Wednesday 15 December 2010

Hoping for a Kindle-lit dinner

Picture fr Kindle International
AS our 31st anniversary loomed near, I found myself frequenting a website,, and looking longingly at the slim, sleek 3G plus Wi-Fi e-book that has, for sometime, been a contentious issue in this household.The intended recipient of the new toy had left me in no doubt about his dislike for this new gadget that is making waves and getting rave reviews.

I thought this wireless gizmo that weighs less than a paperback would easily replace the heavy hardbacks he carries around in his rucksack. Imagine all that you can fit in the palm of your hand — it can store more than 3,500 titles!

Think of the space we could save every time we go for a break, and we can share the reading experience. We have, after all, shared many things in our 31 years together.
Like two silly teenagers at the backseat of the number 7 we have shared the i-Pod listening to our favourite zikir, even sharing the earphone trailing from his pocket to our ears.

During my restless nights, he’d pick a favourite prayer and together we’d listen to it till we fell asleep. But the Kindle is not his kind of thing. The realisation sank in that we are not on the same page on this.

Ever since I knew him, I had learnt how precious the book is to him. It was a book that brought us together and if I remember it well, it was a book on Groucho Marx.

Our courting days were spent browsing around the bookshops of PJ and Kuala Lumpur. He bought me books on all sorts of subjects, from how to write features and scripts to how to deal with PMT and pregnancy and how to cope with menopause. (In 31 years we do have to go through all these together).

He’d rather hold a real book and feel the pages in his hands, smell the smell of a new book as he turns the pages and carefully wraps it back in the paper bag which he had bought it in. He’d stack them carefully on the bookshelves already groaning under the weight of hundreds of books fighting for space in our front room which is fast turning into a library. And there is no way he’d read an e-book with a Wi-Fi in bed seeing that he has already banned my Blackberry to a safe distance, for fear of radiation.

Rather then buy other trivial stuff as presents, he’d buy books for the children, for friends old and new. An e-book would deny him that pleasure.

So, the prospects of a Kindle-lit dinner is fast fading as I weighed the pros and cons. I might get it for myself pleading a bad back as an excuse. In my bag, there are already the netbook and charger, the phone and charger as well as the camera. So, of course there will be space for a slim 3G with Wi-Fi.

I could say the eyesight is fast going and the Kindle with its bigger fonts would be good for these tired old eyes, which could start me reading again without the cumbersome reading glasses.

During all the years we’ve been together, I’ve courted technology more passionately than him. He dismisses most things, including the microwave oven, as unnecessary and even harmful. He never owned a mobile phone until I bought him a simple, cheap one which is now held together by a red rubber band.

He never switches it on, except to send and check messages and boasts that his battery lasts for a month! He does not depend on the flat screen HD TV for news as he prefers The Guardian and The Independent or the free tabloids he finds scattered in the trains.

I guess the jury is still out on this and in the meantime, the anniversary present will have to be another simple woolen jumper that will prove useful for this cold winter. A Kindle-lit dinner will be out of the question for the time being.

Read more: I’M EVERY WOMAN: Hoping for a Kindle-lit dinner

Friday 5 November 2010

Malaysia has Talents - Abroad

BETHNAL Green in east London is not a place I would normally visit in the evening, especially alone. It was, after all, the neighbourhood in which Jack the Ripper operated and the playground of the infamous gangsters, the Kray brothers, in the 60s. But that was where I was headed one warm autumn evening.
The promise of meeting new friends and the prospect of renewing old acquaintances made me trudge the distance, well away from my comfort zone in the west.

The east end district, which received much aerial battering during the Second World War, has undergone a lot of changes and is now home to mostly Bangladeshis. The short walk from the station to Costa Cafe revealed the changing face of Bethnal Green: It is more Asian in character, dotted as it is with halal groceries and eateries.
Unku in Thoroughly Modern Milly with Maureen Lipman

At the cafe, I met Unku Majid and his friends. I had known Unku from the late 1980s when he was waiting on tables at Satay Ria in Bayswater. He was also then acting in the West End. An accomplished stage actor, Unku, from Johor, had acted in many plays including Miss Saigon and The King And I where he played Uncle Tom alongside Elaine Paige. He also appeared with Maureen Lipman in Thoroughly Modern Milly.
It was Unku’s suggestion that I meet some of his friends, and then proceed to see the play, The Death Of Tintagel, by playwright Peter Morris — a dark satire set in a Cornish castle, where a boy is summoned back by his grandmother, to his death. It is directed by Vik Sivalingam, a fellow Malaysian.

Among those waiting to meet me was Vik, Michelle Lee, another West End actor whom I had the pleasure to do some voice-over work with and newcomer to the group, Shanon Shah. I had quickly googled Shanon Shah and discovered that this young and talented writer/songwriter and singer had just released his second album! This chemical engineer by training is now in London to do his Masters. I made a mental note to get his album or at least to listen to it on youtube.

I had met Michelle before when she was acting in Miss Saigon. Plays like that and The King And I, of course, had opportunities for talents from Southeast Asia. Michelle, a ballet dancer, had also worked with Instant Cafe Theatre in Malaysia before venturing to England to study music, drama and dance at the University of Birmingham. She had just finished filming The Diana Clone, a fantasy thriller about a scientist who tries to clone Princess Diana. The lead actor was half Malaysian — Anna Leong Brophy.

Michelle herself had done many things, from soap ads to voice-over work. We did similar work for The Sleeping Dictionary and a few years ago, Krakatoa, a BBC production.

I must be the only one in this country who had not seen The Bridget Jones Diary, where Michelle played the immigration officer who found drugs in Jones’ bag!
Vik and Vera

Sitting in the small cafe with this group of talents, my thoughts went back to the days of the pak cik sailors in the 60s and 70s — Malay sailors who came to work for the merchant navy were very much in demand for roles that required Oriental faces in war films such as A Town Like Alice. I imagined them meeting in cold and dingy cafes not far from Bethnal Green, in between sailing assignments, to look for parts as Japanese soldiers. People like Pak Man Tokyo had worked in A Town Like Alice as a Japanese soldier. And then, years later, I myself was roped in to play Fatimah in a radio drama of the same title by the BBC.

The play we were about to see at The People Show Studios is Vik’s latest work. He has a string of directing credits which include Uncle Vanya, Daisy Pulls It Off, Human Rights and Day Trippers. He is currently resident assistant director at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Vera Chok with Freddie Machin in The Death of Tintagel - pix by Lucy Pawlak

Vik’s current play has as its lead Vera Chok, who brilliantly plays Ygraine, Tintagel’s protective and caring sister. Vera, who read archaeology and anthropology at Oxford University and who trained as an actress at The Poor School in London, is also artistic director of Saltpeter Production.

The producer is Anna Sulan Masing from Sarawak, who is also working on her PhD, looking at identity through performance practices of indigenous women of Borneo.

