Wednesday, 16 March 2005

My syair and me on the No 7

Prominent on my list of regrets - not learning to read or write Jawi. Am kicking myself senseless now as I have to struggle with an old manuscript that I am working on before completing my studies. And it is not just Jawi, but old Jawi which scribes took liberty to add or leave out any dots, just to add to the confusion, I suspect.

Anyway, I believe I know enough to be able to read the Quran and I never had any real use or need to learn Jawi until now. Mak used to read the syair or hikayats to us like modern mums read Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

My first attempt to write was of course, if I remember correctly, done with the intention to impress my dearly intended. He, of course, coming from the East Coast, writes beautiful Jawi. So, I wrote a letter to my Mak and asked him to check. He took one look and smiled. (He was then, too polite to laugh). Instead of Mak, I had written Maka… so, enough said. Nowadays, he leaves notes in Jawi outside the door to our son, telling him where he has left the house keys. Clever or what?

Now, fast forward to London years and years later, I answered a call from a friend who asked whether I’d like to earn some extra money and help her catalogue some old books in the british Library. But one requirement was that I must be able to read Jawi.

“So, I assume you do read Jawi,” she said, without actually asking for an answer.

“Ah!” I giggled a pitch higher, “do birds fly? Do fish swim?”

And with that, for my arrogance and sin, I found myself in the company of old Malay manuscripts and hikayats and newspapers, dusty and some even crumbling at the touch, at the British Library. I had the opportunity to see the early copies of Jawi Peranakan, Abdullah Munsyi’s compilation of “Sepuluh Kebodohan Orang-orang Melayu” and many more interesting titles…well, interesting only when I got to decipher them, which might have taken something like ten minutes… going, Jim Alif Ja Wau Ya Wi…Jawi. That transported me right back to the house of my old Quran teacher in Yan, as I repeated after her sing song style of spelling, all the while pointing to the script with her finely carved lidi. which was of course, yesteryear's cursor.

But that experience at the BL left me with this legacy that I have not been able to shake off. One, it triggered asthma and later hayfever, because of all the dust and two, it increased my interest in old Malay manuscripts and books, some of which are not even in the possession of our libraries or museums.

This Syair that I am working on is yet unstudied, I am proud to say. And with this knowledge, I am spurred on to painstakingly transliterate each line, with the intention to have it published.

The British Library has the only copy of this Syair and I had the pages copied and everyday, with a few pages each, I’d sit on the number seven to work or to the university and transliterate the beautiful stanzas from this early nineteenth century or late eighteenth century poet. On most days, I’d be transported to the intrigues in the Malay royal court with belles of beauty with none to match and heroes with charm and wit to die for. I’d be oblivious to the chaos and humdrum on the streets of London, until I reach my destination.

So, yesterday, armed with about 30 pages of the manuscript, and the transliteration,I marched to my professor’s room. As it was my first consultation this year, I decided to buy some almond croissants, with which we could chew and digest the syair.

I have long eaten my humble pie. I am no longer embarrassed that as a Malay, I have to study from a non-Malay. But I am proud to say, if I have to learn anything from any non_Malay, it will have to be the best…and Professor Braginsky, a Russian, is certainly one of the best in this area of Traditional Malay Literature. He is the seefoo in this area, well informed and much quoted by scholars all over the world.

My transliteration, needless to say, have lots of blanks to be filled, eventhough my other half has helped me a lot with certain words. Most times, I had to consult Wilkinson, the bible for traditional Malay literature scholars. So, over tea and croissants, I listened intently as my old Russian guru talked about ‘raja pisari’ or raja bistari, about hints to read old jawi: to look out for the alphabet Ga and not confuse it with Kaf and so on and so forth.

There are a lot of mine fields, these Jawi manuscripts, and I tripped onto one yesterday and it exploded right in my face.

“Ah, yes,” said I trying hard to sound academic. “I find it quite interesting that, given the Islamic overtones of the stanza, they do have samsu and such likes,”

“Samsu?” said Dr B, curious.

“Yes,” I offered, very confidently, almost verging on arrogance again. “ is sin mim sin wau…samsu..”

“Ah…,” said the wise one, ignoring my offer of the original script. “It is not samsu as in the arak, but it is Shamsu…it is not Sin but Shin….so, Shamsu dan Qamar…The sun and the moon,”

My face collapsed, and the almond croissant tasted funny. You see, being Malay, we tend to make these mistakes. Take one look and we assume, and thus, re: Pok Ku, we are an ass. For non-Malay scholars learning the classic literature, they refer to the basics! That's how they learn and that's how they know more than us.

Anyway, I have about 50 more pages to go.

Rushed out to catch the number seven just about to leave the stop outside the campus. Nothing beats being on the number seven at this time of the evening…hardly anyone. Just me and my syair sailing along Oxford Street.

menengar titah raja yang adil,
keluarlah semua pandai dan jahil,
riuh rendah meriam dan bedil
Oh..debenhams ada sale!

