Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Tuesdays With Bapak (13)
Azah's Story - May 8 2007
Azah is my younger sister. We look very very different. She is taller, a little duskier, wavy hair and she takes a lot from Bapak's Parsi side of the family.
I look a lot like Mak who was Mendahiling/Burmese and Bapak's Javanese (maternal) grandmother.
Azah is also a lot friendlier than I am. She is the sort to whom you'd want to tell your whole life story.
Azah would, in fact, make a good reporter because she has a way with people. But, writing is not her passion.
Although we were and still are different in many ways, we are quite alike in some. I suppose that's the way with sisters.
When we were children, I used to be protective of her. There were times I would also bully her.
When we were older, I used to be protective of her. There were times I would also bully her.
That was the way things were. I suppose that was the way things were supposed to be.
We played dolls and house together. When we played school, I was teacher and she and Kamal were my pupils.
I would scold them the way Mrs Wong would scold the class.
They enjoyed it at first but when I became maniacally immersed in my role, they would invariably cop out.
They just cried. No more fun.
When I joined Tan (now Lee) Lee Lan's ballet classes in 1965, I asked Bapak to also allow Azah to join.
Bapak thought it was a good idea as it was a creative way of spending our free time.
"Instead of fighting," he had remarked.
I suppose we did cause a din at home whenever we fought. Azah was prone to hysterical outbursts that could be quite unbearable.
I was quite a sadist at times. I would purposely make her cry.
But I would be the first to protect her against any bully. Later in life, from neighbourhood Romeos. And there were many.
In ballet, I got straight into the grade one class while Azah was put in the primary grade with the younger children.
Ballet, dancing and music were our common interests. We were passionate about them.
There is a three-year age gap between us. Although Azah has five older sisters, I was THE big sister to her, as I was the closest in age.
When she was old enough to stand her ground, to protest my bullying, we would fight. Sometimes I would pull her hair. When she grew to be taller than me, she pulled my hair back. So, I stopped pulling her hair.
The neighbourhood roti man called Azah "anak Bhai", sometimes "anak Hindustan". I used to think they both meant one and the same thing.
"Kasi saya-lah. Macam anak Bhai," he would tell Mak, in jest, everytime he delivered our packed loaf of bread. He would always give Azah some goodies. We would always take some of the goodies from her. Azah had always been a generous kid.
It was the same at the neighbourhood store, "Aladdin". The shopkeepers were North Indians and they adored Azah.
Perhaps Azah reminded them of their daughters or sisters they had to leave behind in search of a better life in Malaya.
I remember always insisting on following Mak to the store whenever she brought Azah along. Mak didn't mind at all because I could mind Azah while she could attend to her shopping.
Sometimes, they would give Mak huge discounts. Everytime, Azah would get free "Mars" chocolates. That was my favourite chocolate.
The Malays would call it -- "tumpang se kaki".
Azah grew to be tall and very model-like. In her late teens, she had that much sought-after look, and height -- for commercials and the catwalk.
Azah was in Form 5 when Bapak was detained. On the day of Bapak's arrest, she did not go to school.
When she did the following day, her school headmistress Sister Enda made an announcement about Bapak's detention and called for a prayer.
Bapak's detention affected Azah, though in a different way. She was in a way, lucky. She was somewhat protected by her older sisters and Abang Med.
Kak Olin, Kak Eda and I went to college in 1973 when Azah was still in Form 2. Until we graduated, she was the only older sister to Kamal, Lalin and Nina, who was at home during the week. Kak Piah and Kak Ton lived with their families but would visit Mak in the evenings. They would sometimes drop by for lunch.
Azah would wait for the weekend to tell us about her week -- the good and the bad.
Ever since she was a little girl, Azah loved to go into the kitchen. I remember her as a 5 year-old helping Mak and our maid, Kak Saemah, in the kitchen.
Mak couldn't get her out of the kitchen. She would just be there, doing something.
By the time she was 10, Azah was already able to cook dishes -- assam pedas, sambal tumis, pindang serani, singgang, sop sayur ketola and kari ikan.
I quite envied her culinary skill only because cooking seemed to me, as a young girl, so complicated. I preferred helping Mak with the laundry instead, whenever Kak Saemah went back home to her village in Klang.
It was natural that Azah was the one Mak turned to, in later years, to help her when the older girls were not around.
And it was to her we turned, after Mak died, for our favourite dishes that our dear mother used to cook for us.
To this day, Kamal, Lalin and Nina (and everyone else tumpang se-kaki), would go over her place in USJ to just have the simple but oh-so-special dishes which Mak used to cook for us.
Azah somehow has the touch. I know I don't.
After her sixth form, Azah took a secretarial course. But she was not interested in becoming a secretary. She was more interested in the beauty line.
After her sixth form, while waiting for results, Mak thought it would be a good idea to enrol Azah in a modelling school so that she could learn to walk elegantly.
She thought Azah, being so tall, was "not walking properly". Perhaps, people trained in ballet aren't supposed to be tall. Tall ballerinas surely have an odd way of walking.
The modelling school Azah enrolled in was "Nefertiti" run by one of the top models then, Stella Prasad. After completing the three-month course, Azah registered at the Hawkins Academy where she submitted her portfolio to gain stints in commercials, on the catwalk, become house models and so forth.
Azah was also photogenic, so aside from the catwalk experience, she was also offered roles in commercials -- Snap chocolates, Mamee instant noodles, Lancer (automobile) in which hers were among the 500 pairs of eyes, Dream soap, the first launch of Joy (drink) and National (electrical brand) calendar, to name a few.
So, were we okay with her involvement in this line? Yes and no.
Yes, because she never got out of line and she would religiously inform us of the people she was working with and the location of her assignments.
