Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Never Say Never - An Interlude

YOU know what they say about saying 'never'. While all's fair in love, never ever say 'never', for it tempts Fate. Stick to a non-committal 'maybe' or 'perhaps' or even "que sera sera".

If you want to add an element of drama to it, you can always mutter under your breath, with the appropriate facial expression, of course: "I don't know if I can ever love again".

Not only it sounds dramatic enough, it may also spare you the embarrassment should a knight in shining armour arrive sooner than expected and sweep you off your feet.

At least you can blame Fate. "Dah takdir" (it's fated) or "Dah jodoh" (we're meant for each other), or "Bukan aku cari!" (I didn't go looking for him!"), also with the appropriate facial expression, of course. A hang-dog look wouldn't go amiss here.

I've had girlfriends who, in the aftermath of a broken love affair, tearfully proclaimed to all and sundry that they would never ever trust another man for as long as they live, only to see them hanging on the arms of a new beau before the tears run dry.

What's the deal here? I asked. "So that I can dump him before he dumps me like the last one did," said one. "Oh, it's just lust!" proclaimed another. Whoa!

And then there are those who lament: "I'll never fall in love again. All men are good-for-nothing SOBs. Beasts!" I'm afraid this is where Fate is tempted the most.

More often than not, Fate would wickedly manoeuvre these hapless women into falling in love, again and again, with nothing but beastly SOBs.

Don't say you have not been warned...

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Maaf Zahir dan Batin
kepada semua umat Islam di mana saja berada
terutama kenalan di blogsphere
semoga Allah swt memberkati segala amalan kita

Puteri Kamaliah At-Tarawis sekeluarga

Sunday, September 28, 2008

When Love Comes A-Calling ( II )

What are the odds of meeting your soulmate in an Internet chatroom, only to discover he is a silent voice from your distant past? You do the maths. For chatter GildedCage, it's already a done deal.

Seven years have passed since that fateful evening when GildedCage ('Cage' to her chat buddies) and fellow chatter Ashburn virtually met.
It was a chance meeting that would ultimately take them down the road to matrimony. Yet the wonder of it all has never really sunk in for her and she doesn't even know if it ever will.

February 2001

She was such a klutz in dealing with all things electrical and mechanical and now she had just added the Internet to a long list of gizmos she kept a wary distance from.

She could never fully comprehend the functionalities of her DVD player, camera, handphone, convection and microwave ovens, remote control panels, or anything with multiple buttons on them. She got confused easily.

The Internet was a recent addition to her life. Of course she had known of its existence for a while. In fact, part of her had wanted to explore this new avenue everyone was excited about, but she was afraid of getting lost in the maze.

But since her appointment as editor of her NGO's weekly newsletter, she had no choice but to chalk up the miles on the new information highway. The said NGO was foreign-based and in more ways than one Net-dependent, so she had to go with the flow.

Soon her children realised a new word had crept into their mother's vocabulary - chatting. Mum had apparently discovered a chatroom while riding the Net waves, and went into it with the fervour of a religious fanatic.

While they were happy she had found a new hobby, they weren't so thrilled about her hogging the computer to chat with her newfound friends.

But seeing the changes in her - it was as though she had just awoken from a long, deep slumber - they decided perhaps chatting was her scene, after all.

It was on one of those quiet nights while chatting with her regular 'kakis' in the chatroom that she saw an unfamiliar nickname entering and being greeted with a raucous welcome by her new friends.

Obviously a room old-timer and a he, judging by the nick 'Ashburn' (then again you could never tell in this virtual world), he was warmly introduced to her by a fellow chatter.

She was riveted by the nick 'Ashburn', translated into Abu Bakar (although she learned much later that he was neither Abu nor Bakar), because Abu Bakar was the name of her father who had passed away just three months before.

In the presence of an obvious chatroom supremo, the newbie chatter in her felt somewhat intimidated, so she quietly retreated to her corner to observe the good-natured banterings amongst them.

Soon enough, he graciously manoeuvred her back into the room's chatflow, for which she was thankful. It wasn't fun feeling like a wallflower in a roomful of party revellers.

And so it was; they met virtually most nights to chat and share views about everything under the sun. They found a common interest in reading and singing and spent hours discussing books and songs.

She learned he was into golf, Herman Hesse, Dean Koontz, Stephen King and swing bands - in that order. He learned she couldn't have enough of true-crime whodunits, was a diehard fan of crime writer Ann Rule, devoured autobiographies like there was no tomorrow, and that she loved the ballads of Anne Murray and Karen Carpenter.

She found the friendship comfortable. It was akin to slipping into a pair of worn loafers, a perfect fit. She had some unsolicited details of his life, courtesy of those chatters who knew him personally and had met him.
By the same token, she told him a bit about herself; not much, just enough to keep the friendship on an even keel.

While she found him smart, well-schooled and intriguing, she had no desire to meet him, nor anyone else from the chatroom for that matter. She drew a line at knowing them in the flesh because she wanted to keep the illusion intact....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When Love Comes A-Calling ( 1 )

THE year was 2001. Fourteen long years had passed since her big 'D' in 1987. The four children whom she had raised single-handedly had grown into adulthood. Three had joined the workforce while the fourth was on the threshold of college.

Life couldn't have been sweeter, for her labour of love had begun to bear fruit. She knew she had made the right decision not to remarry. She had the children with her and in the final analysis, that was what counted. Nothing else mattered.

The small but thriving public relations consultancy she had so lovingly built and nurtured since 1990 upon leaving journalism, unfortunately didn't have the strength to withstand the onslaught of the 1997 financial crisis. It buckled under a pile of debts and collapsed.

Undaunted, she sold off her house, well below market price too for times were bad, to pay off creditors. It was back to ground zero for her, having to start all over again, this time poorer than the proverbial church mouse.
Yet she remained upbeat for she had always been the kind of woman resilient in the face of adversity. It wasn't for her to brood or indulge in self-pity. What good could that possibly do?

