Friday 28 November 2008

Heating up memories on a cold morning

The central heating gave a gurgling sound, waking up Snowbell who’s curled up in a ball on the sofa. She stretched and yawned and went back to sleep. Gizmo, like the queen she is, is sprawled on the carpet, enjoying the rare quiet and peace at home. I hope this won’t be a repeat of the great chill of 2000, when the central heating just gave up on us. It was to cost us £2000 to get a new one installed or else we’d freeze to death over the long cold weekend. The very thought of parting with that much money, in times of this credit crunch, gives me the shivers.

Twenty-nine years ago, at about this time, things like central heating and the plummeting temperature (and the value of the pound) were the least worrying things preying on my mind. There were more urgent matters; the passport needed to be done, the no pay leave application had to be processed, the goodbyes, and mak and kak had to be persuaded that no big buffaloes had to be slaughtered on account of our marriage. And oh, we had to do the necessary like getting engaged. Thank God, air tickets and accommodations were all arranged by the office. We just needed to get married and pack our bags.

It was just as well that both of us had just received our bonus from the company and off we went to the jewellers to pick a small yet beautiful solitaire that is to stay on my finger to this day. I will always remember the day I walked into the office with that ring on my finger. I kept looking at it when the phone rang. “Hello, tunang,” said a familiar voice at the other end of the line. My heart missed a beat and I looked out of my cubicle and saw my tunang, and suddenly felt all shy and embarrassed.

It must be the cold getting to my head and the empty house, filled with cats, lazy cats sleeping on the sofa, in front of the heater – everywhere. But memories of that brief period of being someone’s tunang before being upgraded to being a wife, just filled me with such a warm feeling that I too feel like curling up into a ball and go to sleep with dreams that will perhaps take me to those giddy days of courtship 29 years ago.

Other cold servings and other related side dishes:
Mee soup and Bollywood fantasy on a cold winter's day
Zai and Sri Mersing on a cold winter's night

Thank you for another year

Popping the Question

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Missing London or home? - £99 will take you there!

Details later. But in the meantime go to

£99 from Stansted London to KL - one way inclusive of tax!!

From Malaysia - to Stansted, London - RM499! (One way)

Book now for flights beginning 11th March 2009 till October 2009.

To take advantage of this starting offer - must book between now and 30th Nov 2008.

So, what are you waiting for?

Thursday 20 November 2008

One Autumn Day in the Life of a Malay Mak Cik in an English Town

Jen was out early walking her dog in the park enjoying the crisp autumn air. I could recognise her from her blazing red hair, which matches the colour of the leaves on the ground. Jen, still hippyish in her outlook and dressing, used to be our nextdoor neighbour before we moved to where we are now. Gosh, she has aged, says this Mak Cik not realising that age has also crept up on her. She was the neighbour who had provided us with much amusement sunbathing in all her glory throughout the summer of 85.

Up the road, Betsie poked her head out of the window and waved me off with her usual “Mind how you go, darlin’.” Had it been a warm summer’s day, we’d spend a few minutes of natter about this and that, about our girls who grew up together and about the worrying level of crime in the area. Betsie is almost family – her parents lived next to us and hers was the shoulder I cried on when our cat died. She had taken it to the vet, but it didn’t make it.

These days the walk up the road to our small town seems a bit tedious. I have sort of lost that spring in my steps, or don’t they put springs in shoes anymore? It took me a full ten minutes to reach the post office and by then the queue, something that the British do with passion, was already long. I used to joke with friends that soon I’d be queuing up for my pension at the post office. And now it doesn’t seem funny anymore.

At Mr Patel’s, our local newsagent, the queue was just as long; this one had pensioners and out of jobbers queuing up to scratch their lotto cards or buy lottery tickets for that promised millions. Day after day, I see these people queuing up for their place in the sun, dreaming of the promised jackpot. Next week, I will still see the same faces queuing up and still not going anywhere. Only Mr Patel, transfixed behind the counter, ringing his till, has gone up in this world.

Mrs Van, that’s what he calls me. He cannot pronounce W, even after forty odd years here, half of which he spends behind the counter selling newspapers and lottery tickets and such likes from his corner shop. From behind the counter, he has seen his children off to medic school and they are doing very well indeed. And the people who are queuing up to buy the lottery tickets from him are still there.

