Against all odds
> Datuk Ramli Ibrahim reflects upon his career in dance after being honoured with India’s top Padma Shri award
his father, the late Haji Ibrahim Mohd Amin, a Malay literature lecturer.
“My father always encouraged me to read, and I was familiar with all the Malay Hikayat (stories),” he says.
When he was nine, he was a regular guest on a 20-minute radio show where he was reciting poems and singing.
He travelled to Australia to study engineering, but by that time, his heart stayed with the arts, especially dance.
After completing his engineering degree, he began to study ballet in Australia, and later learnt Bharatanatyam in India. He later became interested in Odissi, and was responsible for establishing it as a recognisable dance form in Malaysia. At one point, Ramli was teaching students in his home, at the same time his mother Hajjah Kamariah Md Zin, a housewife, was teaching the Quran.
“I will be teaching Indian classical dance in one room, while my mother was teaching Quran in the next room,” he says.
“When my mother was getting old, I remember telling her: ‘Why don’t you just retire from teaching the Quran, and I will give you the money you need.’
“She looked at me and said [sarcastically]: ‘When you stop teaching Indian dance, I will stop teaching the Quran’!”
Sadly, after four decades of teaching and performing, Ramli finds that today, Malaysians in general have less appreciation of culture.
“Culture brings out the humanity in us,” he says. “Our appreciation for culture will lead us to having more appreciation for nature, for the environment ... for everything you cannot measure with money.”
He believes appreciation for culture should begin in schools, and that the Education Ministry should work together with the Tourism and Culture Ministry to promote it among students.
What asked the greatest misconception people have of him, he says: “They believe I [lead] a glamorous life. Some of them who have come to see me at my house, they will say ‘this is not the life of a struggling artiste’.
“A lot of people have this notion that I have it easy and life has always been good to me.”
For Ramli, this is far from the truth. Everything he has now he has earned through blood, sweat and tears.
Evolution of a dance master ... Ramli (clockwise from above) as a toddler with his parents and siblings; with his mother; and during a performance with his students.