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The Keepers, the Burning House and the Water-Bucket Brigade Line

Bucket brigade - Graphic: renovatingyourmind.com

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A house is on fire and villagers are frantically trying to form a bucket brigade line – or more than one. Prema Devaraj describes the scene.

Picture this.

The finest house in a village is burning. The survival of the village depends on the contents of this house – crucial documents, historical archives, funds and a precious chest of principles which serve as the source for the villagers to refer to and draw strength from.

The Keepers of this village house (those in whom trust had been placed to guard and secure the wellbeing of the village) have been plundering this house for quite a while now. They have locked the precious chest of principles and thrown away the key. As the level of greed and callousness reaches a new high, things get out of hand and this fine village house catches fire.

The five pillars on which the house is built are beginning to crack. It’s a disaster.

Many of the villagers had not been blind to what was happening. They had been watching the house and the mischief of the Keepers. When the first sparks of flames were seen they sounded the alarm.

But many of the villagers did not want to intervene as they still trusted the Keepers. After all, life in the village was good compared to other nearby villages. Many of the villagers received gifts from the Keepers every now and then. And so the flames were allowed to grow.

The fine house is now engulfed in flames, and the lives of all those in the village are now at stake.

Realising the seriousness of the matter, many of the villagers gather to discuss what to do. They are horrified at the burning house. They are angered by the greed, callousness and deception of the Keepers. They want the fire put out. They want to rebuild the house and make it fine again. They want to retrieve and open the chest of principles. They want to save the pillars and fill up the cracks. They want a more secure future for themselves and their children.

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But not all the villagers understand the gravity of the situation.

Some villagers wander around saying they did not start the fire, so why should they get involved in putting it out?

Some make plans to move away to another village.

Some others feel that if they did try to help, they would get burned.

And some still believe that the Keepers will surely look after them even if the house is burned to the ground.

The Keepers giggle as the house continues to burn.

Yet another group of villagers sit further away, analysing how the fire started, the direction of the wind and the actual heat of the flames. They calculate how long it would take to burn the house to the ground and the what-ifs of any possible intervention. They compare it to burning houses in different villages. They circulate pictures of the burning house from different angles.

The Keepers chuckle as the house continues to burn.

The villagers gather to put out the fire. They rush off to get water from the nearest river. A water-bucket brigade line (WBBL) is formed to bring the water from the river to douse the fire. It is not an easy job and it requires all the villagers to work together. The solution seems straight forward – just put out the fire!

But problems soon arise in the formation of the WBBL.

Some of the villagers do not want to stand next to each other. They argue about the bucket-passing technique in the WBBL.

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Some feel that those who have bigger buckets should stand in front.

Some compare the colour of the buckets.

Some refuse to pass buckets to left-handed bucket holders.

Some spend more time talking about how much more they are doing for the village than passing buckets of water. They debate whether village women should occupy 30% of the WBBL.

Amidst the grumblings, protests, pot-shot-taking and bucket throwing, rearrangements are hastily made. This consumes time and energy and slows down the job at hand.

To make things worse a large number of villagers leave the WBBL. They start up a different line ie water-bucket brigade-line-leavers (the Leavers) though it remains unclear what direction the Leavers will take. They cordon off part of the river closest to their homes. Apparently the Leavers claim to have a ‘higher calling’ but the direction of the water-throwing is currently in doubt. There are rumours they are in contact with the Keepers.

The Keepers clap their hands in glee at the confusion and carry on with their mischief.

Meanwhile the house continues to burn.

While the WBBL gets down to the business at hand, some of the bucket-carriers are accused of wrongdoing. They are carted off by the village law enforcers, who are perceived by some to be under the thumbs of the Keepers.

Other villagers, strong and able, come forward to help but are not allowed to join the WBBL. Fed up with being ignored ,these villagers form their own brigade line with their own buckets.

The Keepers dance joyously while the house continues to burn.

As time passes, some of those in the WBBL get distracted from the main job.

They wonder about building a bridge over the river.

They ponder about the income which could be generated from the privatisation of bucket provision and perhaps even the water in the river.

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A few others begin thinking about reclaiming land for the village for after all, life has to carry on and business is the way of the world.

The Keepers smile broadly, dishing out goodies to the villages, and begin plundering neighbouring houses on the sly.

Meanwhile the finest house in the village continues to burn.

The WBBL in its fractured formation continues in its efforts. Many of those in the WBBL work very hard, sacrificing their time, keeping the need to save the house and the welfare of the whole village in mind.

The water source starts to dwindle and the WBBL leaders in desperation draw water from the nearby sewage treatment pond. Bits and bobs float around.

Many of the villagers balk at this. Buckets are dropped. Some villagers run off in search of hand sanitisers. Others are incensed and refuse to use dirty water. Some villagers begin to leave the WBBL.

But WBBL leaders shout in frustration “Now is not the time, please put out the fire first, then we can clean up.”

The WBBL is in disarray. Those remaining do their best to regroup.

The Keepers fall over laughing while the house continues to burn.

Some of the youth in the village are aghast. Yes, they know how awful the Keepers are and the havoc and damage they have caused. Yes, they too want to save the house. But they are troubled by the behaviour and actions of the WBBL leadership. They wonder what to do?

The Keepers gaily carry on with what they do best. The house is going to burn down….

What happens next?

Well, you decide how the story ends.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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25 Feb 2018 12.27am

A good satirical take on the current state of Malaysian politics, especially amongst the opposition, which has become rather fragmented.

The story ends with the Keepers laughing their way all to the bank.

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