"Ya Allah, I leave my fate in your hand for you know what's best for me. Guide me, light my way, Ya Allah, for you are the All-Knowing." That was her consistent prayer.

Her business might not have lasted but she was extremely proud of her achievements, limited as they were, for wasn't it the fruit of that labour that put food on the table and those kids through college? Ever an optimist, her glass was never half empty.

The dawn of 2001 saw her in the rat race once again, as senior consultant in an established public relations outfit somewhere in Petaling Jaya. She was back in her element, writing copiously for a financial institution client.

As always, her social life was non-existent. Well, almost. A loner by nature, she had always preferred feline to human company. Besides her children, those rescued strays, their numbers fluctuating every so often, were her pride and joy.

And then there was her weekly commitment to an NGO that she joined four years before. She was a born volunteer, taking after her late grandmother, and the organisation was her platform to do her bit for the betterment of her community.

Money she didn't have much but spunk she had plenty. She had never forgotten the bad times; she knew exactly what it was like to be at the receiving end of someone else's kindness. It was time for her to return the favour. And returned it she did, many times over.

Many a times too she reflected, in her moments of solitude, how difficult and heartbreaking it was for a single mother like her to live life decently, given the stigma and deep-rooted prejudices of a society partial to her kind.

One thing for sure, though; she had long ago decided never to let the narrow-mindedness of a select few dampen her joie de vivre, her joy of living, of life.

Such was the situation in the early days of 2001. The future looked rosy, there was light at the end of the tunnel after all....

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Elviza Writing Writuals Tag II

the odd, sentimental piece - a gift of love

views from my study

God knows I don't deserve any praise nor tag with my haphazard writing and spasmodic, disjointed thoughts. Elviza, you are too kind. The only mitigation I can offer is that they are written from the heart, if that is of any consolation. Here goes..

Q1. Where are you?

In my study which doubles up as my private sanctuary. There's a window to my left, with an unappealing view of Taman Tun rooftops. Looking down, I can see the swimming pool, the wading pool, the tennis court and the two badminton courts.

Q2. What are you writing with?

I no longer own a single, decent writing instrument. There was a time when I was the proud owner of several rather pricey ones with colourful, fancy designs (all of them Waterman, my favourite brand), including a Mont Blanc which was a gift from a daughter. But I lost them all due to carelessness and negligence.

There are a few 'el cheapo' ballpoint pens, freebie pens and a whole stack of 2B pencils, in an unused porcelain mug in its new role as a pen receptacle, on my Ikea-purchased working table. And I keep two Stabilo ballpoint pens (RM4 each) in my handbag for signing purposes.

Q3. What is the oddest object in front of you?

A fancy-looking porcelain table clock, with the etching of a duck wearing a grey bonnet tied with a blue ribbon, and pushing a flower-laden wheelbarrow. There's a yellow duckling standing by the side of the wheelbarrow. The clock, still in working condition, is about 15 years old and badly chipped in places. But it is not going anywhere because it is a gift from a daughter.

Q4. What are you listening to?

Usually the sound of silence because noise distracts. When squeals of laughter from the kiddie pool reach up to my room, I'd close the window and switch on the air-cond. But right now, it's the distant drone of the morning traffic.

Q5. Is there anyone else in the room?

No, no one comes near when I am at the laptop. But I miss feline company oh so very much when I write. In my pre-condo days, the cats would clamber all over me for the best spot to curl up and sleep while I work.

Q6. What time of the day is it?

Dawn is my hour. Words tumble fast and furious in the morning and my train of thoughts doesn't get derailed easily.

Q7. What do you do when you are looking for inspiration?

Old photographs, letters and cards. Sometimes I'd rummage through my book collection for ideas.

Q8. What is guaranteed to remove your concentration?

Any unanticipated show of affection; a sudden peck on the cheek or a gentle squeeze of the shoulders is enough to shatter my peace and solitude, but who's complaining?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Hand of Fate

She (right), with her baby (on her aunt's lap in a London hotel)

THE year was 1976 and she was a young mother of 21, with an adorable baby boy born just a few months before. Home was a cosy bedsit along Priory Road in West Hampstead, a few miles north of London.

The man of the house wrote for a newspaper, a job that took him all over the British Isles and the Continent. The young mother, his wife of two years, worked in a publishing house at St Cross Street in the heart of the city, not far from his own office.

Life was comfortable, idyllic even, for the young family. Weekends were spent traipsing around London and the suburbs, checking out the movies at Leicester Square, visiting museums, galleries, and the many bookstores.

Occasionally they would hire a car, bundle up their child in warm clothing and drive into the countryside, checking out ancient castles and historical sites, or just visiting friends who lived out of town.

Sometimes they would spend weekends at the seaside town of Brighton, a place chockful of Malaysian students that it earned the moniker "Kampung Melayu".

Almost always, the young wife would compare the pebbly Brighton beach to the white, sandy beaches of her hometown: "Nothing like Dungun, not even close," she would say ruefully, a faraway look in her eyes.

But she wasn't melancholic for long, for she was young and full of life and love. The road ahead seemed endless and there was so much to do.

Once they went strawberry-picking with a group of friends, and had a whale of a good time - too good a time in fact, eating strawberries off the stalks - that all of them went down with a stomach upset.

Another time they trooped off to Stratford-upon-Avon to check out Shakespeare's birthplace. They spent the entire day wandering around, poking their heads into every nook and cranny of that quaint little place, and buying souvenirs by the armload.

They boated down the River Avon, taking in the stunning pastoral sight of cows grazing in the meadows, of cottages and farmhouses and barns. Life was incredibly sweet.

