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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ena,

I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Pak Samad spoke to his grandson.

But would also settle for what -- No, WHO -- flashed through your mind when...

"Mom...who are our colonialists now?", Adel asked, all of 17 years.

Adel knows we're still colonized. Not that naive after all, your teen. :-)

Unknown said...

It must be an opener for Adel to hear his Datuk's struggles and ordeals... I bet he must have changed now eh sis, I mean his views of his Datuk... I think he's enormously proud of his Datuk...as compared to his 'malu' feeling in the beginning...


Mekyam: He got me there, you know.
I think he got somewhat emboldened after talking to his grandfather.
Let's hope he doesn't go looking for a fight.
Nice to see you, Mekyam!


raden (dalilah),
adel has the greatest love and respect for his datuk.i just hope he doesnt compare himself too much with his datuk.
so far, he is inspired. though i dont know how far this "inspiration" will take him and where.

thanks. dalilah for visiting.

Keanorlinsya said...

Great exposure for adel. I, myself would be very proud and honoured to have pak samad as my datuk. But still, i will have the same feeling as Adel if im asked to write about him. Its not exactly malu. Tapi segan nanti org lain ingat nak show-off. People and their exceptions.


hello kea,

thanks for visiting.
tonight kalau sempat, kita chat, ok? hope mekyam and shana will join.
Aunty Aton also. Uncle AbuRabu/AshWednesday/Hamed I think is out of town. But we can bet, if there is an internet line or something, he will appear.... as God-knows-what, considering his schizo tendencies.

I think all of us are proud of our grandfathers, no matter who or what they are.
I never met my paternal grandfather who was probably larger than life. He died before I was born. But I heard so much about him, not from my father, but from my aunts. Later on, in my adult life, I asked Bapak a lot of questions about him.

I was very close to my maternal grandfather whom I called Ompong. He was a Mendahiling and very proud of it. He was a Lubis and I knew a lot about the Mendahiling from him. In fact, when I first started a blog (which is dead now) I called it Sri Mendahiling. Anyway, the Jalan Sudin, was Ompong's address. It was 12 Jalan Sudin. The 3540 was a number and part of a series of digits of several of my accounts. But now dah useless.

Keanorlinsya said...

At least u got to know your grandpa. I have never met both my maternal and paternal grandpa. They both died before i was born. Jadi, takda experience being pampered and spoilt rotten by grandfathers. Although, i have toto (my mum's uncle) who does all that. He is the only grandpa i have.


I'm so sorry to know that. I'm sure your Toto is pampering you like a grandfather does his grandchild.
Take care.

Anonymous said...

If Adel had been brought up in the normal Malay way I suppose his recation is to be expected. Kan we are always taught to 'merendah diri' and not to show off. Self-praise can even be considered 'takabur'.

My son had similar experience when writing his resume and applying for a job - he was reluctant to 'sell himself'. Whereas in the western environment (which is found in local MNC's, for example) you are encouraged to promote yourself with pride, with no feeling of shyness or guilt whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Sis Ena
Yes I think we should always be mindful that newer, more sophisticated forms of colonialism, including the colonialism of the mind, are perhaps a far greater threat than the colonizations that occurred in the past.
Who groomed Pak Samad when he first started as a reporter? Not his dad, I reckon.

mutalib saifuddin said...


if i'm adel, i would feel the same too. because i think that i would show off. BUT, in other way, i will be proud as my grandpa has done great contributions to the country.

great exposure to adel. (Is he going to be a journalist too?)


Anon@12:47pm: I know what you mean. Perhaps, yes, he was "segan" more than anything.And Adel is really a low-profile kind of boy who is not the sort to shout his achievements.
He will have to develop a more "confident" persona,I suppose. To learn to sell himself.I suppose there is the good and the bad of both sides of the coin.

aMiR: Yes.I agree. It is far more insidious,this colonialisation of the mind. Its threat is unseen and unfelt until the damage is done.
Bapak was actually thrown into the wolves' or lions' den -- very very deep, unprepared -- to find his way around as a journalist. But his sense of nationalism was sown at a very young age because he was close to his father. rather, he had no choice in that as he was the first surviving son and had certain obligations to fulfill.
Datuk was very fierce and strict.

Mutalib: unfortunately, Adel is better in English than in Malay. It is my fault because I had "underestimated" the Bahasa Malaysia curricullum. I thought that being a Malay, Adel would sail through his BM in school.I thought,how could it be so hard. I didnt realise that the BM syllabus was so damn hard.I realised it too late. By then, Adel was already good in his English and so-so in his BM which is an embarrassment. But, he is improving.
No, he will not be a journalist.He will be an investment banker. Haha!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Nuraina,

Reading your 10:18 a.m. comment brought back memories of my late paternal grandfather. Boy, he was one proud Mandailing who led a paradoxical life. Although a pious man--he would berzikir hours on end after Isyak which would never fail to lull his grandchildren to sleep--he led a colorful life and inevitably had a colorful past. Did you know that--as my late grandfather used to boast--only in Kajang (our hometown) one could find a street named Mandailing?

