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Datuk here, datuk there, datuk everywhere. So what's in a title?

V Shuman
QUICK TAKE: If you pick up a stone today and throw it into a crowd, chances are you will probably hit a datuk, if not two. No, I'm not suggesting violence here. My point is: Datuks are everywhere nowadays.

For the uninitiated, the title is "supposedly" equivalent to the British knighthood (which carries the title Sir) in days gone by. Unfortunately, the prestige that is supposed to come with the title is gone because as a friend of mine used to say "the title is being sold on the back of a bicycle." Or worse, it can even be traded in a pasar malam. How many datuks are really worthy of the title?

Recently, the police picked up a 26-year-old fake Datuk who allegedly abducted and beat up three men, including a foreigner, in the city. The man claimed to be good friends with high ranking police officials and even had a name card embossed with the title Datuk.

The man clearly had illusions of grandeur associated with titles and tried to channel it the wrong way. The fact is there are many fake datuks around today. Having acquired titles from dodgy sources like the Naning chieftain or the Sulu Sultanate in exchange for huge amounts of money, they hope the titles can help them secure contracts and gain other benefits that a titled person can gain. But in the end, they are usually several thousands of ringgit poorer, that's it.

Fake datukships aside, how many real datuks out there are really deserving of the title? I personally know a scrap metal businessman who is a datuk. His credentials - being successful in his business and very wealthy. The thing is, he was not ashamed to admit that he bought the title from the Sultanate of a state in the East Coast of the peninsula. (I believe informed readers will know which state I'm referring to.)

On that note, please don't get me started on Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan who was conferred the title by the Malacca Governor some years ago, because he ran around trees, singing duets with the female lead, in a Hindi movie or two shot in the state. That, and the missuses of the powers that be were huge fans of the star. The state justified the title, saying "it was given because he helped promote tourism in the state." (cue facepalm moment here)

Members of the Indian community lately also have their brain cells in a knot, puzzled about the sudden transformation of a radio DJ-cum-TV compere into a datuk. This woman, probably in her late 20s, proudly flaunts her title (awarded by the same state in the East Coast), gets chauffeured around in a Bentley, and is constantly seen brushing shoulders with the who's who of the country and has an NGO, the function of which remains a puzzle to many.

This personality was also recently featured in a local daily's top 10 list of the country's most powerful women, ahead of renowned activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir. Her sudden "mysterious" thrust into superstardom raised eyebrows (and blood pressure) of many who had no idea of who she was. The woman also has more than 900,000 likes on her FB page (mostly bot generated), close to prominent politician Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who has a million plus likes. Why the cheap publicity "lah?"

There are also cases of underworld figures being awarded with the title, just because they have the cash to spare. Such easily dished-out awards have "diluted" the quality of the title and people do not look up to the recipients anymore. And then, there is the famous case of the two Everest heroes - Datuks M Magendran and N Mohandas, who risked their lives and limb to be the first Malaysians to set foot on the highest peak in the world, in 1997. They received their awards only in 2010 - after being forgotten for a long 13 years.

My point is, the obsessions with titles must stop. Even the most powerful man in the world, American President Barack Obama, is addressed as "Mr President." Nothing else equivalent to Datuk, Datuk Seri, Tan Sri, or Tun. Because in the end, what you do matters more than how you are addressed.

As for me, I will wait until I’m blessed with grandchildren and hear them call me "Datuk."

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