Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Tuesdays With Bapak (17)
Just Like Datuk - June 5 2007
When my son Adel was in standard five, he had to do a project -- write about a well-known Malaysian personality who had made contributions to the nation.
My first thought was Bapak because, well, he was a convenient candidate and yes, he had made contributions to the nation.
Now, it was very strange that my son refused to write about his datuk.
He actually did not believe me when I said that his datuk was an ideal subject for his project.
When I tried to convince him, he finally conceded and told me that he was "malu".
He was adamant not to write about his grandfather because he was "malu".
I could not understand him.
"Why are you malu? He is your grandfather and he had done much for the country, you know," I said.
"They won't believe me. They will think I'm making it all up," Adel replied.
"It is the truth. Your teacher will know this," I reasoned.
No, he did not write about his grandfather. He wrote instead about Usman Awang or his "Tok Tongkat". A brilliant subject, nonetheless.
I was not satisfied. Not about him not writing about his grandfather. But the reason for that.
After much "slow-talking" to him I found out that he did not want to make a big deal about his datuk, and did not want to appear "megah" about his datuk's contributions and achievement.
The easiest explanation he could give was that he was "malu".
He just did not want anyone to know who his datuk was.
Strange. But I could understand.
I was, in a way, relieved.
Today, he asks a lot about his datuk.
When I told him that Bapak completed high school at 16 and immediately started work as a reporter, Adel was in shock.
Adel is 17.
"At your age, datuk was already fighting the British," I told him.
"What do you write about in your essays?" I asked Adel.
"Oh.. stuff.," he replied.
Stuff? Hmm. A typical teenager. A lack of many abilities -- to speak, to describe, perhaps to write.
Should I tell him that at his age, his grandfather was writing anti-colonialist articles and short stories?
I am supposed to write something about Bapak for a daily (newspaper) in conjunction with the nation's 50th anniversary celebration.
So, I went over to Bapak's to have an interview with him.
I brought Adel along to listen to Bapak's narration of a part of his life.
That occasion could have changed Adel's life and his view of life.
He listened attentively, sometimes unashamedly in awe as his grandfather spoke about his youth and how Utusan Melayu fought for Merdeka with the support of the people.
Me: Why did you become a reporter?
Bapak: To fight for independence.
Me: At that age? You wanted to on your own?
Bapak: You know, a reporter's pay at that time was pittance Nobody in their right mind would want their kid to be a reporter. Hard work and very little pay. So you need your father's blessing to be a reporter.
My father was already writing anti-colonialist articles for a newspaper. He was a scholar, a teacher and a writer. He was already in the independence movement. He wanted me to be a reporter even though I was offered posts as a school inspector and a teacher.
Me: You were forced to be a reporter?
Bapak: I had no choice. But I was willing. It was something I had to do.
Me: Did you fear being arrested? Did you fear the British?
Bapak: No. We had the people behind us.
The interview was in Bapak's room. I had my laptop and worked on it as Bapak spoke.
Adel, wide-eyed, sat quietly beside me.
After the interview, he had his own set of questions. Man to man.
This time, I sat quietly and listened.
On our way home, Adel told me that he felt so humbled by his grandfather's experience.
I have never quite taken Adel aside to relate to him Bapak's life and experience.
I suppose I never quite thought about doing so.
Yes, he vaguely knows about his grandfather's detention. But not in detail.
I've always thought that my kids were too young to be told of the dark and sad past. The trials and tribulations. The drama. The excitement. The pain. The joy.
I forget that they have grown up and are able to understand, accept and appreciate their grandfather's past. And my past. The good and the bad.
"Mom...who are our colonialists now?", Adel asked, all of 17 years.
"You want to fight them?", I asked, smiling and quite amused by that hint of naivete.
"Maybe...", he replied.
(OLD PHOTOS: from bottom clockwise:1. Bapak (seated wearing spectacles next to Yaacob Mohamad who is standing at the mike). Bapak teamed up with Yaacob, member of Singapore Umno executive committee, at a public debate on the issue of Merdeka for Singapore. Representative of the anti-Merdeka group is on Bapak's left./ 2. (top left) Bapak addressing a session of the Congress Bahasa dan Persuratan Melayu at the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1956/ 3. (top right) Bapak accompanied the Merdeka Mission led by Tunku Abdul Rahman to London in 1953. He is seen here (standing at right) with the late Tun Abdul Razak (facing camera in spectacles). The man with his back to the camera is the late Tun Dr Ismail.