Sunday, 20 March 2005

A Story Untold

I had taken the train from Waterloo to Sevenoaks numerous times and almost always looked forward to being in a quiet corner of the coach enjoying my book or simply catching up with sleep or entertaining dreams in between hectic schedules - oblivious to the picturesque English countryside whizzing past the window. But this time it was different. The ride to the British stockbroker’s belt on that summer afternoon of 2001, held a somewhat different meaning, a certain promise. I felt like a schoolgirl straight out of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series on a kind of adventure – a mission even.

The mushroom croissant that I religiously bought from Deli France at the station before my weekly trips remained untouched. The malteasers unopened. I had not progressed a line from Patricia Cornwell’s latest book. I was that excited.

It all began with a simple letter and an accompanying cheque written out in the name of the person I was to meet.

“Three o’clock at the station car park - I think I will recognise you,” he said over the phone, his voice betrayed a middle class upbringing, polished in what must have been some of the top British public schools. In my mind’s eyes, he must be in his fifties. Not more than that.

The station car park was not unfamiliar territory as I used to catch a taxi there to my usual destination every Wednesday afternoon. This time it was a rendevous with someone I had never met before to make a quick exchange before catching the train back to London.

I had recognised him instantly and he, me. I was ready to make the exchange but he seemed to want to talk and I allowed myself to be driven to a nearby hotel – a cosy little place where, over tea, he began his story about how he acquired a piece of our history.

Peter Cox was twelve when he was summoned on an errand to a retired admiral’s house. That was in 1948. The old admiral handed over two boxes; one to go to a jumble sale and the other – to go straight to the bin.

Jutting out of the box that was meant for the bin was a yellow scroll and in the yellow scroll, a piece of paper which looked like a letter but to the twelve year old, it was written in a strange script. Cox's curiosity took the better of him and he decided to keep the scroll instead of throwing it away.

In 1954, when he was doing his apprenticeship in Oxford, he suddenly remembered the strange manuscript that remained in his possesion all these while. He decided to take it to a centre where he knew some Asians worked. But they couldn’t help him. However, his supervisor, Professor Sir Wilfred Le Gros Clarke, soon to make his name in exposing the Piltdown forgery, saw the document and instantly thought that his friend – a J Innes Miller – might just know the contents of the letter.

And indeed he did. J Innes Miller was the British Advisor in Perak from 1947 – 1948. He read the manuscript and then transcribed the document in perfect Malay.

There in my hand, on that summer afternoon of 2001, in the leafy suburb of Sevenoaks, was a letter written in 1875 to Sir Andrew Clarke, the Governor of the Straits Settlements. It was a farewell letter from the leaders of the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities in Johore, to Sir Andrew before he left for his posting in India.

It was the same Sir Andrew Clarke who signed the Pangkor Treaty in 1874, the first to implement the new British policy of Protection in the Malay States and the founder of the Residential System.

Admittedly, its not as elaborate and beautiful as some of the Malay letters that I have seen in the posssession of The British Library, for example those letters from Raffles to our Sultans or the letters from our Sultans to the colonial masters. Nevertheless, its a piece of history - our history.

"It was hanging on my wall for a long time and my wife kept nagging me to take it down," he said.

"But I thought I must return it to where it will be appreciated," he added, taking the cheque as payment for the document.
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Cox also handed over the yellow silk cloth in which the document was kept. If my memory serves me right, while doing work on old Malay letters, I was told that we do not have any in our possession. There are about six or seven at the Royal Asiatic Society. And now I was about to bring back the scroll and that piece of history back to where it belongs.

45 comments:

Maya said...

Kak Teh, that was a very interesting anecdote. Because I I have a por memory I have a little space in my brains where I recede to and make up my own conclusions to historical facts. Like the Aryan Theory. If indeed the Aryans were a superior race and they came from the Aral mountain region, where did they 'originate' from? I still believe we are part alien and part of this planet as most mythology tends to lead to...but that's me. I will wait for more proves or discredited stories to believe anything else. Delving inot history must be interesting. I should know as my hubby was a historian and hoards ancient (not antique) stuff! Thanx for sharing that well written post.

Maya said...

Oh and forgive the typos!!!

pembacha said...

Kak Teh -

have been a silent reader for a long time, but have not been commenting as i dont have a blogger account. today's entry forced me to create one :)

the fact that he was willing to part with the document is good enough. i have seen some programs where they auction off antiques - and the document could have been auctioned off to someone other than you.

did you buy it yourself, or is it for the Library? Probably you could share with us what was written on that letter.

Ms.B said...

In full honesty, I must admit that I was never extremely fascinated with our country's history, except when concerning the Malacca Sultanate. That part of our history after the Brits came in, and then forth, bored me. But after reading this, you've certainly made me very curious to want to know more about my country's history! TQ

d'arkampo said...

Kak Teh,

Just came back from my honeymoon and read your post about your Allahyarhamah sis in law.

