Zubedy for unity
By ROUWEN LIN
His muhibbah advertisements have become a quirky staple in newspapers every festival. Just who is Zubedy?
WHAT prompts a company to splurge for eight consecutive years (and counting) on advertisements commemorating a day that is barely acknowledged publicly?
Malaysia Day (on Sept 16) might be in the pages of history books but it has yet to claim its place in the hearts of Malaysians.
But Anas Zubedy does it for unity.
“I feel strongly about promoting the message of unity because I feel it is my calling. Everybody has their calling; mine is to unite people,” he says.
He explains that “Malaysia gave me the opportunity to be a universal child” and that while “other people have to travel to experience different races and cultures, we have it right in front of us, but we are not reaping it.”
Anas, who is a boyish-looking 44, has dreamt of uniting people ever since he was young and he credits this to his upbringing and early exposure to different cultures.
The son of a “simple shop assistant” and a housewife, Anas grew up in Penang and was no stranger to racial and cultural diversity.
In his younger days, he befriended a Eurasian family. At age 10, his best friend was an Indian boy and in lower secondary school he hung out at a Punjabi friend’s place in the evenings. Anas was a favourite with the older folks who fawned over him during Chinese New Year because he was a non-Chinese kid who could chatter fluently in a Chinese dialect.
Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd managing director Anas Zubedy with his advertisements in the background. – KAMARUL ARIFFIN / The Star
“I celebrated Chinese New Year and used to do what the other Chinese kids would do. I tended to get more ang pow (red packets) than them because I could speak Hokkien. I used to gamble, too, you know, until I decided at age 10 that it wasn’t a good thing to do,” he laughs.
Fun times, indeed, for a young Malay boy but it was not all plain sailing as not everyone was equally colour-blind.
He found that there were times when the kids would try to exclude him from their games because he was not “one of them”. But, at the same time, there were many who declared that they would not play if he was not allowed to join in.
“So, I learned from a very young age, while I was marginalised - just a little bit - that there are no bad races, but only bad people,” he says.
Anas studied at Penang Free School before earning his degree in public administration at Universiti Malaya. Now the managing director of Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd - a human development and soft skills training consultancy - he adopts a firm stance on highlighting the similarities and shared values of our multi-racial community through his company’s festive advertisements and products.
Anas is often asked about his rather unusual family name. His typical response is “Don’t identify me with a place or nationality. I would rather be known as a typical Malaysian guy who likes laksa and teh tarik.”
That’s not the only thing he likes. He embraces cultural differences with gusto and says that it is the mindset of the individual that determines whether these differences are perceived as irritating or pleasing.
For instance, while the clamouring of church bells, the boom-boom-boom of drums and chanting of prayers may irritate many, it is music to his ears.
“When I bought a house, one of the selling points for me was that it faced Chinese and Indian temples, and behind it was a mosque. The only missing link was a church,” he says.
He adds that wherever he travels, he seeks to experience different cultures. He is perfectly happy to sit down and watch a procession of a certain faith amble pass for the entire day, if that is how long it takes.
“Take a trip to Sabah and Sarawak the next time you go on holiday,” he urges. “We Peninsular Malaysians forget about them all the time, and that’s wrong. That’s the reason why we (he and the company) are so much into Hari Malaysia. We need territorial integration - something we don’t have enough of - and they (people in Sabah and Sarawak) are the nicest people in the world,” he enthuses.
For him, the one thing he has been itching to do is to make merry with the locals during their Hari Gawai celebration.
“I haven’t had the chance to do that, and I really want to, even though I don’t drink tuak (rice wine).”
Anas says that we should endeavour to take our Malaysian concept of open house a step further if change is to happen.
“I think we should open our minds to all the other races and learn from each other. It will be good if we can move from rumah terbuka to hati terbuka dan minda terbuka (an open heart and mind).”
Aside from the Malaysia Day advertisements each year, Anas’s company take out ads during Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas, Wesak and Vasakhi.
Zubedy’s advertisment for Malaysia Day last year.
The sheer amount of time, effort and money invested has garnered criticism from some people who are unable to understand why he does what he does. Anas shrugs it off.
“The idea behind these advertisements is that they show shared values of all our traditions. We also do that in our products. To make Malaysia a more united country, we need to highlight our similarities and shared values, and not our differences.
“If I have a lot of money, I’ll have billboards with all of this. I’ll have television advertisements and I’ll have contests. Anas will be a brand that sticks to promoting unity no matter what because at the end of the day we all belong to the same God - many colours, one race,” he declares.
And in light of unity, the current political situation and racial tension in Malaysia saddens Anas. He pleas for the politicians to get their priorities straight and stop bickering. What matters more, he says is the economy and political stability.
“Anwar and his people should practise good governance in the five states they have and not try to take over the country. The March 8 elections are over - wait until the next elections,” he says.
He adds that the people, too, should accept the election results.
“The BN very clearly won. This is democracy: they did not win hands down, but like it or not, they still won - so we should let it be and move on.”
Regardless of who we support, Anas thinks we should not resort to name-calling (such as the infamous “najis” and “babi” on certain politically-inclined blogs).
“I think this is really immature. We need to understand that there are many parties but we are still one nation. In Parliament, we may be on oppostite sides but are not enemies. I have this in my latest advertisement and I think these are the things we should really push for,” he says.
Nurturing young minds
Anas, who is single, is concerned that if racism is given free rein to settle in the impressionable young minds of children, then all hell will break loose.
“The situation will become worse and worse and one day we will end up turning our children to war. We don’t realise it, but we are already doing it,” he says.
Both sides of the coin have to be presented to children to ensure that they grow up to be well-balanced individuals and not be stuck in the rut of narrow-mindedness.
“Children are our shared responsibility and maybe our generation has gone through things that have made us a little unhappy with each other, but that doesn’t mean we should transfer it to the next generation,” he says.
And this quirky chap has yet another revolutionary suggestion up his sleeve: that a lower price should be quoted for those who ensure that their neighbours are of a different race from them when they buy a house.
“Based on my experience, at the end of the day it’s all about socialisation. The reason why this (the yearn to promote unity) happened to me was that I grew up in an area where I could meet many races,” explains Anas.
In retrospect, he muses, it was the awareness instilled in him at a tender age that enabled him to visualise things from a wider perspective.
Thanks to The Star and Rouwen Lin for helping me spread the message of Unity!