Saturday, 31 March 2007

A KLILF Experience

These days, my usual companions in bed are Adibah Amin and Tunku Halim but last night we were joined by Camilla Gibb. It is no wonder that in my dreams Camilla’s experience in Ethiopia with the Muslim community has a strong Malaysian flavour and some strange characters with horns. At the breakfast table Lydia Teh keeps me company, and on the commuter or in the car to Bangsar Village from Bangi, I am accompanied by The Reluctant Politician but yesterday on the way back, I had to alternate my attention between The Reluctant Politician and the young lady who wants to know whether her head looks big in a hijab.

A Nyonya in Texas and Tan Kwan Eng will certainly keep me occupied during the flight home and I am counting on Xeus to keep me company when I am suffering from jetlagged in the wee hours if the morning in London.

So, you see, I am not lacking in company these days. It is just dividing time to be with them and do justice to what they have to offer. In fact, I think I have to concentrate on one at a time to fully appreciate them. These are books that I have bought from MPH and book talks during the Malaysian Literary Festival. And I have not even ventured into Kinokuniya yet!

The KL International Literary Festival 2007 ended yesterday. I had extended my trip home so that I could attend the book talks, the launches and the workshops. The only regret I have is that I couldn’t attend all.

Well, KLILF for me started with Tash Aw. I was fashionably late as I couldn’t find the place, and by the time I got there, the first floor of Alexis Bistro was already full of people. I had missed the readings and Tash was already into the workshop – The Beginnings. I had to scan through Hemmingway’s first four pages of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ before attempting the task for the day; i.e. to write the first para of a novel. Tash was asking for ideas – a name, a Malaysian name – a CEO of a big company, shouted one. Razak, shouted another. He is unhappy doing what he is doing and on top of that he has a beautiful but rather ambitious wife, offered Tash. *&^%#! shouted someone behind me offering a name followed by some nervous laughs and we wisely opted for Amy. They both plotted and murdered a partner in the firm by the name of Tony. Judging by the show of hands and suggestions, there was no lacking of ways to creatively murder someone. We have indeed become very creative in a rather morbid way.

I managed a few lines; nothing that met Tash’s brief of a good opening of a novel. You have to capture the attention of the readers, with enough hints of what’s in store. Have enough to take them by the hand to the last page of your novel. I was more interested in the crowd. I bet 90 percent of those present have a novel in them; a sentence, a para, a paragraph or maybe some are already ready for that final full stop. There were many around my age, perhaps crafting their words on their laptops on the kitchen table, in the garden, summoning life’s experience to incorporate into their stories. Many young ones too, still in college with that burning desire to get one published! I saw Lydia penning her first para but she didn’t put her hand up when asked to volunteer to read. There were indeed some very good ones, enough to make me want to listen to some more.

The morning with Tash ended with some photo sessions and we promised to meet up in London over a cup of coffee some where. So I skipped lunch with the author and joined Sharon, Sharanya and Lakshmi Pamunjak and many others at Delicious. Lydia had to rush home to fetch her kids from school. This Desperate Housewife and dedicated mother fits in her literary activities around her children’s school schedules.

Salleh ben Joned cancelled his session and I was quite disappointed because I was looking forward to meeting him again. But never mind, the afternoon was more than compensated when Shidah phoned up to say she was coming to meet me with Pak Samad Said. More books from the Sastrawan Negara. As he signed a copy, I said to the one who keeps asking when my book will be out, “One day I hope to sign my book for you,”

“You hope to…?” he asked peering from his glasses.

“Insyaallah” was all I could afford to say. For now.

With that we went to KLCC where I thought I could get a decent dress for the opening of the MLIF by the DPM. From there we went on to Ampang where I bought not one but two! Anedra collected me and we headed for The Seafood Garden. The launch of MLIF 2007 was indeed a grand affair. I was greeted by a familiar face – and this I must mention as it is most important at this stage in my life. While I am being greeted and recognized as Kak Teh, I realized that those who do recognize me as Kak Teh are mostly the young ones. But those who still remember me as the writer from the NST days, are those from my age group. They remember my columns, my features, my rantings. But at that evening, this lady came and said; “We met a few times, I read your column and now I read your blog!” Hooray, I am now reaching both worlds. Thank you.

