Back In '73 -- January 22, 2007
Years ago, I enrolled at Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Teknologi Mara or UiTM) in Shah Alam for pre-University studies.
It was not my plan actually because all I had wanted to do was the the regular thing most kids did after their form five -- do sixth form.
Since Kak Olin wanted to study for her LLB (law) after her HSC and Kak Eda, architecture -- both at ITM -- Bapak thought it best that I applied there as well.
You see, studying at ITM was not in my scheme of things, It was in Bapak's.
I was not interested in doing a professional course. I wanted to continue sixth form, sit for my HSC and do a degree.
(Kak Eda and I had both sat for our MCE the previous year.)
Bapak knew that, of course. But I think he wanted to support ITM, in his own way. Kak Olin had also applied to University of Malaya to do English Literature for which she was offered a place. After some discussion with Bapak, Kak Ton and Abang Ani (Kak Ton's husband), she opted to do an external degree in law at ITM. Kak Eda and I both got a place in a Petaling Jaya school to do sixth form. But Kak Eda opted for ITM.
There is sixth form at ITM?
Bapak knew about ITM's pre-University course that prepared students for HSC and about how good the lecturers were.
He asked me whether I wanted to do my pre-U at ITM. I was at first reluctant because the idea of having to stay in a God forsaken place like Shah Alam was not appealing at all. Eventually I agreed after reading about the course in the ITM prospectus. But mostly, I think Bapak convinced me about the merits of studying there. Also Kak Eda had impressed me on "campus living".
You know, campus vs school.
"You'll learn to be independent...make your own decision. Anyway, Kak Olin and I are there," she said. And did I mention that I had three cousins and a few close friends from Singapore there as well?
The snag was that I had not submitted my application early enough. Kak Olin and Kak Eda had already submitted their application to ITM. I hadn't because studying at ITM did not figure in my (own) academic plan.
I was late in sending my application although I did not miss the deadline. The reply also came late. Actually very late because I missed orientation week.
In fact, I thought my application was rejected. But I was called just at the end of the orientation week for freshies.
In those days, there was orientation which was akin to "ragging" but I think a little milder. At least for the girls. I don't know whether there is still now at UiTM the kind of "orientation" that "siswa-siswi ITM" had in my day.
Kak Olin and Kak Eda came home the weekend after Orientation Week and told me stories about what they had to go through the whole week. Real horror stories although it was easy to see the funny side of things when they were well and over.
Kak Eda seemed to have got more "teasing" than Kak Olin.
During Orientation Week, the "siswa" and "siswi" were made to wear "uniforms". The boys in batik and songkok and the girls, also in batik baju kurung and scarf.
They had to wake up for the "kuliah subuh" and attend talks at the lecture theatres all day long (with solat breaks) during which they would be at the mercy of the "senior ladies and gentlemen". Which means that the hungry seniors would pick you out from the whole mass at random or otherwise, for several reasons -- 1) they liked your face, 2) they didn't like your face 3) you looked like easy game and 4) you were from PJ or KL, an "anak Lord" or royalty.
Or for all of the above.
If you were smart like Kak Olin was, you'd try to be as inconspicuous and invisible as possible. Be a mouse. Be nothing. Be quiet. Boy, if they only knew......
So, Kak Olin got away with the not being "ragged" while Kak Eda got pretty much the routine treatment although the seniors weren't sadistic or mean to her. She was lucky.
One thing that came out of the Orientation Week was that my two older sisers were called Jawa Murtad or JM for short. Kak Olin was JM1 and Kak Eda was JM2.
I think this happened because we had some "saudara-mara" who were already senior students there.
Some of the seniors also called my sisters Jaling (acronym for Jawa and Mendahiling).
Let's just say I was quite prepared for the full monty when I finally went to Shah Alam to begin my pre-University studies. But that never quite happened.
However, before long, the very same seniors who called Kak Olin and Kak Eda Jawa Murtad found out that there was another JM. And that was me. So, I was JM3. But since orientation week was over, I escaped the hard stuff.
But not so at my hostel (hostel 2C) after some seniors saw me arriving by car. Nothing serious, though. One "garang" senior lady named "Sam" who was doing business studies, decided that this new freshie must be easy game and"summoned" for me.
Oh...I played the part of the new kid on the block pretty well. Speak when spoken to. Don't be a smart aleck. Just be sweet. Before long, I was "declared a junior".
At that time (in 1973), Bapak (then managing editor of NST) was one of the "professional lecturers" at the School Of Mass Communication which he had helped set up.
He'd be at the 13th floor (the MassComm floor) of the multi-storey building some week mornings to lecture news reporting and language translation.
I think he was a hit with the students for very known (not unlawful) reasons but which I cannot mention.
