The Third Time - Tuesday March 20 2007
Mak was 49 when Bapak was detained in 1976 under the ISA. It was the third in his lifetime. The first two times were in 1946 and 1951 in Singapore by the British colonial administration.
When Bapak was first detained in 1946, Mak, then only 20, had just been married and was expecting Kak Piah. Bapak was 22 and was editor of Berita Malai.
The Japanese had surrendered and because Berita Malai was a newspaper under Japanese occupation, Bapak was detained for publishing Japanese propaganda and anti-British articles.
Mak recalled "British army officers with Gurkha escorts armed with stenguns" coming almost daily to Nenek's house (where she and Bapak were staying) to interview him, or to take him away to their headquarters.
The weeks preceding his detention were anxious days for her.
One day, Bapak was called to the CID office in Robinson Road and never returned home.
A few days later Wak Hussein (my dad's brother-in-law) told the family that he had been sent to the Outram Road Prison.
This was an oft-narrated story -- that when Kak Piah was born, she had "blue" eyes and "red" hair. My aunts told Mak that she must have "terkenan Orang Putih" -- having been constantly shocked by the presence of white men in the house.
As we grew older, we became interested in Bapak's past and always prodded him to tell us stories of his detention by the British. He'd give us anecdotes.
"They would interrogate me in the prison's death row. Near where they'd hang convicts. That was to frighten me. To break me. Bah!", he'd say. And Mak would always be listening as well. Smiling, with nary a word.
She had probably heard it all before.
We would all listen, wide-eyed, sometimes agape.
"And you were only 22?" was our usual remark.
"And Mak was only 20! Kesian nya."
Months after his detention in Outram Road Prison in 1946, Bapak was tried in a military court. He was later released and rejoined the pre-war revived Utusan Melayu as assistant editor.
By then, Bapak was already drawn into the anti-colonial movement for Malaya's independence and supported the constitutional struggle of the leftwing Malay Nationalist Party and PUTERA-AMCJA. He knew the leaders, Dr Burhanuddin al-Helmy and Ahmad Boestamam, intimately.
In 1951, three years after the declaration of the Emergency, during which the MNP and PUTERA-AMCJA were dissolved, Bapak was detained for the second time by the British for alleged communist activities but he was never brought to trial.
He was still Utusan Melayu assistant editor, 26 years old and a father of 3 -- 2 little girls and a baby boy -- Kak Piah (Sapiatun), Kak Ton (Maria) and Abang Med (Hamed).
Bapak was first detained in Changi Prison but after he protested, he was sent to St John's Island, about 30 minutes by boat from Singapore's Clifford Pier. He was there until 1953.
While in detention, Mak said that Bapak wrote short stories and articles to newspapers and to Utusan Melayu under various pseudonyms.
She said not even his colleagues in Utusan Melayu knew that the articles and short stories were written by him.
Mak was then staying in Nenek's house at Jalan Yahya, which was some two kilometres from her own father's house at Jalan Sudin.
Mak had Bapak's older sisters and his youngest sister to help her care for the children.
My aunts adored their nieces and nephew.
Kak Piah, who was born just before my grandfather (Bapak's father) died, was my Nenek's gem, in every sense of the word.
Nenek spoilt her. And as Nenek was the family matriarch, nobody dared offend her.
There was an unwritten rule that Kak Piah was not to be scolded. Even if she was naughty. Not even a gentle scolding.
Nenek would take that personally.
Mak remembered that the only person Kak Piah would not dare show her tantrums to was Bapak.
It was during Bapak's detention that Yusof Ishak, Utusan Melayu's managing director/editor offered Mak a job as a reporter.
She accepted. There was no objection from either Bapak's family or hers.
In Utusan Melayu she worked and continued even after Bapak's release.
St John's Island was a quarantine station which the British had converted into a main detention camp during the emergency.
Mak said Bapak was sent there from Changi Prison after he had made a strong protest that his detention in prison was illegal and unconstitutional as he was a political detainee.
I think he was a pain in the British administrators' backside when he was in St John's Island.
Mak said as soon as he arrived on St John's Island, he went on hunger strike over the poor food.
The British immediately isolated him to another part of the island, put him in a bungalow that used to be a dispensary, atop hilly ground overlooking the sea.