I got my turn to top up my Oyster card and paid for my bar of Galaxy and a bottle of mineral water while Mr Patel updated me about what’s happening around our little town. More and more Eastern European shops are sprouting in the area, he lamented, and one old lady got mugged down the road last night, so mind how you go, Mrs Van.

I don’t know whether I was more perturbed by the news of the lady being mugged or by his emphasis on OLD, but with that we said goodbye.

This small town of ours had seen better days; there were no yobs in hoods cycling around to intimidate people and no drunks sleeping on the bench outside Mr Patel’s. Woolworth, once Britain’s famous chain store had long closed down its shop here and you’d be hardpressed to find a bank. If desperate enough, we’d use the ATM at Mr Patels’ and pay £1.70 for the facility.

On a brighter note, we’ve seen more halal butchers from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the way to the station I suddenly felt a tinge of sadness as I caught a glimpse of old Mrs B’s house. She was our other former nextdoor neighbour before we moved. I could see her putting the cone on the road outside our house to reserve the space for our car. Once we’re back from work, she’d come in for tea and offer to bring in our washings from the washing line. She’d talk non-stop, much to the annoyance of the children who wanted to watch T J Hooker or the cartoons. But the old dear just wanted company. Her own children saw her once a month to take her out for a meal of fish and chips. Then when we moved, we heard that she was found dead one day in winter.

Although I could hear the train approaching, I took my own sweet time. There’s no more bounding up the steps two or three at a time, and whenever I am with him, he no longer chased me up to the top, both of us panting and laughing like school children. Now, even without the race, I pant.

Long before credit crunch came into our vocabulary, I had already stopped buying newspapers. There are loads of free newspapers littering the seats these days and the only time I quicken my footsteps is to get to a newspaper before someone else does.

I was engrossed by the day’s news; more gloomy forecast, more unemployment in the horizon. An announcement made me look up, only to see a familiar face staring back at me from the reflection in the window. The tudung looked familiar, the face tired and bored. We both looked away to see the autumn leaves fall.

As if programmed in my mind, I got off at the eleventh station and changed train, and then dragged my feet up the steps at Russel Square. There was a mood of merriment as a group of young medic students in drags collected money for charity. They were young first year students, all fresh and eager and in drags. At least they were not drunk.

Once out of the lift and the station, I was thankful to breathe in the fresh air of autumn again, the wind bringing a whiff of roasted hazelnuts from a stall nearby. Roasted hazelnuts without fail always signal the arrival of winter, and we’d pay more than necessary to buy the nuts and linger a bit more for the warmth from the crackling fire.

The campus was buzzing with students, young and old. There was again a long queue snaking towards a member of the Hare rama group giving away free vegetarian meals. I spotted a familiar face – still young and fresh and still full of enthusiasm. She must be, what, 25? We were classmates when I was doing my MA a few years back and now, still with the same energy and enthusiasm, she is pursuing her PhD. She asked me when I am doing mine and I didn’t have an answer to that.

Walking towards the lift, I saw another familiar face. She was one of those who, like me, hunched over our PC in the computer room trying to finish our dissertation. We smiled and hugged. Yes, she had also finished her MA but is pursuing another course. She is 65. When are you studying again, she asked? And I still don’t have an answer to that.

I walked up the steps to the office and sat down to prepare my work but my mind kept going back to the questions I didn’t have an answer for. My eyes kept going back to the park outside the window, to the autumn leaves still hanging on bravely to the branches. How beautiful, how rich, but they fall eventually, don’t they?

Other listless Mak Cik in Autumn stories:
Love in the autumn years 1
Love in the autumn years 2
A Small Malay Kampong by the A40
Listless in London

Saturday 15 November 2008

Confessions of a Mak Cik Blogger

What was life like before blogging? I think, it was much easier…you do simple things like peeling a plantain to fry for afternoon tea or take a walk in the park, without having to think that this is a possible entry for today’s blog. You plunge into your plate of mee goreng or attack the sambal ketam without having to take photographs first to grace your entry.

Children get most annoyed and frustrated with a mother lagging behind taking photographs of anything and everything. Most of all they are afraid that they will be the subject of the next entry. One sayang mama threw me dagger looks when some one he had never met before said to him, “So, you are Batman!”

It was the full moon just the other night and I immediately thought of a blogger friend who is moon-mad (lunar lunacy?) and instructed my son to take a shot of it. What for, he asked. Errr, for my album, I lied.