That put me in a rather cheeky mood. Ruby Ahmad can testify to that. While we were talking to Minister Shahrizat Jalil, guess who walked in? I went up to introduce myself and said, “I am a woman blogger.”

It was a lovely evening. I was at table 18 with Ruby, Anedra, Ood the anak ikan, Eric and Zul from MPH. The speeches were too long, and by the time the food came, it was time to go home. I managed to hear only two songs by Dayang NurFaezah.

I was early for Tash’s second session on 28th March. Such a popular session – and this time Alexis Bistro was packed with many college students and some old timers with a novel or two up their sleeves. Again, after some readings, we were told to write an ending to our previous beginning. I tell you, there were some good ones but I was again somewhat distracted by a young boy in front of me trying to nibble his girlfriend’s ear. I should start my novel with that, I think.

On the way for Randa Abdel-Fattah’s session, I saw Dina Zaman coming up the escalator, clutching her stomach. She was famished and visibly tired after several talks and book signing. I am glad I didn’t miss this. Randa, a twenty six year old Palestinian Muslim living in Australia, talked about her first book – ‘Does My Head Look Big In This?’ It is a very funny, easy to read book about a Muslim teenager, Amal, who decided to wear the hijab. Get it! It is hilarious. She asked the same questions I asked myself when I started to become a ‘full timer’, donning the hijab – she went through the familiar stages of first covering up with a little fringe peeking from under the scraf to being fully covered up.

I could only manage half an hour of Conor O’Clery on writing biographies. By then I felt like one of those Dervish dancers at Dina’s launch of I am Muslim. I was spinning everywhere, from Bangsar to KLCC and Bangi and then back to Bangsar.

On the last day, had I missed Camilla Gibb as I had intended to, I would never have forgiven myself. The author of ‘Mouthing the Words’, ‘The Petty Details of So and So’s Life’ and now ‘Sweetness in The Belly’ spoke about her life with the Muslim community in Ethiopia. A student of Anthropology, Camilla felt that her thesis didn’t do justice to the people she lived with, the religion she became very close to, and the community which adopted her. So, she wrote this compelling novel. Somewhere in Camilla’s talk, she touched a nerve, a raw nerve. And the words she scribbled in her book to me have gone some way to help me heal. Thanks Camilla.

It was at this session that I met an old friend, poet/lawyer Cecil Rajendra who shared with me poems he had written for the session in the evening. It brought back memories of sharing his poetries under the big tree in front of Ho Peng Café in Light Street, Penang. How long ago was that? 30 years ago?

This is not quite the end of my book trip home. Today, 31st March, I am supposed to fly home. But MPH is having a press launch of Adibah Amin’s ‘As I was Passing’ on 3rd April. Somewhere in those fantabulous collections of the great writer, is a mention of Kak Teh, though my name was not there in print. As a cub reporter and a great admirer of Kak Adib, I remember feeling so thrilled when she interviewed Fatimah Abu Bakar and I for a column she was writing. When the column appeared in print, we were in cloud nine. That same feeling of excitement is now many times magnified as the day approaches when I will meet up with her again. And this time, I have been asked to say a few words. What a wonderful end to a wonderful book trip home.

Monday, 26 March 2007

It has been three weeks since I left my cats, husband and children for the warmer climes of home sweet home. Yet, why do I still feel so jetlagged and tired. The answer must lie in the fact that I must have clocked up more mileage than the Heathrow- KLIA flight and back! (And pssst! It could be age too! Don’t tell anyone but I am now a year older since I waved goodbye to my family at Heathrow airport. Hopefully they will not notice any difference, like an extra wrinkle, when I return.

On that note, first let me thank Lydia Teh for the wonderful cake she brought to the 2nd MPH Breakfast Club for Lit Bloggers. I attended the talk by Lydia (on her book, Honk if you are a Malaysian), and Xues who shared with us some tips on writing. They were introduced by Kenny Mah and Eric Forbes. Blogger Sharon Bakar was there too and I am truly honoured to be in such company. There’s really a lot to be learnt about the publishing scene here – who reads what, what sells and most importantly, how to sell it. I went back with a lot of books that Eric had kindly recommended.

