Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Tuesdays With Bapak (9)
The First Tuesday - April 10 2007
Abang Med walked into the living room and made his way to the piano at the end of the room.
I was behind him with Nina beside me.
"Tannggg", went a key of the piano.
Then, he seated himself and started playing a song. A lilting melody.
It was one of the many songs that Bapak used to "serenade" us when we were kids. But when Abang Med hit the keys, he made it sound much sadder.
Bapak, I had always believed, would have either been a musician or a dancer, if he had not thrown himself so completely into journalism and politics.
In his younger days he would play the harmonium (a musical instrument) belonging to his family who owned a "bangsawan" in the old days in Singapore.
Then, before he ventured into journalism, Bapak was known (to everyone except, I suspect, his own parents) to enjoy joining in the kampung festivities, including dancing the "zapin".
And then, journalism beckoned.
"Semalam di Malaya" was one of the first songs Bapak sang to us. It meant something to him. Although he did not say so but we knew it reminded him of his sojourn in Jakarta as an Utusan Melayu correspondent and of his return home to Singapore.
He had often referred to his time in Jakarta as his "political exile", a result of friction between him and Utusan Melayu boss, Yusof Ishak, with Lee Kuan Yew in the picture .
To me, it told of a poignant part of a man's life. I always imagined the sense of desolateness and isolation Bapak must have felt during that part of his life away from family and friends..
It used to touch a chord somewhere in me whenever I hear "Semalam Di Malaya" on the radio or when Abang Med used to play it for Bapak on the piano or guitar. Bapak would sing it with Kak Ton sometimes accompanying him.
Mak would sit, watch and listen approvingly.
That day after returning from visiting Bapak for the first time since his detention, "Semalam Di Malaya", like never before, moved me to tears.
When we were little, in the early 60s, Bapak would take out his "Akai" tape recorder and then asked us to gather around him.
He would then fix two rolls of tape onto the recorder and plug in the microphone.
This "ritual" was usually on weekends when Pak Cik Tongkat, Cik Senah and their children visited us at our Jalan Sentosa home in Kawasan Melayu in Petaling Jaya.
I would sing all the nursery rhymes I learnt in school and Lina (Pak Cik Tongkat's eldest) would join me. Everyone would have a great time.
Those were our early days in Malaya. We had just arrived from Singapore and newly-settled in the country. Kawasan Melayu seemed to be the place where the newly-arrived settled. There were familiar names, besides Pak Cik Tongkat, such as Samad Said, Mazlan Nordin, Alias Ali and Salim Kajai who were our "neighbours".
A few years later, Mak's relatives from Sumatra settled next door. Mak Cik Mon's relative was married to Mak's relative in Sumatra. Mak was about her only known relative in Petaling Jaya and lucky for her the next door house was vacant and ready to be occupied.
One of her sons whom we've known as Agam went on to become quite well-known as a singer/songwriter who has now made Indonesia his home. The music industry knows him as Odie Agam who wrote "Antara Anyir Dan Jakarta" popularised by local artiste Sheila Majid.
It turned out that Agam, then hardly a teenager yet, was already a good guitarist. He would "jam" with us. He and Abang Med who was also a cool guitarist got along famously and played music together.
We learnt a lot of Indonesian classical and folk songs from Kak Linda (Mak Cik Mon's eldest daughter) and her sisters Tina (Ristina) and Kechik (Suslita), The youngest girl, Magda was my best friend then.
I think we moved out of Jalan Sentosa in 1964 to Jalan Lembah in section 5, Petaling Jaya.
I remember, in our singing sessions in our Jalan Lembah home, Kak Ton rendered a Malay hit song "Selamat Tinggal Bunga Ku" or something like that. We told her that she should stop schooling and be a singer.
Now the living room echoed with the melancholic sound of Abang Med's piano rendition of "Semalam Di Malaya".
Hot afternoons and "Semalam Di Malaya" on the piano would ordinarily lull us all to a nice slumber.
But not today. Today we wanted to let it all out. In a song. Bapak's favourite song that meant so much to him years ago and now, to us in ways we could not explain.
Halfway through Abang Med's playing, I sang to the tune. I knew the lyrics very well. So did the rest of Bapak's older children. Kak Ton joined in and then Kak Olin. What a sad performance.
"Semalam Di Malaya" would from then on be our "anthem" of sorts. I loved the song. And I love it more now.
Earlier, our visit had been one filled with mixed emotions -- sadness, anticipation, uncertainty and fear. But there was a lot more joy which warmed the occasion.
The drive home from the Jalan Bandar police station seemed to be much shorter than the drive to reach it earlier in the morning.
When Bapak walked into the huge room that had been reserved for our visit, Kak Ton almost collapsed.
I could see her face turned ashen, her eyes glistened. In fact, everyone seemed shaken by the sight of Bapak -- his head shaven, he looked so pale - almost white - thin, tensed and very nervous.
Abang Med, if he wasn't the number one son, would have displayed similar emotions as Kak Ton had.
Instead, he was stone-faced but he eyed the SB guys suspiciously. I can tell you, if looks could kill, those SB guys would have been dead in a second.
Mak must have sensed the tangible air of uneasiness in the room. If her children had any ounce of what her husband was made of, would there be trouble right here in this room?
But, on that score, Mak was proven wrong. Much as we despaired about Bapak's condition, we were overjoyed to see him that nothing else mattered.
It was Nina who broke the ice, so to speak. At first hesitant to go near Bapak, Nina then just hugged him, as though remembering that he was the reason for her to be in this strange place.
Bapak, thankfully, had the same old pair of thick spectacles on.
"So, they didn't throw them away," I thought.
I think everyone of us tried to act normally while at the same time, assessing (nay, studying) Bapak, from head to toe.
Was Bapak stammering? I asked myself.
Every now and again, we would look at the SB officers looking at us.
But they were extremely nice. Not just in their mannerisms as they gave us quite a lot of room to be with Bapak. But in their facial expression. They actually looked kind.
Bapak asked us very mundane run-of-the-mill questions about school, exams, Abang Med's column in the Sunday Mail, Kak Olin in the UK, his grandchildren and so forth.
The mood warmed up eventually.
Oh, how we wished one hour could last forever. When the one hour was up and we proceeded to say goodbye, one of the officers told us to not worry.
"Tak apa. Ada masa lagi," he said.
Mak thanked him and everyone resumed talking. Bapak listened mostly.
Somehow, we knew we could not say anything beyond the mundane things. And we knew he could not say anything beyond that.
We were later to tell each other that we wanted to "play safe" in case it would be worse for Bapak. Just a feeling but, truth be told, we need not have been so unduly worried.
Bapak, certainly, did not seem to be the same Bapak we knew. It was apparent to us that the two-month incarceration had changed him.
When it was time to go, the officers told us to wait in the room.
"Nanti bila boleh balik, kami akan beritahu," the older officer told us, amiably.
We kissed Bapak's hand and hugged him.
"Ok. Be good. Take care. Jangan boyfriend-boyfriend, nanti fail exam," he remarked before he left. Which of course, left us quite stunned. Did we touch on the subject of boyfriends with him?
But, because he said it so light-heartedly and to hear him say so in that way, warmed our hearts.
Yes, the drive home was less tensed.
Abang Med must have wanted to release tension when he decided to just play the piano and naturally chose that song.
After the sad singing session, there was a deafening silence in the living room as everyone wanted to get themselves together. I felt spent after mouthing the lyrics. It was an emotional experience.
Then Abang Med turned around. The sadness and anger had lifted from his face. In its place was a smirk.
"Next time, we follow Bapak's car, ok?"
No, it was not a question.