My email box is full of mails from friends I have never met than from friends I have known all my life. Have my friends all deserted me? No, they said. They read my blog to know what’s happening in my life.

Just a few days ago, my husband asked me whether the Sang Kelembai was male or female. And my immediate answer was, he is a male blogger, which sort of provoked laughter from all in the car. What the other half wanted to know was what sort of animal was a kelembai. Duh!!!!

This came right after a phone call I received from Malaysia. The person wanted to talk to Kak Teh and cheerfully, I answered yes, as I thought the caller must be a sibling or a cousin. But no, the caller was from a big corporation who wanted to invite me to a launch of something big in the city soon. At conferences and seminars, I am Kak Teh. And so I thought, whatever happened to my name, my real name. Does it not exist anymore?

The same happened when we went back to Malaysia, I was answering calls for Kak Teh, from the MB’s office, from some dato’s and even someone who prayed beside me in the Bangsar Village surau. I met someone at Tesco, someone who had just arrived from Malaysia and after the initial salam, he said, Are you Kak Teh? Yes, I said and to which he replied, Aaaah, so now I have met two people I wanted to meet when I come to London; Thaksin and Kak Teh. Thaksin he met somewhere in Oxford street, I think and Kak Teh in Tesco, Queensway.

When I started blogging about four years ago, I think, I did it because I was suffering from a severe bout of jetlag. And if I am brave enough to admit, I did it because I was at a crossroads in my life when I had stopped writing my column to start life as a student. As a student, I was struggling to write academic essays and not coping with it too well. I am much better writing trivial stuffs than expounding theories that I don’t even understand. And blogging saved my sanity.

With blogging I found a community of friends, faceless and nameless and soon became comfortable with a few likeminded ones, with the same wavelength and interests. I have met some of them and truly treasure their friendship and camaraderie. Trips back home now are never complete without the bloggers meet.

And now I remember my first Mak Cik Bloggers’ meet with fondness – we met and laughed and reminisced about our initial ‘meetings’ online.

Those days, I’d open the ‘window’ to find cyber friends already waiting. I used to grapple with online chats – not knowing who was saying what to whom. And once I got used to it, there went the food on the stove. On more than one occasion, something got burnt because I was checking the blog. Children had to make do with hastily put together dinner and cats had to wait.

Admissions about blogging while still in the telekung while waiting for the next prayer time were met with uneasy mumurs of the same nature. News about new and interesting blogs spread like wildfire in blogosphere. Who wrote what where. Updating became a hassle – what to blog next?

We rejoice and celebrate each others’ fine moments and commiserate and share the misfortune of others. I personally have learnt a lot from bloghopping; some inspiring experiences, some humbling ones and many precious tips from the kitchen to the garden.

Dialogues and conversations were memorised, precious moments, sad and funny were imbedded in the mind for future reference and loads of pictures taken.

But as the novelty dies down somewhat, I personally find that I have found a comfortable level of blogging that didn’t require me to check my comment box every few hours or think about updating too often, nor worry about who is reading it.

Lately, I am buoyed up by the discovery of some old friends and some new ones. Very interesting and very thought provoking, yet entertaining reads. With this I would like to officially welcome Puteri Kamaliah as a Mak Cik Blogger. Puteri and I worked for the same company some years ago and we never exchanged more than ten words, if I remember correctly. She came to London when I was back there and when I came here, she had gone back. I am so glad to have found her again in blogosphere and I would like to wish her and Pak ABu the very best on their Journey.

PS This poster by a blogger friend Adiejin depicting Mak Cik Bloggers never failed to cheer me up on the gloomiest day, such as today. He used to have us rolling on the floor clutching our stomach with his tales of Mak Cik Bloggers. Thanks Adiejin.

More on Mak Cik Bloggers and blogging:
Mak Cik Bloggers Boleh
Mak Cik Superblur at Work

pps. The 'I'm a Mak Cik Blogger' mousepad was made for me by my son, Taufiq. Any blogger who feels she is a Mak Cik Blogger, feel free to use it.
Kak Teh

Monday 10 November 2008

Cringe moments

Mulling over my cringe moments, I decided that I will not feel too embarrassed if I were to share cringe moments of my nearests and dearests. In the tradition of doing things that shouldn’t be done while there are other more urgent and important work with deadlines looming ahead, I decided to tag myself after reading Naz’s cringe moments. I decided that things like cringe moments, must not be kept to yourself or else you’d die laughing - alone.

