Friday 27 April 2007

On the 1302 from King's Cross with Tunku Halim

Perhaps I was not meant to take the 1258 from King’s Cross. The mini cab driver had foolishly taken the wrong lane and the turning into the busy station at that time of the day was choc-a-bloc! But as fate would have it the 1302 was standing on Platform 8 ready to go. I huffed and puffed lugging two bags in search of a quiet seat by the window, far away from other passengers. The rush meant I didnt have time to get that much needed latte from Starbuck and when the train pulled away from the platform, I allowed my mind to wander off to
44 Cemetery Road.

Yes, Malaysia’s prince of darkness is back with a new book.

Cemeteries, if I may state the obvious, are fertile grounds for imaginative minds. I have not read 44 Cemetery Road as I have yet to get one sent to me from home but I do know what it feels like walking along cemetery roads.

The title of Tunku Halim’s new book brought to mind the early morning walks with Mak to the mosque for subuh prayers. The Jerai, protective and majestic in the daytime, posed a more sinister feature hovering over us in the dark before the break of dawn. From a distance, clusters of women in white telekungs seemed to be floating towards the mosque as the call for prayer broke the early morning silence. The smell of the cempaka flowers pervaded the cool morning air but the sweetness of the smell usually gave me the shivers. We used to call the flowers that fell scattered on the final resting place of the residents of the cemetery adjacent to the mosque, bunga kubur.

Entering the compound, Mak would remind us to give salam to the residents of the cemetery: “Assalamualaikum Ya ahli kubur”, I would hurriedly mutter without looking left or right and I’d clutch Mak’s arm even tighter. I’d imagine eyes looking at me from every corner, I’d hear all kinds of shrieks and screams and laughter coming from graves with their tilting headstones. I’d remember tales of restless souls wandering the nights and returning at dawn, stories about ghosts of women who died during childbirth said to be residing on big trees bordering the compound. These were stories we children would exchange with each other in hushed tones during the day, and these were stories that’d keep us awake during the nights.

Anyway, I am sure 44 Cemetery Road has plenty to offer to keep us awake during the night but to get a taste of Tunku Halim’s treatment of horror stories, I fished out his other book “The Woman Who Grew Horns & Other Works” from my bag. The stories kept me company on the 1302 from King’s Cross.

There are many stories to choose from but as someone who did a paper on “The Monstrous Feminine in South East Asian Cinemas” I opted for ‘Night of the Pontianak’ for I was certain the monstrous feminine is lurking in there somewhere.

As the First Capital Connect whizzed past the English countryside, I found myself engrossed in the story with rich Malaysian flavour. Tunku, although residing in Australia, proved to be a true Malaysian; detailing food and the art of eating food as only Malaysians know how, in most of his stories. The setting here is a Kampung Pandan stall, in another its the Coffee Bean, Jalan P Ramlee.

The harmless banter between three friends, one woman and two men, was light and easy – like starters and appetisers before the main meal. The beginning chugged along well to the speed of the First Capital Connect – no hurry, no fuss. And in fact by the time we reached Hornsey, everything was still hunkydory with the three old friends. By the time we reached Alexander Palace, the narrator was still nursing hopes of a romance with his former uni mate. But this being a horror story, things had to take a sinister turn and as if on cue the First Capital Connect began to gain speed in rythm with my heartbeat.

My heart pounded like bleeding fist in my head. The car skidded and swerved as I raced down the hill and I nearly got killed as it almost ploughed into the jungle.............”

And at this point I jumped.

“Ticket please, madam” said the First Capital Connect conductor. Phew! Never do that again, I said as I handed him my ticket before returning to the book to find out what happened to the narrator and his friend. Believe me, it wasn't a pleasant sight – and yes, the monstrous feminine was there. Just as the train went into the tunnel between Gordon Hill and Crews Hill she made her appearance.

