Tuesday 28 April 2009


There’s a lot of kutu talk in the family these days. The latest I heard was an unscheduled meeting by my siblings and spouses that was held under a tree at Dena’s; the main agenda was a trip to India. There had been several trips before – but mostly in the mind. But a meeting under a tree must be serious and the main question being discussed was how to fund such a trip. Thus kutu.

I remember kutu when the word was a mere kut in our family and the main kut master was Mak. From the 20 sens pocket money that we were allowed daily, we had to save and fork out 20 sens a week to give to Mak. That was considered a lot of money those days and it was quite painful to hand over the coins come Friday.

I suppose that was Mak’s way of making us save. The tabung ayam that she bought for each of us never got us anywhere. Suffice to say the effort was hangat-hangat tahi ayam. The tabung ayam ended up being raided in moments of desperation and when temptation got the better of us.

So, Mak came up with a plan; one that worked quite well with her friends; Mak Limah, Kak Nab, Mak Siah and the rest around Jalan Tunku Mahmud. But theirs was more on a monthly basis. She kept some housekeeping money, which meant we had less meat or no chicken on some days. They’d have a kind of afternoon tea for the first meeting to decide who gets the first payment. Then, subsequent payments were collected by the kutu master on her rounds, either on the way to the market or after their subuh prayers at the mosque.

I don’t think the final amount added up to a lot and Mak never spent the money on herself. It would either be new curtains for Hari Raya or a trip to visit Kak in Johore. Or sometime to get back her precious jewelleries that she had pawned at the pawnshop next to Ah Leng’s, when money was tight.

Anyway, with us, it was 20 sens. I remember gathering around the kitchen table one night. I was very excited. There were several match sticks of various lengths. Mak held them tight in her hand and each of us pulled out one. The one with the shortest received the first payment. How exciting!! But the excitement was shortlived as one soon realised that being the first to receive meant you have to keep on paying until everyone got their share. And believe it or not, Mak was always the last to receive hers and by the time her children had received theirs, no one wanted to play anymore! Sorry, Mak.

The last time I played kutu, the amount had increased to £100 a month. Wow, that was a big increase from 20 sens. And with ten Cik Kiahs contributing £100 a month, it was a handsome amount in the packet that went a long way; some as far as Harrods or Selfridges. But unlike playing with Mak, I had to discipline myself and prise out the monthly payment of £100 until it was over.

Over the next few months, there will be a few kenduris as two nephews will be tying the knot. Methinks its kutu time again. Anyone for a game of kutu?

Thursday 23 April 2009

A whiff of spring and a hint of summer...

It was wonderful to be able to open the windows and let in the fresh air but the snag was the whole of London rushed in as well. Well, that was my first whiff of spring in this country as the pangs of homesickness started to fade away as I discovered friends, Malaysian restaurants and work; though not necessarily in that order.

The world outside my window was a multicultural one, judging from the smell and the snippets of conversations that drifted in through the net curtains. From my window came the whiff of donna kebab twirling tantalisingly around the grill, while customers queued up patiently for their orders. It was a more welcoming smell then the stench of boiled cabbage or grilled smoked salmon escaping from under the doors, wafting along the corridors of our apartment. Once in a while came the sweet aroma of sisha, perhaps swept across by the wind from Edgware Road that was and still is a little Beirut in London. Out in the streets, there was the unmistakeable fragrance of attar that clung on to you even if you just had a slight brush with someone Middle Eastern in the shops.

Indian and Chinese restaurants had always flourished in this area where tourists from all over the world converged in search of their own cuisines away from home.

Further afield, I could see trees and flowers in full bloom in Kensington Gardens and at anytime of the day, there’d be streams of people walking to the park, either to feed the ducks, take their children for a stroll or just for a roll in the grass. I quite fancy the idea of a roll in the grass, if not for the stains on the clothes and grass in the hair. This, I suspect, was the result of too much afternoon TV on my own.

I had my favourite spot under a tree, where I sat with a book unopened and unread as I watched the world go by, reflecting on what was it that brought me to this place called London. People seemed to be friendlier as the days got brighter. They stopped to say “Hello, luv!” and went on their way, with their Times or Guardian tucked under their arms and little obedient puppies following behind. Little old ladies would head purposefully for the lake, with bits of stale bread in plastic bags to feed their little friends in the lake.

Spring brought a big sigh of relief as I was able to free myself from unsightly leg warmers, itch inducing tights, gloves and scarves and kick off my knee high leather boots to walk freely in my kebaya along Queensway.

It was that kind of an evening yesterday in Queensway. But, no boots to kick off and no kebaya to fit in. And a roll in the grass was just a fantasy that never materialised. We took the number 7 home instead, catfood in Tesco bag and the evening papers tucked under our arms.

