Monday, July 14, 2014

Savouring A Nearly Forgotten Past

Pages From My Past by Kamaruddin Abdullah
Publisher: KalsomTaib Publishing
Editor: Zuraidah Omar

BLOGGING opened up a whole new space for anyone to write about anything. Those who are otherwise less articulate in conversations suddenly found themselves “talking” to total strangers. Blogs are mushrooming, redefining the world of communication, interpersonal relationships, even the media and politics.

Anyone can blog. This is democracy at its best. There are of course those who smear the cyberspace with their rants, hatred and anger throwing the virtues of propriety and courteousness to the drain. But there are many who enliven, even enlighten the cyberspace with stories to tell and share, or simply engaging others in clever discourse and debate.

And of course there is Kamaruddin Abdullah (affectionately called Din by family members and friends) who found blogging an irresistible vehicle for his purpose – to recollect stories from the past. He is relatively new to blogging, starting sometime in January 2013. But he never looked back ever since. His new-found interest provided the platform for him to live the past – fond memories, great anecdotes, interesting personalities.

He blogs about people he knew or close to him, and mostly about a town, which is noted for its history and tradition – Muar in Johor. This is no ordinary town. It is not an accident of history to be a Muarian – you are in fact born to be one. In short - if you believed what Muarians think about themselves – they are the chosen ones.Muarians being Muarians, they pride themselves being Muarians.

Ask any Muarian where they came from and the answer is, without batting an eyelid,  “Muar.” Did anyone mention Johor? OOps, Johor is Johor Bahru, the capital of Johor. They will find the slightest excuse to show off their “Muar-ness”.

So you can imagine if  Din, a relative unknown outside his family and circle of friends, started blogging about Muar, the “connection” was immediate. And Din talks about places familiar with Muarians – the kampung, the streets, the people, the history. It is like triggering a cascade of emotions that flows beyond family matters and personal issues.

But Muar makes Muarians tick, naturally and unsurprisingly so. It doesn’t matter who Din is. Din is telling stories about all things Muar – the town noted for its mi bandung, asampedas, sirapbandung,  Kopi 434, among other things. They even speak funny – Muar style, replete with local lingo. If you hear someone using the expression “ek” and the tendency to change everything “ar” at the end of a word to “o”, you know he or she is a full-blooded Muarian (Case in point, “Muar” becomes “Muo” and “bandar”  (town) becomes “bando”). If you have not heard words like gebo (blanket),lece (mattres), kaus (bed), gerobok (cabinet), teksi (trishaw) or titin (small bridge) or taking satay in the morning and dipping pisanggoreng into sauce and ciliapiyou either have not been to Muar or you are not a Muarian.

And mind you, the flag too. Yes, Muar’s very own flag that is older than that of Malaysia’s – it started flapping in 1905 and if you believed the Muarians, it is still being raised once a month at the PejabatDearah (District Office). No kidding!

Remember this, Muar is Bandar Maharani, now proclaimed Bandar Di Raja by the current Sultan of Johor. Aspiring to be a MenteriBesar of Johor? If you are not Muar-born, forget it! (Datuk Seri Khalid Nordin the current MB was born in Muar, so too his predecessors). Now Muarians have more reasons to gloat. The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri NajibRazak was born in Pekan, yes, but remember, he has the Muar genes too. TunRahahMohd Noah, his mother was a true-blue Muar girl. Now, tell me, if Muarians are not blessed! Proud about being Muarians? Hey, proud is our middle name, ok?

Does it matter if Din is just another blogger? Who says ordinary blokes don’t write good blogs? Just read Din’s. He is a good writer, his pieces are short and sweet. Most importantly, interesting. He is eloquent, his narratives flow effortless, using the simplest of expressions, yet illuminating and informative.

He is not pretentious, writing without grand illusion of trying to impress anyone. His pieces can be funny at times, yet true to the heart. He blogs to engage and inform not to teach or proselytise. He writes for himself, for his readers, whoever they are.
He writes for fun. And for the love of it.

We, the readers, too find it fun and liking it.

Din has a lot of stories to tell – stories that warmth the hearts and please the mind. The articles (46 selected for this book from about 80 blog postings)  are about going down memory lane and reliving the memories of growing up in  Muar in the 50s and 60s. “All of us have memories of our younger days stored in our minds; about the things that are significant in our lives; the places where we used to spend our time; the people with whom we mixed and played; and the activities in which we were involved”, he wrote in the Introduction.

Memories are made of these. As he pointed out, as years passed, these memories would bring back those good times.

You can’t fault Din for his nostalgic journey. It was an interesting journey anyway. The titles of his pieces are catchy. “Muar Town’s Unforgettable Characters”, “The Day James Bond Came to Town”, “My Chinese Friends From Muar Town”, “Hang Tuah, P. Ramlee and Me”, “Some Peculiar Words of Muarian Malays” and “When the Wak Satay Passed Away” are some of the examples.