Sunday 22 April 2007

Come walk down Memory Lane with me

Yesterday, feeling a little bit better and not wanting to miss the summer sun, we went to Kensington Gardens to join a group of youngsters having a picnic. It was such a beautiful day and it seemed that London and her grandparents were out with their sunglasses, balls and rollerblades.

There were groups sharing their sishas under the trees, youngters playing football and many just enjoying the sun, cuddling their loved ones without a care in the world.

There was hardly space to sit down but we made our way, dodging frisbees and dogs running after sticks, following the sound of the strumming of the guitar with familiar voices singing Sweet Charity’s “Kamelia”.

Yes, we found the group of young Malaysian students, taking time off from their revision, to enjoy the sun. The reason we went there too was because Taufiq wanted to meet someone who could teach him the steps to seni silat. So, there we were in the Her Majesty the Queen’s park, watching Taufiq and his friend, practising the silat.

Watching the group of young friends, strumming their guitars, singing songs I never knew existed and just larking about playing catch with empty apple juice cartons, their laughter carried by the wind, I felt a tinge of envy. How wonderful it is to be young and without a back ache.

This reminded me too of the challenge I found on JT’s blog – a challenge that was to take me down memory lane, even at the risk of revealing my age. This challenge, if you are up to it, will take you to where you will find all sorts of things – like lists of songs during the year you turned 18. And from the list of songs, write about the memories they bring flooding back. And horrors of horror – the year I turned 18 was 1972!!!!!

This was the year, sorry Mak, no more birthday parties with musical chairs and passing the parcel. This was the year, after five years in the strict Convent school environment, we were leashed out into a co-ed school that was the SAHC to join the world of seniors, carrying files instead of school bags, eating at snack bars in semi darkness instead of canteens in the full glare of teachers and prefects. This was the year a pimple spelt disaster, especially if it appeared the day before the sixth form party.

Kitted out in our flares that could easily break any fall from a high building, we strutted out in groups of psychedelic riots of colours, with conversations punctuated with ‘Groovy, man!” and fingers perpetually showing the peace sign.

It was, I suppose, a year when we foolishly assumed to be our honeymoon year, with exams a year away. Like the students in the park, come concert time, we’d sit on tables and benches and strum the guitar singing our all time favourites. We were grown-ups who could handle and juggle social life and studies, or so we thought, forgetting that hormones tend to make things very difficult even for the sanest amongst us.

It was the year I fell in love with a dream, a vision that was to last for a very long time. This was the year I danced to “Walk Away” by Matt Monroe but the vision and dream lingered for a very long time. Thus important events that hit the headlines during the year, such as the Munich Massacre at the Olympics when Malaysia first competed, passed without as much as a glance to the newspaper coverage. Our own state was celebrating our Sultan becoming the Agong, a young dashing Agong that we were so proud of and yet, it made little impact on me. But hard to ignore was the 1972 spelling reform which took away apostrophes and hyphens from words like tabi’at and di-buat. No more makan2 or rumah2, and the year that brought about the standardisation of spelling – with the ch giving way to c and sh becoming sy and so on and so forth. A word – skuasy till this day baffles me.

And so, what were the songs that used to echo in the small cubicle that was our bathroom, that would make me stop in my tracks and stare dreamily into the horizon, that played endlessly into the nights, almost wearing out the 45 rpm vinyls, which were either on loan or bought with scholarship money meant for purchase of reference books? In 1972, I was not quite over Carole King and The Osmond Brothers, but a few still bring a smile to my face.

Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
This has got to be the most eagerly awaited song as the lights dimmed and you hoped and prayed that the one who asked you to do the slow dance didn’t have clammy, trembling hands. This is also a song, you think you can sing at karaoke sessions, a song others prayed and hoped you’d never sing!