Well, that night, it was a celebration of sorts. It is very rare that we are together for our birthdays. Kak Cik, my sis in law Nisa, my brother Ajie, my grand nephew Nasri and my brother in law Wan are all March babies. And as nephew Azril is leaving for Geneva soon, we thought we might as well say farewell to him too. So with all these, we had three cakes, a huge tent and some old friends and relatives from near and far and a sprinkling of distinguished guests at niece Anedra’s house.

Mak looked very happy as she was surrounded by everyone she loves. Only Kak couldn’t make it. Even the rain stayed away until we finished the outdoor celebration. And not a growl from Anedra’s neighbours in the gated community that is Zoo Negara!

It all became too much for me. The stress of combining work and networking was becoming apparent. I have not one but two ulcers in my mouth. I couldn’t eat much without grimacing with pain. On top of that I was losing my voice. Mind you, this has nothing to do with talking, but I suspect a lot to do with the night out with the boys and girls the previous night. My old school chums had kidnapped me to what was supposed to be only a Chinese meal at the Darul Ehsan Club but of course karaoke was on the agenda. That night, or was it morning, I crawled into a strange bed at my friend’s house. Too scared to go home and face Mak. I felt sixteen again. The following morning, my friend’s Mak came over. How we have not changed, she must have thought! She and my Mak know us too well.

The day before, I was in Johore with three other bloggers for the book launch of Dr Ooi Kee Beng’s ‘The Reluctant Politician’. This must have been my first visit back to Johore after 30 years. Former DPM Tun Musa launched the book and Insyaallah I will review the Reluctant Politician soon.

Just before the trip to Johore, it was the launch of Dina Zaman’s ‘I am Muslim’. I turned up quite early at the venue but was too scared to go in alone. I didn’t know anyone and felt very much a stranger in my own country. But soon, one blogger after another introduced themselves, and I felt so at home.
I must have bought seven copies of Dina’s book – and gave them as presents to my close childhood friends, some of whom are avid Dina followers.

I am looking forward to the KL International Literary Fair 2007 – more writers, more book talks and workshops! And yes, the icing on the cake must be ‘Celebrating the 70’s with Adibah Amin’ on 3rd April. MPH is celebrating the revival of Adibah Amin’s ‘As I was Passing’. I wouldn’t want to miss this event for anything.

And then, I must fly back for a rest.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Al Fatehah to Atok

Yesterday, I was there in his birth place. Yesterday, many times, my thoughts turned to him. Yesterday, as I surveyed the beautiful bay, the coastline and what I managed to see of Johore, I thought of him. I thought of his longing to be in his own home. Like my Mak in her twilight years, he too must have wanted to go home and spend his final days there. But his children like Mak’s children had defied his wishes, as they wanted to care for him like he had cared for them when he was strong and dependable.

I have never met him. I have never spoken to him. But I knew him through the writings of a devoted and loving daughter. As bloggers we exchanged notes on the challenges of looking after an ailing and ageing parent. We talked about their unconditional love, about their boundless energy and commitment for their children and compared these to our miserable attempts to look after them. We talked about the sulk, the tantrums and the helplessness they must be feeling. So, yes, I knew Atok; the man so devoted to his wife that he planted olive trees as an expression of love to his wife of the same name. The man who, like my father, smoked the pipe with curve cut tobacco cap nenas, sending whiffs of its sweet smelling aroma in the air while telling stories of the Japanese occupation. Yes, I recognize someone I love in Atok.

Each time I read accounts of Atok, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of envy as I had lost my father more than thirty years ago. Pak suffered after an accident while he was young, so, I missed out going to the movies with him, going for walks with him, but like Atok, he patiently waited for us while we watched our favourite TV programmes until the we fell asleep and the test patterns came on screen. Yes, I knew Atok.