Meeting them was like a breathe of fresh air. Since then, I have been in touch with Rani Moorthy, another Malaysian-born playwright and actress as well as artistic director of Rasa Productions based in Manchester. Her Handful Of Henna recently toured the country. She has done radio plays such as Who’s Sari Now? for the BBC.

And last night I found myself on the phone with Pik Sen Lim who made her name as Su-lee, the Chinese Communist student in the British sitcom Mind Your Language. She was in London doing some filming.
Shanon Shah, Michelle Lee, Unku, Vera and Vik
As we walked out of the studio to Bethnal Green tube station late that night, the temperature had dipped further but we were oblivious to that. We had that typical long lingering Malaysian goodbye all along the way. So many Malaysian talents abroad and so little time to cover them all, I muttered to myself as I walked home in the cold night air,

Read more: I'M EVERY WOMAN: Talents without boundaries

Friday 1 October 2010

Memorable memories are made of these

TOO many memorable images of events from this week are playing like a slide show in my mind — those that I had captured in my camera as well as moments I did not but which will forever be etched in my memory. A lot has happened in the past week that keeps tugging at my heartstrings and reminding me of home with a certain surge of patriotism and nostalgia.

On-going Hari Raya open houses, a belated Merdeka celebration and the climax of the Malaysian Kitchen campaign fervently promoting Malaysian food at a pasar malam that momentarily transformed Trafalgar Square: All served to make one yearn for home but at the same time be grateful that home can actually come to you.

Last Sunday, Malaysians in the UK had a very belated Merdeka Day celebration at the usual venue, the sprawling grounds of the Tun Abdul Razak Rubber Research Institute in Brickendonbury. It was made all the more special when the King and Queen of Malaysia graced the occasion with their presence.
The sun came out, after an awful day before that. At close quarters, I noticed how young and dashing the royal couple looked.

There was a time when our kings and queens were old, but that, I believe, was because I was much younger then. The Queen brought back memories of the time I had spent with her mother when we were in school. That must have been 40 years ago. Time certainly has wings. I watched the dancers on stage, as I emceed the show (I usually do when they perform in London, or elsewhere in Europe). These talented dancers, my daughter included, were mostly born and bred in London. I had witnessed their development as they took their first faltering zapin and inang steps under the watchful eye of their dedicated dance teacher Khalid Din. Their love for traditional Malay dances is amazing. They bravely danced on in the cold blustery winds at the pasar malam in Trafalgar Square the night before. But they persevered, with smiles on their faces, urged on by the appreciative crowd which didn’t seem to get enough.

I remember persuading my daughter to join the dance class as I myself had been denied such an opportunity.
At the convent school, we were only taught the Irish jig and the Scottish dance. So, I had placed my hopes on my daughter. Her first Ulit Mayang performance almost reduced me to tears. And now in true 1Malaysia spirit, she can even do the Indian dance, which she did when the Sri Bulan Dance Troupe was invited to perform in Croatia. They have really been a true cultural ambassador for Malaysia.

Enjoying the sun and the celebratory mood, children in bright baju Melayu and baju kurung ran around while waiting for their turn to perform the dikir barat. They waved little flags in their hands and some even attempted a sword fight with these. But once on stage, they behaved very well, swaying and waving the flags on cue.

One familiar figure who would turn up without fail at the carnival was there — a shadow of his old self. Every year I see him, a lone figure, walking around with a basket of fruit or a packet of sweets to distribute to the children.
Last year, he took to the stage and attempted a song. This year, he looked very lost. I have documented him in my mind and in my memory card for I have followed his development for a while now.

He was the brave young man who wanted to cycle around the world but love stopped him in his tracks in London.

The year the late Tunku Abdul Rahman came to negotiate Malaya’s independence, he was there with a group of friends to meet the first Prime Minister to be. He has a picture to prove it.

As the carnival came to a close, he cut a forlorn figure walking back to his awaiting transport.

Afdlin Shauki entertaining the crowd at the carnival

It was nice to see the stand-up comedian making a special appearance. I had met him when he came with Sheila Majid to Ronny Scotts some years ago. We enjoyed his comic act with his sidekick Johan but it was his last performance that did it for me. Waving the little flag, he invited us to be on our feet and to sing along the patriotic song Setia, and as I did so, stumbling and choking over the lyrics, the dam burst.

It’s funny how little things would trigger off memories. As I said, the night before was the hugely successful pasar malam at Trafalgar Square to promote Malaysian food.
Trafalgar square transformed - pix by Debbie Braggs

The rain in the morning threatened to dampen the spirit but even as the temperature dipped further, it failed to stop people from converging in the square. The 20 or so foodstall owners were out of food by 8am. One stall was selling peanuts left over from the nasi lemak. Everyone had expected a no-show as the weather was so horrible.

The queue for Puji-Puji’s satay was so long that by the time you got to the front there was not a stick of satay left! Needless to say, a lot of people were disappointed, but the cultural performances by Sri Bulan and Nusantara compensated for this. The gamelan and traditional Malay music filled the air.

The Coventary Dikir Barat Group

Girls and boys carrying baskets of red hibiscus distributed them to visitors who pinned them to their collars or pockets or tucked them behind the ears. What a beautiful sight. It triggered memories of what my friend, the late Datin Peggy Taylor, once told me. Tunku, a very close friend of hers, had confided about the choice of the red hibiscus as a national flower. Why the hibiscus? Peggy had asked. It wilted very quickly. To this came the retort that she mimicked very well: “What’s the probleeeemmm?” Indeed, what’s the problem? I wore mine proudly on my scarf when I went to the carnival as did thousands of others.

These are what memories are made of.

Read more: I’M EVERY WOMAN: Memories are made of these

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Lingering memories of train journeys

IN a few minutes, the 1235 from Paddington will leave for Paignton, and that is somewhere in the south west of England. I was supposed to be on the 10.35 but as fate would have it, I missed it, not because I was late in purchasing the ticket, but because I was too early.

I had bought the tickets a day earlier as I didn't want the hassle of queuing up. But Mr Murphy had to be right, as always. If things want to go wrong, it will go wrong, even the best laid plans.

The tickets I bought from the machine was apparently valid only for one day and I was turned back at the ticket barrier to join the long queue of backpackers and families with children escaping London to enjoy the last few days of summer.

I have always loved train journeys as they give me the luxury of being with myself and my thoughts.

I am now on the First Great Western train, one of Britain's national train networks. It is fascinating to watch the English countryside whiz past my window. This being a weekend, people are enjoying barbecues with their friends out in the back garden. The English, they do love their gardens: Neatly trimmed hedges with beautiful flower beds and hanging baskets in a riot of summer colours.

The suburbs soon make way for vast green fields - cows grazing and sheep looking like small cotton balls, dot the vast fields now turning brown after quite a harsh summer. I note that some of the cows are sitting down. It will rain, says my husband, if cows sit down. And true enough, rain starts pelting on the windows as we criss-cross along the British countryside.

