Coming To Malaya - Sept 4 2007
I don't remember much about our packing up and coming to Malaya.
I suppose at three years old, leaving home held little significance. After all, home is where your parents and siblings are and you're happy anywhere with them.
We came to Malayan shores in early 1959 after Bapak was assigned to start the Berita Harian operations in Kuala Lumpur. Berita Harian was a new Malay language daily launched by the Straits Times in Singapore two years earlier.
Bapak had left Utusan Melayu about the same time after returning from his Jakarta sojourn, by which time his relationship with his boss, Yusof Ishak had soured, and with Lee Kuan Yew, had deteriorated.
Here is a bit from "A Samad Ismail - Journalism & Politics". Former Berita Harian group editor Ahmad Sebi wrote on the topic, "Samad's Influence":
By this time Alex Josey*, was already somewhat a Lee confidante, and the Malay in A Samad Ismail was becoming too strong for Lee's comfort. At the beginning of 1956, he was "assigned" to Jakarta because in the words of Yusof Ishak, "a senior member of our staff should be available in Indonesia to serve our paper".
Samad was due back in Singapore by November 1957 but Yusof's letter, dated November 26, 1957, further instructed him to continue his stay in Indonesia for an indefinite period!
By that time, the general election was over, Lee Kuan Yew had been sworn in as Singapore's first Premier with Yusof Ishak as the republic's President. Malaya too had achieved independence. The turn of events came rather swiftly but A Samad Ismail had known all along that his beautiful affair with Utusan Melayu and Singapore would have to end.
While in Jakarta, he had contemplated leaving Utusan Melayu.
But where could he go? He was too far in love and deeply entrenched in the Malay language press, and there was no other like the Utusan Melayu.
But, God, they say, moves in mysterious ways.
On July 1, 1957, a new Malay language daily, the Berita Harian was born in the Straits Times stable. In April 1958, A Samad Ismail became the de facto editor of the fledgling Berita Harian.
A letter from L.C Hoffman, editor-in-chief, The Straits Times group, dated 8 April, spelt out his duties in the group's newspapers. Hoffman said: "Firstly, you will have to consider yourself employed by the Group rather than by any particular paper in the Group. The fact that most of your work will be for Berita Harian should not prevent you from contributing your knowledge and experience to The Straits Times or The Sunday Times. You may be asked from time to time to write in English for these publications or you may be asked to advise us on the policy we should adopt on a particular issue.
"Your work on the Berita Harian will in the first instance be directed to raising the present standard of translation of articles and news items, standardising the spelling and improving the content of the paper".
Thus began a new chapter in his role as a nationalist freedom fighter. But the imminent question about his new task was, could he fall as tempestously in love the second time around? Was this not a betrayal of nationalism at its worst?
Mercurial A Samad Ismail seemed to have prepared himself for the challenge, First, he drew key journalists and literary figures like Mazlan Nordin, Samani Mohd Amin, Salim Kajai and Samad Said and placed them in key positions for the task of gradually building the image of the Berita Harian as a vehemently nationalistic newspaper of post-Merdeka in a manner not very different from what he had done for the Utusan Melayu.
Well, as they say -- the rest is history.
And so, there we were in Kawasan Melayu, Petaling Jaya, all ready to start a new life in Malaya.
Bapak brought Mak, Kak Olin, Kak Eda, Azah and I. Kak Piah, Kak Ton and Abang Med remained in Singapore as they were still schooling. But Bapak made preparations for Kak Ton and Abang Med to join us at the end of the year.
Kak Piah, however, remained in Singapore because Nenek would not let her go. She was raised by Nenek and there was no way Bapak could have taken her to live with us.
Kak Piah however came to live with us in 1964 because Bapak felt that while he loved his mother, it was in Kak Piah's best interest that she continued her studies in Petaling Jaya, seeing that she was spoilt rotten by Nenek and everyone else back in Singapore.
After Kak Piah's departure from Kampung Melayu, Nenek was heart-broken. She died soon after.
And Bapak never forgave himself.