Now, here goes.

Cringe moment 1 - The line snaking to the food counter of the canteen of Block 3C in Shah Alam was so long and the only thing that kept us in line was the smell of food and for us, the songs that they played over the loudspeakers. I was there, as usual with my group, Fatimah Abu Bakar, the celebrity mum of several celebrity children, Mia, Tini, Ina and Riza, but I don’t know whether Ena, our resident squatter was there. Anyway, soon they were playing my favorite song, Just One Look and there I was, in my kebaya, prim and proper, swaying and singing along.

“Just one look, and I felt so high, high, highhhhhhhhhhh….”

Unfortunately, when I hit the high note – highhhhhhh, they switched off the player, leaving me highiiiingggggg solo,piercing the silence in a hall of hungry diners. Heads looked up from their plates and eyes from all corners of the canteen were on me. My friends didn’t help either because after the initial shock, they fell about laughing. I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.

Cringe moment 2 – During one of my visits home, I went to open a bank account. My friend who worked there decided to speed up matters and assigned a bank officer to help me. I gave my particulars and then waited while they processed the account. The young officer emerged again and asked me to sign on the dotted line, with instructions: Tolong tekan kuat-kuat sikit., kak.

I duly signed, tekan kuat-kuat as instructed, feeling quite flattered that he called me Kak. And within a few minutes, I was the owner of a new bank account with a bank book to show for it. I looked through but couldn’t find my signature and asked the friendly officer, “Eh signature tadi tak lekat ke? Nak sign lagi sekali?”

Needless to say, he was puzzled and my friend gave a nervous laugh and explained that the signature was actually invisible for security reasons.

Aiyyyoooo, Mak Cik macam nak pengsan situ jugak!

There are more but I’d rather tell about others’ cringe moments.

My sister and her friends were so looking forward to the wedding of one of their friend’s son. They were to bring with them all the hantarans and dressed to the nines, they proceeded from their hotel and searched for the house in Melaka. Seeing a house all lit up with marquees and lagu pengantin blaring from the sound system, they went in. As is the custom in Melaka, I was told, they were welcomed with fireworks lighting up the sky. They were ushered in and they placed their hantarans before them, and were delighted that they were early. They looked around looking for any familiar faces when a lady approached them, apologising profusely. They had gone to the wrong kenduri house!!!

As they left, the ‘real’ groom’s entourage arrived but all fireworks were used up and they entered the house without any fanfare.

My sister can compile a book on cringe moments. Here’s another one. Her husband drove her to the market. She got out of the car and told her husband to wait. After just one purchase, she came back, got into the car, took one look at the guy behind the wheel and both of them screamed with shock. She got into the wrong car. Her husband had driven ahead.

Now, with a mother like that, what do you expect of the daughter? Sorry Dena, I feel that I have to tell this. Dena is now in confinement after giving birth to a baby girl. Tahniah! Anyway, when she was doing some practical work at a firm, she was asked to man the phone. She was reading a novel and came to the part when the hero proposed and…the phone rang. She picked up the phone, eyes still glued to the dialogue in the book and said: Will you marry me?

I will end these embarrassing, cringe moments with my husband's story.

I was waiting for him at our usual meeting place, when I spotted him walking towards me. I thought something was wrong and of course, there was something wrong! He was wearing one black shoes with lace and on the other foot was one black slip ons!

He nearly caused me a heart attack, when at dinner with some friends, during discussions about plates etc, he announced that we used Durex plates. What he meant was Duralex!

And with that I tag and dare Pi Bani, Queen of the House, Puteri Kamaliah and Kay_Leeda and who ever wish to join in to tell us about their cringe moments.

Kak Teh's other cringe/weird moments are here:
Kak Teh vs Techie Thingies
The Weird Wide World of Kak Teh

Friday 7 November 2008


Being a freelance, I tend to find myself in different places doing a lot of different things in different settings. I could be sitting in a courtroom of the Old Bailey or enjoying a spot of polo in the suburbs of London or in a hundred year old castle in a far flung corner of the British Isles. And these would lend myself to different situations, every time.

Carrying on with Puteri Kamariah’s spooky thread, where she narrates with the skills of a penglipur lara to an audience with spookier stories to tell, I would like to tell of my own story of ‘gangguan’, which coincidentally happened only yesterday.

