Mahathir Mohamad never stopped learning, and never really retired
At the outset, kindly allow me to make it clear that this piece isn’t meant for eulogizing the just-elected prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, for returning at the helm of affairs, or for his political acumen.
This isn’t a political analysis. His return as a winner in the elections, to this writer, is certainly a phenomenal event in both the national and international arenas, yet this piece isn’t meant to assess him as a statesman.
I simply admire his ability, how he kept himself physically and psychologically fit for running for office at the age of 92. Not many people, first of all, make it to this age, and secondly, not many people can think of contributing to society at this age.
It is evident that at 92, he hasn’t slowed down due to ageing. There is no dearth of active movement in him. He was seen crisscrossing the country during his campaigns and has attended demonstrations and candlelight vigils.
The lifestyle he led is quite important here. He recently told the media that he has been active all the time, and that helped him stay mentally alert, and maintain his weight at between 62kg and 64kg for the last three decades. Most of the people born in the 1920s aren’t around.
He even told a newspaper he did have health problems, but was careful about keeping himself well. He said he didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and didn’t overeat. He ate just enough food to keep himself going.
Like all great leaders, he has embraced change, perhaps for the sake of power or for the sake of his country
Yes, there are people like him. We have seen many people, including many heads of state, across the world, who have nurtured themselves and also contributed to the society they lived in. Like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
Mugabe is still alive at 94, and Mandela passed away at the age of 95. Well, despite God’s contribution to keep them alive, these persons must have done something to stay alive and effective till a very old age -- both physically and intellectually.
Mahathir was at the helm for 22 years -- from 1981 to 2003. I absolutely don’t believe that he spent a completely stress-free life during his rule; he had all the trouble he could face both locally and internationally.
I have seen many CEOs ageing miserably in a mere three-year term. So, Mahathir must have done something to keep his stresses quelled so that they could not hamper his health as stresses do to people at large.
A study published in International Psychogeriatrics and quoted by Time magazine showed that 90 and 100-somethings display qualities of resilience and adaptability to change during their lifetimes. The study quoted one man who recently lost his wife. He said to his interviewers: “Thanks to my sons, I am now recovering and feeling much better … I have fought all my life and I am always ready for change. I think changes bring life and give chances to grow.”
So, changing oneself is a factor in having a sustainable, effective, and long life. If we take the example of Mahathir Mohamad, we see that he has changed since leaving office in 2003. There was a time when he was with the government party. At that time, he opposed the opposition. Then, observing the state of affairs of the country, he started opposing the government party.
Listen to him when he talks about supporting the opposition: “These people who described me as a dictator, throwing people in jail, now they are asking me to lead them.” He added: “I never really thought the opposition would accept me, and I didn’t really think I would accept them. But we were all very much against Najib, and they consider that more important than any differences we had before. So now I am with them, and they are with me.”
Mahathir has gone through more changes. He has already expressed his wish to pass on his responsibilities to Anwar Ibrahim, who is now in prison on charges of sodomy.
It was Mahathir himself who once didn’t approve of Ibrahim’s sexual practices (which are also a crime in Malaysia) and was instrumental in ousting him from his responsibilities.
Now, it is, I believe, the changed Mahathir who is now promoting Ibrahim.
According to various media reports, Mahathir, like all high performers across the world, has never stopped learning from various sources and applying the knowledge in his life. He has utilized the last 15 years learning. And like all great leaders, he has embraced change, perhaps for the sake of power or for the sake of his country. Great leaders never fail to plan.
Watching him in recent times and listening to him, it was clear that Mahathir planned each and every aspect of his work, which may have kept him efficient all these years, as he himself said that he had never retired.
Now that he has been sworn in as the seventh prime minister of Malaysia, the entire Asian continent is likely to go through some phases of change, which would impact the international community to a great extent.
Very soon, the international media will start writing on this man who has sustained himself tremendously as a human being and as a statesman. We would love to know about him more.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.