Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Tuesdays With Bapak (7)
When Majid and Other Things Had To Go - Tuesday, March 27, 2007
We called him Encik Majid. He appeared one morning at the door.
The year was 1972 -- the year Kak Olin was sitting for her HSC and Kak Eda and I, our MCE.
I was getting ready to go to school. Kak Olin was waiting in the living room, reading a book. She was always with a book.
Kak Eda was looking for a clean pair of socks in the back room.
Bapak had just asked Kak Eda what that thin brown "tali" was doing around her neck.
"Macam hippie," Bapak remarked.
Kak Eda laughed it off and made a quick exit, saying, "nak cari stokin..."
Every school day, Bapak would drop Kak Olin off at Bukit Bintang Boys School where she was doing her sixth form, and then drive across the highway to Assunta Secondary School to send Kak Eda and me.
Mak would send Kamal to Sri Petaling in Section 11 and Lalin to Assunta kindergarten.
It was our morning routine.
But this morning was going to be a little diferent.
"Masuk, masuk," Bapak hollered from the dining room.
The young man, wearing a pair of groovy tinted glasses, walked in.
He seemed rather nervous, unsure where he should be standing.
The sofa looked friendly enough, he must have thought as he stopped and stood beside it.
He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, tucked in a pair of dark-coloured trousers.
He looked around, nervous but trying to look really cool.
The presence of two young ladies -- Kak Olin and I -- must have made him more nervous.
Bapak asked for his name.
"Majid, Encik," he said.
"Macam nama pak cik saya," I chipped in, as I remembered Cik Jid (Majid Ismail), Bapak's youngest brother who was a journalist with Berita Harian in Singapore.
Majid didn't quite smile.
Perhaps, he was unsure whether he should smile in response to my cheeky intrusion.That explained the nervous twitch of his mouth.
Majid was to be Bapak's driver. Bapak had been made the New Straits Times managing editor/deputy group editor.
The Malaysian operations of the Singapore-based Straits Times had been Malaysianized.
Some people had described it as a "coup".
It seemed it was Bapak who masterminded the move in which the late Tun Abdul Razak (then the Prime Minister) and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (the then Finance Minister) directed the company to transfer the ownership of its entire Malaysian operation into Malaysian hands.
Thus, the birth of the New Straits Times.
How did Bapak do all that?
Well, the story was that there was a "go-slow" industrial action by the editorial staff of the Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur.
As Malaysia was still under the emergency laws enforced following the May 13, 1969 riots, the European-dominated management in Singapore thought that the go-slow would definitely end without much ado.
It was illegal, for heaven's sake. So the management thought that they could hold out by asking for arbitration in the Labour Department.
Basically, they were unyielding. They wanted to tire out the journalists, thinking and perhaps, also hoping, that the journalists would eventually give up. Their spirit broken, and their struggle along with it.
They didn't realise that the journalists had Bapak on their side. His sympathies were with them.
Bapak was acting editor-in-chief, as Lee Siew Yee was in London, on leave.
The Singapore management, of course, assumed that since Bapak represented management, he was surely on their side.
Perhaps he should have been. But he was a journalist first.
Moreover, there was a bigger struggle. The pursuit of nationalism.
It was time for the umbilical cord of Straits Times' parent company in Singapore to be severed.
It was time for many great things.
Bapak and the journalists had also finally got the support of the printers' union. That was it. It was the ripe time for action.
Perhaps, the Mat Sallehs in Singapore had forgotten Bapak's past in which he had had dealings with some of the toughest and most notorious trade unions.
This was up Bapak's alley -- his proverbial cup of tea.
"He thrives in that," someone once said.
I remember those days. Bapak either did not come home, or he came home very very late.
Mak would tell us that there was "some problem at the office".
Bapak had, it seemed, seized the opportunity the "go-slow" had offered.
With one bold stroke, he made his move. And before the Orang Putih in Singapore knew what hit them, the New Straits Times was born.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
So, now Encik Majid would be driving the navy blue Holden Kingswood which Bapak had got a little earlier.
Encik Majid remained Bapak's driver until 1976, the year he was detained under the ISA.
Over the four years he was with Bapak, we all grew to be fond of him.
Especially Lalin and Nina, despite him being such a stickler about the do's and don'ts in the car.
"No ice-cream" was top of the don'ts list.
As for the do's -- I remember he never minded them making a din in the car. So, in my book, he was an okay guy.
He liked my little sisters and my little brother, he treated them well. So, that made him okay to me.
Besides, he was respectful of Mak.
Encik Majid must have got on well with Bapak.
We treated him as part of the family.
If Bapak had his meals at home, then, it was understood that Encik Majid would have his with Bapak. Mak would, of course, be with them.
Encik Majid knew all our relatives in Singapore, and called them by their family names.
They treated him with respect. So did we.
As far as we were concerned, he was an employee of the NST.
He was not our driver.
We got to know his wife well too. His family was like family to us.
Frankly, we were quite amazed that he was able to work with Bapak who kept long irregular working hours.
Encik Majid even worked weekends.
"Does he have a life?" we wondered.
More importantly, Bapak had quite a reputation.
Yes, we heard some of the horror stories.
Mrs Koay told us about a new overzealous and over-efficient secretary for Bapak.