Tell Adel to appreciate & cherish the time he spends with his Datuk; how I wish I could still do the same...

J.T. said...

Adel is lucky to have his Datuk around. To be able to learn about a grandparent's early days is special. To be able to share about one's beginnings with a grandchild is priceless. By the time, I had the interest in my grandfather's lives, there were long gone. The stories I got were from my parents. Nothing like getting it from the original source. :)

I agree with Amir (Malaysian in Riyadh). "...We should always be mindful that newer, more sophisticated forms of colonialism, including the colonialism of the mind...."
You will never know what controlled you until it is too late.


zhmi : woww... a road called mandaling?
my mum was very proud of her mendahiling heritage but you know, Bapak used to tease her, saying the the Mendahiling were really Bataks, only that they were Muslims.
Mak was very sensitive about this. She didnt want to be reminded of the "Batak-ness" of the Mendahiling, given the history of the Bataks... u know, head hunters and all that.

Anyway, Zhmi, nice to know another Bat....I mean Mendahiling.
What is your marga? My Ompong is a Lubis, and mixed with Nasution. My grandma, though was a Burmese from Pekanbaru.

I will surely tell Adel to cherish his time with his Datuk.

thank u for visiting.


JT: Hi,JT.

I am hopeful that Adel knows how lucky he is that he still has his grandfather around to tell him stories.

Luckier are Sarah, Haikal, Haris, Sofia, Soraya and Sonia. Sarah and Haikal live with their Datuk. Baby Sharmaine too.
Haris and his sisters visit their Datuk ever so often, most times, spending nights there.

Thanks JT for visiting.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Nuraina,

Just to answer your query: Like your mom's family, we are also from the Lubis clan. I somehow recall the time the late Adam Malek actually asked for and met with my late grandfather (AM addressed him as "Mamak") when he & his entourage came to Kajang many, many moons ago.

As for Mendaling Street, it's a rather inconspicuous one-way street with quaint shophouses. It may not be "gorgeous"; still it's something that the Mendaling/Mendahiling/Mandailing can be proud of.

If I digress, I apologize. Salam to your Bapak.



thanks for the response.
Talking about the late Adam Malik, he was a close friend of my dad's and was especially fond of my mother, because she was a Mendahiling.
"Mamak" would mean uncle,I know, because my mum's cousins (whom I call Tante and Om) called my Ompong "mamak".
Anyway the late Adam malik would always come over our place(my dad's) everytime he visited KL.He'd have lunch or dinner with my parents. Bapak and Adam went back years ago since the 40s-50s because Bapak was strongly supporting the Indonesian independence struggle.
You know, you and I may well be related since you also have Lubis in your family.
Are you a member of the Persatuan Anak2 Mendahiling Selangor/WP?
I am not becos I suppose I am Javanese, ikut sebelah Bapak,I reckon.

Anonymous said...


I once went to the Persatuan Persatuan Anak2 Mendahiling Selangor/WP dinner held at MCOBA Building many years ago with Abg Ani.

Met a few of Abg Ani's friends who were surprised to see me cuz they know me as anak keturunan Jawa. I told them I was representitng mak.

Mak was still alive and she was happy when I told her about it.

Also made contribution to the persatuan on her behalf.

Up & coming singer Sheila Majid was the guest singer (she's a Mendahiling) who rendered among others the popular song "Sipengemis muda"(??).

To zhmi "Horas!".

mutalib saifuddin said...

oh dear. tash.

i thought that he would be like his mom + grandpa.

usually when parents is in the media, their anak cucu will be doing the same too.. that's my thought.

like your dad was a journalist, and you have followed him. but wait, if he's going to be a banker, surely, at least, he would blog, like his mother right? haha.

i am like him too, perhaps. my BM was sucks when SPM result came out. but somehow, my BBM (pengantar bahasa melayu, surely you learnt that almost 30 years ago in ITM right?) was all right, and i was shocked (but in the exam paper, there WAS some english vocabs in it, don't know how to translate it from English to BM).

but still, i can't REALLY converse in BM in an OK state. Tersipu-sipu, and malu.

Bergen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


thanks for sending me the comment from a commentator in your blog.I am still not good with pasting comments direct from the moderating stage.So I published your comment, copied and pasted in in my notebook and deleted it in the comment box.
I would like to reproduce it as a posting.
Would you mind that very much?

Bergen said...

Ma'am, you can reproduce it a million times over.


my dear bergen,

thank you.

you're a sweetie. and that is said in the nicest possible way. from the bottom of my (er,old) heart.



I know what u mean. Actually, my written Malay is far better than my spoken Malay.

Thank you for visiting.
Take care

Anonymous said...

Hi Kak Ena,

This has got nothing to do with your posting (though I do read TWB regularly and I will be among the first to buy a copy of the book when it comes out - and I'll even get you to sign the copy.. heheh).

Okay. I'm rambling. See, I'm so good at rambling, kan?

Anyway, I just want to tell you that I miss you. Entah kenapa, suddenly today, I'm wishing that I'm back at the old newsroom, and you're there, with Syed and all, going through all the papers.. and then you give me my assignment and then I still have time to turun makan breakfast kejap with friends and we gossip about our bosses (hahah!) and the stuff that appear in the papers.

