Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tuesdays With Bapak

Conversations - July 3, 2007
You know how it is to have discovered that certain names you heard in mundane conversations when you were a kid, turned out to be real important personalities later on.

In my household when I was very young, the names, Pak Sako (Ishak Haji Muhammad), Rahim Kajai, Burhanuddin Helmy and well, Harry Lee (Kuan Yew) would crop up in conversations my father would have with my mother or with visiting friends.

These were names I had been connected to since a young age that even as I got older and discovered the significance and importance of these personalities, I remained unruffled. I only began to ask questions when I got more and more curious and when I began to study Malay literature. And, of course, later on, as a journalist.
However, it was only after his release in 1981 that I had frank and open discussions with Bapak. We (though I can only speak for myself here) developed a certain closeness with Bapak, forged and nurtured over time during our Tuesday visits.

I remember this conversation I had with Bapak in our living room some years ago.

Me: Bapak, you really knew Pak Sako very well, not just casually?

Bapak: Yes... I hero worshipped him. He was my idol.

Me: For his writing?

Bapak: Of course. I was not the only one. Most of my contemporaries too. Everyone was a fan of "Hantu Raya" or "Wak Ketok". And his book "Anak Mat Lela Gila" was gempar in those days. It represented something new in the writing of novels. Very exciting for us young people then....source of animated conversations not just among people like Kajai but also among the ordinary Malays. It had incredible impact. I idolised Ishak ever since I was in school, so when I became a reporter, naturally he was my idol, not the likes of journalists from the west. I wanted to be clever like Ishak, to write "pojok" like him, to write short stories... everything-lah.

Me: You got to meet your idol?

Bapak: Yes... then I wanted to be like him. You must remember I was about 17, I think. Still young. So I smoked a cigar because he smoked a cigar. I wore Manila shirts because he did.
And Ishak was a very handsome young man, you know.

Me: And you learn all the bad things from him too?

Bapak: Perhaps. You can call it that. But, I learn many things too. Someone warned me when I got close to Ishak that he would be a bad influence -- I would forget to go home, I was told. In a way, yes...during our nights out, I sometimes did not go home. But, you must remember, those days, working in a newspaper during the Japanese occupation. Sometimes we would finish work very late and would go to this place at Lembu Road, and spend the night there.

Me: Lembu Road? What kind of name is that? I never knew there was such a road in Singapore? What was there? Spent your nights at a food stall?

Bapak: Near New World at Serangoon Road... a shophouse where there were Malay women. Cabaret girls-lah. Mostly from Kelantan.

Me: (Aghast!) Bapak....say no more.

Bapak: Mak kau dah tahu dah. But at that time I was not married-lah. I was young, 17 or 18. They were all kakak-kakak. I was like their body guard. Sometimes I would tell a drunken or overfriendly Japanese officer to f**** off not to harass them. Ishak and Melan would help me out. Would have got my head sliced off. Young blood, you know-lah. But I grew up very fast.

Me: Bapak... what can possibly be good that you learn from Lembu Road?

Bapak: Ok-lah, I wouldn't recommend this to young people just to know about life. When you mix with these people, you see the way they live. You learn not to judge people.You know these Cabaret women I got to know, they were kind and generous. You know, I learnt that whatever you are - a labourer, a prostitute, a cabaret girl -- you are human. You have your good and your bad. Wherever you are, in a palace, in a brothel or in a kongsi, everyone deals with life's problems and harsh realities with their own set of values.

Of course, this was the lighter side of our conversation. Clearly, Bapak held such a high regard for Pak Sako who was a force in Malay newspaperism as was Rahim Kajai (who was much older than Pak Sako).
However, his closeness with and deep respect for Pak Sako did not mean that Bapak was always in agreement with the older man or that their views were always in tandem.
Bapak was known for his stubbornness, resoluteness and tenacity in his views and beliefs. So, of course, between them, they had conflict of ideas.
But that did nothing to diminish their friendship and "persaudaraan".
To Bapak, the Japanese occupation offered Pak Sako an opportunity to continue Rahim Kajai's struggle to give new life in the development of (Malay) newspapers and journalism.