Being a creature of habit, I never leave the station without two - not one - mushroom parcels and a cup of piping hot coffee from Delice de France. And after drowning my sorrows of losing the price of one train ticket, in what inevitably became cold coffee, I allow my thoughts to turn to Mak.

Mak too loved train journeys. When we were young, train journeys during school holidays were a treat. We'd talk about nothing else in school about the impending adventure from Yan to Johor Baru.

We used to take train journeys from Alor Setar to Johor where Kak and Abang were stationed. An announcement of a train journey was welcomed with sighs of relief as it meant not the usual trips to Penang or Pantai Merdeka.

From the first whisper of the holiday plans, we spent sleepless nights, too excited to do anything else. And Mak would start packing things she'd bring to her firstborn who had followed her husband to what could only be considered as the furthest point south from where we were in Kedah. There would be food and things she thought her eldest daughter was going without. Mothers are like that. Now I understand.

But most importantly, I remember how she'd wake up in the morning and prepare food for us that would last us through the long journey from north to the south of the peninsula. There'd be rice and chicken dishes carefully packed in tiffin carriers and drinks in flasks and towel-wrapped containers. Boiled eggs were almost mandatory - we never left on long journeys without boiled eggs.

I remember most the early morning drive from Yan to Alor Setar where we'd patiently wait for the train and then the short ride to Bukit Mertajam. Now, this is the bit which I could never forget. Whether this part of my memory had been exaggerated by time gone by, I don't know. But I remember the rush - bags, tiffin carriers and more bags up the overhead bridge to the waiting southward bound train. It seemed to me than that the train would only stop for five minutes and no more!

Then the search for seats. By then most coaches would be full of tired soldiers on home leave, other families also going on holidays, screaming babies in sarong hammocks suspended from the ceiling of the train... it was chaotic.

The highlight of the train journey must be the stop in Ipoh when we were stirred from our sleep by sales pitches of food vendors plying up and down the platform skillfully balancing their food stuff on their heads.

Never mind the food Mak had painfully prepared for us, buying from the vendors was more exciting.

As we pull into Pewsey, a small village in Wiltshire with its small quaint station, I remember the train journeys criss-crossing Europe to as far as Budapest, journeys along the beautiful Rhine with chateaux and castles dotting the mesmerising landscapes that usually brings me back again to those childhood days reading about princesses in captivities and charming princes coming to their rescue.

Oh well, the train has stopped and so has the rain. But beautiful memories of train journeys linger on.

Those article first appeared in my column in NST here.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

The Legacy of Dalilah Tamrin

WE were totally lost in that place called 1 Utama. Shahieda from Cape Town was depending on me to find the place where the mak cik Bloggers were meeting but even after numerous phone calls for directions, we were still nowhere near. 

Finally we were told to stay put as someone was sent to rescue us. Within minutes, we saw our saviour, her face breaking into the biggest, most cheerful smile and arms outstretched she embraced us, one after another. This saviour, who walked the distance from the eatery to find us, was Dalilah Tamrin or better known as Raden Galoh of the now hugely popular blog

Dalilah left us exactly a week today after succumbing to the dreaded C.

But she didn’t go without a fight. She fought to her last breath and left behind a legacy precious and educational. The walk that she took to “rescue” us was indicative of what Dalilah was — not one to sit back and wallow in self pity. No such thing as “I am the one suffering, so come to me”.

Indeed, as many had pointed out, looking at Dalilah and her glowing smile, her infectious positive attitude and, most of all, her fighting spirit, there was no sign at all that she was a cancer sufferer.

Different people deal with adversities in different ways.

When a friend Ruby Ahmad passed away from cancer, it took me a long time to reconcile the vivacious, active and forever positive Ruby with the person who had succumbed to cancer. She never talked about it and I only found out via a long email from her husband. She chose to deal with it quietly but, at the same time, she tirelessly gave talks, networked and gave her all before passing on. 
Dalilah chose to share her experience, the highs and lows that had benefitted not only sufferers but also carers of sufferers and those close to them, for they too suffer.

This mother of two young boys would have been 43 last week. Paralysed by fear of the dreaded disease and the attendant problems as well as what is now the inevitable outcome, Dalilah started a blog that would act as a catharsis to the turmoil within, a journal that had taken its readers on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and a painful but meaningful diary of a dedicated and loving mother and wife. Onebreastbouncing was indicative of the humorous nature of someone who refused to be defeated. Breast or no breast, she soldiered on.

She had and still has a huge following.

She appeared on TV shows, gave talks and created awareness about the disease.
As if that wasn’t enough, she wrote a book: Kanser Payudara Ku: Perjuangan Dan Kesedaran (My Breast Cancer: The Fight And The Realisation).

According to Nasirah Aris, a close friend of Dalilah and advisor to the Pride Foundation, a charity supporting cancer sufferers, most cancer sufferers are positive in sharing their experiences to create awareness and participating in programmes such as walks and mountain climbing.

Dalilah seemed to have that boundless energy. During her last few months, she seemed preoccupied with her own project, a charity project for cancer sufferers. Gifted with words, she penned down what would seem her final message, in preparation for her last journey.

The cyberworld offered a helping hand in the form of a songwriter friend, Intan Nazrah, who lives in Dubai, who helped out with the lyrics and eventually sang the piece that is now resonating in blogs and Facebooks of her followers.

For Intan Nazrah, who writes for the likes of Anuar Zain, it was a painful journey too as her own mother had died of breast cancer.

The song was ready just before Dalilah left to fulfil her last wish. Whether she had listened to it was still uncertain.

Dalilah wanted to perform the umrah, the mini Haj. She was high in spirits before she left but it wasn’t the same Dalilah who returned. Her last status on her Facebook reflected the feelings of someone who was reconciled with her fate.

Despite her pain and discomfort, Dalilah, who was being looked after by her mother, worried more about interrupting the latter’s sleep with her tossing and turning. She knew that she was at the end of her journey, and all she asked for before her last breath, was for the taming of the raging pain within. Goodye Dalilah, you’ve been a source of inspiration and your legacy will live on.

The mak cik blogger world will be a less cheerful place without you.


Picture of Dalilah Tamrin reproduced in NST and in this blog with kind permission of Datin Mamasita.

Friday 16 July 2010

Coffee with Constance Haslam

FOR most of us over a certain age, our growing up years would have been touched by the dulcet tones of Constance Haslam; cheerful and chirpy while delivering request programmes, professional and informative when delivering the news, and warm and friendly during chat shows.

Hers was the voice you’d like to wake up to or have as a soothing companion during the dai battle with the traffic to work. I remember Constance well from those Bakat TV years and enjoyed, and envied her tremendously as she was so versatile and talented.

Like thousands of her listeners, I felt I knew her as she was in my living room, morning and night. And so, when a few years ago I met her in Paris, it was without any hesitation that I walked up to her to continue a friendship which started with her Good Morning programme. She was my “Good Morning” girl!

Constance Haslam, or now Constance Behr, has made France her home for the past 10 years. Having left the world of broadcasting, Constance, better known as Connie, is enjoying life and doing things she never had the chance of doing when she was working.

