On this the 3oth anniversary of my father’s passing, I dipped into his memoirs again and found this little account of his visit to Honolulu in 1958 with a group of SouthEast Asian journalists. Knowing what a pacifist he was, having spoken often of the suffering brought on by the Japanese Occupation of British Malaya, it was with very mixed feelings that I read:
“In Honolulu, we visited a submarine and after an exciting time during which the vessel once dived and remained under water for nearly an hour, we were presented with a certificate of “Honorary Submariner.” The certificate of Honorary Submariner had this to say:
“Know ye that Victor Morais was this date received into the realm of Neptunes Rex and indoctrinated in the mysteries of the deep while visiting on board the U.S.S. Sabalo (SS320) and is hereby designated as Honorary Submariner of the Submarine Force, U.S.Pacific Fleet, 29 May, 1958.”
It was signed by W. Masek, Jr., L. Cdr., U.S.N., Commanding, Navy-Pearl Harbor.”
That State-department sponsored visit to the United States left a strong impression on my father. His record of what he saw and heard, and his generous acceptance and admiration of what was presented to him and his colleagues as American accomplishments are hard to digest in the shadow of all that has occurred with American foreign policy, its never-ending wars, and the continuing racial injustice over the decades that has brought us the Black Lives Matter movement today. It is especially hard to read in the aftermath of the January 6th assault on the United States Capitol. I have no doubt my father would have been filled with the same horror and revulsion so many of us feel at the events of that day. But he would have been even more repulsed by the way Republican Senators and Representatives failed to reject the Big Lie of a stolen election, planted and stoked by a President he would have regarded as a very bad joke.
But there were some things that did not sit well with my always fastidiously-dressed father on that long ago visit–his only visit– to the United States. He writes:
“There is one thing that did not create a good impression on me. That is the rather unimpressive clothes worn by many American men. Only a small percentage of the men were smartly dressed. Most of the working men seemed to adopt a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude about their clothes. They appeared to be happy with any kind of combination of clothes–gaudy loose shirts and baggy trousers and cowboy hats. Few, very few–bothered about wearing ties. More preferred bow ties. But the vast majority wore no ties and no moustaches!”
I have to smile as I think of him today as I do almost every day for some reason or other. And what floats up from memory is his handsome face, his crisp shirts, his cravats and the walking stick that he never used to lean on, (heavens, no! Only old people do that!) just to swing jauntily as he took his evening walks through the neighborhood.
I give thanks for the courage of the teenager, the son of a poor sacristan, who somehow had the pluck and the persistence and the vision to pester his eldest brother to let him journey from Kerala to Kuala Lumpur in search of a better life. His brave journey begat all the journeys we, his five children have made across so many borders — with none of the challenges he faced, and all of the advantages his determination and discipline made possible for us. I pray he rests in peace, knowing that we try to honor his memory with our lives. Living in Hawaiʻi, in a culture that is especially mindful about holding in reverence those who have gone before, I feel deeply grateful for my father–and mother–who started out with very little, yet gave so much. We can only try to pay it forward.