Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.

The lost brother Jega. In my family of eight boys and two girls, he was just a year older than me.

One of my earliest memories of him being different was the trouble he had with his eyes. Medical tests resulted in my father scraping money together to get him prescription glasses.

The only one to wear glasses, we gave him the nickname of "The Professor". Something positive to help overcome the inevitable cruelty of school children who teased him calling him four eyes. In multiracial Malaysia these taunts can be delivered in four languages.


Not sporty like our trailblazing older siblings, he was a studious chap. By the time he was 14 he had discovered the United States Information Service (USIS) library.

At that budding age towards physical adulthood he was reading philosophers, the likes of British Bertrand Russell and the Austrian, Martin Buber. I remember him challenging the other academic in my family, our eldest Sugu, who at a diminutive height of just over five feet tall, made up for his own perceived physical disadvantage by being a voracious reader.

I was a bystander looking on as the sharp debates sparked around weekend dinner times, much to the amusement of my father. Jega was developing to be a brilliant scholar.

But then the tragedy developed. In Malaysia and I suppose, other countries, intelligence was measured by your ability to perform well in tests and examinations.

I had no idea why, but my brother had a problem. Under such pressure his mind seemed to freeze and his performance and ability suffered and inevitably reflected in poor test and examination results.

At age 15, he barely made through the Lower Certificate Exam and, at 17 years, he failed to secure enough credits in his School Certificate Exam and forfeited entry to Sixth Form.

It was a humiliating experience for him and the family because in Malaysia the academic performance of kids was closely followed by their extended families and local neighbourhood.

Looking back, I realise the black hole my brother found himself in. He had a brilliant mind. He knew he was brilliant but society or The System had its own examination-based measurement of intelligence that contradicted his self worth. The public's understanding and acceptance of intelligence was defined by The System. The black hole was a psychological conundrum. There was no one to help him through this dilemma.


I was in Sixth Form when Jega went through a dramatic change. Many, many years later, over a quiet beer with my eldest brother, family reminiscing turned to the question of whatever happened to Jega.

Sugu blamed himself. In an attempt to shake Jega out of his dark hole he had introduced him to the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Her view of reality is described as the promotion of man as heroic with his own happiness being the sole moral purpose of life. She rejected the altruism of self sacrifice for the common good in favour of the ultimate morality of personal wellbeing. These are the underpinning values that later shaped the Chicago School of Economics and the rise of the neo-liberals and their slogan 'selfishness is a virtue'.

But I digress. Sugu's revelation helped frame what we witnessed back then. Very quickly Jega turned into a different person. Ayn Rand inflated his ego and he assumed an arrogance and intolerance that was frightening. He was superior to others and The System that was too stupid to recognise his brilliance.

I was not around to see the family drama unfold as by this time I had finished school and left to pursue my tertiary studies at Victoria in Wellington. But the letters from home included the final chapter.

I knew our father, with his traditional values, was disappointed in Jega's inability to negotiate through his challenges. The memory is clear. In my basement flat of the student rental house on Flagstaff Hill I read the letter. A heated altercation between my father and Jega saw him pack his bag and leave the family home. The last anyone saw him. He was not there at our father's or mother's funerals.

Over more than 40 years the family had tried a number of times to trace him with no success. He is lost to us now.

Knowing what I know now I would have liked to have found him and tell him that despite his right to freedom of choice he was a victim of The System. That he was brilliant and The System, and the society that was brainwashed by it, were wrong to have rejected him.

I never got a chance to tell him that the power of institutionalised thinking makes victims of all of us. While we can be excused when we don't know what we don't know, once you do know there is a moral responsibility to that knowledge. In the case of my brother my knowledge arrived too late and he was lost beyond reach. Life.