When news of Atok being rushed to the hospital, as bloggers we gave whatever support we could to his daughter, Mak Andeh, who kept us informed about his condition. We, as blogger friends of his daughter, sent him our doas.

I was looking out to Danga Bay yesterday when I received the sms bringing news of his demise. Al Fatehah to Atok. He is now in a better place. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat ke atas rohnya dan menempatkannya bersama orang-orang yang beriman. Amin.

Oh yes, I was there, Atok, and I understand why you loved the place so much.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Mothering Mak

I coaxed her to the TV room while I searched for a channel – any channel - with programes that would interest her. At first she seemed reluctant but I told her there was a Malay drama on RTM 1. I need her to be in the TV room so that I can keep an eye on her while I do my work. Everyone is out and I can’t afford to fail them the way I had several times before.

It is almost a week since I left London. This trip does not promise to be any different from the rest. And why would it be? As a freelance, I do not deserve a break. The word holiday does not exist in the diary of a freelance. That chance of a free flight comes but once in a blue moon and I grabbed it when it came, knowing that I will have some days with Mak. Just a few precious days and today is one such day.

With my track record of looking after Mak, none of my siblings are taking any chances. Still fresh in their minds is that episode when Mak rolled off the bed and on to the floor. I found her clutching her head and in the panic, I couldn’t find Kak’s room to get help. My excuse was I was jetlagged and Mak slept too near the edge of the bed.

They have also not forgotten the time when I couldn’t help Mak with her diapers when she was in hospital or the time when I nearly dropped Mak in the bathroom when she fainted. And how could they forget that night when Mak woke up and was thirsty. I led her by the hand to the kitchen when she reminded me that the alarm in the hall was on. So, not unlike Catherine Zeta Jones and the ageing Sean Connery in The Entrapment, we crawled in the dark to the kitchen, and all the while Mak was clutching her stomach, with tears rolling down her cheeks. She was laughing so much. The next morning Ton told us that the alarm was always switched off when Mak was around. Hmmm, now they tell me!

Today, I have got her right in front of me. Kak Cik said, “Don’t forget to serve her lunch at 12.30!” and with that she disappeared down the road. She had made some porridge and soup and crispy chicken that I had helped to dice. But Mak wanted rice. She must have her rice. Porridgy rice doesn’t count. So, she ate very little and when I was washing up, I poked my head around the corner and saw her walking with one sharp knife in one hand and a ripe mango in the other. There’s no way you can stop this woman. So, I had to stop what I was doing and peel the mango for her.

No one can tell Mak what not to do. One morning, at Lilah’s house, Lilah came to wake me up and told me to sleep with Mak as she was going for her Arabic class. I must have taken my own sweet time because when I came down stairs, I couldn’t find Mak. I had visions of Mak wondering down the road, broom in one hand. I searched everywhere – she was outside – hanging out clothes to dry.

The next day, I found her at the breakfast table, looking quite upset. And on closer inspection, I realized that she was munching her food with difficulty as she had misplaced her false teeth. So, we started a hunt for her misplaced false teeth; under her pillow, under the bed, in the bathroom and in the sink. I dread to think what she had done with it. Perhaps she had flushed them in the toilet. But we found them in a glass where she usually keeps them during the night.

Looking after Mak these days is not unlike looking after a child. Her memory is still great. She asks after my children,; remembers their names. She still mispronounces my husband’s name – well at least she is consistent! But she is also quite repetitive. She’d ask the same question about five times. And every time, you’d have to answer with the same enthusiasm as if you are hearing the question for the first time.
Lying to her is the cruellest thing that we have to do. Although she is resigned to the fact that she will never go back to live in the house that Pak built for her, she will still ask to be sent back to Alor Setar. "Mak nak balik. Hantar Mak balik sorang pun tak apa," she'd say.
When there's no response as my siblings had perfected the art of selective hearing, she'd ask what day of the month it was. She still has the mental ability to work out that the end of the month means that she gets her pension, and thus can pay for her own flight back to Alor Setar. Thus the standard answer would be, "Baru 14 haribulan Mak!" Every other day would be the 14th day of the month. Mercifully, she too forgets that she had asked the question several times before. May God forgive us for all these lies.

