Saturday, 12 January 2008

Al Faatihah

How did yesterday begin that it could end with so much courage and hope in the face of the sadness of losing a friend? Let me try to recall.

The phone rang and a vaguely familiar voice answered when I breathed my hello. Have not heard this voice for more than four years, have not seen the face for more than a decade, may be.

_The first phone call_
  • Hey, still remember my voice!
  • Yes, face not so sure!
  • Need your help with my late wife’s business.
  • Help, sure, can try….wait a sec, late wife?? What happened? Innalillaahi wainna ilaihi raaji’uun.
  • Can I tell you later? Know anybody in… think you can help get an appointment with… can I have your mobile number? Will miss-call you…will sms the business details…
  • Ok.

_end of first conversation_

I sat down momentarily stunned, then wondered how my childhood friend’s wife could have been taken away, leaving behind their four children, their sweet, happy life.

The next half hour was a finger shortening exercise, making calls and calls and calls. Too many people at meetings; too many people outstation; some telephones not answered even after the tenth ring! Must mention to Tan Sri!

Then it was time to go for my discussion.

_The second phone call_

  • Got anything?
  • Nope, nobody around, haven’t given up, though…
  • I’m here for an appointment they fixed, and they are not around!
  • Typical!


  • So aren’t you going to tell me what happened?
  • Well, it was lung cancer…she fought for more than a year…looked after her till the end…I think we should go for lunch…
  • Friday prayers?
  • Musafir.
  • Don’t think I can, big meeting at three, need to go through my notes. After office would be too much of a rush…
  • Dinner, then? After maghrib?
  • OK.
  • Got any friend I can date? Don’t forget you are talking to a widower!
  • OK.

_end of second conversation_

He was trying so hard to make me think he was his old jovial self. That I could tell he was trying made me even sadder than I already was after hearing the news.

I finished my discussion then went to work on the afternoon meeting well into the long lunch break. Had to try hard to concentrate, the thought of my dear friend and his children braving the despair of a loved one’s terminal illness filled me with self reproach. If nothing else, I could have called; I could have visited; I could have said a prayer.

_The third phone call_

  • Sri Ayuthaya, can?
  • Of course. Can I be a bit late? Am still at the office, meeting just over.
  • Why work so hard?
  • I’m a Sidek Hassan disciple, I deliver before someone else deliver for me.
  • The place is casual, don’t dress to kill!
  • The shape that I am now, the dress won’t kill, laughter might.


  • Heard you now resemble an oil drum! I’m equally bad. Never mind, my sons will be there, need to catch up with them.
  • OK.

_end of third conversation_

From where I was standing, the three men on the veranda looked like any father-and-sons-only dinner party when mother and daughter are off shopping or enjoying a girls’ night out elsewhere. There were smiles, but I knew better, and may be I saw a little bit more. There was a veil of silent pain hanging in the air when the conversation drifted to the time arwah had first complained of severe backache, then the numerous tests and the dreaded diagnosis.

The next year of their life was a study in self sacrifice from the entire family. Arwah’s eldest son resigned from his job in KL to go home and take care of the family business while his father stayed by his mother’s side. The treatment began, the number of hospitals increased as did the number of doctors while the doses of medication multiplied. And all the while, arwah put up the final fight for her life, until she was too weakened by the after effects of her treatment and the unstoppable disease. She suffered so much in her last days that in their own words, her husband and children just wanted to let her go, so she would at last find peace.

Allah Almighty, what gentle words, what soothing comfort could I offer them? I went home to shed my own tears, sat alone in the dark and found this sms on my phone.

“Attitude is everything.

Be kinder than necessary,

For everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Live simply,

Love generously,

Care deeply,

Speak kindly…..

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.

It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

I know, only those who have struggled and pulled themselves out of their own desperate helplessness are really able to understand the true meaning of these simple words.

Al Faatihah.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

No'k Kkabor Sse

Today is Ma'al Hijrah, the first day of Hijriyyah 1429, and I'd like to wish everybody A Happy New Hijriyyah Year, may all your hijrah be for the better, Aamiiin. Thank you Mad Redo1 for your kind wishes too!

So today, being a brand new day of a new year or the tenth day of a still new 2008, let me start again from the beginning.