Some weekends she would visit Malaysia Hall to have her meals at the cafeteria or just to meet up with friends, her little boy safely and comfortably tucked in his pushchair (she never did learn to call it 'strollers'; it sounded too much like a band of troubadours to her).

On many occasions she spied Malaysian students playing table tennis at the Hall, but there was one young man who particularly stood out. He caught her attention simply because he was the scruffiest of an already scruffy lot.

Her recollection: "He was darkish, his hair was long and unruly. He wore glasses a la John Lennon, and was always in such disagreeable-looking torn jeans. He looked terribly nerdy and unkempt. As you know, I was (and still am) such a neat freak; that was why his image stuck in my mind."

His recollection: "She was young and pretty, rather tall and fair and leggy too, with big glasses, and always with a baby in a pushchair. I often wondered who she was. Even long after I came home, the thought of her occasionally crossed my mind. I was just curious ...."

They met again by chance in March 2001, under vastly different circumstances of course, and married three months later.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pandemonium in Condominium

Are condo walls thinner than the average house wall? It certainly seems so here where we live. Somehow I feel so exposed and vulnerable, with every creak of my bed (ooooh dear!) magnified across a wafer-thin divider.

My children say I am and will always remain paranoid of everything and everyone no matter what the truth. A lot of help they are!

Dear Pak Abu, the logical thinking mathematician not known for his diplomacy at the best of times, thinks the walls are fine. It's my sense of hearing and attention span he worries about.

The man says it baffles him that I can hear the tiniest noise from upstairs but not his running commentary about the state of Malaysian politics, and why some people tend to nod off to sleep in the middle of meetings and such.

As the norm, I try not to argue with Pak Abu's observations because he does have a valid point very now and then. Granted, I am pretty opinionated myself and can be as obstinate as a mule sometimes.

Back to the wall issue, I brought up this subject because the people living above us had been having rather over-enthusiastic domestic squabbles lately. You could hear furniture being thrashed and household stuffs flung about.

I assume furniture were broken because I could hear hammerings the following day, presumably of chair legs being reattached and such. The commotion they caused (the fighting and ensuing repairwork) was distracting, to say the least.

Whilst we weren't nosy-parkers - far from it - we did worry in case the quarrels turned violent. I expressed my concern to Pak Abu but he said we should just sit tight and ride the storm, as it were. And we did, until yesterday.

The pandemonium started just after we completed our subuh prayers early yesterday morning. There was the usual shouting and screaming, followed by lots of stomping and clanging sounds (of pots and pans thrown at each other?).

Much as I was annoyed, I was also amused at the same time because the lyrics of P Ramlee's song suddenly came to mind: "Periuk belanga terbang melayang-layang, menghentam my belakang..."

The clamour, carried by the still morning air, was such that it felt as though our ceiling was about to cave through. I could see poor Pak Abu's temperature rising by the moment. Is this what we moved to this presumably high-end condo for?

Suddenly we heard a woman's voice yelling: "Ooooiii, bulan puasa niiiii!!!" Moments later a man's voice boomed: "Takder malu langsung!!"

Immediately the din ceased. Bless my unseen neighbours for taking the lead. They must have been exasperated beyond reason to do what they did.

Nonetheless, an irate Pak Abu went down to the security guard station, at six o'clock in the morning, to lodge a complaint. I followed up with another report at the management office a few hours later, only to learn I wasn't the first.

Without divulging any more than I should, I was surprised to find out the occupant's identity; quite a well-known personality from the entertainment industry. I just hope that from now on they will keep their domestic scuffles at a manageable noise level.

[I am so very tempted to slip a note under their door, giving them contact numbers of professionals who could soundproof their pad. Honest!]

Now, who says my life is dull?

I Want...

I want to sit on Dungun beach as dawn breaks, and watch as the first rays emerge from the distant horizon.

I want to listen to the gentle lapping of the morning waves as they wash ashore, bearing seaweeds and shells and broken bits of driftwood.

I want to feel the sand, gritty and sticky and wet yet so achingly familiar, under my bare feet as I pace the water's edge.

I want to breathe in the pure, refreshing air of the South China Sea, that hangs over Dungun like a misty blanket.

I want the fisherfolk to hear my heartfelt prayers, as they push their boats out with the first morning light.

I want the turtles to heed my laments, urging them to return to this shore they had abandoned years before.

I want to sweep the dead leaves off my mother's grave, and plant a kemboja tree with its pristine white flowers, in her memory.

I miss Mum, and I miss home...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tahlil, Kenduri & A New Baby

With our last surviving maternal uncle (in red Baju Melayu)

The siblings' first picture together in more than a decade

Last Saturday my siblings and I (minus one, for she lives in Minnesota) got together for 'tahlil' (recitation of prayers for the dead). It has been four months since Mak passed away, and personal commitments had, thus far, prevented us from coming together for a group prayer.

Actually, we didn't need an organised event to perform the prayers. We could all do it individually and in the privacy of our own homes. The gathering was just an excuse for us to close ranks and catch up with the news since Mak's demise.

It was also an occasion for my sister Zaridah to show off her first grandchild. Baby Qadri was born in Kuching just over a month ago and had the privilege of being flown back to Kuala Lumpur two days before the kenduri in an aircraft piloted by his father.

While everyone oohed and aahed over the baby, my own children had their knickers caught in a twist, so to speak, when every uncle and auntie present egged them on with questions like:
"Hah, you all ni bila lagi?"
"Jangan dok tunggu lama-lama la!"
"Your mother nak cucu tu!"
"We all teringin sangat nak makan nasi minyak you!"

The kids were shooting daggers at me, I know. I pretended not to see. Gee, I had no hand in it, okay? I was innocent of any misdeed. Those well-meaning folks needed no prompting to plead my case, anyway.