“I’ve done a lot of things that I never had a chance of doing when I was in Malaysia. I’ve joined the Women’s International Club in Paris, learnt French and German, played tennis and bridge and do porcelain painting,” says Connie when we met again recently in Versailles where she and husband Erwin Behr have made their home.

Over coffee and croissant at a quaint French cafe, to her apartment and later over lunch at Chateau Versailles, Connie reflected on her broadcasting days in RTM, the move to Singapore with her husband and later to France.

“I opted out of government service in 1990 and then joined Redifussion for two years working in the PR division. I opted out at the age of 45 after 26 years of service,” she said of the career that started in programme operations. It was only when the English service was short of people that Connie was asked to get behind the microphone where she began reaching out to a lot of people in both Malay and English.

She was the voice among other well-known voices such as Patrick Teoh, Alan Zachariah and Yahya Long Chik, Razali Hussein and Connie Ee — the Forces’ favourite.

“Broadcasting in those days was interesting. I always found radio more challenging than TV because I could express myself in my voice. My love of debate, elocution contests and concerts helped although we did have people from the BBC who came to train us at RTM.

“When TV started, I became the first non-Malay compere, in fact the first female compere for Bakat TV. That was the time when I actually felt like a film star. There were cameras everywhere and, for the first time too, people put the name to the face and with a name like Haslam, I suppose I became interesting. It sounded like a Malay name but I didn’t speak like a Malay,” she said with a laugh.

Connie was a Jane of all trades, but admitted that her favourite was the morning show.

“I had to get up at 4.30am and never knew what breakfast was. But I psyched myself up, did exercises and had a cup of coffee before driving through the quiet roads of Damansara through Petaling Jaya to get to the office.”

Once in the cubicle, Connie spoke to the whole of Malaysia.

“Initially, we always had somebody opposite us, and we’d instruct that person what songs to play, but later we had to learn to play the records at exactly the point we want the music to start,” explained Connie who had interviewed Gloria Estafan, Dionne Warwick, Jose Feliciano, Bjorn Borg, the Bee Gees and even Omar Sharif.

The fact that Connie became a household name and a well-known face was not without its disadvantages. She had many fans but one took to stalking her at the office.

“I was contacted by the reception who told me that someone was there to see me. I went down and saw this guy whom I didn’t know. I asked him who he was and he was angry that I didn’t recognise him,” she recalled.

“He said, ‘You don’t recognise me? But whenever you read the news, you always wink at me!’. He was instantly removed.”

Connie can now remember those episodes with a smile. In the little town that Connie calls The Noisy King in Versailles, Connie and her husband take regular walks and travel a lot, attend cultural shows and exhibitions. She looks forward to a visit by her only granddaughter on whom she dotes, and visits her mother in Malaysia twice a year.

Connie is leading a full life in retirement, enjoying everything that she had missed during the years she had dedicated her time to work.

“Living in the countryside, yet not too far away from a city is something I now enjoy and the thought that I have made time for myself to do other things in life is a great fulfillment.

“I was very prepared for retirement and that is why I didn’t miss doing what I did. I learnt a lot of new things and learnt what I didn’t know I could do like porcelain painting.”

Although Connie has left her broadcasting days, she still remembers her theme tune — I Am What I Am by Gloria Gaynor.

“A friend Dr (now Datuk) Ridzwan Bakar brought back from England a 45rmp single. He said the song describes me. I then used it for my programme.”

Thursday 24 June 2010

World Cup Fever

WHEN I saw a big package lying in the middle of the living room in a friend’s house, I suspected this was a bad case of World Cup fever.

I guessed it to be a widescreen TV. All this while, the family had been content with a second hand model, with grainy visuals. On certain days, it only served as a radio as there was only audio, no visual.

But World Cup 2010 changed all that — a new 46-inch HD TV dominated the living room.

Our family life, save for the the boys’ fascination with the clubs of their choice, had so far been untouched by the World Cup. The eldest, an Arsenal fan and on holiday in Portugal, had sms-ed to say he hadn’t bothered to watch England’s dismal game with USA. As Robert Green watched the ball literally slip from his grasp into the net, our youngest (a Barcelona fan) was working in the kitchen of a friend’s restaurant, earning money for his tuition fees.

This lack of interest was perhaps due to England’s continuous failure to bring the cup back.

All around us, St George flags waved from rooftops, car tops and tow trucks, and also adorned the faces of fanatic fans singing Engerland, on their way to pubs and restaurants to watch the game. An hour before kickoff time, as we made our way to our weekly religious class, the road was eerily quiet and empty.

We were non-committal about the whole thing — I couldn’t even name one player and was surprised to learn that England had a new captain, whose face crumpled as Green’s blunder allowed the equaliser with USA.

The husband, I must admit, had improved dramatically his knowledge about football and footballers but not enough to make me worry about becomign a World Cup widow. One year, when France was hosting the World Cup, he was in Paris and he must have been the only one trying to get out of the city when most people would have killed just to be there.

Another World Cup year, we took a visiting cousin on a tour of London, which seemed extraordinarily quiet. We even apologised for the lack of life in the city. But our cousin, on his first visit here, didn’t seem too keen on the tour, looking a tad restless as we showed him the historic sites. Finally, he found the courage to ask whether we could perhaps go home as he wanted to watch the World Cup final on TV.

“How could anyone travel all the way here and just want to watch TV?” was the quizzical look on my husband’s face.

Anyway, on the day England met USA last week, we were all assembled in the friend’s living room with the new widescreen TV properly installed.

Kick-off was 1930 hours. So was the scheduled weekly religious class. While waiting for the young ustaz and some other members of our small congregation, we played some trivia game as the TV showed ads and promos. So, the last time England won the World Cup was in 1966, denying Germany the cup by two goals! A friend wearing an England jacket, proudly pointed to the one star above the lions, which meant one World Cup cup so far. When USA met England in 1950, England was defeated 1-0. So what are the chances for England this year?

The late arrival of our ustaz meant that we saw the kick-off on the widescreen, beamed all the way from South Africa. The field looked so green, the roar of the crowd seemed to echo forever in your ears and suddenly, the game was interrupted by an advertisement. How strange, even for someone who had never followed football on screen. The husband, sitting right in front of the screen, was woken up from his slumber by chorus of protests.

When we were brought back to the match, England had already scored and we had missed the moment. In fact, everyone watching the game on TV missed it and no matter how many times it was repeated, in slow motion and from all angles, that brief interruption had spoilt it for us.

“But England always started well only to lose in the last minute”, quipped a friend, watching the door for the appearance of the ustaz. And true enough, when the ustaz finally made his appearance, we saw Green diving for the ball, grappling with it and the torturous moment when the ball slipped from his hands into the net.

There was a heart-rending groan from the apartment across the street as we switched off the new widescreen TV and turned our attention to ustaz.