We lived at Jalan Sentosa, in Kawasan Melayu until, I think, 1962, when we moved to Jalan Lembah in Section 5, Petaling Jaya.
At Jalan Sentosa, we lived in the middle unit of a three-linked double-storey houses. You know, instead of a semi-detached, there was an added unit. Ours was the middle one.
There were no fences separating the units. The three linked houses shared a huge fenced compound. The original gated community, I imagine. But minus the security guards, and the gate was, of course, always opened.
I remember many happy moments there. I remember walking to the nearby kedai kopi with our (maternal) grandfather whom we called, Ompong, having kopi susu and roti bakar with dollops of kaya. I remember always drinking the hot coffee from the saucer because I was so impatient and couldn't wait for it to cool.
And oh, the old kedai kopi Chinese man in singlet and shorts who always served us our kopi and roti talking shop with Ompong as we enjoyed our food.
I remember watching movies at the Majestic cinema. I remember the market and nearby toy shops.
I remember many friends.
Mak never minded if we wanted to walk to the shops to buy sweets. How safe the streets were.
The only time we were asked to quickly get into our homes was when a "deranged" man came by.
I remember the neighbourhood children shouting : "Orang gila datang, orang gila datang."
We were so scared that we all ran into our houses.
It turned out that this man was not "gila". Bapak found out that the man had gone over the edge after he lost the love of his life. A broken romance. A broken love affair.
A heart-broken man who never got over the pain and ache of being left by the woman he loved.
I didn't understand it then.
For years after that, I wondered about him. I was so young but I remember the story, year in, year out.
How could I not? He was a familiar sight on the streets of Petaling Jaya.
He must have walked the streets for years, looking scruffy, unkempt, dirty and wearing torn and filthy clothes.
I never avoided him whenever I saw him, usually on my way to and back from school in State (PJ new town), or accompanying Bapak to the market.
Don't know why, but I always looked at him and I could see the emptiness in his eyes. Yes. I was always that near to him.
I could not forget this man. I wondered whether he could feel the hardship of his life at all.
One day I realised that he never showed up anywhere. He just disappeared.
I learnt about broken hearts when I was very very young.
"People can go crazy when their mata ayer** leave them?", I had often asked, bewildered.
Bapak enrolled Kak Eda and I in Yong kindergarten which was run by a Chinese couple.
It was too late for Kak Olin to start kindergarten and too early for her to begin primary school. So she waited until the next year to be enrolled in standard one at Assunta Primary School.
Yong kindergarten was a very good school. We were taught to read and write. We learnt artihmetics. We had tests and had positions in class. Just like a "real" school.
I think that gave me an edge when I was in standard one.
On the first (or second) day in standard one, our teacher gave us a test. Then, she called seven names, including mine, and we were sent to another class to join other girls. It was called standard one express.
We were doing standard two work and the next year, I went to standard three.
I was in Assunta Primary (one) and Kak Eda was in Assunta Primary (two).
Two different sessions run by different teaching staff and headed by different principals.
But in 1966, Bapak decided that it was only practical that Kak Eda and I were in the same sessions so I was enrolled in school two. Kak Eda and I were in the same class throughout until we were in Form One.
The kids and teachers thought we were twins.
There were times, in our adult years, that we asked each other what would have become of us if we had remained in Singapore.
If Bapak had "played politics" and had not fallen out with Lee Kuan Yew, he would have been President of Singapore, for sure. Not Yusof Ishak.
But, knowing Bapak, he would not play politics so he would have become LKY's political foe numero uno and would therefore be detained without trial. He would be the longest-serving living political detainee, surpassing Said Zahari.
As being children of a political detainee in Singapore seemed to be the most logical outcome, then I reckoned we would have turned out very differently.
So, indeed, God moves in mysterious ways. How wonderful that is.
"These struggling tides of life that seem
In wayward, aimless course to tend
Are eddies of the mighty stream
That rolls to its appointed end".
And in Malaya, now Malaysia, we have remained.
* a journalist with the English language Press.