For Roberta Flack, romance was so far away from her mind when she sang this song.
"A lot of people ask me what I was thinking about while I was recording that song. Actually I was thinking about a little black cat that someone had given me, named Sancho Panza. I had just gotten back from being on the road for the first time, and I discovered that he had been killed. I only had one pet, and when I went into the studio, two days later, he was still on my mind. “

That brings me to my next song

Ben by Michael Jackson
Ignorance is bliss. Little did I know that Ben was a rat – cousin to the one that caused my back pain. But Ben evoked such sentiments and feelings that you can only share with a close friend. I had and still have some very close friends from this era and Ben, the song, is still one song we sing during our gettogethers, reunions and when we are racing down the motorway to nowhere in particular.

Baby, Don't Get Hooked On Me - Mac Davis
Being young and only had eyes on the opposite sex ten years older then me , I used to think this song and others like Young Girl by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap were written for me and me alone. Why was it no one ever took notice of me???

Without getting as much as a glance from those ten years older, I sought solace in women’s liberation and Helen Reddy’s I am Woman became a favourite. “I can face anything" and "I can do anything" almost became a mantra. I persuaded myself to believe that I am strong, I am invincible cos I am Womannnnnnnn!!!!!

Friday 20 April 2007

The Gift

There’s not much one can do when one has a bad back. You lie down and contemplate the spider web at the corner of the ceiling, the curtains with several hooks missing, the dandelions fighting for survival with the grass growing longer by the minute, and the window badly in need of a good wash! And there’s not much you can do about it.

Since coming back from Malaysia, I’ve had fever, flu and now that dull aching pain in my lower back. I have a history of slipped disc and I can tell you it is the most painful thing after childbirth. It happened some ten years ago and a few days ago – the pain came back and I am too embarrassed to say how it happened.

Okay, I might as well tell all as I have not much to blog about.

I was lying down watching TV and drifting in and out of sleep, when Snowbell came in with ‘a gift’. One look at ‘the gift’ Nona who was at the computer jumped on to the stool, Taufiq made a dash to the bathroom, Rehana locked herself in her room, hubby continued with his wirid and moi? Well, I tried to dodge ‘the gift’ still alive and running around in a daze in the front room, and in doing so brought back the mother of all pains.


It is hard to be angry with Snowbell for too long. She meant well and I am sure she wanted me to enjoy ‘the gift ‘ as well, the way she did tossing it about before it made an escape. But, she shouldn’t have presented it so close to me as I was dozing off watching a very boring documentary on TV. She practically placed it near my face – I don't know whether I was more scared of the little mouse, or the little mouse was more scared of this screaming mama doing the jig in the front room.

Cats, and I now have five with Jasper gone, have a habit of bringing in gifts like this. Many didn't survive the journey in their mouth from the garden, though the cat flap and into the house. But those that did, try to escape. Once, Tabby brought in a dead squirrel and presented it at our feet. then Kissinger brought in a big lifeless pigeon and proudly displayed his prize in front of the TV.

So, that’s it. This time you are spared of my usual long rants as I cannot sit for too long and write long rambling pieces.

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday 12 April 2007

The Thinking Blogger Award

This must be the first award given to me in cyberworld. In fact the first award given to me ever! Thank you to
Sharon Bakar who thought my blogging activities to be worth any award at all.

Well, if my entries can make one person think, or if even one person thinks the entries are worth thinking about, then I am truly happy.

I am happy that this comes from Sharon as she must be one of the most influential bloggers around who makes me think about books, good books, good style of writing.

So now I must set about tagging five more bloggers.

As I kept saying to anyone who cared to listen when I was in Malaysia recently, when there were so many negative news and vibes about blogs and bloggers, “There are blogs and there are blogs!” And believe me, this I have said to Ministers, people up there who are eyeing my blog, and especially to the one who said to me “Hey , you are a blogger, and you are on the other side!” (Whatever that means!)

