Thursday 30 November 2006

Jerai dengan seribu kenangan

Pix by Eddie Putera
Kenangan by Kak Teh

I used to stand right smack in the middle of Jalan Tuanku Mahmud facing the Jerai, and seriously convinced myself that Yan was easily the centre of the universe, the hub of activities and the envy of people near and far.

You’d excuse me for having such thoughts. I must have been about six, standing in my floral gown made to order from Yan’s bespoke tailor, Ah Gek, right in the middle of Jalan Tuanku Mahmud. There was no fear of being run down by Pak Piee’s old Morris Minor or Pak Mat’s Chevrolet. They never did more than 30 mph, if I remember correctly. The only reckless road users were perhaps those days’ equivalent to today’s Mat Rempits. But they had old rackety bicycles and only one or two had really noisy motorbikes.

Okay, back to why I thought Yan was the centre of the universe. The majestic Jerai was the all imposing feature of Yan – protectively embrassing the small sleepy town. Just at her feet (from where I was standing) was the District Officer’s residence, a stately home partly hidden by tall , well trimmed hedges. I used to wonder, what he did, what they have in a house that big. Would he allow us to watch TV in one of his big beautiful rooms for I am sure a DO would have a TV, unlike us who had to go and watch the once a month Malay movie in some stranger’s house, half a mile away.

To the right was the Langkasuka Primary school. With a name like that, I was sure it had some significance and on top of that, we had a celebrity ustaz – Haji Ismail Hashim, the several time national and international champion of Quran Reading Competitions. I am sure that he single handedly put Yan on the map.

To my left, and need I say anymore was Ah Gek’s boutique and it was from a small space next to her kitchen smelling of garlic, that she produced replicas of fashion as worn by Audrey Hepburn and many other Hollywood stars you see in the well thumbed Movie News stacked in her room.

I was sure that Ah Gek had a magic full length mirror in which I saw my chubby self transformed in one of her creations. Alas, it was a different picture in our mirror at home.

Anyway, as a centre of excellence, Yan provided several accommodations to young trainee teachers, fresh from teacher training colleges, their hair still dripping with brylcream, setting the hearts of Yan’s damselles a flutter. During the walks to school, enjoying the cool breeze from the Jerai still hidden behind the early morning mist, I used to see them cycling to their schools. Some walked. And some went on mortobikes that roared. These were the Mat Rempits of our time – some of them were threatened by village folks whose sleep were much deprived by their roaring engines in the nights.

After school these young temporary teachers would lounge lazily on the verandah in their Pagoda singlets and kain pelikats, some marking exercise books, many eyeing the town beauties. Sometimes, they took delight in hooting and tooting the town’s drag queens sashaying to town. Jerai just stood and watched – amused.

Further afield was Kampong Acheh – which to me was the nearest ‘other’ country that I had been. Just a few steps from Mak Aishah guru quran’s house, you enter a foreign territory where the language was totally alien and the politics was just something else. But I understood their chants, the time they marched with effigies of Sukarno which they burnt in our small square near the smelly wet market. That was my first exposure to politics. You don’t like something, you make effigies and burn them to shouts of ‘Ganyang so and so’. And the apolitical Jerai just watched – a neutral observer of a political skirmish.

Jerai looked down on to Yan’s small town – its hectic activity mainly contributed by medicine men from foreign shores Again, it had an international aura.

But sometimes, Jerai disappointed me. Admittedly the small town lacked entertainment and the locals were left very much to their own devices to amuse themselves. One old resident of Yan was a mute – her hair almost always in disarray, and she drooled as she tried to communicate, asking for loose change or even friendship. Many offered food, but most hooted her and even threw stones at her. She was my name sake. I can picture Teh Bisu now running here and there dodging the stones - and Jerai just looked on, unimpressed, still uninvolved.

Thursday 23 November 2006

Klasik Nasional menggamit memoriku

Whoever it was who created the jingle for RTM1 Klasik Nasional has my everlasting gratitude. Klasik Nasional. Segalanya di sini. Menggamit memori” So it goes. Since my discovery of the channel, it has been nothing else but live entertainment from that channel. It makes me feel so close to home, listening to the news in Malay, lagu-lagu permintaan and even those annoying tete-e-tete advertisements now make me chuckle.