Other listless entries:
Listless in London 1
Listless in London 2
One Autumn Day in the Life of a Malay Mak Cik in an English Town

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Last Sunday....

It has taken me quite some time to get this done. The interview with Tok Din (who used to run Malaysia Hall canteen in the late 90's was done live last Sunday. The drive to the studio had taken longer than we imagined. But we got there on the dot BUT the studio manager had some accident in the bathroom and couldnt get to open the door for us until five minutes past air time!!! The song by Siti Nurhaliza saved us and I sat down to proceed with the programe and then realised the microphone was half a mile away from Tok Din!!! The first of a few technical glitches on live radio!!

There's also an interview with husband and wife team - Azhar and Ani who is now running Makan Cafe in Protobello.

But....do listen to the classic old Malay songs from Tok Din's collections, which includes Sejakku Bertemu Padamu, Pegang-pegang Tali, Janganlah Tenung-tenung, Jikalau Abang Merindu and Hamidah. Simply love these songs!

Friday 17 April 2009

This Sunday....

This Sunday, 19th April I will be on air again, Insyaallah. And I am hoping to talk to some people who know all there is to know about how Malaysian food has impacted the UK market.

One of them came to pursue his studies but his true vocation is in the kitchen. And it certainly proved to be the right thing to do.

When he was managing the Malaysia Hall Canteen, his koayteow goreng and mee bandong was legendary. Malaysians visitors would come back in droves for seconds. The locals became loyal customers and later close friends. The hospitality that he and his wife offer can be compared to none.

Long after their contract at the canteen ended, when it was still in Bryanston Square, people are still talking about his food. Any gatherings held at his house, you can be assured that there's standing room only. Come hari raya, even strangers make their way there after hearing the reputation and his skills in the kitchen.

Also, I am hoping to talk to another husband and wife team - old friends of ours too - who had made a success of their venture in restaurant food. They too started with Malaysia Hall canteen and then opened up one restaurant before the present Makan Cafe in Portobello.

These people are fine examples of people who work hard and make it in a foreign land.

Insyallah, traffic permitting, Sunday 19th April, if you want to join in, go to www.nusoundradio.com and click to listen live at about 1505 London time. This is The Sounds of Malaysia, community radio, thus the programme is full of advertisements.

Insyaallah, we will be on air on Nusoundradio.com 92 FM.

So, wherever you are now, if you had passed through London in the late 90's and had visited Malaysia Hall canteen during its glorious days in Bryanston Square, you must have enjoyed the hospitality and delicious food from Azhar and Ani, and later Ton Din and Midah.

I am also looking forward to play some very old Malay classics from Tok Din's collections.

So, tune in, ya?
PS - we should be on air at 1505 London time and 10.05 pm in Malaysia. Insyaallah.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Notes from an unsettled mind

Yesterday, I walked into the laundrette with two big plastic bags of dirty clothes. Yella’s face lit up as she looked up from her ironing. We gave each other a long, big hug. She complained that she hasn’t seen me around and I explained that my washing machine is still good and running. But at the moment it just couldn’t cope with the mountains of clothes in every room. I didn’t really need to do the laundry there, but yes, I needed that hug from Yella of Yugoslavia, and I needed that time watching the clothes swirling around in the washing machine. Yella saw to it that my clothes come out of the machine smelling all nice and clean and she’d fold them neatly and place them in the bags and put stickers that say ONE on both bags.

Events of the last few weeks had not left many of us unscathed and untouched. I had been walking around with questions of the “what if” nature that would sometimes deny my tired eyes and brain of sleep. But it is fair to say that there have been lots of sobering thoughts too; like the words of the kiyai from Indonesia who joined our congregation. He stood tall in his white jubbah, hands clasped in the manner of a learned preacher and delivered much needed words that calmed our aching hearts and soothed our wounded souls. In his thick Javanese accent, he addressed the hushed audience in the crowded room; an impromptu speech from an unexpected guest at a very opportune moment.

“Ibuk-ibuk..dan bapak-bapak……” he started, looking around the room, casting his kind eyes and arresting our attention. He then proceeded to talk about redha, about letting go and about the virtues of forgiving and asking for forgiveness. He narrated to us stories that took our minds away from the food on the table; stories which reminded us of the after life. The silence lingered on long after his impromptu speech ended.

Over the last few years, it would seem that visits to places like the Garden of Peace, had become more frequent. The serenity of the place, with rows of tall everygreens bordering the 21.5 acre of beautifully landscaped resting place, offers much comfort to visitors who go, either to bury their loved ones or to read prayers to those departed.

As I walked back to the car after my last visit there, words of Ustaz Erfino, rang clear in my head.

”Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has been quoted in many hadiths that inform us about what is in store for people in their graves. He (peace be upon him) mentioned that “sleep is the brother of death.” This is an excellent way of looking at what we will experience in our graves. Sleep may be restful and peaceful or it may be frightening and tormenting as in a nightmare. The grave we reside in after death will be similar.