Okay. Lets blame it on the rain.. and the gloomy weather.. but today, I miss my favourite editors, I miss the smell of print you get while walking along the corridor, I miss checking the papers to see if I've been scooped or if I've missed an important point from yesterday's assignment, I miss lepaking at the vending machine (no matter how smelly it can get), I miss eating my indomee kacau with telur mata at Anggerik, I miss going over to the desk with my notebook and pen, all ready to jot down my assignment for the day, I miss disturbing Chelvy while she's doing the schedule, I miss getting my favourite editors to sign my pix chit, I miss my wacky friends... heheh. I even miss Rocky, all huge and intimidating (but cute, nonetheless, with his ponytail and all) passing by to get to his office!

Yes, yes, I'm certifiably nuts! Hahaha. We should meet up soon, kan?


Can't wait to get a hug from you.. take care, and may you have a productive day/week ahead!

xox, arni.


Dear Arni.
Darn it.... I am so misty-eyed already.
Yeah... the newsroom, the assignments,the reporters, the vending machine coffee, the great friends I made over my 27 years there, the teh tarik sessions. sigh sigh sigh..My colleagues there were no mere colleagues, or bosses. We grew old together.And my bosses first knew me when I was, er,er...a sweet, er,er young, ok ok lady. Then one day, they took agood hard looke at me and said, hey, you've grown into a sweet old lady.. no-lah kidding. they wouldn;t dare becos an even more dramatic description could spew from my mouth. heheheh.
Seriously,vArni... you know how our office was. That was why I could never imagine working in a room, just me and myself.I'd die of boredom. Look at all our bosses. How long do you think they can stay in their rooms? They need to talk to interact. Exchange ideas. Gossip. Haha.
Yeah.. missing those days. and my friends thought that I'd retire in the NST because they could not imagine me wanting to leave. Yeah.. I loved the place. but you know, things got different. oh well..
we can still meet up.
Austin Chase or Lake Club?

Anonymous said...

Kak Ena,

Now stop making me cry. We'll try Austin Chase. :)

I'll call you one of these days.. I pwomise.. :)

Love you tonnes my favourite sudoku-crazy editor!

x0x, arni


Oh dearie me,

Don't cry now.
Austin Chase then...

Take care..

Anonymous said...

Dear Nuraina,

I agree with Keanorlinsya, I think it's more a case of "segan" than "malu". Adel must have been so inspired by the conversation he had with his awe-inspiring Datuk.

Investment banking is a good career choice for Adel. You'd better start "grooming" him early; I believe a pin-striped suit is an absolute must.

Anonymous said...


You are indeed fortunate you are able to know about your father's life - either thru your own conversations with him or thru books that others have written about him - which you can pass down to your own children.

Not everyone is in that enviable position.

Take me, frinstance. I know almost zilch about my parents' lives in the period before I came into this world. Even if I could go into the deepest recesses of my memory, I can probably only remember bits and pieces of events from the time I was five or so.

But a juvenile's early recollections are not necessarily dependable or trustworthy, since they are tempered by a child's perceptions and expectations. As a five-year-old, the house that seemed big was actually small, and the road that was wide was in fact narrow. When you take these perspectives to adulthood, you unwittingly distort reality with your reminiscences.

In my own family's version of (Alex Haley's) Roots, the first few chapters are missing - the chapters about events before I was born, about my parents, my grandparents. How do I fill those gaps? I can't, not now. They will remain missing.

I think blogs, especially those that record personal events and experiences, are like the diaries of old. Only, these modern diaries are far from private confessions. They are living novels, with the manuscripts constantly being edited and updated by any and all who wish to be part of the story, either as characters onstage or as observers from the wings.

Fifty years hence, these blogs become testimonies of our past, generously annotated by witnesses, both named and nameless. A treasure trove of information for our grandchildren.



i never quite thought about that. thanks for pointing that out. i think i sometimes take things for granted.

thanks for dropping by.

take care.

Anonymous said...


You know, Ellysha had exactly the same kind of assignment when she was in primary school. Like you, I suggested Bapak as the subject.

"But Dad, I have to write about a tokoh negara!" was how Ellysha responded.

There I was thinking I could be of help, and my daughter thought I was being irrelevant. I didn't bother to defend my suggestion. After all, she saw Bapak simply as her grandfather - nothing more, nothing less.

So she wrote about Dr Mahathir instead (as did 80% of her class). The output from that class of budding writers must have been very predictable indeed. But that was EXACTLY how Teacher liked it.

My gripe? It isn't that Ellysha didn't want to write about her grandfather. It's that the teacher did not encourage the pupils to go beyond the expected, beyond the formulaic and the predictable. (Wonder what Kata Tak Nak's take on this is...)

PS - Reason for this late post: Had to wait for Ellysha to be back home to confirm the above. Ellysha has just returned from coaching in Adam Khoo's holiday camp (I Am Gifted/ Superkids). Both Julia and Ellysha were "promoted" to full-fledged coaches only recently - they were assistant coaches at previous camps.