In all, it was a very memorable evening although I did shed some tears while reading the Yassin. Couldn't help it. It was in the memory of beloved Mak, after all.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

RM16 For A Life


Would you risk your life for RM16.00? I think not. But 23 poverty-stricken women from Pasuruan, East Java, did, and paid the ultimate price for it.

They were trampled to death in a mad rush to claim zakat money of 40,000 rupiah (RM16.00) apiece from a wealthy businessman.

I was deeply saddened to learn of the incident which happened on Monday recently (15/09/08) in Purworejo, Pusuruan, about 800 kilometres east of Jakarta.

Apparently, some 5,000 poor people made a beeline for the businessman's compound as early as 4 o'clock in the morning upon learning he was going to distribute his zakat on that day.

Indonesian newspapers and agencies reported that it had been the man's tradition to give zakat in that manner for many years and there had never been any untoward incident in the past. This time around, however, the waiting crowd got rowdy. The pushing and jostlings caused some of the women, already weakened by fasting, to tumble.

They were promptly trampled on in the ensuing mad scramble.The tragedy left 23 women dead and many more injured, some seriously.

Dear readers, marilah kita ambil iktibar di atas kejadian yang amat tragis ini. Bersyukurlah kita betapa mewahnya hidup kita, tidak perlu mengharap belas kasihan insani lain dan tidak perlu bergadai nyawa untuk mencari sesuap nasi. ..

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blundering Baitulmal

Broadly speaking, Baitulmal means the Treasury. Within the Malaysian context, it functions as a collection and distribution centre for zakat (Muslim property tax) and fitrah (alms). Its job, pure and simple, is to help the Muslim poor.

For the uninitiated, Zakat is third in the Five Pillars of Islam, the framework of the Muslim life. It follows Syahadah (utterance of the testimony of faith) and Solat (prayer five times daily). After it comes Fasting in the month of Ramadan and the Haj (pilgrimage to Mekkah).

Zakat is a tuntutan (demand) of the religion. Mark that word 'demand'; it's a strong word. It demands the Muslim haves to help the have-nots by way of zakat (if you are filthy rich or just plain wealthy, propertied, or with excess funds) and fitrah (personal tithe or alms, a sum so small it's negligible, perhaps in the region of RM5-RM6, although nobody will ever stop you from giving more in the spirit of sadaqah [charity]).

Baitulmal's coffers are brimming with funds. Last year alone, more than half a billion ringgit in zakat poured in, courtesy of Muslim individuals and businesses. The number of people paying and the amount collected are steadily growing ("Poor Muslims slipping through the zakat net": NST, Opinion Page, 18/09/08).

The amount should be more than enough to help the poor, if not eradicate Muslim hardcore poverty altogether. According to the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister's Department, 3.6 per cent of Malaysian households are considered hardcore poor. This means Muslim households living in abject poverty should be less than 3.6 per cent.

Now, if Baitulmal is awashed with more than half a billion ringgit, why are we still reading about fellow Muslims living hand-to-mouth existence, eating one miserable meal of nasi (rice) and kicap (soya sauce) a day? Here we are, fasting in the holy month of Ramadan and gorging ourselves silly come dusk, and our stricken brethren 'fast' every day out of necessity.

Off with the rose-tinted glasses. Let the glaring light of truth blind you senseless. And the unpalatable truth is, many of the hardcore poor are not even listed as zakat beneficiaries.

Go ask Baitulmal why, and I can rewind the list of answers that I heard 20 years ago as a reporter. The oft-quoted excuse, bandied about then as now, is "we are in the midst of compiling a database of the hardcore poor." It's as though Baitulmal is living in a time warp. And all the while, the poor continues to suffer.

Muslims have been paying zakat and fitrah ever since Islam came into being. By the same token, the institution of Baitulmal has been in place since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

The biggest setback, as far as I can see, is that the Baitulmal institution is under the ambit of individual state religious councils. Therein lies the bureaucratic mess.

The councils themselves are so knotted in red tape that, tuntutan notwithstanding, the task of alleviating the sufferings of the hardcore poor becomes secondary.

There have been calls for Baitulmal to be made completely independent by taking it out of the governance of the state religious councils, centralise it and place it under the Council of Rulers, who are heads of Islam for their respective states. I hope this will become a reality soon enough.

And then there's this issue of Baitulmal investing in stock markets and acquiring property. This is zakat funds we are talking about. Scholars are in agreement that zakat should be disbursed and not carried forward into the following year as a surplus.

They cautioned that putting zakat funds into business or risking it on market trends could be haram if the funds are used to generate income while there are still hardcore poor people in the community.

A former Baitulmal director, now retired, once told me his hands were tied when he was heading the institution. "Dia orang sibuk cari peluang nak melabur aja. Kalau biarkan kat aku, aku dah buat rumah murah banyak-banyak bagi kat semua orang miskin yang takder rumah. Habis cerita."

("All they were doing was looking for opportunities to invest [the zakat money]. Left to me, I would have authorised the construction of lots of low-cost houses and give them to the homeless poor. End of story.")

And I know that the soft-spoken Pak Haji would have done it, precisely as he had said it, given half the chance.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Drama Minggu Ini

Okay, here's the deal with the current Malaysian political scenery. I am not and have never been a political kritikus (kerit ditikus ada la), so this is the simplistic take of a simpleton's mind...

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Our slow and sleepy Prime Minister, Pak Lah, is being hounded out of office, with (almost) everyone hoping he would leave us alone to Raya in peace. I heard he has nodded his assent to bungkus tikar. When? Wallahu'alam.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
The Permatang Pauh supremo remains Prime Minister aspirant despite not delivering anything tangible apart from a lot of rhetoric and ayaq lioq. The ever-growing list (if ever there is one), hasn't made its appearance yet, so is tea with His Majesty at Istana Negara. When? Wallahu'alam.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim
De facto Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim, unable (or unwilling, or both) to conform or compromise, has packed up and left the Cabinet. Nobody seems to be shedding any tears. For whatever it is worth, Zaid, I'm with you. At least you walk the talk.