One morning I was frying plantain, the one I bought at Portobello market as it was going cheap at five in the evening. Nothing beats hot pisang goreng cicah gula for breakfast. The aroma permeating the whole kitchen, with the dulcet tones of the DJ presenting the request programme ‘Dari Hati ke Hati’ in the background was the closest I have ever felt to home. If not for the cold air seeping in through the kitchen door, if not for the golden yellowing leaves I saw through the mistying glass window, softly falling on to the ground on that autumn morning, I would have thought I was at home.

Taufiq had kindly brought the speaker from the PC as near as the cables would go to the kitchen. And from that moment on, the kitchen was my own little world as news and songs from Klasik Nasional kept beckoning, so to speak, my memory.

From the news of the Bilik Berita (whereI once did my internship), I heard about the death of one of Malaysia’s oldest statesmen, Tan Sri Khir Johari, and I remembered Pak’s words everytime we listened to news about the then education minister from the small transistor that Mak lovingly placed on the old fridge, “Tu adik beradik kita tu...sebelah Pak.” But I never asked how was it that a man so high up there could be our adik beradik.

One day, I was listening to the news again when I heard a news item that a Datuk Seri Azizan Ariffin has been made RMAF Chief. What? Could it possibly be Jan, an old friend from those years of bell botts and flower power and mini bikes with high handles? Jan is indeed an old friend, a brother of my dearest friend from Primary One. That brief announcement brought back memories of outings to Pantai Merdeka with the family, midnight walks with the moonlight bathing the shimmering sea in search of crabs and chit chats and story telling about ghosts right till the early hours of the morning. And, of course, a little crush if I am allowed to admit now, of a young school girl who looked up adoringly to the smart and handsome would be officer and a gentleman. The last time we met was last year, as he treated his sister and I to lunch of nasi padang in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Congratulations Jan, er Datuk Seri.

What I enjoyed most while listening to Klasik Nasional is the request programmes. It is a real treat to be able to listen to old songs from those black and white movies, such as Jalak Lenteng, Bawang Putih Bawang Merah and those P. Ramlee classics. It was while frying the plantain that I heard a request for Hancur Badan Kandung Tanah by Tan Sri P Ramlee and Puan Sri Saloma...gosh, how times have changed. I then imagine Pak looking up dreamily from his newspapers, puffing his pipe, his feet tapping slowly in rythm to the music. Mak, sitting with her sewing by the window, would stop in mid stitch, a smile playing on her lips. What I really need now is Kebun Pak Awang and then I could really run riot with my memories!

Anyway, talk about menggamit memori! My last entry here, inspired by the anonymous Abang Malaya, had certainly provoked and jolted some old memories. Thanks, Abang Malaya.

One song from Klasik Nasional recently really brought back some very old memories hurtling back and you must be wondering what this song that you are hearing, Pegang Tali by S. Ahmad and Rohani S is all about.

I only used to see S. Ahmad, the veteran singer of the 60’s and 70’s, in entertainment magazines and I remember him in white suits and platform shoes with that slick hairstyle so popular in those days. Then some time in the nineties, he appeared in London and he came into our lives and became the older brother for most of us Malays in London. He made the best ever mee goreng, he told the best ever jokes and stories of days gone by in the entertainment industry and he was one of the best ever brother who was not a brother that I have ever had. He loved my children, he adored Taufiq who was then perhaps only a few years old. Three days past without seeing Taufiq, he’d ring me up and ask us to drive over to where he was working and to bring Taufiq along. Upon seeing Taufiq he’d give him the biggest hug and playfully bite and pinch his chubby cheeks.

And he had a wonderful voice. We used to meet up at Ezani’s place and he’d warm our winter nights with his wonderful rendition of Widuri as Ezani played on the organ.

Then as suddenly as he had appeared in our lives, he left. I remember the summer he went back to Malaysia never to return. He died and never fulfilled his promise to us that he would be back. To Abang Mat, Al fatehah and thank you for the wonderful times you had given us. And thank you Klasik Nasional for jolting my memory.


Monday 20 November 2006

Balada untuk Abang Malaya...Dari Jalan Riong ke London

Wahai pembaca Kak Teh berseloka,
membuka cerita pada pagi hari buta,
menyahut Abang Malaya empunya cerita,
bertanyakan khabar Kak Teh sekeluarga.

Muncul Abang Malaya mengusik jiwa,
terkenang kembali waktu remaja,
Di Jalan Riong Kak Teh bekerja,
sebelum ke London ingat 3 tahun saja.