*Photo: A slice of history. This was taken during the early years of the Japanese Occupation showing leaders of the Kesatuan Melayu Muda, senior members of Berita Malai and officers of the Japanese Propaganda Department. From top right (at the table) to bottom: Ibrahim Haji Yaakob, Ishak Haji Muhammad, Ramli Haji Tahir, A Samad Ismail with (partly hidden), Bahar Abik and Kadir Adabi.


the Razzler said...

Kak Ena ...

-- you are human. You have your good and your bad. Wherever you are, in a palace, in a brothel or in a kongsi, everyone deals with life's problems and harsh realities with their own set of values.

How true .. wise words indeed!! :) :)

Mat Salo said...

Kak Ena..

My, my, the "circle" is almost complete.

Thanks for highlighting the wonderful freedom fighters of yore. They deserve their rightful place in history too - even as history is being "re-written".

A lot of youngsters today would be surprised to know Al-Helmy was a founder of PAS, and PAS was once part of BN. Today if you say that all you get are blank stares...

Hmmm, Bro' Rocky got that wrong. I wasn't "perving" around the perimeter of the blogosphere - ready to pounce when you hit that Publish button. Ha ha.

As usual, regards to MR attendees.

And oh - BTW, what WERE you doing in the town of my alma mater up north in the moonlight story?

Anonymous said...

Sis Ena
Frankly, I was not exposed much to the struggles of patriots like Rahim Kajai, Pak Sako and Burhanuddin Helmy. I guess there were not part of the establishment. Even "definitive" biographies of personalities who were very much part of the establishment such as Tun Dr Ismail only made their debut just recently. Talking about personality, here in Tanjong Jara Resort, they dedicate a section of the open-space library to the work by Mubin Sheppard, a doyen of Malay culture and heritage, who lived/visited Dungun, Paka and Kemaman in the early 30s. Our arrival here at noon yesterday was warmly greeted by 68 year old Pak Sah (derived from Aksah), smartly dressed in baju melayu, who has been working here since day one, almost 30 years ago. He saluted us with one stroke of the gong, whose resonant sound reverberated through the blissful surrounding. Instantly, a squirrel and a small lizard that appeared from nowhere, galloped and snaked near us, and our daughter Ainaa curiously remarked “Kenapa squirrel nak kiss kaki Papa?”. We were then offered a cold face towel and Rossele cocktail drink, which I at first mistakenly thought was Nira drink. Oklah, want to relax now.

Anonymous said...

It's a vague memory. I remember a road in Serangoon called Jalan Kereta Ayer Lembu, named after the many buffalo-drawn carts that were in the area. The Chinese (Hokkien) name is a literal translation "gu chia chui" or buffalo drawn water carts.
I would imagine the cabaret girls worked in the New World Amusement Park, and getting paid for dancing the joget with men. P Ramli had featured such hostesses in one or two of his great movies.

Blabarella said...

Bapak's lessons in life from Lembu Road are very poignant, something which I think not many in today's day and age can imagine themselves experiencing or wanting to experience, for that matter. On a side, I believe this was what Yasmin Ahmad tried to portray in Gubra, which I felt was a truly remarkable piece (particularly in the relationship the ustaz & his wife had with the prostitutes and his tenderness for the dog in the middle of the road). Too often we base values based on perceived ideas or blind following, without really opening our eyes and to try and view things from another's perspective. Thank you for sharing that little snippet of wisdom from Bapak.


the razzler: sometimes it is easy to forget..
thanks for visiting.

mat salo: semua orang kirim salam, bro.
pot luck today but kak ton still made some mee rebus, just in case.
yes... some dont even know Tun Dr Ismail, so you can just imagine what the names burhanuddin al-helmy, za'aba, rahim kajia et al mean to them... yep..roads in taman tun dr ismail!

aaah.... i was checking out your alma mater......


aMiR: oooooh....lovely.. sounds so lovely.

i know, AmiR.. you are not alone. I never realised that many people are not familiar with the struggle of these patriots. In fact, when I first came to Taman Tun Dr Ismail years ago , I saw the names of the roads and said out loud: " eeh... we know those names, don't we?". Perhaps that was why I did not hesitate to move to TTDI.

and your daughter's name is Ainaa.....

Ok-.,.will leave you... have a great holiday... enjoy.

regards and take care.


anon@2:21pm: it could be the full name.. but Bapak wrote a short story on how these people/women touched his life then.. It was called "Nombor XX(can't rmemember the numeral) Jalan Seledang", i think. And some years ago, it was staged at the Cultural Centre at Jalan Merbok.
Thank u for visiting.