It was to be an early morning call and after subuh, I braved the cold autumn wind to a studio I remember I had the pleasure of working in before. I remember very clearly, it was situated near the canal and quite close to a Muslim cemetery. These days, I take mental note of things like this.

After introducing myself to people that I had to work with, I settled down to prepare myself physically and mentally to do the task assigned by an agent.

In spite of the temperature dipping very fast outside, the small studio I was in was quite warm and I began to perspire. It was not like the usual studios that I am accustomed to – but good enough to do the job at hand.

Flipping through the scripts, I felt a strange feeling coming from the pit of my stomach, one that would engulf my whole being with an intensity that made me perspire even more. But time was ticking and time is money – for the agent and for the owner of the studio, who I could see from the glass panel dividing us.

This feeling would come and go. But I persevered as a professional should and would, leaping over the most difficult words and terms effortlessly, defying even those that would challenge my tongue into doing a trip that I am most notoriously known for….spoonerism. But every fifteen minutes or so, I could feel the strange feeling again. And most times, it would make its presence heard.

Beads of sweat started to appear on my forehead and I signalled to the studio manager to give me a five, which he kindly did. We were to do this several times as the ‘gangguan’ became very frequent.

“Don’t worry,” said the studio manager, eyeing the clock and calculating mentally the hours and pounds that he would get from the delay and extended studio time.

“Take your time,” he added, sounding somewhat eerily, like an accomplice in a bad horror movie.

Even after the fresh cup of tea that he made me, I still felt uncomfortable, but I soldiered on, pages after pages, and people who listened to this recording, would not have suspected anything.

During one of the breaks, the agent burst through the door and I intimated to her what I was experiencing. She looked at me sympathetically and whispered, “Don’t worry. The French voice over artiste in the next studio is experiencing the same thing.”

So, it wasn’t just me. But it still didn’t make me feel any better.

When the session was over, the studio manager and I sat down and checked the recording before I scooted off to another assignment.

And lo and behold, the strange feeling that had been disturbing me throughout the three-hour session was clear for all to hear.

“Yes, we get this a lot especially during early morning recording sessions. People coming in without or with little breakfast. The stomach growls and rumbles. So, there is nothing to worry about. It is quite natural”.

Kak Teh's strange encounters:

The Polo'ing Experience

The Tongue Tripper

Haunting Memories

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Ode to Pak Malim: An Epilogue

My favourite autumn picture

Pantuns, syaers and seloka, never failed to provoke the sense of playfulness that exists even in the most serious amongst us. The teasing, the challenge and counter challenge and its very allusive nature make the pantun an all time favourite. It is certainly my all time favourite, especially in moments of despair, in times when the world gets too serious, and the politics threaten to get too ridiculous.

My Choc-a-bloc blog is just what its name suggests – choc-a-bloc with all sorts of rants and jottings of just about anything from my cats and sayang mamas to things trivial that occupy my waking hours and sometimes my restless nights. So, when I feel the need to de-stress, my mind goes into a pantun mode. And as you can see I had even devoted syaers to blogspot and spammers. Oh, Kak Teh, do get a life!

As the 99th commenter, Edelweiss noted, this certainly reminds us of the time when Abang Malaya bursts into my blog with such beautiful thought provoking lyrics that not only reflect on our time at Jalan Riong but also the occasionally rant and frustrations about the current political situation. And Abang Malaya, like Pak Malim caught the popular imagination and elicit the playfulness in us that resulted in long, and contagious balas membalas – from so many people. And Abang Malaya, like Pak Malim was anonymous and this provokes our curiousity even more in our quest to find out their identity – the people whose pens and cursors dance effortlessly to beautifully crafted words.

Syaers and pantuns feature quite seriously in my life, especially after doing my MA in Traditional Malay Literature and verses from Syaer Bidasari and Syaer Dang Sarat, which I am still studying, come dancing in my mind to distract me from the mundane things that I do.

So, thank you to all – especially to Pak Malim, Kucing Ray yang Alim and Abang Malaya, whoever and whereever he is and to those who sportingly responded in such hilarious manner and rhymes, keeping me awake and alert and certainly laughing to myself a lot during these gloomy, wet and dreary days of autumn. Thank you. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and I hope Pak Malim will still visit me.