SAPP, Sabah
For better or for worse, SAPP (it's quite ciput actually) has pulled out of Barisan Nasional after SAPPing the latter's energy and testing its patience and level of tolerance. Have no fear, for SAPP is led by rebel (without a cause?) Datuk Yong Teck Lee whose claim to fame is keluar-masuk parti anyway.

Khairi Jamaluddin
Pak Lah's overly-ambitious SIL (doesn't he seem like DSAI of yore in terms of ambition and haste?) has announced he would be going for the Umno Youth head honco post. Good luck, 4th Floor (thank God it's not Fourth Estate). Sorry, I have never been one for upstarts of any shades or hues, so I can't help but feel floored by this fellow.

Datuk Mustafa Ali
This PAS Commisioner for Terengganu spoke from the heart about the "Much Ado About Nothing" episode. Poor Cikgu Pa, he kena kau-kau from his boss Tok Guru Datuk Nik Aziz for being honest. (I have a soft spot for Cikgu Pa, for he once taught me Malay Literature).

Dr M
Still happily shooting from the hip (hidup Che' Det!). There's a lot of noise emanating from his corner of the ring (Did I hear my boss Muhyiddin Yassin and my kin Ku Li cheering from the sidelines?)

Kickdefella/Theresa Kok/RPK
At the moment languishing dalam tahanan as reluctant guests of the government. Hold your chin up, Sheih, Theresa. All will come to pass. RPK? susahla, with him afflicted with verbal diarrhoea most times, so I won't comment.

The economy sucks, prices are rising, harga petrol still high but, all things considered, life is still manageable.

MrsNordin has 7 pairs of baju raya, Bergen is not likely to read any book in the near future, Kak Teh and Awang Goneng are still pining for happy wanderer Nona, Elviza's eyes tetap bulat and beautiful, Pi Bani is not likely to desert her charges any time soon, Mat Bangkai will definitely review more books (hooray!), So...mana ada problem?

Raya tetap Raya!

Books II

Some of the rescued books

Part of our humble collection

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Book Rescue

Is it a normal practice for school libraries to discard old books and reading materials when replenishing their stock? If indeed it is, what is their rationale in doing so?

Aren't libraries supposed to be repositories of knowledge, hallowed grounds where the sanctity of books is preserved and every single book is priceless?

As a book lover, this question has been preying on my subconscious ever since I discovered a stack of well-bound story books in the house of CN, a teacher friend, some time back.

The books were 'rescued' from, of all places, her school library. The irony wasn't lost on her either. When CN found them, they were earmarked for the bin, stacked in the open as trash, awaiting collection by the garbage men.

She said her heart bled looking at those books treated so shoddily. She just didn't have the heart to see such good books simply thrown away willy-nilly, so she discreetly carted some home. I don't know, but I think the librarian should be hauled up and severely reprimanded.

I am not talking about books with loose binding, missing pages, fraying covers and torn edges either (even if they are, there still is no justification in chucking them away). I am talking hardly-read books in reasonably good condition.

I asked CN what she wanted to do with those books littering her spare room. With a mischievous glint in her eyes, she said: "I think I will give them to a friend of mine who lives in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in KL. She loves reading and collecting old things and these books fit both bills!"

These are among the titles that I received from CN. I have gone through them all, and then some. They are good for lightweight reading on lazy afternoons while sprawled on an oversized sofa surrounded by dainty little cushions.

  • One Chinese Moon (J Tuzo Wilson) - true account of a Canadian scientist's travels in interior China in 1958.
  • The Far Province (Francis Cripps) - true account of an Englishman's one-year teaching stint in early 1960s rural Thailand.
  • Amazon Journey (Barrie McBride) - one man's expedition from Peru to Brazil by way of the great Amazon River.
  • One Chilly Siberian Morning (Douglas Botting) - the travels of two British filmmakers into Siberia and Central Asia.
  • Good Citizens (Amabel Williams-Ellis) - specifically written for teens, the book describes the lives of nine English men and women who achieved recognition as scientists, artists and reformers.
  • The Consul At Sunset (Gerald Hanley) - details the story of a small 'incident' and a few years in the lives of a few people in Italian Somaliland when it was administered by the British Military Administration.
  • The Province of the Heart (Phyllis McGinley) - a charming, provocative book comprising many short stories that warm the heart.

Thank you once again, CN, for your kindness and generosity. And keep those books coming!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Breaking of A Heart

My memory is somewhat hazy on the date but not the event. If I remember correctly, the year was 1962 and she was 22. A maiden so sweet and fair, gentle in speech and manner, she was the toast of her small town, after having been crowned Ratu Kebaya in a local beauty pageant.

A picture of her smiling bashfully while holding the winning trophy appeared in Utusan Melayu. That picture and the accompanying news item brought her admirers from near and far; she received letters by the dozen from all over the country.

One smitten young man (who would, one day in the future, become a novelist of repute), courted her for a while through beautifully written letters. While flattered, she dismissed it as a fleeting fancy. She knew nothing would ever come of it, for her heart belonged to someone else.

Occasionally she would help me with my schoolwork, but most times she would sit quietly in her room, sewing her wedding trousseau, dreaming of the day when her beau, in faraway Manchester finishing his studies, return and make her his bride.

He had been away three long years. Just another year and he would be home, to a new life together. She had lived and prayed for this moment. Her face blushed each time his name was mentioned. She was aglow with love.

He sent her newsy, affection-laden letters filled with accounts of his life in faraway England. She read and re-read each one, running her fingers on the words, her love growing with every noun, verb, consonant. Although she wouldn't admit it, she missed him terribly.