The St George was still flying proudly from rooftops and car tops as we drove back that night along empty motorways. No celebrations on the streets, save for some drunkards, their faces depicting a crumpled St George, making their own merriment outside empty pubs.

We survived the England match that night. For us , it was an equaliser as well: One to World Cup, one to ustaz.

This column was based on England's first game against USA and was published in the NST on 22nd June 2010.

Monday 31 May 2010

Name dropping in Milan

ON our first day in Milan, our Italian guide kindly offered to take us to Montenapoleone. That’s the place, he said, where rich people, like rich Malaysians, shop.

My first instinct was to say no for obvious reasons, but my curiosity got the better of me. A picture of that famous street with those famous names would make a good Facebook update, I thought. And who knows, I may even bump into the who’s who of Malaysia’s A-list. After taking in the imposing Duomo Cathedral, we walked past the Ferrari shop into a relatively quiet road leading up to the bustling Montenapoleone. A Lamborghini parked at the top of the road was enough to tell me that we were in the right place.

Milan is that kind of a city — brand names scream at you from every nook and corner. Gucci tempts you from across the road, Versace dares you from around the corner, Prada lures with dignified silence. Crossing the road the Italian way, dodging Vespas and taxis, I remembered when I was about eight crossing busy Orchard Road in Singapore to look at Robinson’s. That was the place to shop if you were a somebody during the 1960s. 

I recalled holding on to Pak Lang’s hand tightly, asking him for the umpteenth time: “Where are we going?” He said simply: “We’re going to see where the rich shop.” Forty-odd years on, I was to experience that same feeling — standing outside Armani, Ferragamo, LV and other names with funny jumbled-up letters, shocked at their price tags.

“Those without a price tagsa, usually you can’ta afforda!” our companion offered kindly, with a shrug of his broad Italian shoulders. Well, that was subtle enough. But it didn’t dent my ego at all as I hadn’t come to Milan to shop. Besides, my husband had advised: “Don’t buy until you can pronounce them!” 

But what about those who gloated about their DIKNEY bags (DKNY) and OINX (Onyx) tables? It’s almost sinful, isn’t it? I still remember the time when I received a fax from a friend to check the price of a Ferragamo. I wondered why would someone sitting in her office in Kuala Lumpur want to know about the price of an Italian dish in London! 

Well, I had since progressed, and there were many more famous Italian names that I had come to see. It started last month, when during a visit to Paris, in between appointments, I told a friend that I just needed to see Mona Lisa. Ten years ago, I had queued for half-hour under the French summer sun, only to come face to face with a stamp-sized portrait of the lady with the mysterious smile. In my mind, it was a picture larger than life, but the disappointment didn’t last long. I had returned to Paris to get reacquainted with the famous lady. Leaving The Louvre with several portraits of Mona Lisa, I promised to start a collection of famous paintings by famous names — on fridge magnets, of course! 

A few days ago, I visited  museums in Munich which housed Rubens, Van Goghs and Picassos, among other famous names, enough to last me a lifetime. Van Gogh’s Sunflower nearly had me in spasms of delight in that sedate, dignified gallery of the New Art Museum. The same could be said when I came eye to eye with Monet’s Water Lillies. Suffice to say, I left clutching a few Monets and Van Goghs to adorn my fridge. 

On this maiden Milan visit, I was thrilled to visit more museums with more national treasures hanging on their walls. Yesterday, it was Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The guide’s explanation of Da Vinci’s mathematical approach to his famous artwork left almost everyone speechless. Every little detail of expression: a frown on the forehead, a curl of a finger, all tell a story. 

Next, we headed to Lake Como, Italy’s third-largest lake. A cruise across the lake to Bellagio, a paradise for lovers of silk and leather goods, gave us a sweeping view of the Italian landscape, with clusters of villas with intriguing frescos dotting the hillsides. Once in a while, the boat would slow down so we could feast our eyes on villas belonging to George Clooney, Versace and Sir Richard Branson. One villa, with a garden of palm trees and cascading greenery, had been a location for a James Bond movie, I was told. How’s that for name dropping?

This article first appeared here

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Crazy Cravings

CRAVINGS during pregnancy is something I have long forgotten and banished to the dusty archives of my mind.
But it came hurtling back recently when I met an elegantly pregnant woman who had travelled all the way from a far-flung corner of the British Isle, in search of cincaluk.
Yes, cincaluk. To have a craving is something, but to have a craving for something that is almost impossible to get, is another thing altogether.
Before venturing out to London where Oriental supermarkets store almost everything on their chaotic shelves, she had sent me a message to point her in the direction of the coveted item.
I, the least adventurous person where food is concerned, could only point her in the direction of Chinatown, to which she dutifully went with hopes of bringing cincaluk back to grace her dinner table. Alas, after going in and out of several shops there, she had to leave empty-handed and disappointed.
She had been disappointed once before when all the postman delivered to her front door was a letter from the Customs to say that they had confiscated the bottle of precious cincaluk that her mother attempted to post.
But she wasn’t about to give up, or rather her hormones dictated that the normally intelligent and reasonable person with a pretty sensible head properly screwed onto her shoulders, shouldn’t give up.
These hormones can make a Jekyll and Hyde out of the most placid person on earth. They can change tastebuds overnight, making a meat-loving person into a vegetarian and cause a normally diet-conscious person to throw caution to the wind and eat stuff that she would usually throw out the window. They can reduce a professional and tough decision-maker into a weeping wreck or a monster just because she can’t get what she craves for.
I could certainly identify with these people. During my first pregnancy, I cried buckets because I couldn’t get the correct mee goreng mamak — correct being the way it was cooked by the mamak pushing his cart at exactly 5pm along Light Street in Penang.
I sulked throughout the night just because my husband mentioned salt beef and chopped liver and there was no way he could pacify me because it was already midnight. He watched helplessly as I sat crying before a container full of prawn sambal that was flown in all the way from that a particular stall in Kampung Baru, KL, but had gone off during the 12-hour flight.
During another pregnancy, attempting to make the keropok that I was craving for, he gallantly rolled up his sleeves for the culinary feat, only for it to turn out to be keropok lekor, which I totally disliked. Why couldn’t I just crave for asam boi or some pickle that could be easily obtained from Chinatown?

Sure, there have been studies to suggest that the body craves what the body lacks but why does this render one to be almost obsessive especially in the quest for the forbidden?
A friend knew what coffee beans would do to her and the baby in the womb, but throughout two pregnancies, she chewed handfuls of coffee beans as she would peanuts.
One baby turned out to be hyperactive and the other had a skin allergy although this was not conclusively linked to the coffee beans.
My eldest sister pined for duck hanging on the rack in a non-halal restaurant. All she wanted was a bite of the meat dripping with fat. This is nothing compared to the woman who ate charcoal and another who chewed pencils.
Looking at some studies carried out in attempts to explain why women had different foods cravings, I came across one conducted in Sri Lanka and published in the Indian Journal Of Public Health. A total of 1,000 women took part in the study which noted that “pregnancy cravings were significantly higher in women who married after a love affair than in those who had an arranged marriage” as well as in “women who were superstitious (e.g. believed in devil dancing) than in those who were not.”
Considering how inconsiderate and ridiculous some of the demands made on the helpless husbands are, I am inclined to support the finding linking love marriages to pregnancy cravings.
What else can explain the long journey into London and the futile search for cincaluk?