This past month I have been reading Awang Goneng's Growing Up in Trengganu (GUiT), finishing the whole book in a day, then reading it all over again slowly, aloud, savouring every word in each and every expression of his Trengganuspeak. The writing of Che' Awang Goneng (it is impolite not to use Che' when referring to someone by name, do'k ggitu?) brings me back to the richness of life in Trengganu then; the memories made more vivid by Che' Awang's authentic Trengganuspeak of old, teganung peka't; the language with all its nuances in exactly the way it was in my childhood too.

I could go on forever on what a beautiful piece of work GUiT is, and what a wonderful writer Che' Awang is, or has always been if like me, you have been reading the NST articles by a certain Wan Ahmad Hulaimi in London, but let me just make a confession here that GUiT and Kecek-Kecek for that matter, has inspired me to channel some of my laptop time into writing (or typing as opposed to clicking the mouse on spider solitaire!) and thus, this blog was born, through my one and only other post on the last day of 2007. I am hoping that Che' Awang finds this admiration another compliment and will gently rein me in should the lines between influence, immitation and plagiarism become too much of a blur.

My other inspiration is of course Kak Teh; that long letter to her Sayang Mamas was simply beautiful, and to think, yours truly was there at the Bangsar reading too. For me, it was really a memorable first meeting with Kak Teh who kindly co-signed my GUiT after Che' Awang did. No, I am not that lady who bought ten copies, only managed to grab five!

Thank you again for the autograph
...a most appreciative fan...

Doh ggitu ah, no'k gi dok ddapor pulo'k!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

C'est La Vie

This is the last day of the year, and tonight its last night. On TV, the news is still full of Benazir Bhutto, killed three days ago and her 19 year old son sworn in today to take over her party chairmanship. Next door, my neighbour and his much extended family are having their annual dinner, chatting, laughing and making merry, the children playing with balloons, sparklers and fire crackers.

A year ago today, another leader also fell. A brief recital of the shahadah and Saddam Hussein was no more. But the TV is saying black gold production in Iraq has gone back to normal, close to the level before the war, contributing much to the country’s annihilated economy. As the world awaits the new price with bated breath, I cannot help but wonder, this black gold, to whom does it belong, really? What use Is it now to the Iraqis who have been liberated without realising that they needed to be?

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is on TV again, a spitting image of his mother, so young, still in university, already ensured of a place in the history of his country. It makes me wonder if our own young people would so willingly take over the business of the family, be it politics, commerce or even the most trivial of trivialities. Take my own children for example. True there is no family business to inherit, but not one of them would even consider the career that I chose. Not for them is the life of a fonctionnaire, no Siree!

And tonight, as I watch the red, blue, purple and green balloons drift into my side of the fence, I think of my children and New Year eves of the past, when we could be together, before they became old enough to go celebrating with their friends and special persons, before studies or work take them so far away from home. New Year eves were always a together time, for partaking of a somewhat special dinner at home, then a slow drive to see the lights before the show of pyrotechnics.

Some years a long time ago, we watched the fireworks from the playground on the hill in Sri Gombak or join the crowd at Padang Merbok with a picnic of KFC. Later on, we avoided the traffic jam and watched from the comfort of our window at home or our neighbour’s garden in Setiamurni. Then once from the top floor launderette of Building 11, Peabody Terrace, looking out along the Charles River all the way to Boston Harbour. The next time we could all be together was in Singapore; we watched the sophisticated display on the waterfront from our 25th floor living room, wondering if the show back home at KLCC was just as breathtaking. New Year eve 2006 my eldest got married while late last December Zachary arrived and the sparklers of New Year eve were dimmed by the sparkle in his eyes.

The time for resolutions is here. Mine are very simple. I will from now on make my children remember always where they come from and how important it is to be strong in conviction, to protect religion and country and be the ones to determine the course of its destiny. And though they go away far and often, wherever they are, they will make the effort and the time, so that being together in one place does not remain elusive to us for far too long now.

My neighbour and guests have started their Yaaaaaaaam Seng! The fireworks dazzling the night sky. Happy New Year Everybody! Time to turn in, then get up for tahajud and pray that we all remain resolute and there will be answers to all our prayers, aamiin!