Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tuesdays With Bapak

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.
** girlfriend/boyfriend


Anonymous said...

This touched my heart. You must be lying if you were not crying when you penned this piece. Keep on producing this history for us all to ponder what a life in those days were and what in store for us all in the years to come.

A Voice said...

Glad that you are a Malaysian.

Otherwise, you could be gloating ... Singapore this, Singapore and not like Singapore (which who gives a f**k s**t), typical of Singaporean Malay relatives of mine.

Perhaps, not. Just ventign out menyampah at some of their acute minds.

I guess thats the only way they can have a one upmanship.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kak Ena.

This is something strange, funny even, when I hear Singapore Malays refer to themselves as "kita orang".

Makes it look as as if the rest of us bukan "orang".



JB: thank you, joseph. I didnt cry-lah... a little melancholic, of couse.
thank you for visiting.

A Voice: thank you.... your relatives like that?

i would have to look to my own relatives in order to judge Singapore Malays. I have wonderful relatives who are not besar kepala.
Yes, they are confident because they have succeeded on their own strength and merit.
But, that's a story for another day.

One time, my sisters were discussing this subject and we all thought that if we had remained in Singapore, my mum would have to work to support her children.
so sad, we thought. some of us might have to stop schooling and work to support ourselves and help her out.

Adik: for a long time, whenever i talked, I said, "kita orang", and used "bilang" (beritahu) and "sepatu" (shoes).

I really dont know why Singapore Malays refer to themselves as "kita orang".

Rockybru said...

yusof ishak and lee kuan yew conspired to send Samad Ismail away. they feared Samad's influence and intellect. lky, especially, would have wanted Samad out of his way. Samad had incredible influence over not just the Malays but the Chinese and the Indians. heck, he had his way with the Japanese and the British, even though the latter threw him behind bars!

in malaya and then malaysia, Samad continued to be feared. he was detained under ISA not because of his ideologies but because of his ideas - he was too smart for the idiots to contend with, so they got him out of the way. ask king ghaz.

when dolah kok lanas became the group editor-in-chief of nst, the first person he got rid of was Samad. by then, pak samad was already wheelchair-bound and just the editorial advisor of the nstp. even then, he was feared!

i am glad i am not anywhere near as good as this man.

zaitgha said...


another lovely writing...reminded me of last night CSI New York that I watched...how the big guns were trying to get rid of the very "influential" personnel just like LKY and your dad...

take care and God bless

Anonymous said...

Wonder where Ahmad CB is now? That's another mysterious character. Hope those NST,MM,BH and (?TV3) chaps could enlightened us.Samad Said should tell us his side of the story. Wonder why he was declared as a persona non grata by Malaysia then!!

Anonymous said...

Nice piece... melancholic even. Talking about lky, reminds me of a 30-something who worked as a group financial controller for a bumi company... he had "quotable quotes" of lky posted on the door to his room making sure everybody knew whom his 'idol'was... I crossed his path and both of us ended out of the company... lky has many admirers, even among younger generation Malaysians. Good to see Pak Samad wisely avoided crossing his path early on...

A Voice said...


I guess until I get to meet him personally in a lighter mood, my image of PAk Samad will be based on Lat's cartoon.

I remember one funny one in Lat's Malay cartoon ... I believed, where Pak Samad was babbliong to him to make a habit of reading and not just reading the "Panduan Perkahwinan". Those days, such guidebook were practically erotica.

Rockybru said...

mata ayer is sweetheart, ena. girlfriend/boyfriend NOT wrong, but sweetheart is better.

Anonymous said...

it was in Mat Som, if i'm not mistaken hehehehh


rocky (ahirudin): you've got that right!
and thank you for providing the apt translation o "mata ayer". sweetheart is better!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece, Ena!

Looks like Pak Samad is fated to become Malaysian so he can be one of our benchmarks for integrity and excellence.

His detractors just couldn't tarnish him. God knows they tried.

Mior Azhar said...

Delightful as always. And you called your your grandad Ompong? Very charming. Andung and Ompong, I mean. Nanti kalau I panjang umur and murah rezeki, i think I want our grandchildren to call us just that. Can?

BaitiBadarudin said...

