Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Tuesdays With Bapak
Of P Ramlee And Music - July 10, 2007
I remember the day P. Ramlee died, sometime in May 1973. I was in my first year of Pre-university studies at ITM (now UiTM) in Shah Alam.
If 1973 had been today, I think we all would have got the news of his death fast and furious.
But there were no mobile phones then. No computers. And Shah Alam was in the boondocks. Really, it was.
I am not even sure whether the morning papers were delivered regularly to campus, or to whom they were delivered.
I cannot remember where I was able to get hold of newspapers to read -- at our hostel, our school or the library?
Not many of us had transistors in our rooms. I know I didn't. As for televsion, I believe there was one set for one hostel area. At that time there were 4 hostel areas and each area, I think, had three to four hostel blocks.
I do not remember ever watching TV anywhere in campus back then.
So, if we did not venture out of our little campus, read the papers, listen to the radio, watch television or make that occasional phone call home, we were, to a large extent, cut off from the world outside.
What helped a great deal were conversations with our lecturers. They were our main source of information about the latest happenings in the country.
I remember making my way to my classroom for morning lectures on the seventh floor of the multi-storey ITM building when several of my sixth form classmates were abuzz with talk that P. Ramlee had passed away.
It was more like a rumour, not a statement of fact because it was something someone heard and passed on.
The "news" spread like wild fire.
Finally, one of our lecturers confirmed that P Ramlee had died.
I was 17. I had watched a lot of P Ramlee movies. I knew all his songs.
But, really, I don't think that at that time I was a diehard fan although I thoroughly enjoyed his movies and loved his songs immensely.
I was very aware that P Ramlee was hugely talented as a film maker and song writer but I think, at that time, I (and I am sure many others too) had taken his talent for granted, never for a moment stopping to appreciate his genius, his brilliance.
I knew that the day P Ramlee died was a sad day for many people. But what I did not know was how the news of his death had affected Bapak.
A few years later, (by which time I and the rest of Malaysia, had truly appreciated P Ramlee's gift and greatness) I read an article (in a Malay magazine or a book) about P Ramlee. It had quotes from P Ramlee's friends and people who knew him. One of them was Bapak.
Now I cannot remember if the writer of the article interviewed Bapak or he interviewed someone who was privy to this conversation Bapak had with P Ramlee.
Bapak had told P Ramlee that if the time came for P Ramlee to meet his maker, Bapak would weep, for his passing would be a great loss.
I asked Bapak about it. Did he really say that to P Ramlee?
I knew that Bapak loved his songs and would play his records at home.
P Ramlee, keroncong and Asli (Malay and Indonesian) music made up the lot of our music collection.
Bapak encouraged us to listen to music -- rock, pop, blues, jazz or whatever was our fancy.
But, he believed that we had to be exposed to the classics first. Just like books. Read the classics first.
He did not force us to listen to P Ramlee, R Azmi, Affandi, Bach, Chopin or Tchaikovsky.
He just played them at home.
When Abang Med began writing songs for artistes in the late 70s, Bapak reminded him to go back to listening to P Ramlee for inspiration.
Abang Med needn't have to because P Ramlee had been a part of his musical staple.
I cannot remember when or where I asked Bapak that question.
But I remember his reply.
Yes, he did say that to P Ramlee.
What was P Ramlee's response?
He was naturally touched by Bapak's remarks. I suppose it was a huge recognition by an old friend.
Bapak knew P Ramlee in the early days when the legend arrived in Singapore from Penang to try his luck in filmdom.
Every young hopeful would go to Singapore because in the 50s, it was the centre of everything, including culture and the film world.
The Jalan Ampas studio was where they headed for.
Eleven Jalan Yahya was my grandfather's house in Kampung Melayu, off Jalan Eunos in Singapore.
Bapak was at that time with Utusan Melayu. His friends were not only politicians but young struggling artistes counted among them.
Young people trying to make it as actors would arrive in Singapore with nowhere to stay. Through friends of friends, they would get to know Bapak. Some would put up at Datuk's house before finding a place of their own.
P Ramlee was among them.
In fact, that was how Usman Awang (Tongkat Warrant) first got to know Bapak.
He had come to Singapore to either be an actor or a reporter.
He had gone for a screen test and also applied to be a reporter.
Pak Cik Tongkat got the call from the newspaper first so he accepted the job.
It turned out that he had also "passed" the screen test. But that came a little too late. Otherwise, who knows, Usman Awang would have been as great an actor as P Ramlee.
I did not know that some of the well-known names in Malay movieland were known to Bapak until I was in form five (in 1972) when I went to fetch Noorkumalasari from her house.
We were from different schools but were involved in a cultural show.
Her parents, S Roomai Noor and Umi Kalsom were there. So, she introduced me to her (now late) father.
Although it was not my first time at her house, it was my first time meeting her parents.
"Anak Samad. Anak Comel? Uncle kenal your father. Uncle kenal your grandmother. Masa dulu, Uncle pernah duduk rumah your grandmother.
"How is your father?
"Kirim salam ayah, ya. Cakap nama Uncle, sure dia kenal," he said. I was momentarily speechless.
At home later that day, I sent the actor's salam and asked Bapak about what he had related.
"Yaa... ramai dulu datang rumah nenek.. Bapak kalau tak kahwin dengan Mak awak, Bapak dah kahwin dengan seniwati-seniwati dulu," he replied, his face grinning so devilishly I did not ask him further for fear of unwelcomed details.
All I said was : "Teruk lah Bapak ni. Bilang Mak nanti."
His reply was : "Mak awak dah tahu." Followed by his cackle and guffaw.
Bapak knew P Ramlee well but there was little contact between them in later years because, I suppose, they led separate lives. One a very famous "seniman", the other, a very busy newspaper editor.
But it seemed when their paths did meet, during functions and events to which Bapak was invited, they would pick up where they left off and talked as though they'd never been apart. They'd be rib-tickling each other and laughing away.
I was told about a musical/cultural performance at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in which P Ramlee performed sometime in the 60s.
Bapak was there with Mak.
During the performance, P Ramlee announced that he was going to sing a song dedicated to his old friend, Samad.
The song was "Merak Kayangan" which P Ramlee knew to have been a favourite of Bapak's during their Singapore days.
So, yes. Bapak did weep the day P Ramlee died.