This piece was first published here.

Kak Teh's other Obsessions:

Picture from Connie Martin's.

Monday 5 April 2010

More notes from under the duvet

The boiler seems to be on the blink again and as it is Bank Holiday here, no one can be persuaded to come and have a look at it. So the duvet seems to offer the warmest place as I oscillate from FB to Blog stopping to read news online somewhere in between; anything at all to stall my long overdue article from completion. 

I must admit that I have been lured back to FB, a place I swore I'd never put a foot in again. A friend suggested that I reactivate my account to retrieve some photographs from her and once I pressed the button, there was no turning back.  There I discovered the place where friends congregate: friends who had been slowly disappearing from my comment box and from my beloved a virtual village which was once ringing with laughter over pantun wars, is now quiet. Initially, I had problems putting names to faces as in FB most except Mekyam, use their real names. 

I found old classmates and I even found my mother!!!  My nephews and nieces, siblings and relatives are there as well. Our family members used to meet up in but some bright spark decided that FB is a more convenient place to meet.  She even ghosted my mother's account!

And guess who else I met there?  Our wedding photographer!! Zubir, or Tok Bet as he is affectionately known, is an old family friend who is related to my brother-in-law and by marriage, related to Puteri Kama.  FB is indeed a small world.  Being in touch with him brought back memories of that fateful day - 9th December 1979.  Tok Bet is almost a brother to us, bunking in with my brother most nights when we were living in Yan.  After our simple bersanding, he ushered us to the bedroom for the standard 'sitting on the bed' pose.  The room wasn't big enough for him to move around, and as he walked backwards to get a good picture, he tripped backwards into the bathroom!!

The virtual world, through all these social networking sites, is forever interested to know what we are doing, what we are thinking.  I wonder why.  So, in a haste, and still procrastinating over the article I am supposed to write, I wrote: ZO's dilema: should I write for blog or cari makan?  This prompted quite a few suggestions. 

Now, I had considered myself quite a veteran in this cyberworld, but it never ceased to amaze me how the online written word could be misconstrued and misinterpreted.  What I had in my head and transfered onto the page, was not what was received.  My dilema was whether I should write an entry for the blog or to write a piece for the newspaper.  Nevertheless, its quite an interesting study of how a written word is read and perceived.  I had failed to convey what was in my head at that point in time.

And as you can see, the blog wins hands down and I will now write to cari makan.

Over and out.

Kak Teh's also wrote from under the duvet here:

Notes from under the duvet

Thursday 1 April 2010

One Spring Morning in the life of a Mak Cik in London

It wasn't the kind of spring morning that one would like to get up to.  Given the choice, you know where I'd rather be.  The promised sunshine never came but instead more forecast of gloom and even doom.  I left the house well before eight, the spirit somewhat lifted only by the sight of pretty yellow daffodils by the front door. And with that and Wordsworth's ryhmes playing in my head in no particular order, I made my way to the station this spring morning sans any spring in my steps whatsoever! I was about to start the day without ryhme or spring.

(Cue violin)

Oh, daffodils, is it really spring when all I feel is perpetual autumn with the onset of permanent winter?  (Ignore this)

The station seemed a long way away and as I passed the green, the empty green, I imagined poor Sofyen playing football with the local boys, my Taufiq included.  At 15, his life was cruelly taken away by a group of schoolboys and girls who attacked him at Victoria Station last week. 

I passed by Betsie's but no cheerful hello from her as she must be in bed still under her comfortable duvet.  Eventually, after what must have been a thousand hours, I made it, swiped my Oyster and climbed up the steps. The tube was crowded and my plan to read was aborted as I didn't have a f ree hand to hold an open book.  No one looked up from their free Metro newspaper or their Blackberries and Iphones, to offer this Mak Cik a seat.  Self pity was fast setting in.  If, by the time I reached Nottinghill Gate and still no seats, I thought, I 'd take the Circle Line, which of course is no longer a Circle Line as it doesn't go in a circle anymore. (Drat!)  And of course, still no seats (more drat!) and I stumbled out with the rest on to the platform at Nottinghill Gate and climbed more steps with more self pity setting in at full speed by the time I reached Baker Street.

I was in a foul mood by the time I saw some ray of sunshine outside the station and dodging tourists and enthusiastic parents pulling their even more enthusiastic children to join the queue at Madame Tussaude, I finally reached my destination.

Regent's Park and the serenity at that time of the morning was a world away from the madness that was about to unfold just a few streets away. Regent's Park and its early morning joggers was a welcome sight to this tired, restless mind.
Regent's Park and its ducks swimming merrily in the canal and its empty benches evoked memories of a beautiful forbidden romance. Regent's Park and its Blue Bench were silent witnesses and accomplice of two lovers who met and sat on the blue bench and contemplated their futile future together. As I crossed the bridge and scanned the place for any blue benches around, I thought of Azhar and Sarah sharing more than just a flask of coffee together during one of their many illicit rendezvous.

As I reached the corner, turning into the big building where I was to spend most part of the day, I wondered whatever happened to the couple; their marriages to their respective spouses and even the originator of the deliciously woven plots. 

Taking more steps up to the meeting room, I found myself  wishing I could come up with something  as intriguing from something as mundane as a blue bench. 

The room was still empty when I got there and sitting down, I pulled out my documents which were about to be scrutinised and torn apart during the best part of the day.

Reading the first few lines, I knew I had better keep to my day job, as the saying goes.
The Mak Cik also rambles here:

Monday 29 March 2010

Goodbye, Ruby Ahmad

This tribute to Ruby Ahmad appeared in my column today (29th March 2010) here.

I’M EVERY WOMAN: Goodbye Ruby Ahmad

Last week, the blogosphere was stunned by news of the sudden passing of one if its gems, Ruby Ahmad. 

It took everyone by surprise as there, still staring from her eponymous blog, is Ruby Ahmad, with her famous ravishing smile, the epitome of optimism and exuberance. Sms-es were coming from all corners of the world, from shocked and stunned friends in cyberspace. After a few phonecalls and messages, I cried myself to sleep and woke up hoping it had been just a bad dream. But more messages on my handphone confirmed the sad truth.

By morning here, entries dedicated to the late Ruby had sprouted in the many blogs of those whose lives Ruby had touched — those who had known her through her writing and “meetings” online and those who had actually met and enjoyed a friendship with her, no matter how brief. There were many.

But who was Ruby Ahmad? The brief description on her blog simply says: “I’m a ‘go for it!’ kind of person. I act on impulse and am a great believer in tackling any problem head-on. Being an eternal optimist, I believe the nitty-gritties will sort itself out at the end! “I place great faith in the positive aspects of human nature and that we should all work in this light so as to live in a humane and just society.” 