Now this award goes to:

1. Pi BAni

Pi Bani is a volunteer with an NGO providing moral and emotional support to HIV infected people. Her entries are heart rending. She brings to light the plight of women like Zana, a single parent who was was infected by her husband who also died of AIDS. She writes about children who need basic things like milk, Nestum, anything...please read, please think, listen and please help.

2. Ruby Ahmad

Ruby is a newfound friend. You go to her blog and instantly you think, this must certainly be the Tatler of Cyberworld. There’s a function and she is there and believe me, she is there not just to take pictures so that she can blog about it. Ruby is one great networker, a deep thinker and an even greater listener. During my last visit to Malaysia, I met Ruby four times and each time, I couldn't help noticing her skills at networking. She listens to people some people wouldn’t give time of day. Hey, those great shoulder pads are there for a reason!

3. NJ

NJ makes me think.Those wonderful pieces about the value of time, about her relationship with her mother- in-law and many more. This lady has style!

4. Jane Sunshine

Jane, my darling Jane. We met through blogging, some emails and then coffee at the canteen of the Institute of Education. A wonderfully intelligent and warm person with thought provoking entries, beautifully written. My friendship and love, always.

5. Tunku Halim

Tunku Halim is a newbie in this blogosphere but no stranger to writing. Thus whatever he writes about in his blog, be it about book covers, about writing competitions, they are worth reading! His current entry is about his first story, typed on the old trusty type writer, when he was about 14! And years later he is author of so many books! So, dont go throwing your masterpieces thinking it would lead to nothing.

So there!

This award was started here:

And now my dear recipients, your award comes with a price. You have to award five others whose blog you think deserve this award.

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging. The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

Please, remember to tag blogs with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all - blogs that really get you thinking!

Monday 9 April 2007

Shamelessly Plugging Peggy

When Peggy came into my life, she not only led me by the hand and introduced me to leaders and prominent people of my own country, whose stories I only read in history books and autobiographies, she also filled in the vast number of gaps in my knowledge of the country I left behind some 27 years ago, and one she adopted for nearly 40 years.

Datin Peggy Taylor is now 82 and in recollecting her memories of pre merdeka Malaya days and Malaysia in the throes of independence in preparation for a book that she is writing, she has given me the privilege of walking down memory lane with her.

I had blogged about her here but I can now reveal that the one with the history in the suitcase is Datin Peggy Taylor whose short snippets I have edited for RTM’s Galeri Perdana – a three part series which will be shown starting tonight at 8.30 pm.

Before leaving for Malaysia, my husband and I regularly visited Peggy who lives in a small quaint village in South east England. For days, we looked through her suitcase containing letters from Bapa Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, a note from Lim Kit Siang who had then just completed his law degree in prison, a letter from Singapore’s Rajaratnam who promised that the separation from Malaysia would just be temporary and many, many more. And I’d sit at her feet, as the fire crackled in the fireplace, while she narrated her life story – an episode of her life in Malaya when she and her husband went there in 1953.

Part of my mission when I went back to Malaysia was to bring to attention to certain interested parties that Peggy is writing her book. And I am certain, Peggy’s book will be of interest not only to students of history but also to the general reading public. Peggy has a lot to tell.

Peggy’s friendship with many of our former leaders like Tunku, Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail and her voluntary efforts in Pemadam, the Monfort Boys’ Home, inadvertently led her to the Malaysian political arena. She was by then a Malayan.

“Tunku asked us, why not be citizens of Malaya. After all Malaya will never leave the commonwealth,” and after discussing with her husband Eric, who was by then an architect with the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council, they became citizens of Malaya.

Eric went on to receive his Dato Seri Paduka di raja from the Agong who was then from Terengganu, and later became the Chief Architect of Kuala Lumpur. Peggy was then invited to join ADMO – Alliance Direct Membership Organisation – an offshoot of the alliance – mainly for those non Malays, non Chinese and non short – people like Peggy who wanted to join a political party. And Peggy was very active, helping Tun Razak in campaigns, organising events and many more.