Gurindam Abang Malaya membuka kisah,
selagi tak tahu nama hati gelisah,
Kak Teh berseloka supaya tak resah,
sehingga dapat tahu namamu yang sah.

Gurindam Abang Malaya mengusik kalbu,
ke Jalan Riong fikiran ku melulu,
semasa wartawan remaja dari ITM dulu,
nak panggung kepalapun rasa malu.

Jalan Riong menyimpan seribu kenangan,
tempat bertemu kekasih pujaan,
ramai lagi teman dan rakan,
sehingga hari ini masih berkawan.

Dua puluh enam tahun di perantauan,
pulang selalu jenguk ibu dan taulan,
ke Jalan Riong mencari kawan
rasa terubat hati yang rawan.

Abang Malaya duduk di mana,
kerja di NST atau BH sana?
kalau dah pencen sekarang bagaimana
datanglah ke London makan angin bersama.

Dulu memang Kak Teh dikatakan ayu,
bersarung kebaya kita selalu,
sekarang pinggang tak ada hati ku sayu,
makan banyak semuanya lalu.

Yang mana satu Abang Malaya,
Kak Teh dok ingat jangan tak percaya,
banyak juga teman abang2 jejaka,
semuanya hemsem dan kacak belaka.

Berselang bulan, musim dan tahun,
bertambah usia, uban di ubun,
yang dulu ramping dah jadi tembun,
Botak dan boroi jejaka dah jadi rabun.

Kami masih dalam ingatan Abang,
terima kasih diucapkan datang bersembang,
dalam dunia siber kita bergebang,
bila agaknya nak jumpa berdepang-depang (this is the Trenganu influence!)

Sudahlah di sini, Kak Teh bermadah,
berseloka sakan di pagi nan indah,
ku mohon diri untuk menyiapkan juadah,
sebelum bekerja yang tak sudah-sudah.

Friday 17 November 2006

Of being Brued and Jeffooied etc

Before I could sufficiently recover from being Rockybrued, I was Jeffooied (to borrow a phrase from Sharon Bakar) left, right and centre during the past few days causing an unprecedented surge in the graphs never seen before in my webstat. I have had a busy week but late one night, I sat before my pc mesmerised by the increasing number of people online. I can asssure you, the experience was not unlike watching the washing machine in action. It was... , er, mesmerising, as I stared at the number of guests online in MY blog, going from 24 to 36 to 44 and 55! I even checked to see whether I was in the right blog and not one belonging to Mak Andeh or BTB or someone equally famous. But no, it is Choc-a-Blog and my tired eyes were not playing tricks.

I then had the presence of mind to check webstat. On 14th November, there were about 1,300 visitors lurking in my archives, all being redirected from Jeff To what do I owe this honour? I clicked on all his links and finally found one that says, Lat’s story – and that was where the visitors were coming from. The next morning, before I could even wash my face, there were already 60 visitors and the figure went well over 2,000 by the end of the day. Phew! talk about the 15 minute of fame...I had two whole days and I just couldn’t cope with it. I am now quite relieved to see the normal five or at the most seven, (half of which must be my siblings) pottering around in my archives.

So, what have I been up to these past few days? Quite a lot I must say. I sacrificed my Eastenders omnibus edition and X-Factor to join thousands of people at Westminster for Remembrance Sunday. It was a very emotional affair, especially watching old war veterans in their wheelchairs, with their walking sticks, marching past the cenotaph with its millions of red poppy flowers making a stark contrast to the dull and grey autumn morning. Then there were the war widows, walking proudly in memory of their husbands who never returned. I saw one old war veteran, with medals on his beret, flashing an old sepia photograph from his wartime days to anyone who cared to look, and telling wartime stories to anyone who cared to listen.

The last time I attended Remembrance Sunday was in 1995 at the Royal Albert Hall when it was the 50th anniversary of the Second World War. I attended the ceremony then for the same reason I attended the ceremony this year. Each year, a Malay ex British army veteran joins in the march. In 1995, Pak Mat Abu, now 66, was given the honour to carry the Malaysian flag as the British government honoured the Commonwealth countries for their contribution during the Second World War.

Lest we forget

Last Sunday, I caught up with Pak Mat Abu again after the parade and spotted him wearing his newly acquired medal – the Pingat Jasa Malaysia, given to those, especially in the British army and the police force, who served during the emergency.

Pak Mat was 15 when he signed up with the British Royal Artillery and served in several units in Singapore before they closed down the base. He didn’t see any action but was involved in digging trenches during the emergency.