I was dreading the day I had to go to work. We had prepared her that I am back here to work and that I’d be away staying at a hotel for four days. I thought she understood. But that morning, she saw me packing and as I left, pulling the bag behind me, her face crumpled and tears streamed down her cheeks. Then she hugged me again as if she didn’t want to let me go. It was not unlike saying goodbye to a little child. In a desperate attempt to make me stay, she said,”Nanti balik Mak mungkin dah tak ada!” she said and I jokingly asked (for I had to jokingly do so!) “Mak nak pi mana?”

When I returned four days later, the look on her face was priceless! Like the look on my children's faces when they were small, when I appeared at the door at the end of a long day at work. Today, Mak is happy that I sat with her and ate with her. I was not too far away from her as she watched her drama Melayu. And when I last checked, she had dozed off peacefully only to wake up for her prayers.

Mak, oh Mak, how did you ever manage to look after us?

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Confessions of a Compulsive Liar

My dear faithful readers,

This is confession time. To those of you who have followed entries in my blog and believed every word that I have written here, to those of you who said my writing inspired you to write or whatever, please read this entry very carefully.

I apologise for you have all been had. I am a liar. Like allother women bloggers in this blogosphere, I am a liar who blogs. It is official because it has been said by someone high up there.

Remember that heart wrenching piece I wrote about my fear for my mother's health when she was diagnosed with cancer? The piece that had many people in tears and writing comments of support in my blog? Well, like all other bloggers who wrote about their illnesses and deaths of their loved ones, I wrote one big lie. The same goes to the mothers who wrote about their anxiety and concern about their children whom they suspect have autism - again a big con job to get sympathy from readers.
And the single mothers who wrote entries after entries about how they learned to cope after a breakup of their marriage, how they fought against all odds to bring up their children, well, they are all liars too. For we are part of that community of women bloggers who have been condemned to have the chants, "Liar, liar!Pants on fire" thrown at us from now on. Everyday, when we write a new entry to vent out our feelings and to show our concern or even our euphoria, we are simply lying, perhaps just to get attention. Perhaps because we have nothing else to do.

I will now tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. My mak is 89 and she is healthy and jovial and fine and is out there doing breakdance with her grandchildren. There’s nothing to worry about her at all. The fact that she sometimes even forgets the time of day, or where she is at this moment in time, she is just lying through her false teeth, just like the rest of us. After all she is also a woman. Given a chance and a computer, she will also blog and she will be that 8001st liar who blogs.

And so so so very sorry too because when I blogged about poor little Syazwan who is at this very moment fighting to save his eyesight – I was actually what is now termed economical with the truth. He is in fact seeing everything clearly (poor soul) with his brilliant pair of eyes. I just like to spread rumours about someone who perhaps doesnt even exist. But sometimes I wish I am blind too so that I wont see things that clearly. But don’t take my word for it because I could be lying.

And remember my passion and obsession about old Malay sailors? Well, I must say, this is just a figment of my over active imagination. I have such romantic ideas about sailors, and being the kinky liar that I am, I go for old Malay sailors. (and old British servicemen too!) The fact that there is a whole community of Malay sailors in Liverpool is one big ... yes, you guessed it...LIE. So, so sorry! No such community exists. Please erase all these information that I have written about Pak Cik Hamid Carpenter who floated in the Bay of Biscay for three days and three nights when his ship was hit by a torpedo, about Pak Cik Mat Nor who came here after working Jalan Ampas, or recently about Pak Cik Ngah Musa who is now recovering from a cancer operation. Sometimes, I allow fact and fiction to merge and then I dont know which is which! So, sorry, after all I am just a woman blogger. What can I do! Sigh! (slap on wrist several times!)

And those lovely dovey entries that I wrote about my family, about my sayang mamas? Hehehe! You’re right! I LIED. And I am getting a bit hysterical here. Hehehe! I don’t have any children that I called sayang mama – sometimes I get a bit high from drinking too much coffee and my imagination runs wild and I must admit I do have a lot of coffee as I blog.