Blabarella: Hi there! Glad to be able to offer this bit from Bapak's past.
and thank you fro dropping by again.

Rockybru said...

yes, i remember all the names from Form 6 classes back in the late 70s. great men from the country's most troubled era.

but if no books and documentaries are made about them and if the schools cease teaching them to our children, we will lose them forever.
mat salo is right: we are too busy trying to rewrite history. that is why you must turn TWB into a book as soon as you can. all of us know more about pak samad courtesy of your blog.

and do convince the granddaughter of the Tiger of Malaya (from your previous posting) to do the same.

my salams to your bapak.

Editor said...

Nuraina dear, we do judge ourselves and others with our own set of values. We build these values through our interaction with our environment of family, relatives, school and friends. But we also share values with others. When it comes to matters such as freedom, respect, ethics, etc. we share common core values. Otherwise it would be difficult to live in a community and nation. And these values can be learnt in school. I only hope our education system plays a bigger role in instilling common core values to all our students so that there is tolerance and harmony. This is epecially so in a multiracial country where our ability to see the other's point of view is more important than theirs to see ours.

Faten Rafie said...

Alhamdullilah, everything went smoothly yesterday.He was truly among the last of the great ones. You should have seen the crowd at the funeral yesterday. The news was even in Utusan today. He might be gone. but he'll never be forgotten.

Faten Rafie said...

i hope my last comment to rocky got through, the page just suddenly went blank!

Anonymous said...

good old TTDI. with roads named after 10 historical heroes. atleast 2 of the names were mentioned in this episode of TWB.

spent years in jln aminuddin baki but yet to know exactly who this great man was.

Dancy said...

Yes , how true ....Never ever be judgmental ...or never ever judge a book by its cover .

What your father said ....You have your good and your bad. Wherever you are, in a palace, in a brothel or in a kongsi, everyone deals with life's problems and harsh realities with their own set of values....yes ...we are all humans .Sometimes when we are too ego ...too full of pride ..we tend to forget who we are.....

Thanks ...I will remind myself to remind my children as well ....

MarinaM said...

Ena,I'm tagging you for charity.Do read my blog to know what it's all about.

zorro said...

Them taxi-girls (cabaret) can teach us a lot about relationships....will reserve that for next Tuesday's after-mee-rebus parley!

zorro said...

Mat Salo, my swampman. I'll have you know that Pak Samad was a founder-member of PAP!!!!!

Praveen R. said...

Hi there

Sorry for ging off topic

We're organizing a bloggers workshop this Sunday at KL featuring speakers like Rocky,Malaysiakini, Ahmad Talib, Nuffnang and Yvonne Foong.

For more details and to register please visithttp://bbuff2007.blogspot.com

Register now!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nuraina...I hope you are compiling your Tuesdays posts into a book. Believe me, your tales will be appreciated, especially by future generations of your family (and Malaysians).


ahirudin (rocky); I know, rocky. i believe history will be lost if we do not tell the stories -- to our children. You learnt about them. As I did. As countless others among the older generation of Malaysians did.
Our education had an impactful role in this.
Today, many young Malaysian have never heard of Malaysia's great sons and daughters, and I don't just mean Malays. Many Indians do not know who Sambanthan was? Soon, many Chinese will not know who Yap Ah Loy was.

Thank you.


rajahram: how true. but you know that "school" is not the same today as it was in those days.
I look at my children's school and their teachers, I feel so sad that my kids are so unlucky as there seems to be nothing the system can offer them.
Kids openly play truant and nothing is done. At first I thought thse kids were terrible to be walking away from school just before school started. I was appalled. I began to notice that among those who were playing truant were bright kids. They played truant because their teachers were consistently absent (due to other duties), and they were often left by themselves in class.
And the school did not act on either problem/situation -- truancy and absence of teachers from teaching.
And I got to know the dismal attitude of some of the teachers. Clearly... something was wrong but nothing was being done.
In other words, it sucks.. big time.
The only way to overcome the system is for me to play a more inspiring and integral role so that my children are not disillusioned, demoralosed -- it is a role far bigger than my own parents had to take in this area of my life.

so... yes, we can only hope that our children can reap benefits from the education system.


rajahram: sorry... the word in the last bit of my reply is "demoralised"... typo error. my apologies, cik gu.


