Wednesday 25 July 2007

The day the rain came

The rain came, beating relentlessly on the window panes, and I sighed a sigh of relief as it washed away those dreadful pollens that had been making my life quite miserable recently.

But it was the kind of rain, the likes of which we have never seen here before. It was the kind of rain that reminded me of home; of hot banana fritters and steaming hot tea, on Tok’s verandah.

Or freshly fried keropok and kacang goreng cap orang tua while watching repeats of P Ramlee movies or Kabhi Kabhi.

The kind of rain that brings a certain kind of freshness in the air.

The rain came and kept coming. The road running across our little town was like a river. But in other parts of England, the scenery was as gloomy as the weather report. Hundreds and thousands of people were evacuated, properties ruined and life disrupted.

Yesterday, atok sent an email telling us that the water level at the nearby Thames was dangerously high and they had been told to be ready for the floods. His family had moved everything upstairs.

With the rain gone in our neck of the woods, I ventured out for breakfast of nasi lemak and roti canai with a newfound bloggerfriend who came with a jar of miracle. A much needed break for me for I needed to see the outside world after days of being glued to the PC and burying myself in paperwork. From breakfast, I adjourned for lunch of Nasi Ayam at Holiday Villa with husband and some other friends. We needed this, we told each other. We needed this break, away from PC and exam papers and talked about everything from Big Brother to Eastenders and Akademi Fantasia and other reality TV trash that we shamefacedly admitted we watch in the name of research.

It was also the kind of day we threw caution and strict dieting regime to the wind. As a friend was eating for two, we all decided to eat for her and with her. Our sympathy cravings were extremely sympathetic bordering on pathetic. She mentioned something and we ate. She pointed to something and we ate. And when she mentioned bubur kacang, we obediently trooped back to Malaysia Hall Canteen two streets away where we continued our discussion on anything and everything trivial over tea with banana fritters , pasembur and of course bubur kacang.

Customers came and went, waiters came and went to replenish our glasses with teh tarik and our plates with pisang goreng and we still sat there talking about nothing in particular. It was that kind of a day.

With the drizzle gone making way for a clearer blue sky, we decided that with the nasi ayam, pisang goreng and teh tarik settling quite nicely in our tummy, we could do with a walk in the park.

As we entered the park, the freshness of the grass after the rain was unmistakeable. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

The last visit to Kensington Gardens was to see Taufiq doing his silat and that was in spring. Summer and the rain had brought the leaves, green and fresh on the trees in the park. It was a nice walk – we talked about this and that, more of this than that, if you know what I mean.

And then it was in the park, during that walk, we witnessed a beautiful miracle.

Visitors to the park walking towards the lake to feed the ducks were suddenly driven back. We stopped in our tracks and wondered what they were running away from.

And then we saw it.

Not far from the fleeing crowd, was the rain. We stood rooted staring at this miracle, even with the knowledge that the rain would get to us in seconds. And we laughed like children playing in the rain before our mothers called us in. Yes, it was that kind of a day and sharing umbrellas, handlinking behind us, we walked back to Holiday Villa for its scrumptious buffet of tom yam, nasi goreng kampong, mee goreng mamak and mussles and rendang. And the one eating for two merely watched as we ate for her sympathetically.

Yes, it was that kind of a day when the rain came.

Friday 13 July 2007

In Memory : Usman Awang (July 12 1929 - Nov 29 2001)

Recently, a friend of mine asked if I have a pantun or poem that is appropriate for him to read to his new bride duringtheir wedding reception. I could think of nothing better than Usman Awang’s KEKASIH.

The groom, currently studying Malay, struggled with the words, but when explained the meaning of those beautiful words, practiced hard and delivered it in a way that brought tears to his mother in law’s eyes. The bride, to say the least, was very touched.

Usman Awang, or better known as Tongkat Warrant, left us on 29th Nov. 2001 but he has left us beautiful poems such as Kekasih and short stories, that will remain with us forever.

I was fortunate enough to meet the Sasterawan Negara when he came to London for the perfomance of Jebat in SOAS in 1992, after which he accepted my invitation for a meal of mee bandung. And in return, I received a signed copy of Salam Benua.

The late Datuk Usman Awang was born on this day – 12th July seventy eight years ago and today on his birth date, we offer him – Al Fatehah.

I thank my dearest friend Ena for her entry on the great Tongkat Warrant.

Beautiful words put to beautiful music............brought to you by Kopratasa.

- Usman Awang

Akan kupintal buih-buih
menjadi tali
akan kuanyam gelombang-gelombang
menjadi hamparan
ranjang tidurmu

akan kutenun awan-gemawan
menjadi selendang
menudungi rambutmu

akan kujahit bayu gunung
menjadi baju
pakaian malammu

akan kupetik bintang timur
menjadi kerongsang
menyinari dadamu

akan kujolok bulan gerhana
menjadi lampu
menyuluhi rindu

akan kurebahkan matari
menjadi laut malammu
menghirup sakar madumu

Kekasih, hitunglah mimpi
yang membunuh realiti
dari syurga ilusi.

~Usman Awang

Permisi Abang Malaya,
sajakmu elok kita kongsi bersama,
untuk Usman Awang dan semua pujangga,
penghargaanmu yang manis kata-kata,
kita kongsi bersama, ya?