He quoted surah az Zumar verse 53, ‘Say: O my servants! who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is the Forgiving the Merciful.’

His talqin, delivered in English, reached a lot of people and did a lot to calm restless souls.

We are slowly picking up the pieces. Yesterday, after a long while, we began to notice that the flowers have bloomed.

Other notes of a rambling nature:
Notes from under the duvet

Friday 10 April 2009

Ma, someone ate my files

We came back quite late last night after tahlil at Malaysia Hall. As usual, before turning in, I checked my emails. The laptop gave the usual friendly and chirpy jingle before I signed in. Everything seemed fine. Then I looked at my desktop. The usually cluttered desktop with all manner of files, folders and documents and programmes seemed unusually tidy. There were two rows of icons; mozilla firefox, YM,Web n Walk Stick Manager and FileZilla Client among the most important ones for me. The rest - my writings, precious pictures, invoices, work - archives of work - all gone.

For a while I sat on the bed thinking they would reappear when I restart the laptop. It didnt and I was seized with panic. Husband and google came to my rescue and I had to spend £41 (with VAT) to get a programme that undelete deleted files. Throughout the night, I undeleted deleted files and saved them onto discs as advised.

Oh, how I took things for granted!
Pix from TechTips.com

Saturday 4 April 2009

Goodbye to a very dear friend Faizal, Al Fatehah

He was usually among the first to arrive at the surau and help with arranging the prayer mats. Then he’d take his place at the right hand corner of the hall, his 12 year old son by his side when we recite the surrah Yassin and listen to Ustaz’s tazkirah.

But last Friday night, he wasn’t there. While the usual congregation started gathering at the surau, Faizal was in a small room at the mortuary in East London. The sad news that filtered through to the members of the congregation that evening took everyone by surprise.

I had decided to give the tahlil session a miss as I felt unusually sleepy and tired and could hardly open my eyes after a very tiring week. And as I sat on my prayer mat at home waiting for Maghrib, I received a message on my phone which made me call up another dear friend only to be informed of this sad news.

Everyone had the same reaction; Which Faizal? Nina’s Faizal? You mean OUR Faizal? Are you sure?

Apparently, Faizal had suffered a fit while taking his exams. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4.18 London time.

It is safe to say, the close-knit Malaysian community in London was and is still in total shock. That night, we made our way silently to the London hospital in White Chapel. That night, the usual crowd at the Malaysia Hall surau recited the Yassin for our dear friend and brother Faizal Abdul Aziz, in a small room at the Pathology Department of the hospital. The crowd spilled out to the pavement outside the building, standing around silently in the warm summer evening. Faizal wasn’t alone. Nina and her children Norman and Farah were not alone as we were all there for them.

The nurse in charge voiced disbelief at the turn-out. She has never seen anything like it before.

The last time I saw Faizal was when he walked us to the car in front of his house, two weeks ago after his daughter’s fifth birthday party. His teasing and bantering with me continued even as we were about to drive away. He looked happy and cheerful. Just a few minutes earlier as was the norm with our regular gettogethers, we heard his favourite rendition of Madu Tiga, and his duet of Siapa Dia Sebelum Daku with his loving wife Nina. Then he sat on the sofa and gave an impromptu translation of my attempt to sing “Sometimes when we touched” – his version was "Kadang-kadang bila kita bersentuh” which brought all of us there, Tok Din, Midah, Kasubi, Zu ( almost half asleep on the sofa, Faridah and Jegan (also half asleep) roaring with laughter. Even my other half who is not into karaoke laughed and for once joined in a song.

That’s my memory of the Faizal who left us last Thursday. That summer night, when we left at nearly midnight – he stood in front of his house, a picture of happiness and contentment. He had everything to live for; a successful career as an accountant, a beautiful and loving wife Nina, a lawyer who adores him, two intelligent children, Norman and Farah.

We have cancelled our trip to Paris for the Paris Marathon. We have to be here for the family he left behind.

We have known Faizal and family since God knows when. He was part of our close extended family in this place that has become home to most of us.

Last night the crowd that turned up at his house for tahlil showed just how much a valued member of the community Faizal had been during his short life. He will be missed, a lot.

The burial will be on Monday 6th April, Insyaallah.

Farewell, my dear brother, Faizal. You will be greatly missed. Al Fatehah

Other tributes to Brother Faizal:
Farewell to a dear friend
Al Fatihah to Faizal Abdul Aziz

Arwah Faizal Abdul Aziz telah selamat dikebumikan selepas solat Zuhur di tanah perkuburan Garden of Peace di Hainnault pada petang 7hb April 2009. Alhamdulillah. Semoga Allah menempatkannya bersama mereka yang beriman dan mencucuri rahmat ke atas rohnya.