The letter that tore her heart asunder arrived in the midst of her nuptial preparations. Nestled in the bolts of fine satin and lace of what was to have adorned the wedding dais and bridal chamber, she sobbed piteously.

"I am sorry to break your heart and I didn't mean it to end this way. The years of separation have taken its toll and I could no longer be true. I have fallen for someone else, she's a colleague, and we intend to marry."

The gloom in our household never lifted. While she stoically put on a brave front among friends and colleagues at the hospital where she worked as a nurse, her mother carried the 'shame' until the day she died.

Grandma never recovered from her nephew's seemingly cruel rejection of his cousin, her youngest daughter. I was eight years old and unable to fathom why mother and daughter often wept while caressing bolts of fine satin and lace....

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Sense of Belonging

Once upon a time, when cornered with "Asal dari mana?" (Where from?), it took me a while to figure out an appropriate response. I could never be sure of what to say.

Short of giving the one asking a lengthy discourse in my Sumatran (paternal) and Kelantan-Thai (maternal) ancestry, I would hem and haw before settling on "Saya anak Terengganu" (I'm Terengganu born and bred).

I was young and impressionable. Terengganu was the established backwaters of the nation; it just wasn't hip to acknowledge oneself as an 'ulu' (hick) chick from the boondocks. Such was my imbecilic, puerile state of mind then.

Speaking of asal (origin), none of us, save the pribumis (aborigines) - the Negritos, Semais, Semelais, Batiks, Sakais, Jakuns, Mahmeris, Ibans, Penans, Muruts, Kadazans etc - can lay claim to having our true origin in this land called Malaysia.

Let's not kid ourselves. We are all pendatang/orang asing (immigrants/ aliens) whose forefathers adopted this country as their own and bequeathed it to their descendants, only to have us betraying that trust by questioning each other's legitimacy to be here.

The Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, the Lain-lain (oh how I despise this term!) all have a legitimate claim over this country. It matters not at what point in time before 31st August 1957 their forefathers dropped anchor along these shores. This is home. Let's not question it anymore.

For the purpose of history, my Sumatran forefathers stamped their presence here a few centuries longer than the rest (perhaps with the exception of the entourage from the Chinese court who evolved into the Babas and Nyonyas).

The Megats, whose ancestral home is Pagar Ruyung in Sumatra, arrived in Tanah Abang (Malacca) in the late 1500s to accompany a Malaccan prince in exile following the fall of the Malacca Sultanate.

They eventually made their way to Perak, pledged loyalty to the Perak royal court, and served nine subsequent Perak Sultans as Bendahara.

The Megats and the Puteris are fortunate to have a well-documented family tree. Proud as I am to belong to the clan, if you were to ask me today, "Asal dari mana?", my answer would still be "Saya anak Terengganu."

I may not have a single stick of property, nor kith or kin, left in Terengganu; it has been 35 long years since I left Terengganu, and the memory of my distant childhood in Bukit Besi diminishes over time.

But the bones of my grandmother, mother and stepfather lie buried in Terengganu soil. I can't leave them. They are family. That's why my heart belongs to Terengganu and that's why I remain "anak Terengganu" until the day I breathe my last.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ramadan Togetherness

Nawwar looking nerdy in Pak Abu's oversized specs

"Hmm.... sedapnyaaa!" - Spoofing Nescafe ad

The family sans Naj, after makan
Breaking of Fast, Royal Lake Club, Saturday 13/09/08.

A Bouquet For Ana

There I was, happily browsing through some karaoke VCDs at Speedy's in One Utama Shopping Centre this morning, when the phone rang. It was my chatter friend Ana, who teaches English in a secondary school in Ipoh.

She was in One Utama herself, checking out the department stores for Raya clothes. She arrived from Ipoh earlier this morning for a quick visit to an ailing uncle and had to be back in Ipoh by the breaking of fast, to be with her children.

It has been almost a year since we last met. We embraced warmly, found an empty bench next to British India, and made ourselves comfortable. Under normal circumstances, it would have been endless chatter and lots of laughter over mocha or latte at Coffee Bean or Starbucks, but it's Ramadan...

I asked after her eldest, Melissa, and was pleasantly surprised to note Melissa has completed her degree course and would be graduating very soon.

I have nothing but admiration for this plucky, single mother of three who raise her children single-handedly while holding a fulltime teaching job. This diminutive woman faces challenge head-on.

I vaguely remember her pursuing her masters programme on a partime basis in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang; faithfully travelling up and down from Ipoh to Penang every weekend for two whole years, despite every conceivable constraint (mostly financial), to attend classes and lectures.

I asked after her studies. "Oh, I have just completed my course and have received a teaching offer in Penang," she confided. "I am taking it up because I intend to pursue my doctorate at the same time."

What she said next almost broke me. "Would you and Pak Abu represent my family at my convocation in March next year? My kids are not likely to make it and there isn't any one else." Oh girl, you can count us in to be with you on your big day! Insyaallah..

Pustularly Yours

Pix: ganoderma lucidum (lingzhi mushrooms)

I am writing this while furiously scratching my bare head. To the uninitiated, it might look as though my hair is the sanctuary of a thousand lice (Eeeeee!). In reality, My scalp is exploding with little pustules and they itch like hell.

The wooden back scratcher is close at hand. Occasionally I reach out to it to rake my back. I know the pustules are there too. This is because I can feel a slight pain when the scratcher roughes over them.

If anyone takes a peep at me now, alone in my study - scratch scratch scratch, type type type, scratch scratch scratch - they might just assume I am doing a monkey dance. Frankly, with all these scratching, I do feel like a monkey at the moment.

Seriously speaking, this is all Pak Abu's fault. Worse still, the dear man meant well. But before I warm up to the subject of blaming Pak Abu (woo, I like this, it's not often I get to blame him for anything!), in all fairness, let me provide some background details (ehem, I subscribe to balanced reporting).

