Early this morning, as I was struggling up the Kiara Hill with my friend, Mia, I received an SMS from Lina (Haslina), the eldest child of (the late) poet laureate Usman Awang.
That got me worried for a while. Lina is close to me and my siblings - just like our sister - so I thought it must be something urgent.
Perhaps she was trying to contact me but could not.
Then I read the message: "Hari ini tarikh lahir Usman Awang, Al-Fatihah".
I responded immediately with "Al-Fatihah", composed myself because I was suddenly remembering our dear Pak CikTongkat, and then continued my climb, intending to call her later.
Oh... it seemed just yesterday that we got the news that Pak Cik Tongkat had died.
He had not been well. Still, news of death will always be shocking, no matter how prepared we are for the worst.
We rushed to the hospital after receiving the news.
Bapak, who was like a brother to Pak Cik Tongkat, was too distraught that he just could not make it to the hospital.
Usman Awang or known by his popular nom de guerre Tongkat Warrant was born on July 12 1929 in Kampung Tanjung Lembu, Kuala Sedili in Kota Tinggi, Johor.
Syed Husin Ali, one of Pak Cik Tongkat's closest friends wrote this:
Usman is popularly considered, and most justifiably too, as perhaps the best poet in the Malay language. Most important, he is accepted without question as a people’s poet. Writing since 1955, Usman did not produce a very large corpus of poetry, only about 200 of them. But the man, his personality, his poetry and his ideas have a much deeper and wider influence than that number would suggest. Much of his poems are simple, clear, oftentimes romantic, and just beautiful. He is a master at weaving words into striking phrases, sentences and verses that are of exceptional classical beauty and sometimes appear to be nostalgic and even escapist.
He is buried at the Bukit Kiara Muslim Cemetery in Petaling Jaya, near the grave of his wife, Hasnah Din who died two years earlier.
Pak Cik Tongkat was like a father to us.
Cik Senah, as we called his late wife, was like a mother to us.
So it is natural that we are very close to their children -- Lina, Iskandar, Yamin and Maya.
"Ayah would be 78 today," a wistful Lina told me when I telephoned her.
I thanked her for reminding me about Pak Cik Tongkat.
Lina said that she was in the midst of compiling her father's collection of "cerpen" or short stories that touched on Merdeka, in celebration of the nation's 50 years of nationhood.
Among the 18 stories are unpublished works, she told me.
Lina had gone searching for her father's short stories, including at the National Archives.
She hopes to complete everything by next month,
"I will keep you posted, Kak Ena," she said.
I am looking forward to read Pak Cik Tongkat's collection of cerpen.
Read about Usman Awang here, here and here
I talked a bit about Pak Cik Tongkat and Cik Senah here.