Monday, March 25

Blowin’ in the wind

Peter, Paul and Mary singing Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a few hours before Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963.

Peter, Paul and Mary singing Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a few hours before Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963.

I AM not a great fan of Bob Dylan. And of the many hit songs he composed, Blowin’ in the Wind is the one I like.

Music magazines reported Dylan as saying he wrote that song in a café, claiming it took him 10 minutes. That was in 1962 when the civil rights movement was at its peak. Blowin’ in the Wind became an anthem of such movements.

Dylan sang it at a voter-registration rally in Mississippi in 1963. Peter, Paul and Mary performed it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a few hours before Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech.

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

There have been many interpretations of the lyrics that start with the above question and the simplest one, I feel, is how many of life experiences should a man have in order to be mature.

At the time when the civil rights marches were at their height, a lot of people were asking how many of these marches would they need to make before they could win the rights they were entitled to.

In 2012, US President Barak Obama awarded Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom and declared he is a big fan of the singer-song writer extraordinaire.

Receiving the medals together with Dylan were labour leader and civil rights campaigner Dolores Huerta and astronaut John Glenn.

Obama said at the ceremony: “I remember, you know, in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opened up because he captured something about this country that was so vital.”

He added that many of the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients had had a personal effect on his life.

The accolade is the US’  highest civilian honour, and the president has wide latitude in choosing recipients. It is usually awarded to people who have made major contributions to the security of the US, world peace or culture, or have undertaken other significant public or private endeavours.

And two weeks ago, Dylan found himself in the distinguished company of Nobel laureates such as Winston Churchill, Thomas Mann and Rudyard Kipling. Wow!

Some critics might find it hard to swallow that a singer-songwriter should win the Nobel Prize for Literature but many also think he charts the struggle for civil rights in the US. Dylan is, undoubtedly, a perfect choice.

Or is the answer is blowin’ in the wind? Many questions are not answered in real life – the litany of questions in the song about what’s wrong with the world means different things to different people.

This week, the expose of Sarawak and Sabah Members of Parliament saying “aye” to downgrading their very own states from an equal partner to one of the states in Malaysia in 1976 has raised many questions.

The Borneo Post studied, probed and published a list of the MPs present in parliament that fateful day – July 13, 1976.

It is, indeed, an eye-opener, seemingly ending the guessing game as to what happened during that particular sitting and how our parliamentarians were faring.

So what of the questions that arose from the downgrading of the status of the Borneo States? At this point, it seems the answer is blowin’ in the wind. But what a revelation the expose was!

Some of the MPs concerned had passed away while some are still around and in good phyiscal and mental health.

Former Bau-Lundu MP Patrick Anek Uren rationalised: “In 1976, MPs from Sarawak, including myself, all voted for the amendment while not representing the interests of Sarawak as a signatory to MA63.”

Now, as an elected Sarawak MP, who was he representing? Apparently, the answer to this germane question is still blowin’ in the wind.

Former Saratok MP Dato Sri Edmund Langgu Saga said he could not recall what transpired during that parliament sitting in 1976 even though he was Deputy Minister of Agriculture then.

“I can’t recall what transpired in parliament 40 years ago; perhaps, I was too busy carrying out my duties as a deputy minister.”

For Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), with most of its former MPs having passed on, its present secretary-general Datuk Sebastian Ting, in a swift reaction, issued an apology to “the party and the people of Sarawak” and accepted responsibility on the party’s behalf for its MPs’ support of the constitutional amendment in question.

This differs from the party president’s stand that pointedly suggests the answer is still blowin’ in the wind since he admitted he does not know who were the signatories to the amendment and if the MPs were still alive “we will definitely go and ask them why you do that, can you please tell us.”

He added: “It’s childish, immature and inappropriate – how can I answer something I don’t even know. If your father robs the bank or breaks and steals something, will you be responsible for it?”

I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against this doctor-turned politician but I think asking the young journalist back “if your father robs the bank or breaks and steals something, will you be responsible for it,” seems rather odd and out of sync with widely accepted sentiments in the state on the issues of autonomy and devolution.

Restitution, recompense and redress, not wise cracks, please.

However, it’s heartening to see some good suggestions emanating from both sides of the political divide.

The pertinent question, of course, is can we undo the wrong and put it right? Where there is will, there is a way. Yes, but lest we forget, the road ahead will be a long and tedious one.

For those bereft of political will, there are two likely senarios – first, passing the buck by conveniently damning the establishment and the prevailing authority for what transpired on that fateful 13.7.76 parliament sitting, and secondly, aping the proverbial ostrich by letting sleeping dog lie based on the very convenient argument that many of the “aye” sayers had passed on.

But if we look at the situation with objectivity and dispassion, the title of Dylan’s hit ballad has an unmistakable ring of realism to it: “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

Alternatively, we can choose to take way from the song a yearning, a hope, a possibility and a triumphal proclamation of determination. The answer is blowin’ in the wind means we can eventually find the answer if we persist and persevere.

I think Dylan was right and legit in not proving a specific interpretation to his masterpiece.

He said: “There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind – and it’s blowing in the wind. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper, it’s got to come down sometimes.

“But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down, so not too many people get to see and know … and then it flies away. I still say some of the biggest criminals are those who turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.”

The answers are out there for anyone ready to seek them out. But is anyone really willing to do this, or for that matter, capable of doing this? That’s the real problem.

Without doubt, it’s going to be a long and winding road.