Dari pena Abang Malaya

Bumi kita terasa gersang
Gelanggang seni sunyi dan usang
Pena tua patah dan tintanya tumpah
Tiada lagi pemuisi dan pencipta agung
Tiada pewaris kepada Usman dan P Ramlee
Yang tinggal A Samad Said seorang
A Samad Ismail terlantar di ranjang.

Di mana kan kucari ganti
Usman Awang dan P Ramlee
Dan insan-insan segenerasi mereka
Yang tajam penanya
Yang halus bahasanya
Yang indah gurindamnya
Dan lunak merdu suaranya?

Usman aku panggil dia abang
Dialah penyair dialah pejuang
Kepada yang mengenalinya
Dialah kekasih malam dan siang
Dia romantis dia humanis
Jiwanya sentiasa gelora
Hatinya sentiasa berduka
Kerana dunia yang diimpikannya
Terlalu ideal dan sempurna
Sedang realiti lain sekali
Dunia penuh pancaroba
Penuh duka dan air mata.

Abang Usman buta warna
Melayu, Cina, India semua serupa
Tiada bangsa, tiada sengketa
Waktu suka ketawa ria
Waktu duka menangis bersama.

Pun dia sudah lama pergi
Yang tinggal menjadi legasi
Hanyalah prosa dan puisi
Yang dipintalnya dari buih-buih
Menjadi tali
Mengikat kita
Pewaris seni
Agar kita juga
Boleh menganyam gelombang dan badai
menjadi hamparan dan tirai
Ranjang tidur anak zaman
Yang dia tinggalkan.

Buatmu adikku di perantauan
Dan teman-teman sekalian
Biarlah dalam hatimu ada lagu
Dalam jiwamu suara nan merdu
Menyanyikan lagu kemanusiaan
Ranjang tidur sekalian insan.

-Abang Malaya-

Saturday 7 July 2007

Do you know that today is 07-07-07?

“Do you know,” said a voice from behind her, “that today is 7-7-77?”

“Oh, really?” replied the young lass as she looked up from her old trusty typewriter, the intro in mid sentence, her heart missing a beat and looked appreciatively as if that piece of information was the most important announcement since man landed on the moon.

It was the beginning of what was to be a series of Do you know….? For not long after that , before she knew it, the lass found herself swept off her feet to a foreign land that was to be their home for the next thirty years and more.

“Do you know,” said the familiar voice again, “that today is the shortest day of the year?” It was 21st December 1979 and what must have been the coldest day ever for the young bride who had just landed in London, eyes swollen after a marathon weep all the way from Changi Airport to Heathrow, after leaving behind her beloved mother and siblings for this new life in a foreign land.

“After today, the day will get longer by two minutes everyday,” he offered helpfully as her eyes began to well up again. She wanted so much to believe him that the days will get longer and brighter, that there will be leaves on the awkward branches of trees which looked so menacing in the dark. And that there will be flowers blooming in the garden. No, no one had prepared her for the bleak winter and the short gloomy days and most of all no one warned her that the toilet seat can be the coldest place in the whole flat. She could have done with one of those “Do you know…that the toilet seat is very cold in the mornings?” or for that matter at any time of the day during winter!

And sure enough, the days got longer by two minutes each day, the flowers bloomed and the young bride who later got used to cold toilet seats, no longer cried as easily, except if you count the time when she first heard Sharifah Aini’s song being played at the Bunga Raya restaurant in Westbourne Grove. She choked back on her crab sambal and yearned for home.

“Do you know,” he said, looking up at the magnificient designs on the ceiling of the Harrods food department, “that most people come here to look at the ceiling?” That, she agreed immediately as not many people, herself included, could afford the astronomical prices Mr Al Fayed was charging for his mackerel. She only went there looking for lemongrass and found some powdered stuff which cost as much as three meals complete with deserts at her favourite mamak stall in Bunga Tanjung.

The young lass was very much on the learning curve, exploring the new world that had presented itself when she said yes. Did she know how to cut chicken properly or measure the water for the rice? No. Did she know that she was not to wash keropok before frying or not to boil the dried beehoon in hot boiling water till they became too soggy to make fried beehoon goreng? No. So, these were other areas of “Do you knows…” which were more practical that she obediently noted.

She soon put away the menu from Khan’s restaurant that she used for emergency take-aways when there were visitors. She began to have more confidence in her culinary skills, encouraged by her husband who never failed to wipe clean his plate of rice even though the consistency of the curry was never quite right or the sambal was too salty. But she was learning.

“Do you know, that is just a story?” he said annoyingly as she wept uncontrollably watching Little House on The Prairies and repeats of The Sound of Music.

Even as they drove along the countryside as she experienced her first summer and the first whiff of fresh air, the familiar question was asked many times. ”Do you know,” he asked pointing to the green fields, “Do you know that when the cows are sitting down, it will soon rain?”

And when the children came they too were not spared these trivia which kept them very much amused during car rides and train journeys. Silently she smiled, listening to the Do you knows....?

And today, on 07-07-07, thirty years later, she reflected back to that moment in the busy newspaper office when someone said to her; “Do you know.........?”

Monday 2 July 2007

Am coming up for air...... still around. Level of work high. Level of pollen count low. (Can breathe easily now). London's level of security - critical. So must be very careful. Take care, everyone. Will be back soon. Kak teh