This is a feel-good book to savour a nearly forgotten past. The past must have been good to him and he is blessed to grow up among people who are kind and affectionate. You don’t need to tell harrowing stories of despair or heart-wrenching anecdotes to be read. Din didn’t  even think of writing a memoir. Yet, his blog postings are autobiographical in nature.  He is not Frank McCourt who wrote a dramatic but sometimes fictional autobiography about his early life in Lemerick, Ireland. McCourt was in fact lambasted “from the hill, pulpit and barstool” (his own words) for portraying a Lemerick that was unkind, uncaring and destitute. Angela’s Ashes is a best seller though. Even a teacher like McCourt has a lot to tell.Muar is no Lemerick and Din is no McCourt. Unlike McCourt, Din is not writing a “misery memoir.” Din’s posting is about goodness, kindness, great things, time of innocence, rite of passage, among other things.

I have reasons to connect with Din’s postings. I am from Muar. Despite leaving town almost 40 years ago, my attachment to Muar has never diminished, much to the bewilderment of my children. Unlike Din, I was born in the other end of Muar, some 40 kilometers away, in a village, Sungai BalangBesar, near the border of BatuPahat district. It is largely inhabited by  people of Javanese descent. Like Din, I am of Bugis descent, a joke I always tell my children, I am a Bugis, growing up in a Javanese village masquerading as a Malay.

I went to an English school in Semerah (Peserian Primary English School), the second boy from the village who did that. It was perplexing  why my rubber tapper father send me to an English school while everyone else went to a Malay school in 1960. I knew three English words when I joined the class. But the school opened my horizon and changed me personally and perhaps professionally. I was fortunate to have the like of Cikgu Ismail Omar (Master Ismail) to teach me during my formative years. A Muarian himself, a disciplinarian yet affectionate, he taught us the virtues of open-mindedness and hard work. And to be a proud Muarian (ironically Peserian School is in BatuPahat district).

Muar was the center of my universe. My father, would take me to Muar once a year to pay cukaitanah(land tax) by bus, a journey that took us almost an hour. He was always at his best element when he boarded the bus. He was dressed to impress. Friends would tease him at the bust stop. “Wah, setopharini Pak Ndak”. Setop is colloquial to mean a long-sleeve shirt all button-up to the sleeves. Pak Ndak orPak Andak is a title for being the fourth in the family. His standard answer would be “Nakkebando” (Going to town). Among his generation Muar was also referred to as Padang. In Muar, the ritual was simple – go to Pejabat Tanah (land office), eat at a Chinese shop that had a Malay proprietor selling mi bandung or mi hun sup and satayand back to the village.

In 1972 I was the chosen few to join form six at High School Muar, the same school that Din went to some years earlier. He was there from form one to form five, whereas I was there for only two years. Interestingly the publisher of this book, DatinKalsomTaib was his History teacher in 1966 when he was in form four. It is not often to teach a nephew in class, I guess. Din in fact wrote about it in the chapter “When Your Auntie is Your Teacher”. This is no ordinary school. It had produced Muar’s finest (or so we claimed) in various disciplines. To be associated with the school, it is nothing less than a badge of honour.

I am familiar with places mentioned by Din. In fact I married a Bugis girl from ParitBakar, the tittle enclave where Din’s favouritegrand motherTokJilahused to live. I am familiar with most of the places he mentioned – Tanjung, Taman Selera, TanggaBatu, games he played, the ferry service across Muar river that ceased operation in the 60s, halwamaskat that his grand mother made, laksa Johor and even the Wak Satay that he mentioned.

The similarities between me and Din stopped there. He came from a very established family, another of Muar’s celebrated families. Muar has many such families – defining the town and also help carved the history of this country. Din’s father was the former High Commissioner in London when TunRazak died in 1976.  Another distinguished Muarian, Datuk Dr. Fawzia Abdullah came out with a book about three women who unwittingly help changed the destiny of this nation. The Three Swans is a book unlike any other, telling the stories of the daughters of the late Tan Sri Haji Mohamed Noah Omar, two of them married prime ministers, one of them the mother of the present one. DatinKalsom is part of the distinguished TaibAndak family, TunRazak’s friend and the person responsible to match him with TunRahah. Mind you, these families have a Felda settlement named after their patriarchs, not to mention roads and buildings in Muar and elsewhere. 

As one grows older, one tends to be more nostalgic. No shame there. We tend to tell stories to our children or grandchildren. But most of the time they are simply too occupied with their careers, families, TV or smart phones (though not necessarily in that order) to listen to us. After all, who would want to hear about learning the muqaddam, durian season, Malay beliefs, radio programmes, fun fairs and Malay weddings in the 50s and 60s in Muar?

People of Din’s age would certainly moved or touched by those stories. I do. And I hope others too will enjoy the book.

For the young it should be a postcard of the past written with passion and conviction by someone who cherish the great days that were. And in no ordinary town – in Muar no less, the town that meant a lot to Din, to me and many hardcore Muariansof our generation.

But more importantly the book is about reliving the good old days, when things were a lot simpler and life was much less stressful and complicated. Din does more than telling stories, a consummate artist that he is, he foundsolace in paintings. The sketches and illustrations in this book are his.In this book a shy person like Din found his voice, as much as he discovered his penchant for writing in in his blog.

This book is for sharing.


No comments:

Post a Comment