I was reading an article in the New Sunday Times yesterday, in the heat of the 2.30 p.m afternoon, stationing myself in the cool dining area, in order not to use the fan nor the air-conditioning. My green effort. The article, written by the weekly columnist A. Murad Merican about the conception of professors and intellectuals set me into my thinking mode. Have I met an intellectual? Professors, yes. Intellectuals?
There are those delightful people who, when having a conversation with them would drop you gems of insight; providing, along the way, an insight into their own intellectuality. Some of these conversations would make me realize how much wisdom these people have, generating mainly from their observations and experiences. I have met quite a few of these sages, and they didn’t get this wisdom from a university education. They are not professors. Some of them live far from any higher learning institution. Sadly, many are no longer around; or have I been removed from their community?
We are also familiar with the delightful creatures who would tell you tales interspersed with amusing anecdotes, some of which you do not know whether to believe or otherwise. These are smart people, able to pick from memory snippets from his or her life detached from the main point of the tale but weaving them into the tale at hand.
I have also met professors who are eloquent in their fields of study, but not much else. Now, I don’t consider them intellectuals. They are the ‘lucky’ ones who have doggedly pursued an education path. I believe intellectuals are those who have a good mix of acquaintances and friends from quite a varied field, able to interact reasonably well with almost anybody and who are not in the midst his or her next project that churns out yet another piece of literature in the area nauseously similar to the last one.
I do not believe professors and/ or intellectuals should be those who have been fortunate enough to do an undergraduate degree and have proceeded to their doctorate from the same university, without any experience working in their field of study or other areas of study. Worse are those who have managed to then secure a job at the same university, holding a post and trying to make changes based on their accumulated theoretical framework. Alas, there are too many of these in Malaysia. But I am guessing. I do not have empirical data.
Upon scanning my memory and experience on the sunny afternoon, I believe I found someone I would like to call a Malaysian intellectual. Royal Professor Ungku Aziz. I have heard him speak in person a number of times. His ideas may not be all the time mainstream, but an intellectual must not be afraid.
I would like to include Professor Syed Naquib al Attas, but as much as I’d like to, I have not met him in person. But if hearsay is anything, I bestow him ‘The Intellectual Professor’. I do not know if his brother, (the late) Syed Hussein would have approved. Nevertheless, both these al Attas men have great minds.
But intellectuals and professors should not be moulded to fit into any political slant. They should have independent and creative minds, thinking and exploring issues. They may or may not articulate their thoughts, but may have something to contribute when approached.