During his time, Tunku commissioned Peggy to decorate mansions for VIPs and organise functions for visiting dignitories. And Peggy never forgot Tunku’s birthdays – 63 roses for his 63rd birthday, for example.

Peggy had many memorable dealings with Tunku. One occassion was when Tunku was deciding on the flower to choose for Malaysia’s national flower.

She asked, “Why the hibiscus?”
Tunku said in true Tunku style,”What’s the probleeeemmmmm?”
She answered,”The problem is, the hibiscus wilts as soon as you pluck it!”

Anyway, all these and many more you can watch on RTM1 tonight and tomorrow night and the night after.

It was rather by coincidence that I was invited for the launch of The Reluctant Politician - Tun Dr Ismail and his Time – a book by Dr Ooi Kee Beng based on private papers of the late Tun. While in Kuala Lumpur, I realised that few people, especially the younger generation have heard of Datin Peggy Taylor, never mind ADMO. So I thought in Johore where the launch was held, some,especially the writer himself can throw some light. NO, Dr Ooi never heard of Peggy nor ADMO. I ventured over to Tun Musa’s table. Of course – Datin Peggy Taylor! I know of her. I then went over to Tawfik Tun Ismail.... "Aaaaah, yes, Aunty Peggy!!! How is she??? " He asked delighted that I am bringing the book on his father back to Datin Peggy Taylor – the lady his late father had invited to join and revive ADMO. Peggy became Chairman of Selangor ADMO.

This morning, I spoke to Peggy again. After reading her copy of The Reluctant Politician, Peggy is certain that it must have been Tun who established ADMO. There's many more that she wants to say about the book, but this will have to come later.

Anyway, I shouldn't really be writing more about this. Do watch RTM1 – Galeri Perdana at 8.30 tonight (9th April)– tomorrow night (10th April) and the night after that (11th April). So there – shamelessly I am plugging Peggy.

PS Thank you all for the feedback. and guess what? I managed to watch the second part on the internet. The wonders of technology. Went to and then did the streaming and what not - and actually watched it in realtime.

Saturday 7 April 2007

The home coming

The last three days, either before leaving London for KL or leaving KL for London, are definitely the hardest for me. It gets to me when I am packing. That is when I feel the rush of emotions – sad to leave my loved ones behind, yet happy at the thought of meeting the loved ones I have not seen for a while. Such is life when you choose to stay away.

The 15 minute Heathrow-Paddington Express which I took after arrival, offered me a chance to reflect. Wasn’t it only yesterday that I looked out of the window and saw greeneries so green and the sky so bright and blue that they could only be painted on a canvas? And now I saw grey skies and trees with hardly any leaves and fields still white with frost. Wasn’t it only yesterday I waved goodbye to my loved ones at KLIA – the usual scene – hug, hug at the departure lounge, followed by the usual cry of –“Dont come back so soon!” as I went down the escalator. Such is the love my siblings and in-laws have for me. I didn’t shed a tear during this goodbye. I laughed and I joked, telling Mak I’d be back sooner then she could turn around in her wheelchair. But as the lights dimmed and the music played softly ready for landing, I felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks. The words on the screen, “Thank you for flying Malaysia Airlines” began to look blur as I let out the tears in the dark as there was no one to see me cry.

Three days before my planned departure, I started packing. There were books, books and books, mostly autographed by the writers and some bought at the spur of the moment. By the look of it, the books alone would exceed my baggage allowance. Then there’s the clothes, the gifts from friends old and new and the food stuff. And I only had two bags.

Mai Mak tolong lipat,” said Mak, offering to help with the clutter that was beginning to cause Milah the maid, serious concern. Mak is already an expert in packing and unpacking. After all, she has been living the life of a nomad, moving from one child’s home to another. Her protestations and appeals to go back to the house that Pak built for her are mostly met with silence or excuses.

There was a jovial beat to Mak’s banter while she helped me.