Now, how could I have known that some of the MassComm students would actually know the three of us.
In my first month there, a certain guy (son of a then sitting Ruler who shall all remain unnamed) got to know me and we became friends.
According to him, we had actually met in my neighbourhood which apparently also happened to be his neighbourhood. He was not lying because I did remember the incident but not him although by the time he related it to me, it all came back. So, we were actually neighbours.
It was pretty innocent as far as I was concerned. But he must have had casual conversations about me with his classmates who happened to be my hostelmates. I suppose, him being who he was, an exaggerated version spread around like wildfire.
The story was that we were a couple. Which was not true.
Someone or some people in the School of MassComm must have mentioned this to Bapak.
When I was home that weekend, Bapak asked me if I was "going around" with a certain anak Sultan. I told him the truth and said that there was no such thing.
He did not press further. I did ask him who had been telling him this tittle-tattle. He didn't name anyone but told me that I had been seen with this guy in question.
"Just friends. Nothing to it," I said. But, really, what was wrong with being seen with anyone. It was campus. I guess, as far as Bapak was concerned, anyone was not just anyone.
The following week, he sent someone to fetch me home from campus and got Kak Piah to take me shopping for material to make baju kurung.
"Bapak wants you to wear baju kurung in campus. He has given me some money and instructed me to take you shopping to buy materials and then to take you to my tailor to make baju kurung," Kak Piah told me when I reached home.
I was, to say the least, stumped. What was all this about? What was wrong with wearing t-shirts and jeans. This was college, after all. Besides, I had a few sets of baju kurung. In fact, really nice ones.
Kak Piah said I needed some for daily wear not formal silk ones.
"But why.....what have I done?" I asked, so bewildered, so despondent. I felt I was being punished for something I had done but I had no inkling what it was.
And then I asked: "What about Kak Olin and Kak Eda? Aren't you getting for them as well?"
Kak Piah shrugged her shoulders and said she had no idea why Bapak's instruction to her was to make baju kurung for only me. Only moi.
But I knew that she knew why.
I was a little upset. How could Bapak curb my dressing? What was wrong with jeans and t-shirts and skirts?
I was only 17, fresh out of secondary school. It was 1973. It was the era of James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne and ...Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills Nash and Young (CSNY), Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, Deep Purple.....
Baju kurung in campus? What will Bapak make me wear next, I shivered just wondering about it.
Most importantly, I kept wondering "why, why, why...."
When I told Kak Olin and Kak Eda, they tried to console me.
"Maybe just for a while," Kak Eda remarked.
So, the obedient me did as I was told. I had five or six "pasang" of baju kurung made and I wore them over two weeks.
Bapak still had not told me why. I had figured out but I was not entirely sure. Mak, however, confirmed my suspicion. It did not make sense at all to me then. Was I supposed to be making a statement with my dressing?
"You did nothing wrong. He just feels that you need to be less conspicuous," Mak reasoned.
So, I reasoned that everybody else was wearing jeans and t-shirts and very casual clothes.
Mak said that Bapak thought it best that I dressed in a way that would not attract anyone's attention, so that I would not be distracted and I could concentrate on my studies.
"Itu punish-lah," I told Mak. As far as I was concerned I had not caught anyone's attention, I was not distracted by anyone or anything and I was able to concentrate on my studies.
I told Mak that if I wore baju kurung, I would really stand out in a crowd of jeans-and-tshirt students.
"He wants me to dress modestly.....," I thought aloud. Mak smiled.
I was prepared for further instructions to make more baju kurung when at the end of the second week of my "punishment", Bapak took me aside. I was home for the weekend.
He told me that I did not have to continue wearing baju kurung in campus if I did not want to. He said it would be good to wear them occasionally. I nodded. But I needed to make one thing clear to him.
"Ena tak ada boyfriend di campus," I said. He leaned back on the chair, and, well....chortled. It was not a mocking chortle but more like telling me "yeah, yeah....maybe not now.."
Well, I did not have a boyfriend and that was the truth. At least at that point in time.
I had always liked wearing baju kurung. Even then. It was having to be forced to wear it that bugged me. If I were forced to wear t-shirts, I'd just as much protest. Besides, I was aghast that anyone would even think that my dressing was in any way responsible for anyone's reaction to me.
I was all of a youthful 17, remember?
Needless to say, I continued wearing baju kurung. Only on Fridays, though.
I might have not understood Bapak's intention then. I realised that he was a little worried for me although he really did not have to be. I learnt to appreciate his act of being fatherly but never stopped wondering why he handled his "fears" -- whatever they were -- the way he did.
So, one day I asked him whether we were still living in a feudalistic world...