Although he came to London in 1971 with the intention of joining up again, he resigned from the British army and went on to work with London Transport, first as a guard and later as a tube driver on the Bakerloo Line. He later drove the number 52 bus. I have known Pak Mat for a long time and he has been a source of information in my search for stories about the old Malay sailors.(here, here and here)

A few days ago, I attended another ceremony at the Guildhall in east London– a ceremony steeped in tradition dating from 1237. I was there again to witness another friend being given the Freedom of the City of London. What an honour and it came just a day before his birthday too! The first Malaysian to be given the Honorary Freedom of the City was our first Prime Minister, Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra AlHaj in 1968. The second who was nominated and made Freeman of the city was the present sultan of Selangor. And now the third is someone who had done a lot to contribute to the fashion industry, making women feel beautiful in his creation, inspiring not only films, books but also songs, not to mention others who want to be in his choos, er shoes, following his footsteps. I have been to almost all ceremonies where he was given awards and recognitions, like the OBE, the honorary doctorate at a university and it never failed to make my eyes water. Such a beautiful, kind and humble person and I feel truly honoured to be his friend and to be able to share most of his important moments with him and his family.

Just a little something abt the Freedom of the City. In the olden days, recipients of this title were allowed to drive their flock of sheep across the London Bridge and they could go on a drinking spree and behave in a disorderly manner without fear of being arrested.

I have just come back from a meeting with blogger arena and what a wonderful meeting it was. Like the war veterans, I suddenly feel old.

So, yes, it has been an exhausting week, but I think I still have enough energy for Dirty Dancing this weekend!

Thursday 9 November 2006

Our doas for a quick recovery

We have always jokingly said that he will be alright because he has a doctor with him all the time. She takes care of him night and day. During trips abroad, the group of journalists covering him always had a tough time catching up with him. Sometimes he prefered to walk if one event was close to the next, and who are we to say differently, so we walked. When we arrived, he was fit and ready to start while we huffed and puffed, still searching for our note books.

Once in Budapest, it was a five day official visit and the schedule was packed and we groaned. At a press conference, at the end of a very long day, he took one look at us who looked like we had just covered wartorn Iraq and said, “Aren’t you all tired following me around?” and a very brave Datuk Khalid Mohamed of Utusan said, “Kalau perdana menteri tak penat mana kita boleh penat!”.

Then there was this time in Paris. We had earlier met him in London then rushed to Paris and waited outside the Palais de l’Elysée for a whole hour in the freezing cold while he had talks with Jacque Chirac. Our toes couldn’t feel anything anymore because of the cold and by the time we caught hold of him at his hotel, our jaws were still at different stages of defrosting and none of us could say anything. So he said, “You could have waited for me in Norwich!” which we did of course because he went on to inspect the Lotus factory .

I remember one occassion. He had just flown in from Argentina and there were rumours that he had fallen off a horse. There was already a crowd outside the place he was staying near Hyde Park Gate. I got to him late but he waited for me where we had a one to one interview and I think that was the best ever I had had with him since my first one to one with him in Vienna (which was a complete disaster!) He sat there looking suitably pink and healthy for a man his age. I sat there and silently cursed all the other journalists who had left me to face this great man alone. So I said, “ It looks like you can never leave the country. Everytime you do people start rumours about your health and the stock market plunged,”

He gave the most hearty laugh and I was told later that that opening, with his laughter and apparent good health restored confidence again in the market. It also restored my confidence in myself. Yonks ago when I had to interview him for the BBC, I was a naive, young broadcaster who was assigned to cover his two week long conference in Vienna. I was supplied a tape recorder that I was unfamiliar with and I found myself face to face with a man who was not only suffering from a slight cold but also showing signs of roti canai withdrawal symptoms. His two word answers and stern, frosty look was worst than that cold outside Palais de l’Elysée. My interview went out muffled, the tone was low. But he looked after us. Two weeks away from home is the maximum for us. By then we would have finished our supply of rendangs and maggi mee and would have been in various stages of wilting due to lack of Malaysian food. But he was our saviour. The last few days we found an Indonesian restaurant that had on offer sambal tumis udang petai! The great man booked the restaurant that night for all of us and we stuffed our face shamelessly.

Now, I hear he is unwell after suffering from a mild heart attack. He still has his loving and devoted doctor wife by his side but clearly Doc, it is a sign for you to slow down too. Our doas are with you. Have a quick recovery.