dancy: we are sometimes too quick to judge others, I know I have been guilty of this and I feel rotten after that.
my father, i suppose, was exposed so quickly to this other side of life at an age far younger than his peers. At 17, I was very much a teenager, so carefree etcc.
at 17, Bapak was beyond his years, experiencing life that others would only go through at a much later age.
Yes, I grew up so quickly. The lessons he learnt early in his life shaped him, his beliefs, his values...as a writer, nationalist, a father and a human being.


dancy: sorry, something is awfully wrong with my typing today. hitting the wrong keys!
the the fourth line from the bottom should read: "Yes, HE grew up so quickly"...

sorry. and thanks or visiting.


athene: Alhamdulillah. And Athene, do think about it, very seriously, the suggestion to have a book written about your grandfather.

Kerp: I know. And you are not alone in this. Aminuddin Baki was an educationist. I never knew the man but I remember the name very well because Bapak knew him well. Here is something about him (from wikipedia) and I believe this is an accurate account:
Aminuddin Baki (6 Januari 1926 - 25 Disember 1965) ialah "Bapa Pendidikan Malaysia" serta bekas Ketua Penasihat Pendidikan Malaysia (kini dikenali sebagai Ketua Pengarah Pendidikan) yang paling muda ketika berusia 36 tahun. Beliau mempertingkatkan mutu pelajaran di negara ini, termasuk menyusun Dasar Pelajaran Kebangsaan melalui Laporan Pendidikan Razak pada tahun 1956, dan Laporan Abdul Rahman Talib pada tahun 1960. Banyak sekolah dan institusi di Malaysia telah dinamakan sempena namanya.


marina: now, let's see, you are one of the three to have tagged me. ok-lah. anything for charity.

praveen: thanks. "Blog Buff"..interesting

Zorro: taxi girls, eh? i suppose that was what they seemed like to their customers.

Eliza: thank you, eliza. coming from you, I am touched, honoured and inspired.
i will definitely work on it.
i believe a book about your father is in the book stores, ya?

thanks again and take care

Editor said...

Yes Nuraina, I used to be explaining to my PIBG that the reason why teachers are not in the classes is because they are either on m.c., maternity leave or attending numerous training courses to better their teaching skills. The pricipals have brought up this issue of teachers attending courses during school hours numerous times with the District Education Officers but were told to follow instructions because it was a Ministry directive, and not to question it. You see by having numerous teacher absentees during class hours and being unable to find enough relief teachers in a single day, many classes have to go without teachers. Good classes use this time as opportunity to revise and learn. The weaker, remedial classes loiter, disturb other students and fight. Student discipline falls. Teachers are faced with a heavier burden of controlling disciplinary students in addition to their teaching duties.This is one of the many reasons for the drop in the standards in our schools.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the great info pn Nuraina. appreciate it so much.

it was a good move by the UDA ppl back then in the 70s to make use the names of these great leaders in naming the roads. kids in the future will atleast wonder who were these ppl r. and they'll be surprised to learn these were the malaysian heroes of yesteryears, led by Tun dr Ismail himself.


rajahram: what a sad state of affairs. i suppose a school is only as good as its headmaster/mistress.

kerp: nothing to it. not a problem. my pleasure.

take care.

mutalib saifuddin said...

say, mdm ena.

so what's the other 'perjuangan' made by pak samad? is it in the world of journalism, or political line?

Anonymous said...

Dear Ena,

I didn't get to read this segment till now due to work.

Want to say that even though that pix is b&w, the characters in there were probably very colourful.

The next time I'm in Tmn Tun, I know I'll look at the place totally differently... Rahim Kajai, Aminuddin Baki, Sambanthan, Athinahappan...

Btw, I'm currently reading both 'Bukan Kerana Pangkat' and 'The Reluctant Politician'.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ms Nurina,

I read with interest your article on Tuedays with Bapak.

I am researching for some photos for a forthcoming book entitle the Malay Heritage of Singapore, which will be published with the support of Mr SR Nathan, the President of Singapore.

It will be an ilustrated book of some 18 to 20 chapters and is expected to be published in May 2009.

I was wondering if you have any photos of Pak So, Rahim Kajai, we could use.

Please email me at chinyy@hotmail.com
I will write more to you on that if you like to know more. thanks.

Maybe we can use your article for one of our box stories! How exciting! : )