Being Bapak - August 28 2007
When I was younger, maybe in my early 20s, just after Bapak was released from detention, I told myself if I were to get married, I'd want a husband just like Bapak.
Of course, if it were possible - minus his talent to spew profanities.
We saw a lot of Bapak after his release in 1981 as he was home most times before he was recalled to the New Straits Times.
We saw him do a lot of domestic chores. One that struck me was seeing him get hot water ready every morning for Nina and Lalin who were still in school -- Lalin was in Form 2 and Nina, in standard 5.
Then, we did not have hot water in our bathrooms. I suppose it was not a necessity and hot water facilities did not come with old houses.
Strange, but I don' quite remember showers being very very cold.
Bapak was the first one up and about.
I remember Bapak carrying a pail of hot water up the stairs to our bathroom. He poured some cold water into the pail of hot water.
Oh...I just felt so touched.
He saw the look on my face. A grin, a smile and a remark -- "Kesian Lalin dengan Nina. Sejuk pagi-pagi."
He'd do that every morning until we installed hot water in the bathrooms.
I also caught Bapak do his laundry. Ok...just the washing.
He would put all his used clothings in a pail next to the washing machine. But he would usually soak them in soapy water and then wash them himself.
That day I watched Bapak bring his used clothings down to the laundry area and put them in a pail. He filled it with water and spinkle some washing detergent. He left it there and went to the kitchen to make a mug of coffee.
I followed him. When I saw that he was making coffee, I told him that I'd make a mug for him.
"That's ok. I'll make it myself," he remarked as he poured hot water into a mug of nescafe with sugar and "Ideal" milk.
Then he went to the dining room to read the papers. I joined him.
A little later, he returned to the laundry area and ......began to wash his soaked clothes.
I asked him why did he not just dump his clothes in the washing machine.
"Let me do it for you," I offered. How could I let my father wash his own clothes?
"That's ok. I'm used to this," he said as he bent over to scrub, soak, rinse and squeeze his clothes.
Something tugged inside me.
Bapak was so used to taking care of himself and his personal items for the past five years that it came so naturally to him.
I believe he enjoyed doing all these chores.
When he was washing his clothes, he was humming a tune. When he was carrying the pail of hot water, he was smiling and grinning.
We were talking about Bapak one day over tea and pisang goreng in the kitchen.
We said that if our (future) husbands were like Bapak....what a picnic we'd all have.
Mak intimated that Bapak was actually a very independent man.
He was not the sort of husband who expected coffeee on the table for him, meals to be cooked for him or the usual domestic demands.
Of course, Mak would have coffee ready for him and cooked his meals. But that was no big deal for Mak. Bapak loved Mak's cooking and Mak was a devoted wife and mother.
But, if it came to the crunch, Bapak could take care of himself and his children.
Although his parents were very protective of him when he was young and as he was growing up, he was thrown into the deepest end to learn about the ways of the world when he began work as a reporter while still a teenager.
His friends were much older than he was and they happily taught him, about...well, life in general.
Oh yes... he grew up very fast. And we were told that he was a very fast learner.
After his release from (ISA) detention, Bapak took to the kitchen with ease and, sometimes, abandon relish.
I was at the NST then.
Bapak's reputation as a cook preceded him. At least among my friends.
One day, my colleague and very dear friend, Fatimah Abu Bakar and another colleague, Harbant Kaur, came over for lunch.
"What's cooking?", Fati asked.
"Nothing spectacular... nasi ayam," I said.
"Your mum masak?" Fati asked.
"No....my dad," I replied.
"Waah.... Pak Samad cooked!" Harbant remarked.
"Yah-lah.... but this is his first nasi ayam attempt. So brace yourselves," I said.
Bapak loved to go through recipes in magazines and newspapers.
If he were tech-savvy today, he'd be surfing the net for all sorts of recipes.
It was not surprising then that Bapak was so enthusiastic about cooking Ramadhan dishes for the family.
That first Ramadhan after his release, he prepared our buka puasa menu.
Mak didn't have a say. Somehow I got the feeling that Mak was very amused by it all.
She was very sporting. There were times she'd tell Bapak that a certain condiment was "kekurangan" in a certain dish.
"Yah kah?," was always Bapak's response.
I remember Bapak would cook all our favourite dishes during Ramadhan - one on each day.
First day was Bamia, the next day Soto Ayam, then Mee Siam, then Laksa Johor, then Mee Rebus, Macaroni Sup, Mee Mydin, Lontong and so on.
Of course, he could not permanently dominate Mak's kitchen. When Bapak returned to the NST, Mak got it back.
It was after Mak died in 1990 that Bapak did most of the cooking. He'd cook meals from old recipes and experimented new ones.
When Hari Raya came, dear dear Bapak would prepare the same dishes that arwah Mak cooked. And they were elaborate dishes.
He would tell the maid the ingredients to be prepared but did not allow the maid to cook.
"Biar aku saja yang masak. Lain hari kau boleh", he'd tell her.
But "lain hari" he'd still be doing the cooking.
So, for Hari Raya, Kak Piah, Kak Ton, Kak Olin and Kak Eda insisted on preparing one main dish so that Bapak would not have to do it alone.
Kak Piah was tasked with making Sayur Lodeh and Serunding Kelapa (to go with Lontong) and Kak Eda' Sambal Tumis Udang was to-die-for. Kak Ton would make Mak's Mee Rebus and Laksa Johor while Kak Olin makes a smashing Bamia and Sambal Goreng.
Azah was the one we'd go to to have the everyday fare of Mak's Assam Pedas, Lauk Pindang Serani, Sotong Masak Hitam (southern style) and Masak Kelo (vegetable soup comprising 'ketola", dried tauhu and glass noodles) and Sambal Tumis Ikan Bilis/Udang/Sotong.
As for me, I learnt to cook very late in life. I think I was the only daughter who enjoyed eating everybody else's cooking but never learnt to cook....until I was overseas.
You see, when we were young, we had our duties whenever our maid balik kampung.
Somehow, the kitchen evaded me. I was tasked with doing the laundry.
So I never had to cook. But when you are student away from home, you are left with no other option but to learn to cook if you do not want to be eating take-aways all the time.
So...I learnt to make Soto Ayam and Taucu Udang/Ikan Masak Lemak from my mum.
Bapak enjoyed cooking. In fact, later when he was ready to remarry, he impressed my (now) step mother with his culinary skills.
I think she was suitably impressed.
It has been quite sometime since Bapak stepped foot in the kitchen.
Age has caught up with Bapak. His diabetes took a toll on him some years ago, rendering him less mobile. Today, he is a little frail.
I stopped looking for a man like my dad a long time ago.
Washing his own clothes? Detention forced Bapak to take care of himself.
Cooking? That was how Bapak passed the time in detention besides his innate passion for cooking.
I got realistic. It was simply asking for too much.
But not so if he can make his own mug of coffee as well as mine the way I like it. Now that's a plus point going for him, wouldn't you say?