Ruby was one of many bloggers who had no qualms revealing her identity. Her pictures of networking with her former Tunku Kurshiah college mates, socialising at charity events, promotions and concerts tell us she enjoyed life to the fullest. She gave as much as she could offer and in this she was almost tireless and selfless. In most of her writings as in her media interviews, she propounded and expounded her belief that we should strive to live in a humane society. She shared whatever she had to motivate the young, gave her input on cluster schools and many more. 

Through her writing and pictures, her readers had the impression of a person who had acquired her wisdom through travels far and wide. She rubbed shoulders with people in the corridors of power, and those in the periphery. We know more of Ruby from her interactions online and in comment boxes. Her continuous banter with Uncle Lee in Toronto, her wise and considered advice to student Daphne Ling and words of sympathy and motivation to cancer sufferers. The nature of online interactions is such that it makes it possible for us to piece together the tracks one leaves behind in comment boxes and put together the person behind the writing. But we could be wrong.

Last week I realised that I did not know Ruby yet like others, I also felt I had somehow known her for a long time. This was the contradiction that was hard to take, and my heart ached as if I had lost someone very close. Ruby Ahmad, the blogger, qualified architect, wife, mother and grandmother, had managed to hide something from all of us right until the end. She had the dreaded breast cancer, which had spread to her liver. This was what took her away from us. On receiving the news, we scoured our mail boxes and comment boxes and even her entries to see whether she had left any clues. Nothing.

I met Ruby in early 2007 after countless interactions online and by phone. She was exactly as I had imagined: outgoing, exuberant, gracious and impeccably dressed. We met many times during my visits home and during these meetings, she revealed a bit more of herself to me. I had seen her work the Ruby Ahmad magic. We were at a dinner table after a concert and she chatted and listened to someone everyone else seemed to be ignoring. She gave this person her time, which I believe, was much appreciated. At a gala night, like two naughty schoolgirls, we approached a minister who had somewhat admonished women bloggers, and introduced ourselves: “Datuk Seri, we are women bloggers,” after which we ran off and had a good giggle. This and more is the Ruby I want to remember.

Last week, she was taken away from us. But in a special corner of my heart, she will always be there, urging me “Kak Teh, go for it!” Goodbye my friend.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Big Rice Jar

Often times, Mak would take us to Lorong Pintu Sepuluh and point to a dilapidated wooden house where, she said, I was born. I couldnt imagine living there, for when I saw it, it was almost leaning dangerously to one side. And much later, of course, it was bulldozed to the ground to make way for some big buildings. But I do remember the house with the iron gates next door. It was painted yellow with brown shutters. It had an iron swing and lots of guava trees. I remember this house well because this was where I used to play and be doted on by the kind couple who, I was told were childless. I remember the sweets, the kind words and most importantly the big gold medalion that they bought me and which I wore proudly around my neck to pose for a studio photograph. I remember  too the big rice jar, by the window in the kitchen. On our visits there, Mak always said, "Look at the jar. It is always full. Their rezki is always full." Until today, I am always mindful never to leave the rice jar empty.

Pak Mat and Mak Teh were my foster parents. I was always their 'cek' and 'sayang' and in their eyes, I could do no wrong. Apparently, before I came into their lives and into their house, a brother a little older than me, had been their frequent visitor. He was their ray of sunshine. Pak Mat even promised to buy a car to take the three year old around the small town of Alor Star. But it was not meant to be for my brother, Izham, was taken away one night and Pak Mat and Mak Teh were inconsoleable. Pak Mat took delivery of his new car, ripped open the top and took the small coffin in his car for a final ride around the small town of Alor Star.

So, it was after his sudden death that I took his place in their hearts. And even after we moved to the house that Pak built the other side of town, we'd make frequent visits and I'd play on the swing.

Anyway, when Pak Mat died, Mak Teh was cared for by some of her relatives. We kept visiting her, and even after my move here, I never forgot the couple who gave me so much love and treated me like their own child. But during one visit, I was told that she no longer lived in that house with the iron gates. She had been taken away somewhere. Her rice jar, apparently was completely empty, so to speak. I was distraught and when we found her, she was in a house, very much similar to the house that I was born in. In fact it was worse. I found her lying very flat on the floor, unable to move because of old age. And she couldn't see me. But upon hearing my voice in between sobs, she asked, "Bila cek balik, sayang?" Suffice to say, I couldn't say much. I couldn't talk but held her frail hands until she fell asleep. We left and that was the last time I saw her.

On this important day in my life, apart from remembering my mother and late father, I also want to remember Pak Mat and Mak Teh, neighbours who became family and gave me so much love.  When I see a full rice jar, I always remember Mak Teh. Sadly, towards the end, hers was left empty.

Saturday 20 March 2010

And I was there too! (2) - skyping all the way to the wedding!

It was way past six am and I was already late for the wedding.  Grabbed a tudung, (what is fashionably known as the emergency tudung), slid under the duvet again and turned on the Skpe.

So, there I was in my baju kelawar, under the duvet and yet at the wedding of my nephew Zhafri, in Bangi.  Within minutes, I was in my sister's lounge.  Saloma was singing the song 'Selamat Pengantin Baru", the children were running around, my siblings were making themselves busy and I was just a fly on the wall, watching it all happen.

And a feeling of sadness crept in as I watched the merriment and the banterings.  It would have been too costly to go and we had just been back.  But we sent a representative and her friends to the wedding.  Rehana and two friends arrived a few days before the wedding and spent at least three days shopping for the right clothes for the wedding.

One by one, siblings and uncles and aunties came to the screen to talk to us in London.  Such is the wonders of technology.  Then, Mak slowly entered the frame, at which point, I choked back my tears.  She called my name out loud several times but obviously couldnt hear my reply.  Then she said she was at a wedding and was about to go home.  She thought she was just visiting.

That is Mak.  She is so forgetful now.  Rehana said she asked her 'Mana Mak?'  We have come to the conclusion that Mak in her old age is the most diplomatic person to walk this earth.  She asks general questions and yet, people think she remembers.  When my friends visited me when I was home, she'd say, "Laaaa, lama tak nampak!" which is of course true.  But Pak Lang came online to me to say that she repeatedly asked Pak Lang (her brother) when he arrived.  But that is Mak. And I am so happy to see her standing upright and enjoying yet another kenduri of another cucu.
As I had missed the bersanding, the newly weds oblidged by sitting on the simple dias again, just so I could take photographs.

Aaaah, I was there too, witnessed the bersanding, took pictures, heard the wedding songs and felt the excitement in the air.  BUT I didnt get to eat the nasi kenduri!!

Fizah, welcome to the family!
 Pengantin, Mak, Rehana and the family wedding photographer Am)
Mak pengantin waving at us - dah hilang stress?

All pictures taken via Skype camera.  Syokkan?