We were not judgemental. But modelling and shooting for advertisments presented us with a worrying set of circumstances -- late nights, irregular hours and all sorts of follow-up telephone calls by strangers. People can be very resourceful you know.
And was Bapak okay with Azah's part-time modelling career?
Well, for as long as it was part-time and Azah took care to take care of herself. And we had to make sure that our younger sister did not go over and beyond the limit like modelling in skimpy and sexy clothes, appearing in sexy ads. Oh, you know.
Bapak also drew the line when it came to the location of her modelling assignments. Azah had to turn down trips to the Philippines and Indonesia.
Azah who was doing a secretarial course, had also wanted to earn extra pocket money.
Writing was not her forte. So, she decided to do something she felt she was good at.
Now we know why some girls would give up other things to become models. And this was in the 70s.
It was good money but Azah had to have her feet firmly on the ground.
Modelling, we told her, cannot be her permanent vocation.
Besides, models have a shelf-life.
"Don't you want to make a graceful exit?"
"There's more to (working) life than just modelling."
Sometime in 1979 when I had already started work at the NST, Azah told me that she was selected to take part in a contest -- Malaysian Model of the Year.
"Do you have to wear a bikini?", I asked, worried that it was just another name for a cattle show.
It seemed a decent enough contest. So the family said okay.
We did not tell Bapak because we assumed that since he was okay with Azah's modelling, he'd be okay with this very decent contest.
Then, she was shortlisted among the 10 finalists.
The story was in the newspapers, including the Malay Mail.
Come Tuesday, we were ready to visit Bapak.
By 1979, I believe, our rendezvous had been moved to the Petaling Jaya police station, which made us think that Bapak must have also been moved to an area in Petaling Jaya.
Tuesday, sometime in 1979 @ the Petaling Jaya Police Station, Petaling Jaya.
Bapak was already seated. His "bodyguards" standing behind him. By this time, they appeared to be very protective of him. In fact, we could detect a certain closeness, gentle exchanges like between father and sons.
We sat around him after the usual greeting. And before we could ask him anything ...
Bapak: "Aku tak nak Azah masuk model contest tu."
We all looked at one another. "He knows?".
Azah was not with us as she had classes.
Mak looked a little perplexed but remained calm. Kak Piah and Kak Ton possibly did not know what to say.
Abang Med who was working with Pacific Chemicals, was away in the US attending a course.
He would have been our ideal representative in this case. As the man of the house in Bapak's absence, we would have gladly elected him to answer all Bapak's questions such as:
"Why did you allow Azah to enter the contest?"
No Abang Med. Kak Piah and Kak Ton, I could tell, gave me that "we don't know anything" look.
Nuraina: "It's a decent contest. No bikini, swimsuit or short skirts."
Bapak: "That's what they say. She can model. As a hobby, as her pastime, that's ok. But not for competition. Not to compete. What for? Tell her to pull out.."
Pull out, ya? The contest was just a few days away. Easier said than done, Bapak, I said to myself.
Bapak explained that he saw nothing wrong in Azah modelling and appearing in advertisements. In case we didn't know, he had seen some of the ads Azah was in.
He did not object to Azah enrolling in a modelling school in the first place because, any form of learning, any form of discipline was good.
Learning was enriching. An added advantage.
So, Azah doing modelling part-time and earning some honest money along the way was fine with Bapak.
Competing to be the Malaysian Model of Year was not.
Especially that her father was in detention.
As expected, Azah was quite upset. Maybe very upset, because she cried. The contest must be important to her. But, she knew that she could not defy Bapak. She accepted Bapak's reasoning.Well, ok. She had no choice.
She had already bought shoes for the contest -- two pairs , one in black and the other, white.
I was the one who took her shopping for the shoes.
"What do I say? What do I tell the organisers? I don't think they'd allow. I must have a good reason."
Oh, Azah. Kak Ena was not born yesterday. Of course, they'd have to allow.
"Takut organisers ke takut Bapak? I have to answer to Bapak, you know", I said.
Now, guess who had to tell the organisers that Azah was unable to take part in the finals.
One day (maybe on a Friday), at the office, (then) Sunday Mail editor, Joachim Ng asked if Azah was my sister.
"We're using the story of the contest on our centrespread".
He showed me the "advanced" Sunday Mail centrespread with Azah's photo in it.
"I hear she is a favourite," he said.
Hmmm. Really? I didn't know.
I think the story was to come out on the day of the contest.
I told him Azah was pulling out of the contest. I am not sure now what else I told him.
Just before the contest took place, a news article stated that one of the contestants -- your guess is as good as mine -- had to pull out.
"She is down with German measles," or something like that, according to the report.
And, well, the Sunday Mail had to make changes to its centrespread.
NOTE: Azah has long stopped modelling. After Bapak was released he enrolled her in the Aesthetic Beauty Academy in Petaling Jaya. Azah is a trained aesthetician, having worked in a German cosmetic company and Nutrimetrics.
Azah should have been a nurse. We all took turns to care for Kak Eda but it was Azah who spent the longest time with arwah, helping to bathe her, wash her.
So, we make sure Azah stays healthy, healthier than us all, so that she can take care of us later. Haha...kidding, Azah, kidding.
Azah has two children, Muhammad Jazzril, 19 and Muhammad Jazzlan, 14.
She is married to Englishman Terry Hughes AKA Yahya Abdullah, a rabid West Ham supporter.
Photos of Azah: (from bottom) 1. Azah, maybe 2 years old, eating an apple. Pix was taken at our Jalan Sentosa house in Kawasan Melayu, Petaling Jaya. 2. Azah, a big girl already. 3. Pix of little Kamal, Tante (Chairani Nasution -my mum's cousin from Medan) and Azah, "melaram" in sunglasses belonging, I think, to kak Ton.