Against all odds

> Datuk Ramli Ibrahim re­flects upon his ca­reer in dance af­ter be­ing hon­oured with In­dia’s top Padma Shri award

The Sun (Malaysia) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

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.

PIX COUR­TESY OF RAMLI IBRAHIM

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.

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