’s not let our differences be the pitfall of our progress forward.

Do you think there are pitfalls we need to be cautious about?
If we continue down the path we are in, I’ll be honest it doesn’t look good. It’s about time Malaysia makes way for its next generation of Malaysians and its leaders. We are like a slingshot of potential, pulled back to its limit waiting to be released; let us loose, we are ready.

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