As much as I dislike health supplements of any kind (I find it tedious gulping a fistful of tablets every day), Pak Abu is a disciple of them all - herbs, roots, ginseng extracts, royal jelly, multivitamins, calcium tablets, ganoderma and all the other watchamacallits.

He takes them for a multitude of reasons, so he says; to boost energy, detoxify his body, increase metabolism, strengthen his bones. I am not surprised, of course. After all, he needs all the 'proppings', as it were, since he is an avid golfer.

He tried to induce me to take them too but I wasn't too keen. But the man was so hard on my case that I finally gave in (now you know who can't be a Jane Bond; I buckle under pressure).

Some time back he got started on this ganoderma lucidum thingy - it's a kind of mushroom, also known as lingzhi. He swore by it. So to please him (and to get him off my back, of course), I started taking two capsules daily. Hardly a week later, all hell broke loose, on my scalp, that is.

Therein lies the irony. I got him off my back, only to have my back plastered with those darn pustules. What a trade-off!

He was elated. "You see, your body is full of toxins! Now they are being expelled through those pustules!" All these are not making sense to me. He is the one puffing two packs a day and I am having the pustules? Where the heck do all his toxins go? Where are HIS pustules?? This is sooo unfair!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Singing The Blues Away

The STF singing quartet 1971
(from left): Zam, Jon, Kama, Minah

I like to sing, that goes without saying. However, I can't, and have never been able to, reach the high notes, so no Celine Dion, Mariah Carey or Siti Nurhaliza songs for me. No regrets either, because I am not a fan of theirs.

Unlike some of my regular karaoke buddies at the Club, I have never taken voice lessons. There are two reasons for this; firstly, I don't take my singing that seriously to merit coaching, and secondly, it somehow feels wasteful to spend money just to improve one's karaoke skills.

Had singing been my bread and butter, I probably would have thought differently. I did, in one brief moment of madness eons ago, consider singing as a career, but shelved the idea for I didn't want to hasten my grandma's demise (she said she would die of shame, if I sang for my supper).

In fact she was pretty voluble in berating me for daring to even harbour the notion of becoming an anak wayang (her term, not mine). But I shall spare you the gory details to save us both the embarrassment.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I sang with a kugiran (band) when I was in my teens, growing up in Dungun. We would perform at weddings and social functions for a small fee. It was a five-man band; the lead guitarist was also the lead singer while I was the female vocalist.

To a certain extent my grandma, bless her soul, was quite indulgent of what she termed as my 'nonsense' because she knew I loved to sing. She even sewed my dresses when there were invitations to perform. But that was the limit of her support. She made it clear she didn't want a chanteuse in the house.

When I entered boarding school in 1971 after my LCE, I found kindred spirits in three other girls who shared my passion. Minah, Jon, Zam and yours truly teamed up to form a singing quartet - we called ourselves The Vandovers (I can't, for the life of me, remember why!) - took part in the school talentime and won second place.

When karaokeing, I think I fall into the all-encompassing category of "Bolehhhh lah", which means I won't ruin your appetite if I sing while you eat, and you may even feel entertained. While I can't rate my own performance, I know this much - you won't choke on your food.

I am not particular about genre and language and I have a decent repertoire of English, Malay, Indonesian, Hindustani, Chinese (Mandarin/ Cantonese/ Hokkien) and Thai songs. My forte is ballads although I am quite comfortable with asli and keroncong. And I lurvvv dangdut!

I like Thai songs because I understand the language. My Thai was pretty decent once, by virtue of my serving the Thai Tourism Board for four years. But singing Thai songs to a Malaysian crowd is like entertaining a bunch of deaf mutes. They looked at you blankly. Even the applause was muted, as though they weren't quite sure whether to clap or to boo.

Over the years, I have built a collection over 400 karaoke VCDs - original, cover version, pirated, remixed - you name it, chances are, I have it. That translates into some 5,000 songs.

More recently, I bought a karaoke system that comes with two microchips of another 5,000 songs. Where I'm going to find the time to learn all these songs, only heaven knows. But I do spare a couple of hours a day exercising my vocals - no, not by nagging Pak Abu - but in anticipation of the next karaoke session.

Life is simple. Life is good. I love it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


There are a lot of things in life I am both wary and weary of; from bad drivers and lousy parkers to conmen and snatch thieves, from fairweather friends and deceitful kin to tale carriers and yarn spinners, from pessimists and nay-sayers to the opinionated, the prejudiced and the holier-than-thous .. the list is endless.

While hardly a model citizen and paragon of virtue myself, having had the unenviable past of being a shallow-thinking moron in my younger days, I try to redeem myself by trying to be more accepting and less judgemental. Be that as it may, I would be the first to admit it is easier said than done.

Given my age, I guess it is no big mystery that I tend to view things from the perspective of a half-centurian who is all too aware of her own mortality.

The death of my mother in May this year brought home this realisation that I, representing the subsequent generation, am not too far away from that eventuality myself.

Which is why, I have difficulty understanding some people in my age group and older (and I am talking about the ones I am acquainted with personally) who just don't seem to be satisfied with their lot in life.

I can well understand if the ones grousing earn minimal pay and have problems making ends meet each month. But we are not talking puny little lots here (with a recent Beemer model in a multiple-car garage, it can't be that puny, can it?).

Lest it be misunderstood, I speak without malice. It is just a reflection of my thoughts, more lucid in this blessed month of Ramadan, brought about by someone's remark about Pak Abu and I settling for an apartment the size of someone's parlour.

"For the money that you paid for this place, you could have bought a piece of land and built a bungalow just outside the city." It is an innocent, true enough statement.

The thing is, I would have, IF I had wanted to. But I didn't. All I wanted was a decent roof over my head; more specifically, a cozy little pad, safe and secure, in a place where everything is within reach.