Wednesday 1 November 2006

The Raya that was

The precious few pieces of ketupat that I had at a friend’s house is now no more than a fond memory that lingers torturously during my waking hours. I have conquered the fear of making jam tarts, the success of which is evident in the empty airtight container that I bought just for that purpose. Now, with renewed confidence, I feel brave enough to try making pulut for ketupat and for that I may need to go for meditation for a whole forty-four days and emerge when the moon is full and the air is serene. Such is the effect of that ketupat that my life will never be the same again.

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I had a raya with a difference this year and I say so with a certain pride. Afterall, I made jam tarts and biskut almond London when throughout my 26 years of marriage I had never ever attempted such feat. I surfed the internet and found several recipes for biskut almond london and copied two – one on each side of an envelope which had earlier delivered a hari raya card from Malaysia. What a mistake! With such a rush of adrenalin, I soon got confused as to which recipe I was following – the one on the front of the envelope or the one on the back? But as it was Ramadan, my patience was in tact and as if on cue, I heard my Mak’s reassuring voice in the background: Kita yang buat dia – apa kita buat jadi lah!” Such wise words in such desperate moments.

It was also a raya with a difference for on the last night of Ramadan, we all gathered in our front room and did the takbir together. Tell me, how would a mother feel, hearing for the first time the voice of your just adolescent son, doing the takbir? His voice, at times breaking, at times nervous, alternated with that of his father, whose voice was still coarse as a result of a month long cold and cough. This mother felt very proud indeed and for the solat raya, which we had at Mawar, he did a repeat performance and sounded more confident.

It was raya with a difference because there was about fifty percent less tension in the morning as we all rushed for the bathroom. I had ironed everyone’s clothes, found the buttons and the pins and the keronsang and left my Jubbah till the last minute to hem it in. Which was another big mistake of course, because I couldn’t find any thread nor needle. My youngest found one of those things that you iron in and was supposed to stick and stay in place. Big mistake again because the hem came undone as we were about to go harirayaing. So in the front room of a friend’s house, daughter number one sat demurely, needle and thread in hand and hemmed in my hem. Ehem, ehem.

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We are not much of a house hopper during hari raya so we stayed on at this friend’s place until there was only standing room. It was nice to see the younger ones – my children’s generation – getting together in their hari raya fineries. I had bought the girls new kebayas and sarungs but year afteryear, theyinsisted on wearing my old kebayas that had seen better days.Rehana wore my kerawanged kebaya top that I wore during my graduation at ITM in 1978, with batik panjang lipat which once belonged to her Cik Su. Nona wore Kak’s green kota baru which was handed down to me, then to rehana and then to her. With that she wore a matching kain ketat that I had made when my waist was as slim as my wrist. Those were the days. Yes, the children – now all grown ups and some still in university and some working – had all grown up together in this land they now called home. Watching them in that living room, we the parents suddenly feel so old.

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It is raya with a difference too as I discovered . And my days and nights are suddenly filled with lagu permintaan raya from Klasik National, kenangan menggamit memori, says the jingle. Thank you RTM 1 for making me feel so at home away from home. I heard Datuk DJ Dave with his Maafkanlaaaah, maafkan laah...and Datin Rafeah Buang with her lagu hari raya and was transported back home to my Mak’s kitchen where I knew the clans were gathering.

Yes, the clans, minus a few, went back to Mak’s place that Pak built. Like I said, Mak insisted on going back first. And I understand her reason. She wanted to be there in her own house, and be the first to welcome her children as there arrive one by one. No one can deny her that pleasure even though her heart broke when she discovered that the roof in the kitchen leaked like a sieve. According to sister number three, pots and pans were more useful to contain the water from the heavy rain, than for cooking. But Mak was in her elements, I was told, sometimes forgetting that she was fasting, offering to make drinks for those who fasted, and even asking everyone to go out for lunch – during the last few days of Ramadan. It doesn’t matter Mak, you have done enough in your life – what is a few days when your memory took leave. Allah understands. And Pak understands that you didn’t even think about visiting his grave. You didn’t forget – it is just that your brain cells are acting a bit funny. Pak understands.

It was raya with a difference because I didn’t cry on the first day of raya. I didn’t even cry when i spoke to mak on the phone even though our conversation was like one badly written script. She answered what I didnt ask and asked what I couldn't answer. But I did cry when I received some raya photos from home.