Pantun memantun is not unknown when I get together with my siblings. Let me leave you with a taste of our brand of pantuns. After overdosing ourselves with food that Mak cooked and more from the stalls in and around Alor Setar, we’d sit lazily around the big family table, eyeing the piles of plates in the sink. Then someone would break the silence:

Baju lama baju lusuh,
Hai, pinggan banyak sapa nak basuh?

About Syaer Dang Sarat
Dang Sarat's Debut in Liverpool
A Tragic End to Dang Sarat

Sunday 2 November 2008

An Ode to Pak Malim, Kucing Ray yang Alim

It has been a terrible start to the day. It would seem as if winter has come to drive away autumn with all its might; the rain, the strong winds and the cold. From where I am sitting, I could see a carpet of golden leaves on the ground, the aftermath of last night’s ferocious attack.

So, any thoughts of going out also went out of the windows and I opted to opening YM windows and cyber windows that allowed me a peak into the outside world without the fear of being blown away.

I went to Norway to see my newfound friend, made my ritual visits to Puteri Kamaliah just to be spooked once again by her eerie stories and many more. Then I decided to look at my own blog traffic, who comes a knocking via which blog. And to my surprise, a visitor found his/her way to choc-a-blog by googling Pak Malim, the ubiquitous cat that is roaming blogosphere, leaving its lyrical pawmarks everywhere.

Pak Malim never fails to provoke a smile and tempt the uninitiated to try a hand at his own brand of verse. I have found him at Puteri’s, Pi Bani’s, NJ’s and Kay’s.

So, it is high time, says Kak Teh, sipping tea with a squeeze of lime,
That we devote an ode to Pak Malim, kucing Ray yang alim.

What do you think, asks Kak Teh, tickled pink!

An Ode to Pak Malim, Kucing Ray yang alim

Siapakah gerangan Pak Malim, banyak orang tertanya,
soal Kak Teh dengan mulut tenganga,
pandai berpantun dan berseloka, agak Kak Teh sambil membaca
dengan sungguh leka.

Pak Malim ke sini dan ke mana-mana,
merayap di alam siber, singgah di sini dan sana,
membawa maksud yang sungguh bermakna,
kata Kak Teh penuh kagum dan terpesona.

Pi Bani beria sungguh nak belikan sardin satu tin,
Untuk Pak Malim yang mungkinkah dari Mantin?
Kak Teh nak merisik asal usul Pak Malim apakah
pakai ilmu batin,

Siapakah dia tanya Kak Teh kepada seorang datin,
Dak aih!! kata Mak Datin, dia bukan dari Mantin,
tambah Mak Datin sambil memakai tudung satin,
mungkin dia kucing yang makan ikan tin,
dan kekadang bermadah bahasa Latin.

Pak Malim yang suka mengelat, kagum baca
Puteri Kamaliah pandai bersilat,
ketawa Kak Teh memikirkan Pak Malim macam ulat, mengelat,
bersilat tapi tak lupa solat.

Nak tahu jawapan Kak Teh melawat Pi Bani,
tengok Pak Malim peluk kera terlalu berani,
Kak Teh tahu Pak Malim pernah ke Indonesia,
pada Kay-Leeda, dia bocorkan rahsia,
Hish! katanya lagi, di sana dia peluk bohsia!

Awatlaaa, Pak Malim, nasib baik kucing bukan manusia!

Bukan bohsia dan kera saja dia suka peluk,
Big Bird juga dia tak kira makhluk,
kepada NJ dia cerita begitu teruk,
Kak Teh ternganga terkejut beruk!

Pak Malim ceritalah sikit tentang diri sendiri,
asal usul kamu dari mana datang ke mari,
setakat nak kenal lagi, kata Kak Teh sambil memberus gigi,
Kalau lah sudi, kita berpantun lagi,
pujuk Kak Teh hampir nak terjatuh perigi.

Baiklah Pak Malim, kucing Ray yang alim,
Kak Teh tanya dengan baik, bukannya zalim,
mana Pi Bani, sambung pulak seloka,
Kak Teh dah penat gelanggang pantun dibuka,
Puteri Kamaliah marilah ikut sama,
pujuk Pak Malim, berentak berirama.

Tapi, Kak Teh masih tertanya, siapakah gerangannya Pak Malim, kucing Ray yang alim??