But enough of lying for today. Lying can be so tiring! But the reason for this confession?

Someone said this about us women bloggers, and on International Women's Day too!! Ouch! It hurts.

“Bloggers are liars. They use all sort of ways to cheat others. From what I know, out of 10,000 unemployed bloggers, 8,000 are women.
“Bloggers like to spread rumours, they don’t like national unity. Today our country has achievements because we are tolerant and compromising. Otherwise we will have civil war.
“Malays will kill Chinese, Chinese will kill Malays, Indians will kill everybody else.”
He asked people not to believe bloggers and gamble away Malaysia’s future because 50 years of Merdeka (Independence) takes a lot to achieve it.
“We have to show to the people our positive attitude. If the world learns from us, there will peace and no civil war."

Read about what other women bloggers and therefore er..liars say about this here,
here and here and here

So, what do you say to this, women bloggers?

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Blog, woman, blog!

Looking at my list of readers and commenters, as well as the list on sentraal station, the station for bloggers here and those who wish to make their bloghopping easier, I realised that there’s a wonderful amount of women bloggers. And a lot of networking too. So, hooray to that!

Whether they are mak cik bloggers (and I can say confidently that there are quite a few here) or young ones, the number of women bloggers is significant enough to make our voice heard.

Without this world of blogging, where would we be? How many magazines and column inches of newpapers would be afforded to us to hear our say; be it to lament about our lousy day at the office, our huge contribution in the growth of our company that perhaps has gone unnoticed or unappreciated, or our silly babytalk about our sayang mamas that we refused to allow to grow up, or even about our life in the autumn years?

Here in blogosphere, we can have our say. So, on 8th March – women bloggers around the world, let us unite and let our voice be heard.

Being a member of this blogosphere, I have met many, many wonderful women. For example, I have the privilege to know the trials and tribulations of single mothers such as this one. They are no helpless, spineless human beings but women who can stand up and show that, being left high and dry by the very people who were supposed to look after them through thick and thin, need not be the end of the world. They can still walk with their head high and still make it in this world; meet the challenges that come in double if not triple, bring up their children single handedly and be recognised for what they are, and not as handicaps, just because in the marital status column, they have to write ‘divorced’.

And where else can we read about a daughter’s bottled up feelings for her father wronged by a system that was so wrong? For so long she had kept it inside her, not knowing where to let it out, whether there would be an audience who would care to read what she and her mother and her siblings went through, how she coped with being labled ‘anak komunis’? And more important, if not for blogosphere who would dare publish such raw emotions?

And again, where can we follow the ups and downs those brave enough to pursue their ambition in life, such this blogger here. It has not been easy for her to pursue her studies while missing her son and husband thousands of miles away. She lets out her feelings in her blog, and when she feels better after reading encouraging comments from her readers, she goes back to her books with renewed energy. And this one here.

Everytime I read this blogger, I am humbled beyond belief at her resilience, her strength and more importantly the way she coped with the big C. She writes her entries with wisdom and wit and gives hope to people with the same predicament. And another brave blogger must be this one, who shared with us what she went through from the moment she discovered she had the dreaded disease, right up to the operation and after. These two have shown us their strength and their resilience. And never to give up.

I read too and learn a lot from this blogger, whose serious dependency problem on books and anything at all in printed form, has enriched my knowledge on books, authors and style of writing and many more. And I read about the struggle of a blogger who persevered inspite of her deteriorating eyesight, I read the mothers who have to cope with their special children here and here, and many more.

I can write about many more excellent women bloggers that I read and stalk almost daily, but I have a plane to catch.

So women bloggers of the world, UNITE! Let your voice be heard!

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Al Fatehah kepada Ibu Intan Nazrah

Assalamualaikum semua,

Ibu Intan Nazrah, Hajjah Barirah binti Hajah Delma, telah pulang ke rahmatullah pada
jam 6 pagi 3 Mac selepas beberapa lama menderita penyakit cancer. Al Fatehah. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat ke atas rohnya dan menempatkannya di samping mereka yang beriman. Amin.