I'm glad that your family made the 'hijrah' to PJ and have a much better QOL here.
As for Singaporean cousins and relatives who are 'taiming' (boastful), I too have my share. Tapi dia orang tak sedar diri kena pindah dari tanah sendiri di Geylang Serai dll. ke HDB.
Megah pulak tu jadi 'chamber maid' pelancong kulit puteh. Janganlah 'menyampah', A Voice, bersimpati sahajalah kalau 'dia orang' kiasu tak mau jatuh air muka!

the Razzler said...

Kak Ena ..

Perhaps history will be need to be re-written should Pak Samad had remain in Singapore... :) :)

mutalib saifuddin said...

hello mdm ena,

so when you move to (then) malaya, don't you think that then, there's no such feeling that "oh, I'm moving out to the other country"?

wanshana said...

Excellent piece...again!

You know what, K.Ena? You should compile all your entries and put them in a time capsule to be opened and read maybe 100 years from now? They are precious and priceless.

Take care.

wanshana said...

Oh, by the way...you've been tagged. Please visit my blog :D

Thanks, K.Ena!

Anonymous said...

mutalib saifuddin said...

hello mdm ena,

so when you move to (then) malaya, don't you think that then, there's no such feeling that "oh, I'm moving out to the other country"?

9:36 PM


Hi mutalib,

When my parents moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1959, they brought along four of their seven children (then).

My eldest sister, Kak Piah, younger brother, Hamed & I were left behind in Singapore. Hamed & I joined them at the end of that year. Arwah kak Piah some five years later.

The youngest (then), Azah, was 50 days old (my late mother baru lepas pantang).

Nuraina was 2 1/2 years old. I dont think she had any inkling that our family was moving to another country. Maybe she thought my parents had moved to another house...in a place far away.

A Voice said...


Off course, kita ni orang Melayu yang lebih asli ciri-ciri hanya bersabar dan hormat melayan kunjungan mereka.

Perasaan menyampah tu kita simpan di dalam sahaja.

Sesekali tu kita sindir ddgn kias dan lawak, tetapi saya sedari orang Singapore ni tak berapa faham sangat ...


Zai: that CSI storyline --- very familiar.. can see it almost everywhere.
thanks for visiting.

Anon@3:41pm: Ahmad Sebi - I think he is a businessman, running businesses in London and Australia..
I didnt know Samad Said was ever persona non grata in Malaysia. Doesnt make sense.

Dhahran: LKY turned Singapore into a very successful and progressive island state. He ran Singapore with an ironfist. But I suppose that the only way.
They fell out because he and Pak Samad were crossing each other's path, in ways that caused a friction between them.

A Voice: Actually Lat captured Pak Samad's eccentricities pretty well.
Keep a date with us at Bapak's Hari Raya open house. Nanti boleh jumpa Pak Samad.

Silentcikenit: Must check that out...Mat Som..

Mekyam: Thank you. I hope they are still not trying.

Mior: Can, Mior...

QueenB: Yes...bershukur.
I hear that a lot about Singapore Malays.
Hahaha.. "taimimg": lama tak dengar that word being uttered.

The Razzler: I suppose it would.. It would have been a different story.

Mutalib: I was too young.

Wanshana: Something that i've always thought about.


rocky (ahirudin):

we all know, ya, that clever, smart, inteligent people are dangerous to dangerous people.

BaitiBadarudin said...

A Voice said...
"Off course, kita ni orang Melayu yang lebih asli ciri-ciri hanya bersabar dan hormat melayan kunjungan mereka."
Itu yang saya kadangkala risau dengan sifat terlalu hormatkan tetamu jangan jadi macam cerita Arab dan Unta.

Anonymous said...

I was also into sipping hot coffee from the deep saucer during my school years in Penang. Actually, it was more like slurping than sipping in my case. Just as well I like my brew piping hot now, otherwise I would still be slurping away, blissfully oblivious to proper etiquette.


sesat:yeah....can u imagine allowing the kids to do that now?

i remember i could only do that with my grandfather. but Mak would give us a fierce look everytime we look suspiciously like we are about to pour our coffee or ovaltine onto a saucer.

yeah...slurping it really was..

nice to see you, sesat.

mutalib saifuddin said...

to kak (auntie) ton.

got the msg.