As you can see, once in a while, there are distractions and I am bounced back to 21st century London and its cruel realities.


drbubbles said...


yang tak tahan nak tergelak tu tang part ".....debenham ada sale!"


nefertiti said...

bahasa syair ni indah betul..orang dulu2 cakap memang tersusun dan penuh sopan. tak macam kita sekarang. you're lucky, kak teh..having the chance to learn it..nanti boleh lah perturunkan ilmu pada kita2 ye? *grin*

Coolkid said...

CK ni Kak Teh. All the best in your endeavours! Melayu BOLEH! :)

(logged in as daughter haha!)

SC said...

hmmm actually kakteh, i'd make the same slip too considering the similarities between as-shams, al-qamar with samsu,khimar (i.e adik beradik kembar todi dan arak)ek?i'd love more of this stuff kakteh.

CikNi said...

....bounced back to 21st century London and its cruel realities.....

yeah, its cruel

Bustaman said...

samsu wasnt concocted until after the Prohibitions.
When you have a settled stomach, find out what goes into samsu.

atenah said...

ha ha ha yr syair abt debenham ada sale, terangkait kepala the original writer of the syair dalam kubur LOL

MakNenek said...

kak teh
im suffering the same problems with arabic language because if you don't know what the word means, chances are, you wont be able to read it without the tashkil (sings). plus arabic takde 'v', 'p, ada lah sikit punya feningsss.. ;) all the best..betul kata nefertiti, turunkan ilmu sikittt...

thank Allah the Quran that we have now ada tashkil for our (non-arabic speaking) benefit..the originally written one, do not have tashkils. macamana nak baca :)

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Kak Teh,
will see you at 6pm tomorrow at Whiteley's Bayswater and Rani's event is also at 6pm on March 29.
Today is very kelam-kabut for me.
love susan

Jiwa Rasa said...

kak teh,

We don't know who we are. We are learning to know about ourselves from others. Indeed, we still have looong way to go..

atiza said...

ler..i thought you were writting the syairs that you've been translating..tup-tup scrolled down, I saw the debenham's on sale bit..

Cheh!..tipah tertipu..BIG TIME..

Mutiara said...

kak teh e-mail the pages to me...I can help translate ;)

budakkampong said...

i once read a jawi old kitab. and my reading goes like this: -

"nabi naik beruk dari bom mekah"

but what the kitab meant to say was Nabi naik buraq dari bumi mekah during the isra' mikraj event

Nadia said...

interesting stuff la kak teh...if I'm there I'd have clamored you to tea over your academic pursuit LOL

Kak Teh said...

iskandar: gelak, jangan tak gelak..glad that I can make a clown smile! :)
nef: Ish...nak perturunkan ilmu ni? kena tunggu bulan mengambang dan ayam sekor sebagai upah.
coolkid: thanks and kena lah ajar your daughter dari kecik untuk baca jawi - jangan dah sampai macam kak teh ni.
spasti: I made lots of slips and at that point in time, I thought i am right...but read it several times, baru nampak mistake.
cikni: yes, the realities of 21st century London can be cruel. yesterday ada orang kena tetak kepala along the streets of london.

Kak Teh said...

pok ku: thanks but i dont think I want to know LOL
atenah: the kind of mistakes copiers as well as transliterators make in the course of the study can certainly make the pensyair pengsan balik dalam kubur.
Maknenek: yes, thanks for the term too. yang tu pun kak teh tak tahu!
susan: yes...can't wait. me too very kelam kabut yesterday and i noticed a lot of typo errors in this entry but didnt have time to remedy it.
jiwa: don't i know...and i am still at infancy stage.
atiza: kesian tipah tertipu...debenhams sales memajang!
mutiara: thanks for the offer...but the text to kena scanlah dulu. will see.
budak kampong: that is so hilarious.
nadia: yes, come over and help me. The croissants are not too bad either..especially the almond ones!

Lydia teh: thanks for your comments via email. yes, alif ba and ta...rather like A ba and ta. will certainly allow anonymous comments.

MA said...

Kak Teh, alhamdulillah I think that is where Johorean kids has the advantage - because they went to sekolah ugama dari kecil, and read and write Jawi effortlessly sampai ke tua.

My kids - though boleh read and write Jawi, but they do not have that disctinct advantage that I had when I was a kid.

Sunflora said...

I was reading this with my other half and he was remarking how interesting it was to be able to do what you got to do.

Siap ade syair Debenham tuu..

Berenang buaya di sungai dalam,
Bergegas ke bumi Tuan Haji Nik,
Terbaca saya syair debenhams,
Maka terus berlari ke Harvey Nicks.


lacrema said...

Sounds very familar...he he.

CN said...

aiyo, very talented russian prof u have aa kak teh ..

i can read jawi, but cant spell it.. heheh..selamat la nk kawen takder ujian menulis jawi..sure fail

Susan Abraham said...

Don't worry, Kak Teh, I did not notice your typo errors. It was the essence of your article that was beautiful to me.

iJun said...

Wow Kak Teh.. you must feel like on top of the world to be given the opportunity such as this! 50 pages more to go??? WOW!!! You need any help? I can make you coffee!

anak yang nakal mahupun degil
harus diajar meminta ampun dan maaf
mahupun bila debenhams ada sale
jaga-jaga kak teh, jangan sampai ter-overdraft!