Himpunan seloka/pantun/syaer Kak Teh:

Me and My Syaer on the no: 7
Syaer Untuk Sang Suami
Syaer Sang Isteri
Balada untuk Abang Malaya
Syaer Sang Spammer
Syaer untuk Blogspot
Syaer Hari Kebangsaan
Syaer Sibuk Sakan
Syaer Pilihanraya

Saturday 1 November 2008

The Notebook

I believe in carrying a notebook, no matter how small it is. Growing up, it used to be filled with new words that I came across while reading a book or those I found in advertisements or signboards. Now, apart from the usual ‘Things to do/buy’ lists, I pen down my thoughts, intros lost in confusion and titles of books that will never see the light of day. But a notebook I do carry.

It was a terribly cold day yesterday, one that promised snow, but the snow never came. I was somewhere in Trafalgar Square and desperately needed to get to somewhere warm. And Waterstones by the corner of The Strand and Northumberland Avenue, offered a brief respite. I walked out a few pounds (sterling) lighter and my handbag a lot heavier with three books – one, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. This one book compounded my belief in the importance of the notebook.

Notebooks, no matter brief the scribbles, no matter trivial the contents or illegible the writings, offer glimpses of moments in your life, never to be thrown away or discarded for it will leave you forever. Reading it back will provoke a frown, solicit a chuckle but most likely it will open a floodgate of memories.

Over the years, I have been privileged to share glimpses of jottings in notebooks by people who never thought that one day his or her notebook would be a point of reference.

The late Datin Peggy Taylor with her chest full of history

When Datin Peggy Taylor left, she left a suitcase of history, among them notebooks in various sizes and colours, with anecdotes of her life in Malaya, her friendships with famous names, and jottings of historic moments that we can’t find in history books today. It was in the midst of helping her to type out these jottings from her notebooks that Peggy left us last March and now her voice from the past is coming back to me. It wasn’t easy transcribing Peggy’s writing; but it transported me to her past in India, the voyage on the ship to Malaya, the fun theme parties in her house and the way Tunku did the ronggeng. Afterthoughts were written in slants by the side of the page and towards her last few months, she took to leaving blank pages opposite her jottings, to fill in what she had forgotten. At times, she’d phone me up in the mornings to add in what suddenly came to her during her restless nights.

Almost two years ago, the weather just as bad, I said goodbye to another friend. I had known of his heart condition for some time since I acquired his friendship. When he went, no one knew about the notebook that he left behind. He told me about it because he wanted me to read and see if his jottings would help someone else in his condition. I told his sister about this notebook and she found it among his things that she packed to take home. It was jottings about how he felt during those early days when he was undergoing a heart transplant; his fears and apprehensions, his sorrows all neatly written down while he was in and out of hospital.

During this week alone, I had a chance to glimpse into two people’s pasts – again all written down in notebooks.

Glimpses into our past

During these few months, I have occupied myself with one story, which has now made headlines in the media. It all started with a brother of a plane crash victim who wanted to know more about the incident that happened 58 years ago. It was his initiative that led to the discovery of the plane which crashed in the jungles of Malaya on 25th August 1950. It was during our second meeting with the brother that I discovered, among the things that were sent back in a box to the parents, was a notebook. It was a blank notebook but it is now being filled in with the journey of the discovery of the plane, by his surviving brother. That will make one fine reading one day.

Yesterday, I saw one notebook with Malay pantuns, penned during the writer’s time as Prisoner of War in Changi. Admittedly, the pantuns and other verses were scribbled in pieces of papers but they were neatly transferred into this notebook, which has been kept since the end of the second world war. It must have been the pantuns and other verses that kept the writer sane during what must have been a torturous and horrendous time in prison. It never ceased to amaze me the almost flawless old Malay that the young MCS officer wrote in his notebook. I had a difficult time trying to explain one naughty verse about heaving bosoms, to his son.

That notebook from a prisoner of war brought me back to the story that I heard at a conference some years back from a scholar who showed me scribblings and jottings from one of the few Malay POW who worked on the Death Railway in Burma. Apparently, the writer scribbled on pieces of papers and hid them in pots and in the ground whenever a Japanese soldier marched by. These jottings were then transferred into notebooks once he made his escape. It was quite a riveting read.

I will continue to carry my notebook around. If anything, it will tell people how much lambchops I bought from our local butcher and what Kissinger and Tabby were up to during the day.

Kak Teh's other notetakings:
History in a suitcase
A painting incomplete
Goodbye, My dear Peggy
A weekend of sorts
Dear Diary