Mrs Koay, essentially was Uncle Siew's (Lee Siew Yee) secretary and Bapak was to have his own secretary.
So, Miss overzealous decided to be super efficient and cleared Bapak's desk of "mess".
It seemed when Bapak came into his room and found his desk to be so tidy, he was not amused. And that is putting it mildly.
We heard that some not so nice four-letter words spewed from his mouth.
And Miss overzealous was history. And so were many others. They worked a day, and called it quits the next.
That was Bapak. His bark was far worse than his bite.
He got on well with Mrs Koay, though.
She must have known Bapak well enough not to disturb his things.
So, Mrs Koay was secretary to both Uncle Siew and Bapak.
For, Bapak, she basically worked on his schedule and appointments.
"Easy-lah to work with your dad. He types his own letters, articles and documents. No need to kacau his desk or his room. Easy boss," she would say to us later.
She continued to keep in touch with us post-1976. Lovely lady.
Indeed, a person made of far less stern stuff would have not lasted as long as Encik Majid did.
One day, Encik Majid came to the house driving a gleaming Mercedes 200 with the registered number, BAK 40.
He was grinning so widely as though he had just won a ... Mercedes.
"Ni kereta baru. Kingswood dah tak pakai lagi," he told Mak.
"Aah... cantik," she said.
When Kak Eda and I came home for the weekend, we saw the Mercedes in the garage.
Encik Majid proudly introduced the gleaming, spanking new Merc to us.
He must have been convinced that we were hopeless, for we were not impressed. The young anti-establishment, anti-anything that smacked of capitalism, non-conformist teenaged rebels that we were.
What a pity, we thought. We had liked the Kingswood. We even liked the registered number - BY 1918.
One thing we always remembered -- just like the Kingswood, the Mercedes was not ours.
"Tak ada character-lah," Kak Eda said, of this new car.
I nodded in agreement.
"Tapi ada air-cond," I whispered.
"So what," she retorted, making me feel as though I was so corruptible. So easily seduced.
The morning after Bapak was taken away, Encik Majid came to our house to report for work.
He had not been informed of Bapak's arrest so he was shocked and was almost in tears.
But we got the feeling that he was not entirely surprised and had somewhat expected Bapak's arrest to happen.
For the rest of the day after that fateful morning in June 1976, Encik Majid looked so forlorn. A little lost.
Encik Majid's routine was a little out of whack as Azah, Kamal, Lalin and Nina had all skipped school that day.
So we told him that perhaps he should go to the office as he could find out more about Bapak's arrest there.
He came back about lunchtime and joined us all for lunch, and lunchtime talk.
When talk was rife that Bapak was detained for communist activities, Encik Majid was emotional.
Dear, faithful Encik Majid declared that if they wanted to know where Bapak went, what time and with whom, he should be the one the Special Branch should question.
"I can account for his every movement outside his home," he said.
Dear, faithful Encik Majid.
There was also a time when he came over to the house with some books and documents.
"Ini boss punya. They all kemas bilik Bapak," he said, rather sadly.
One morning, about two months after Bapak's arrest and subsequent detention, Encik Majid came to our house, looking a little despondent.
He asked for Mak who was busy in the kitchen.
"Saya dah di suruh tidak kerja untuk Mak Cik Midah lagi," he said, trying to break the news as gently as he could.
"Kereta dah nak di ambil balik..."
Encik Majid, of course knew this was coming but I had the feeling that he was just hoping that the company would actually forget about him, in a way that allowed him to work with us.
But, how would we pay for his services, I had wondered.
Mak knew too that this day would come, that Encik Majid would have to go. And of course, the Mercedes too.
In fact, she had already received a letter from the company stating Encik Majid's termination of services and the withdrawal of the company car.
She only informed Kak Piah, Kak Ton and Abang Med about it.
The rest of us had no inkling but, we had expected this inevitable development.
"Saya tahu. Saya dah dapat surat," Mak told Encik Majid.
She told him not to worry.This was expected, she said, because Bapak was no longer with the NST.
But, she told him that he was always welcomed at our home, anytime.
"Jangan lupa Hari Raya," she said.
That weekend, Mak told Kak Eda and I that Encik Majid would no longer be with us. And neither would the car.
We were sad about Encik Majid because he had been like family to us. Besides he had served Bapak well, shown the greatest respect for him and for Mak.
He had also been very good to Lalin and Nina.
The Mercedes was not a big deal although it was only natural that we had grown to like it. But it was not ours.
And we had, after all, the small little red Mazda 1000 which Mak had been using.
But what would have been a big deal was something she had chosen not to tell us.
With Bapak incarcerated, she had now to find a source of income to support her school and college-going children.
She was reminded of Bapak's EPF money. But, that would be to repay Bapak's debts on whatever loans he had taken.
Bapak's poor financial management was legendary, we were soon to find out.
Mak was to be bread winner, driver and everything else. And in her head was whether we all could remain in college and whether we would be forced to move out of our home.
And where would we go?
She told us much later that at one point of desperation and despair, she was thinking of Medan where her ancestral home was.
That, to us, was unimaginable. Unthinkable.
Thankfully, her faith brought her back to earth, to reality.
Her one consolation in all this was that Kak Ton and Abang Med were already working.
"But, would we be a burden to them?" she had wondered.