My deepest condolences to your family.

Kak Teh,

DariNya kita datang, kepadaNya kita pulang.

Sesungguhnya perjalanan kita ini pasti ada titik mula dan titik akhirnya.

Dalam setiap laungan azan, gema takbir dan bisik zikir yang panjang, kita abadikan kalungan doa bersama kenangan buat meraka yang telah pergi menemui Tuhan.

Al-Fatihah.

Lollies said...

Back to the rightful owner. May we appreciate our history even more, the sacrifices and all.

AuntyN said...

Kak Teh, macam HAri Ini Dalam Sejarah pulak lah. Reading this gave me goosepimple, tak tau pasal apa lah. But, sure is something just trigger Mr Cox to give this to u instead of possibly make a fortune of it is remarkable.

SC said...

waah..kakteh.bawak la balik kain-kain cindai kita yang lain tu jugak.tapi kalau kat london org lagi pandai jaga barang...takpe la kot.ntah ye

Kak Teh said...

maya: i am only getting interested in our history now that i am here..it has something to do with being away and wanting to find yr roots. thanks for sharing.
pembacha: terima kasih kerana meninggalkan komen. kak teh tak beli untuk diri sendiri tetapi ditugaskan oleh sebuah badan dinegara kita untuk emmbawa balik. cukuplah kak tehkatakan bahawa dokumen itu sekarang ada di tangan kita ..pihak kerajaan juga bukan pihak yang boleh membuat untung drpnya. Mengenaiisi kandungannya...semata-mata surat ucapan selamat tinggal kepada Clarke dan isteri..danmenunjukkan hubungan yang baika ntara pihak kolonial dan orang2 tempatan. ada nama-nama pembesar2 negarayang menandatangni dokumen tersebut - tapi kak teh akan cari salinannya..dan tambah di sini.
blabs : okay, i'll unleash more...i have more interesting letters to write about..hehe! that's punishment for following my blog. :)
kampo: kak teh harap kampo enjoy honeymoon baru2 ni..rindu jugak tk nampak kampo. dan terima kasih kerana kata-kata dan doa.

Kak Teh said...

lollies: yess, it is also importanty that we make our children learn this. i know you are doing so well with yours.
auntyN: actually orangtu dah dapat tawaran lebihtinggi, nasib baik dia simpan juga surat tu sampai I pi.
spasti: i will write abt this man and his collection of kris and kain..he is in holland. very interesting guy.

MakNenek said...

kakteh, agree lah. being away makes me want to find out more abt my history too, so having your blog is like my history reference! and how luckyyyy you are to be able to work so closely with our past. please take a picture of you and the scroll otey!

CN said...

tht guy siap frame kn tht letter? wow.. he really take a good care of it

Sunflora said...

kak teh,

This is a beautifully written piece. Hmm Sevenoaks! I wouldn't have guessed that the scroll would make its way to Sevenoaks! And I do admire (some of) the British and their respect for the sense of history. (This from The Antique Roadshow especially.) I am sure he might have been able to auction the scroll off but you're the lucky person to have acquired it. What an honour!

Ewok said...

Kakteh, berdiri bulu roma saya bila baca this post. at least the letter is now back where it belongs. It's kinda weird when we are at home, we take things for granted but being away make us feel closer to our roots and history.

Kak Teh said...

maknenek, so so true. i think i am learning more now than when i was in school. and learning with appreciation too.
cik ngah: memang dia frame dan jaga elok-elok. gantung kat dinding sampai isteri dia marah sebab tak ada kena mengena dengan dia orang.
sunflora: i am so privileged to be part if this. I had half a mind to keep it - tapi amanah orang. Lagi pun manalah ada duit! But we can learn a thing or two about appreciating our treasures.
ewok: how so very true. How many of us throw old comics and old books away? or let them be eatenby anai-anai? at the British Library there are at least one copy of every publication that our country was required to send to them. That lasted until sixties, i think...but they are in mint condition.

Mohariz Yaakup said...

Salam perkenalan dari kejauhan.. moga waktu akan sudi bertamu. Kak teh nama saya Mohariz(Penglipurlara)

Kak Teh said...

mohariz, terima kasih sudi datang menjenguk. salam perkenalan.

budakkampong said...

i remember reading the late Tan Sri Harun's writing in the Benchmark. He says during that period (i mean colonial period), the British advisers will do anything just to learn the culture and language.

shidah said...

nampak macam tulisan jawi. You mean the mat salleh yang meng'translate' tu boleh baca jawi? Power!

CikNi said...

kak teh, tell us the untold story ok?

Susan Abraham said...

Kak Teh,
Ini sama sikit macam cerita Tash Aw...
you kena karya buku juga,
mesti jadi mashyur!
salam mesra

Kak Teh said...

budakkampong: yes, they do make the effort..francis light, raffles, they all learnt the jawi writing and the malay culture.
shidah: u are are right, he actually translated them in perfect malay. his jawi reading is better than mine.
cikni: the untold story is actually this story abt the letter that I had not written for publication. And now it has been written...
susan: aiyah...so much to do so little timelah!

lacrema said...