Bila Zaharah balik, Mak pun boleh balik Alor Star. Dah lama tinggal rumah kosong,” So, that was it. My departure was going to be used for another appeal to go home. Earlier, we had asked her to stay on because a grandchild was leaving for India. Then she stayed the duration of my stay. We now have two more excuses up our sleeves. Another grandchild is leaving for Geneva. And Abang is leaving for Libya.

Mak mesti tunggu sebab Azril nak ke Geneva. Lepas tu Abang pulak nak balik Libya,” I offered, remembering Lilah’s reminder about what to say when Mak broached the subject again. These days, most of our conversations with Mak are scripted, carefully composed to cajole her to stay, to coax her to eat or even to persuade her to come out with us.

Mak tunggu laa, lepaih tu Mak kena balik,” she insisted and I left it at that, especially when her attention turned to my DVDs and books. Her eyesight is still good.

Anak sapa ni?” she asked pointing to a boyish looking Sudirman on the cover of the CD collection that Kak Chah Hassan had given me.

Penyanyi! “ I mouthed the word to her and she nodded. She picked up the new magazine Tell and started flicking through. Laaa, sapa letak gambar Zaharah di sini?” she asked when she saw my picture in the magazine. She continued until she came to the picture of Toh Puan Rahah and said, “Macam nak kenai orang ni! I told her it is Toh Puan Rahah and she remembered perhaps meeting her and Tun Razak when they went to campaign in Yan. She certainly remembered shaking Tun’s hands.

I looked at her intently and marvelled at her memory. At 90, she remembers certain events very well. But sadly, she cannot remember what she had asked a few minutes before.

Anak sapa ni?” she asked again, picking up Sudirman’s CD, the curiousity so plain and so genuine in her voice.

Thankfully, Mak was in good health throughout my stay. She coughed a little during the nights that I slept with her. And I remember reaching out to stroke her back to ease her cough. She’s all bones. My Mak is all bones, but as I sit in this dark lounge of mine typing this, I see her as someone fit and strong and yes, beautiful. This is the only way I can cope.

Mak notices every crease in your clothes, “Baju tak seterika, ka?” or the fact that your ring or bracelet had not had a good polish. I remember us just lying down on the bed, Mak in her telekung waiting for asar. I slept beside her. Then her 30 year old grandson joined us, sleeping on the other side. Mak stroked his head, knowing that this grandson will leave her soon. Kak Cik then plonked herself beside me. Mak then reached out to both of us, "Ish, anak-anak Mak sehat-sehat!” She said proudly as she wrapped her arms around our ample bodies. And we allowed her to baby us in this manner, reminiscence of the times when we’d fight to sleep on her lap to listen to her renditions of some hikayats or syaer.

Yes, Mak helped me to pack. But once she left to go to the toilet, I had to unpack again for there was everything in that bag that was not mine. There were undies that I bought for her, Nisa’s and Kak Cik’s scarves, the children’s books and even the karipap that I bought for tea.

We have to indulge her these days. Take the money that she offers to buy groceries as her contribution, allow her to hang the clothes outside, even let her do the same prayers again and again because she insisted she had not done them.

We had some crab sambal left overs for dinner just before leaving for the airport. She remembers that crabs are my favourite. We had only crab claws. So, instead of eating, Mak took out the flesh from every claw and put them on my plate. She used to do this when we were small and she is still doing this some fifty years later. It is not because she had forgotten I have grown old, but she still remembers I am still her baby.

MH2 landed early. My husband was still in bed and I told him we’d meet at Paddington Station and have breakfast there. Seeing him wondering around the station looking for me, Malaysia now seemed a thousand miles away. For once, he was early. In fact he was a day early yesterday when he waited at Heathrow at the crack of dawn. The three weeks of book talks and launches and lit fest and meeting friends and relatives were then duly covered over breakfast of tea and chocolate croissants.