His hunger strike, however, had the desired effect. They gave him better food -- a "first class hospital European diet" -- four eggs a day with generous rations of meat and fish.
Mak said Bapak would go on hunger strike ever so often over grievances relating to the condition of his detention.Sometimes he would do so over flimsy issues.
Everytime he went on hunger strike, his privileges would be withdrawn and Mak would be denied visits to the island.
Yes, we thought, Bapak was a pain and troublemaker while in detention.
But Mak said, Bapak appeared happy on St John's Island. He did his own marketing every morning under police escort in the village.
He was on good terms with the warders and the islanders generally respected him, Mak said.
But, she pointed out that she could see the effect of detention on him. He was more reflective.
Mak certainly believed that his detention during both times had made him tough inside.
By the time he was detained the second time, Bapak had pretty much assumed a reputation as a journalist and Utusan Melayu assistant editor that Umno president Tunku Abdul Rahman and MCA president Tan Cheng Lock pressed for his release.
It was also during this time that a certain British-trained lawyer, Lee Kuan Yew, befriended Bapak.
He was to become Bapak's legal adviser, and soon after Bapak's release, a partner in founding and forming Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP).
After Bapak's release, he did not immediately rejoin Utusan Melayu, although Yusof wanted him to.
Mak said Bapak set some tough conditions before he could be persuaded to return to the newspaper. Through an emissary sent by Yusof, Bapak laid down certain conditions which included: that Utusan should no longer describe Indonesian freedom fighters as "pengganas" (terrorists), that Utusan must give full support to the Indonesian struggle for independence and that it must give equal treatment to news about left wing movement in the country.Yusof accepted the conditions. Bapak returned to his old newspaper.
His detention the third time was, undoubtedly, different.
Sure, Mak had gone through the pain of her husband being taken away twice before.
Yes, she was familiar with the trials and tribulation of a political detainee's wife.
But all that seemed a memory away. So distant. Somewhere in the recesses of her mind. Perhaps, never to repeat.
Did she expect to revisit the past?
Bapak's third detention came 30 years later. Post Merdeka.
Bapak was 30 years older. So was Mak.
Bapak, at the time of his arrest was deputy group editor and managing editor of NST.
Mak was now a mother of 10 -- 3 of whom were in college and 4 still in school.
No extended family in our Section 16 home in Petaling Jaya.
Mak was on her own to care for her own brood.
Sure, there were no Gurkhas carrying stenguns.
There were no Orang Putih appearing at our home. It was not the Orang Putih who took him away.
It was not the Penjajah who put him away.
They were "orang kita", our own government.
We caught Mak in her room one day.
Kak Eda and I had come home late Friday for the weekend.
Earlier in the week, I had an unpleasant encounter with someone who called me "Anak Komunis".
Kak Eda did some investigations after she was told by some of her friends about the incident that occurred at the School of Architecture.
"Ena, he is not any of our Architecture or Art and Design students." she told me with sheer relief, as though the "guilt by association" had been lifted.
It no longer mattered who the culprit was.
It was already dusk when we got home.
We rushed upstairs to look for Mak.
Her bedroom door, as always, was ajar.
Her back was facing the door. She had just completed her "solat Maghrib", as she was still seated on the floor. Her head was bowed, her hands, cupped, almost covering her face.
We waited silently. We could hear a quiet sob. We could see her body swaying, quivering. But just for a few moments.
We looked at each other, for that was the first time we had witnessed a show of emotion from Mak.
Have we intruded into her private moments with the Almighty? Perhaps, aware of our presence, she had to cut short those moments.
Then, Mak turned to face us as if she knew we were upset about something.
"Mak, diorang panggil Ena anak komunis," I said, as though by telling her, I had unloaded a heavy burden. Or that it would all go away.
She asked who and Kak Eda said it was some stupid student.
Mak said that we had to be strong in face of all this. That it was all a test for us.
Forget what happened, was her gentle advice.
Something good will come out of that, she said. Her voice so soothing that I was convinced that all that I had gone through earlier in the week, was really nothing.
"You know, my dears....I am now not (just) a wife of a political detainee. I am a wife of a communist," she said, softly. Her voice choked.