Remembering Dr M. P. Drahman
A Malay for all Seasons
By Professor B. A. Hussainmiya
University of Brunei Darussalam
Among the Sri Lankan Malay luminaries, Dr Mohamed Parvis Drahman (1899-1963) stands out as a remarkable person of all times. Through yeoman contributions in every branch of human endeavour in social, economic, cultural, and political life of the community, late Dr Drahman has carved a place for himself as Malay for all seasons. And by his involvement with the activities of the larger Malay world, he also became a Malay for all nations. This article commemorates his entry into the Sri Lankan Parliament 50 years ago as a Malay minority representative.
Dr M. P. Drahman was born on 5 November 1899 in Colombo to Malay parents whose ancestors had migrated to Sri Lanka two generations ago from the island of Java. He received early education in All Saints College in Galle and later Wesley College in Colombo. After graduating from the Colombo medical college in 1928 he entered government service, a pioneering Malay to enter the noble profession of medicine. After five years he established his private surgery and dispensary in no 15, Rifle Street in the Slave Island ward of Colombo. Thus spurning a lucrative private practice amongst the elite, his set up his clinic among the deprived Malays of the area that began a life long commitment to work for the needy and the down trodden. There he provided care and hospitality not only to the locals but also many foreign Malays, pilgrims and travelers stranded en route and who flocked to seek his service.
While in medical practice in Slave Island, Colombo he galvanized the community for survival and self-help. His forte was in youth leadership and community service. Many were the clubs and organizations devoted to community service that he was a member or a leader. For instance, he took leading roles in such organizations as the Ceylon Malay Youth League, The Malay Progressive Association and all Ceylon Malay Association, All Ceylon Malay Congress and the Ceylon Malay Cricket Club. Also, he helped to form a Malay music group to revive the dying forms of syair and pantun reading in the area with the accompaniment of typical Malay instruments of rabbana, angklung and gong and so on. In his own family circle, through the Uniques club, a band of elite professionals, led by his father in law, M. K. Saldin, a philanthropist/businessman and legislative councilor, he garnered efforts to serve the poor and the destitutes.
A true Muslim at heart, he promoted understanding with other Muslim communities in the island and abroad. As a patron of the original Regimental mosque in the Wekande area, Masjidul Jamiah, he formulated the Mosques endowment fund to help other mosques and especially to improve the Jawatte burial grounds
Besides his philanthropic leanings, he was determined to preserve the distinct entity and dignity of his community. Seeking the special rights of the community, he was in the forefront to demand minority Malay representation in the parliament. His evidence before the Soulbury commission arguing for the minority safeguards in the Constitution is a clear evidence of his conviction.
By representing Malay interests in the Parliament from 1956 to 1959, and from 1960 to 1963 until his demise, he had ceaselessly highlighted the plight of the Malays all over the island, especially in Hambantota and Kirinde to seek redress from the government. His real outlook, however, was much broader than a narrow preoccupation with community issues.
A genial and warm person he was earned him many friends from all communities in all walks of life. In recognition his contributions, the British Government conferred M.B.E on him in 1953 besides the honours came his way from the Malaysian and Indonesian Governments.
Dr Drahman was perhaps the most famous of the local Malays in the Malay world of his time. The linkages he built with Indonesia and Malay Archipelago, the home of the Malays, were many. He had close friends in Malaya, Indonesia, Sabah, Sarawak Singapore and Brunei having played host to many visitors from the region. In fact, before the establishment of formal diplomatic missions, he had been functioning in Sri Lanka as a virtual Ambassador par excellence to the Indonesian and Malay Governments. Many were the overseas Malays in need who flocked to his clinic and later residence in Guildford Crescent seeking his services. Malaysia’s founder Prime Minister Tungku Abdul Rahman and others were among his guests on their sojourn in the island.
During the Indonesian war of independence (1945-1949) Drahman spearheaded the KRIS movement, the Union of Indonesian and Sri Lankan Malays in Colombo as the front organization to support the independence struggle of Indonesia. His clinic doubled up as a chancellery and operations room for several exiled Indonesian fighters. Indonesian Government was especially grateful to the support he lent and invited him as a guest of honor during the first Republic of Indonesia Merdeka celebrations in 1949. Similarly in 1957 when Malaya gained ‘Merdeka’ independence he was again invited by the Malaysians for official celebrations. Dr Drahman’s home at Guildford crescent, Colombo 7, appropriately named ‘Merdeka’ had played host to many international Malay/Indonesian leaders including the late Tunku Abdul Rahman the late Foreign Minster of Indonesia Adam Malik and others. When in 1957 Dr Drahman fell hill in Kuala Lumpur during the Merdeka celebrations, almost the entire Malayan Cabinet ministers headed by the Tunku visited him in his hospital bed in Bangsar Heart Centre.
As much as he valued his own Malay identity, he also was a true Sri Lankan national leader. Above all, he believed in the dictum of unity in diversity, and desired a strong Sri Lanka in which all communities shared the resources to live in blissful harmony. In one of his speeches in the Sri Lankan parliament in 1961 he stressed " if we are to form a single purposeful nation, our task must be to emphasise where we agree"
A devout Muslim, he performed the obligatory Hadj twice, and the second time when he performed Hadj in 1963, he passed away in Mecca to return to his creator in the holy land. He was a happy father to have been survived by wife and five children, three of them followed his footsteps in medicine and carved names for themselves.
They were Sylvain ( Physician) Rievo, (ENT specialist, and Sukarno while the last son Viero became a computer engineer, and the only daughter Kala Bhushana Kartini Mohamed became a prominent broadcaster and media consultant.
Dr Drahman did not belong only to Sri Lanka- He was one of the world Malays whose life and career needs to be studied further to amplify Sri Lanka’s links with the East.