Alip ya jim wau nun.

iJun said...

Hi kakteh! I've passed u the schtick!


Kak Teh said...

MA: memang orang Johor dengan orang east coast memang pandai. tak apa - never too late to learn.
SunFlora: yes, I feel really lucky and that is why i have to make full use of this opportunity, while i still have the strength.
lacrema: I told you!!
cikngah: memang dia tera!!
susan: thanks...and didn't we have a great time!
Ijun: buat kopi saja? ingat nak tolong transliterate! and thanks for the stick!!

Jade said...

kak teh
beautiful.. beautiful.. beautiful..
ehek.. on syair debenhams, i mean.
it must be fun doing what you're doing, walaupun it might be memeningkan. anyway, it's never too late to learn.

"life is a journey of knowledge until the day we say good bye to it"

Leen Ash Burn said...

I would love love love to have your job! Though I'd probably get asthma from the dust as well hehe. I guess I should thank my Mom who made us all go to Sekolah Agama in JB, we're asked to write and read in jawi (our kitab muta'al badrin spells bumi as ba wau nun = bom hehe).

Kak Teh said...

ladyjade, by now you must know how my mind wanders! thanks for coming back.
leen : how lucky. my johorean friend boleh baca macam air!

Jade said...

kak teh, it's me again. just wanna let you know a link on my blog back to yours. :-)

and i will keep on coming back!

Kak Teh said...

yes, ladyjade -thanks - do link me and i will link you as well.

ramlisdar said...

Kak Teh early 80s, I belajar dekat Baker Street, Depan Madamme Tussaude.
Tinggal di Bryanston Square (Malaysia hall)

U r right, bila ada sale aje I juga got distracted. Lunch sempat jalan kaki ke Oxford Street. Kadang kala lepas lecture pun sempat pergi Selfridges. Ada lagi ke Selfridges?. Dah lama tak jejak kaki ke London.

Kak Teh said...

ramlisdar, terima kasih kerana singgah di lelaman kak teh. ya memang berjalan di oxford street kena banyak sabar dan tetap iman. tapi kalau masa kemarau dan poket kosong boleh jugak buat tak tau.

Lollies said...

Kak Teh dulu masa kecik-kecik kena baca Mutaal Badrin. Jawinya belit-belit. Tanpa nokhtah. Eja pun tak macam sekarang.

Bumi is spelt Ba Wau Mim.

Now I think you are far more terer.

Raimy Che' Ross pun tak leh baca Jawi gak dulu.

Ordinary Superhero said...

The jawi writing nowadays have changed so much. I realised that when I wanted to teach my primary 1 daughter. While I don't problem writing and reading jawi, I regret tak belajar bahasa arab sungguh2 masa kat sekolah/uni dulu.

Anonymous said...

makteh, remember the plate i bought u from Istanbul. WOWI WOWI???

Yeah..that's just how good yr jawi is!! Ha!Ha!

Restless said...

Dear Kak Teh,

Learning from an outsider seems to be an in-depth experience where it uncovers realities that we didn't see before. Just like embracing Islam. Thinking that being a Muslim-by-birth gives one the edge over a convert, I tend to pride my Islamic knowledge. How I fall in such arrogance! Pray God, forgive me.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting!Hope to get a copy when it is published, to be referred and kept in our Depatmental Library collection.

Faidzul said...

Kak Teh,

Are you still working on the old Jawi manuscripts? My colleagues and I, in UKM, are working on "Optical Character Recognition for Jawi Manuscripts". It's basically a software that can digitize Jawi manuscripts. Since, you have been working on Jawi manuscripts, if possible, I really need your opinion on certain things. Could you please email me at (because I don't know how to contact you other than use these comments). Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Salam K. Teh,

Saya termasuk blog ni masa mencari sesuatu about arwah Adik Nurin. Sekarang ni saya rasa macam tak dan2 nak baca semua cerita... Tahniah K. Teh.

Pasal cerita jawi ni, teringat saya cerita pensyarah saya .. dulu2 ejaan jawi payah sikit ... tok guru dia bagi la ejaan TA-JIM-HA, LAM-FA-SIN, BA-WAU-MIM ... dengan penuh keyakinan, dia batang TIJAH LEPAS BOM .. tok guru dia merah padam tahan gelak ...

Saya adalah generasi akhir 70an yg masih boleh membaca jawi dan seronok menulis dalam tulisan jawi -- walaupun berbagai version ejaan sekarang.

Semoga Kak Teh berjaya dengan apa yang Kak Teh lakukan...

Kangar, Perlis

buTTerFLowEr said...

haha. i think it happens where language exists. reminds me of english. "spelled as pronounced" kind of words/terms sometimes doesn't make sense to us learners. kadang2 rase mcm "you claim yourself american but you can't even diff study and sturdy?" but then again, same as BM. especially after BM evolves a few times during my school years.

my jawi also rot (sad) btw i came across this blog to find whether balik is spelled with kaf or qaf (i always thought it was qaf but my bf said i'm wrong so if i can prove that i'm right i can laugh at him) rindu plak zaman skola mase jd good jawi speller :P