I found my little corner of paradise tucked away in centrally-located TTDI, in a condo development largely populated by pensioners and retirees. And the size of my living quarters is nobody's business but my own.

When death comes a-calling, what good is a multi-storeyed bungalow in prestigious Damansara Heights, sparklers enough to light up downtown Kuala Lumpur, a king-of-the-road whose engine purrs like a Rhineland fraulein, and stocks and shares and cold hard cash by the millions?

You can't take them with you, not a single darn thing. So when is enough well and truly enough?

Monday, September 8, 2008

When Sleepiness Reigns

I find it rather disconcerting that one week has lapsed since Ramadan began. Before you know it, Shawal is upon us. And I am still wringing my hands at the kitchen sink, alternately preparing for buka puasa and sahur with hunger in my belly and sleep in my head. Darn it, time flies way too fast. Slow down world, I wanna get off!

For the first time in my adult life, I nodded off while partaking sahur this morning, head bowed low paying homage to a plate of rice. Only when the spoon slid from my grasp, hitting the marble table top in an almighty clatter, was I startled out of my slumber.

It was probably fatigue, I don't know, but it must have been pretty entertaining, for Pak Abu and Naj didn't breathe a word until the spoon clanged. Only then father and son suddenly became very concerned and oh-so helpful. The spectacle must have been worth it.

I recall one hilarious episode concerning my niece Karina (now wife and mother) when she was a teenager a decade ago. Her mother Sofwanah used to be quite a taskmaster when it came to subuh (dawn) prayers. Kak Nah would go from room to room, waking everyone up, prodding the liat (reluctant) ones with a rotan (cane).

My own kids, who used to spend weekends in their aunt's house to be with their cousins, weren't spared either. Mine were naturally liat with a capital L but they were intimidated enough by Kak Nah to meekly submit.

They related to me this story about Karina and her 'special' subuh prayers. Seems that Karina once sujud (prostrated) and promptly fell asleep with her face on the prayer mat and her rear-end hanging engagingly, gently snoring in blissful slumber.

It was her mother who sensed something amiss with the inert, prostrating form, and gave it a hearty shake. And the kids thought their cousin was just trying to score brownie points with a lengthy ayat (verse)!

Gives a whole new meaning to "Bottoms Up!" don't you think?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dungun On My Mind

Sunrise Solitude

Teluk Bidara I

Teluk Bidara II

Teluk Bidara III

Kemasek Hideaway

Tranquil Tanjung Jara

Rantau Abang, Where Love Blossomed

Crab-catching At Sunrise

Gentle Men, Rough Seas
off Tenggol Island

Placid Waters, Hidden Cove
Tenggol Island off Dungun

Haji Man Coffeeshop
(for the best nasi dagang in town)

[Picture credit: Kelnsha/Yinghaw/Runwitme]

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Final Farewell

To paraphrase crooner Andy Williams, "Where do I begin?" Where, indeed.

Serene and peaceful Bukit Kiara Muslim Cemetery is as good a place as any to begin my journey, although this tranquil piece of God's acre off Taman Tun Dr Ismail is more likely to be the final resting place, marking the end of one's brief wanderings on this good earth.

The sky was overcast, and dark clouds spanned the horizon as I threw open my windows this morning. The sun peeped briefly by mid-morning, its golden rays reflected on the glass panels of my balcony door, before retreating into a blanket of clouds.

The sky brightened considerably by two thirty in the afternoon as we wended our way amongst the marble tombstones to the site where literary giant and journo extraordinaire Pak Samad, who passed away yesterday evening after a brief illness, had just been buried.

We arrived as talqin was being read. We had not planned to be late. Unfortunately, something cropped up at home that needed immediate attention. I didn't lament our late arrival, truly. I was there to bid him goodbye, sadaqah my prayers, and offer my condolences to his family, especially my former colleague, his daughter Nuraina.

It was heartening to see so many of our media 'old-timers' at the site, people I used to work with, whom I had not met for decades. How good it felt to once again meet up with soft-spoken Zabedah (Kak Bedah), a contemporary of Adibah Amin and one-time editor of Berita Harian's Women's Desk. From her I learned of the demise, two years ago, of her husband and erstwhile Berita Harian supremo, Abang Din.

I kissed and hugged gentle Rashidah, wife of poet-novelist Datuk Samad Said. Shidah once wrote for Berita Harian but is now attached to Datuk Kadir Jasin's outfit, Berita Publishing. My eyes strayed to the grand old man of letters Pak Samad Said himself, sitting contemplatively under a shady tree.

And then there was Hanim Melan with her husband Johan, formerly of Malay Mail and The Star respectively, both of whom spent a good many years in New York where Johan was a correspondent, my one-time boss and editor Aziz Hassan (still a bachelor after all these years), and bosom buddy Muharyani Othman, once a specialist writer with NST, who had recently thrown her lot with Bernama.

I spied Ahirudin Atan (blogger Rocky) perched on an embankment trying to get a better view for his camera, Bernama TV head honcho Datuk Suhaimi immaculately attired and obviously from work, and Datuk Mahadzir Lokman (Dale), my one-time neighbour/yakking partner during the halcyon days of TV3, who has evolved into a celebrity himself.

Also paying homage to the memory of Pak Samad was my ex-colleague Swithin Monteiro, now retired, and yet another former colleague, Ishak Nengah, now an accomplished and much sought-after master of ceremonies. Ishak and I shared the common bond of having started work at the newspaper on the same day in 1973.

Despite the teeming presence of well-wishers, Nuraina graciously fielded questions from both the media and the visitors. Before leaving, I enveloped her in a warm embrace and kissed her wet cheeks. We left with a prayer in our hearts: "Ya Allah, please forgive arwah Pak Samad all his transgressions and place his soul in the company of the blessed. Amin."