Kak teh, I forgot to save your number that day. Can you give me a missed call?

Anonymous said...

a'kum Kak teh,

Amazed at what you do. Excellent stuff, retrieve sth back to the Malay culture. Teringat baca kisah Munsyi Abdullah masa kecik2x dulu.

Condolence about your loss. Al-Fatihah to her.

Kak Teh,I know and write Jawi very well (& ada la belaja arab sket2x, byk dah lupo doh).Am more than happy to lend a hand (and therefore utilise my rusty knowledge) should you need help.

atenah said...

alamax KT, yr entry really makes me ashamed of my entry today. aparah aku ni.....

Kak Teh said...

lacrema: will do..sorry terlambat.
anonymous: thanks, kak teh menghargai kata-kata ini dan juga kerana sudi nak bantu. Masaalahnya untuk mentransliterasi syair ni, kak teh kena buat sendiri kerana walaupun hilang satu tanda atau kalau ada cacat cedera pada manuscript tu kak teh sendiri kena tahu di mana. Walaubagaimanapun, terima kasih. Dan kak teh akan tulis lagi mengenai surat2 lama yang kak teh pernah lihat di sini, di Holland dan juga di Germany. memamng banyak khazanah kita bertaburan di negara orang.
tenah:LOL your entry pun legacy jugak. kalau kita tak catatkan mana anak cucu nak tau!

d'arkampo said...

Kak Teh..

Nak hantar kek jauh sangat jadi...

Nyanyi je lah.

Happy Birthday To You
Makan Ubi Kayu
Cucuk Dengan garfu
Cicahhh dengannnn buduuuu....

may all your dreams come true.

(better early than never)

SC said...

kak teh, happy birthday to u! saya sekeluarga mendoakan supaya kakteh dikurniakan umur yg panjang dan bermanfaat, rezeki yang banyak dan berkat, anak-anak yang berjaya dan berjasa, tubuh badan yang sihat dan kuat dan kebahagiaan dunia akhirat.Amin.

big hugs fr SC,MM and AM

Kak Teh said...

po & sc: many, many thankssssss!

Jiwa Rasa said...

Bravo kak teh for bringing back the treasure.

Sometimes we will know and love and appreciate our homeland only when we are far away from home.

Happy birthday Kak Teh,
May you be showered with great health and bounties by Allah.

wynn said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to KAK TEH.

Semoga panjang umur, murah rezeki dan sihat sentiasa.

Mutiara said...

Happy Birthday!!!

Anonymous said...

Kak Teh,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! MOGA PANJANG UMUR & MURAH REZEKI SENTIASA.

Arena said...

Very interesting. I have high respect for the effort of preserving our heritage. Good job!

Kak Teh said...

jiwa: i feel really previledged to be part of this. and thanks for the wishes.
wynn & mutiara, thank to you too. Am touched by all these kind words.
anonymous: am especially touched by this. Thanks.
Jade: welcome to the blog and yes, we must do all we can to bringback whatis ours.

Captain Barbell said...

makteh kalau hantar posting-posting ni kat readers digest, boleh dapat duit tau..
but i guess you'd rather make them available to be admired by people like me :)

Kak Teh said...

paul, mak teh rasa seronok mengongsi semua ini dengan bloggers di sini. begitu juga mak teh menghargai komen-komen di sini. terima kasih.

Fong said...

Happy Birthday!!!!! =)

and thank you for sharing your entry and for striving to bring back a little bit of history into our lives .. much appreciated!

Berisman said...

Kak Teh,

I enjoyed every word of this posting.Great prose!Beautifully written with great contents:-)

Thanks for sharing.

The Reader

Kak Teh said...

fong: thanks for visiting and the birthday wishes..(and also the link!!!)
Pak Adib: thanks for coming back. lama tak nampak. and thank you too for kind words. I feel so much for things like this.

SC said...

oh kak eh....dah seminggu lebih dah ni kakteh...

shidah said...

ye la Kak Teh, mana pi...rindu nak dengar cita baru...sambut menantu ke???? :)

Jade said...

kak teh,
post baru! this posting makes me a little embarassed sbb i've never really been insterested in history. especially OURS. take for granted. and, my, when i babble away about small little things in life in my blog, yours make me hide behind the chair. hehe... enlightment lah darling. you take care, and urmm.. is it belated birthday already? a happiest one anyway!

Ewok said...

happy belated birthday, Kak Teh!

Kak Teh said...

shidah, thanks for the concern. ni tengah dok fening.banyak kerja. will update, certainly.
ladyJade: what lah you...i always enjoy reading your postings
ewok: thanks for reminding me. From now on am going to celebrate birthday every five years. is that allowed?