Kak Teh Skyped here too:

Friday 19 March 2010

When Shireen Meets Zalifah

I was playing with my food when a very attractive lady approached me with a simple "Kak Teh!" She turned out to be Shireen, the one half of Fash - a dynamic duo that has made their name online recently, joining the increasing number of online business people such as Nek RockHandbaghooks , Royal Shopping Arcade and many more, selling everything and anything you want to buy but dont want the hassle of joining the crowd at the till.
It wasn't too long before we were joined by the other half, Zalifah; another vivacious lady who could possible sell ice to an Eskimo.  Sitting at their table was also Shireen's sister, Laila, who is here on a visit and a sort of unpaid staff.

It was an unplanned meeting; but I had heard of them and their business venture and their planned bazaar on 21stMarch at Stowe Centre in Harrow Road.

It is almost a year since they set up their business online and business has been roaring, as they display online their spoils after a day at Biscester, at the sales, at Jimmy Choo Couture and also at the London Fashion Week; the highlight of which must surely be when Fash did  a Birkin coup d' etat!  Well done Fash! That's the way to go.
This duo is unstoppable - although they had just met on this British soil, it is remarkeable that they share so much in common; shopping being the most important factor.  They drive cars of the same make and their husbands are in the same line of work.  And most importantly, they share the same enthusiasm and zest that's almost infectious.

That brings me to their project this Sunday.

So, if you are anywhere near London, and would rather give repeats of American Idol and Eastenders a miss, do go along to Stowe Centre, where there will be a bazaar selling everything from clothes to crystal vases and sardine rolls. 

Monday 15 March 2010

My dearest Ruby Ahmad - Al Fatehah

Al Fatehah - Ruby Ahmad - you had been such a dear friend.  I am so lost for words.  Thank you for the brief friendship that we had.

We met on the net - the go for it kind of person that never failed to bring a smile, and lift you out of your doldrums.  She had time for everyone, she'd listen to anyone.  I had seen her work the Ruby Ahmad magic on people around me. Ruby, a truly amazing gem.  I will miss you, dearest friend.
Al Fatehah.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Kak Teh at the Old Trafford - Bewitched by Beckham

Am still at the Old Trafford.
Will be back with more.

BEBERAPA JAM KEMUDIAN..masih di Old Trafford (media centre)
Ish , tie dengan tudung sama pulak colour!

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Stories from the surau

Of late, I have been regularly absent from the weekly tazkirah at the Malaysia Hall surau.  I have been missing a lot of events organised by Ustaz Erfino, mainly because I had taken on work commitments that require me to work those evenings.  But from friends who attended, I hear news from the surau.

Recently, while preparing a much delayed lunch, my BB signalled that there was a message.  The number was not a familiar one; a number from Malaysia.  The message was simple, asking for someone's name he said he had forgotten.  The name of the sender was printed below.  It was Haji Zainal, our bilal.  My heart leapt with joy upon receiving his message.  He had left for Malaysia to look after his ailing mother.  Being an only child, the task falls on him; and what a noble task. 

We had not said a proper goodbye before he left and so, replying his sms, I said a simple "I missed your takbir".

Haji Zainal's was the takbir that still rings in my ear; the takbir and call to prayers everytime we congregate at the Malaysia Hall surau for the weekly tazkirah, the nightly terawikhs and Hari Raya's and other religious occassions.  His was the melodious and soulful call to prayers that accompanied Ustaz Anwar, Ustaz Abdul Rahim and now Ustaz Erfino. It was his call to prayer that I listened to when I started finding my way to the Malaysia Hall surau in old Bryanston Square and later in Queensborough Terrace. Haji Zainal was every Ustaz's right hand man. The one to witness the solemnisation of a marriage, to witness the conversion of a new brother or sister in Islam, or to replace Ustaz when he wasn't around.  He was always around whenever we had a death in the community.  A familiar figure, offering comfort and the hand of friendship.

He was also the one to come with extra food and drinks to the lady's room at the end of the tazkirah or moreh, to see if we needed anything more.  But he is there no more.

I told him so and I think we both shed a tear or two from both sides of the ocean.

Our families had known each other for as long as we have been here in London.  His wife Nariman, is a dear old friend I had befriended on a ship anchored on the Thames.  We were invited for dinner on the ship one evening and there we were: two young lasses still with no children to call our own. 

Later as fate would have it, we were booked at the same hospital, the same maternity ward for the delivery of our second child.  But again as fate would have it, she had to return to Johore but we both gave birth on the same date.  Our children remain very close friends. 

After the meals following the tazkirah, we'd find Hj Zainal, usually in his faded batik shirt and Javanese cap, outside enjoying his cigarette.  He'd say: where's my menantu? referring to my daughters.  It has always been a standing joke. And then he and Nariman would drive off in their van bearing the words JOWO TURUNAN and proudly flying the Malaysian flag.

Nariman told me recently, that without fail, Hj Zainal would sms Ustaz during every tazkirah.  He too misses the congregation, and by sms'ing Ustaz, it was as if he was there too.

Recently, I missed the Maulud Nabi which I heard went very well, with Ustaz Erfino reciting the Quran and the younger members of he surau reading a text about our beloved Prophet.

To make up for the missing Thursdays, I attend a weekly tazkirah on Saturdays at Tuk Din's, which is just as well as I gather the congregation at the Malaysia Hall is growing larger, Alhamdulillah, with the student community joining the congregation there. 

But there are other familiar faces missing too.  Haji Amin, my husband's close surau mate has been away and in hospital recovering from an operation.  Last Sunday, I busied myself in the kitchen, making sardine rolls when I heard that he could start eating normal food now.  Usually after every tazkirah, he'd sit talking to my husband and sensing my presence, he would jokingly say: Bila nak dapat makan sardine rolls pulak?

And so, with sardine rolls straight from the oven, I made my way to St Mary's hospital with Tuk Din and Midah last Sunday.  Haji Amin, Alhamdulillah was in good spirit, especially when he heard that we brought chicken soup and sardine rolls.

I heard that also missing is Kak Puteri - an old member of the Malay community in London, whose banter
with Ustaz Erfino, will be much missed.  She has gone back for a very long holiday. Still etched quite vivid in my mind is Kak Puteri taking Chef Mail to task over the issue of bolied eggs!

Pak Mat Abu and Kak Siah are also missing.  Pak Mat, once popularly known as the only Malay tube driver in London ( for he drove the tube on the Jubilee Line), had phoned me to say he and Kak Siah were going back to Malaysia as he needed treatment after his stroke.  Sadly, I couldnt make it to see him before he left and I hope he will be back shortly fully recovered.                                                       

Just writing about the congregation and the activities at the surau, makes me realise how fortunate we are to have such regular meetings.  Our ustaz for the Saturday tazkirah is a young but wise one; imparting his knowledge to us much older members of the congregation.  Alhamdulillah, we have not been short of learned ones willing to share their knowledge with us.

Kak Teh's other tale from the surau: