23 May 2011

End of the tunnel (Pt 12) – The path less travelled by

Today it all looks nice and rosy, a young bride with her own loving parents and now a love of her own. What, then, is so different about Zira?

Very few know the tumultuous family life she went through at the first crucial stage of her education, the year she sat for her PMR exam. No one would want to go through what she did. The subsequent painful years brought her closer to us.

After her SPM she failed to get an offer to do a medical-related course. “ I like to work in a hospital,” she lamented. She was obsessed with a job in hospital.

Knowing that she could not have everything, she accepted to do a three-year course in mechanical engineering, a far cry from her aspiration. Nonetheless, she accepted, worked on it, succeeded, and saw herself as a technical instructor at a factory within a cycling distance from her house. Most would be satisfied but not this girl. She worked for nearly two years, all the while harbouring her a dream. She kept her applications going.

Then one day she turned up at Nuri all excited. She had received an offer to do a course in pharmacy – orang mengantuk disorongkan bantal! ( a sleepy one being offered a pillow ).

Pakcik, what do you think? Do you think I can do it?” She poured out her questions at Pakcik. I knew this girl too well. Over the years she never failed to call on us, to keep us in the picture on how she was faring in her job and otherwise.

She simply wanted a ‘yes’ answer. I knew it and she got it. Almost six years after leaving SPM she was about to begin again. Had she not forgotten her biology and chemistry? I was somewhat concerned. Many would tell her to forget it. After she hah had a good job close to her family.

This gutsy girl worked for her dream, and today, she is attached to a hospital – never mind the distance being a good 500 km away from home. She has got her dream:

Zira took a path
less traveled by; and that has made all the diffeence’, a girl who can offer us a lesson in life.

and finally she is alone no more

And today, she has her own man as well, with blessings from both parents. She deserves what she owns today. Today, too, she can look back - and cry.

Al Quran - Surah Al-Njm - Ayat 35

"Dan bahawa manusia tidaklah akan memperoleh, melainkan sekadar usahanya." – Dr Hamka

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Syaharahan Dr Hamka dalam Tafsir Al-Azhar:

“ ….. Inilah yan pernah saya sya’irkan waktu permulaan Revolusi Indonesia:

Insan medapat kadar usaha,
Tidah lebih tidaklah kurang;
Ajuk hati, tanyai jiwa,
Jangan menyesal kepada orang.

Hasil dari pekerjaan kita , kita dapati sekadar usaha yang telah kita lakukan. Apabila kita malas, akan mendapat sedikit, atau tidak mendapat sama sekali, tidaklah boleh kita menyalahkan orang lain, mengapa sedikit kita dapat …..”

21 May 2011

End of the tunnel (Pt 12 – sec 1/2) – Two children later

Two children ago, Yani was the subject of my End of the tunnel (Pt 5). Yes, that was what I said, two ‘children’ ago, covering a period of about two years. Yesterday Makcik and Pakcik met her again at a wedding of her old classmate, Zira. Yani ‘baru lepas pantang’ ( a 44- day period of detention indoor after delivery? ).
Almost seventeen years ago Yani and Zira, two timid kampong girls, joined the form 1 tuition class at Almanar. Yani has been working with a private college in Selangor and she delivered her second child one-and-a half months ago. And yesterday, after Yani’s second child, Zira was married. Today the two are no longer girls, nor timid any more.

Zira, all the years I had known her, used to live just a couple of kilometers away from us; but the family moved to a new home about a year ago. “Please come to visit our new place, especially during a fruit season,” said Zira to us a couple of times. Somehow we never made it there until her wedding day, yesterday; and that was not without some difficulty.The new house cannot be more than about 30 kilometers away from us; but such a distance from the coast line of Terengganu can take us to some uninhabited and very deserted areas indeed.

Guided by a sketch we reached the vicinity of Zira’s house in under thirty minutes. But we took another half-an-hour getting ourselves lost, driving up and down, stopping here and there seeking directions. As we were in the midst of it, my handphone rang. It was none other than the bride herself. In a tone tinged with disappointment she asked, “ Pakcik, aren’t you coming to my wedding?’ No, I would not miss her wedding for the entire world. And I realised then what our absence would mean to her, this very special girl.

Towards the end of our search, very certain of where we were heading for, we found ourselves driving along a road running through what looked like a virgin jungle. We were told that only a lone Felcra office was at the very dead end. Then somewhat relieved we began to notice some vehicles parked on both sides of the road. We knew for sure we had finally reached our destination. After parking our car at the end of the row we took a foot-path leading to a clearing in the middle of nowhere, a two-acre piece of land with coconut palms, assorted fruit trees and trees of all sorts – and perhaps animals of all sort, too, lurking around!

A road to nowhere

The path into nowhere

A dream house on two acres of land in the middle of nowhere

Somehow the wild surroundings looked beautiful to me. In this wild but peaceful environment I could imagine myself reminiscing, perhaps with greater details and clarity. Poets and writers would surely find their ‘enlightenment’ and inspiration in this sort of place.

So it was Zira’s wedding. How radiantly happy she was seeing us around after all.


Yani and first child (L) and the grooms (R) flanking pakcik's bride

So what is so special about Zira that deserves a place in this End-of-the-tunnel episode?
She took the less traveled road.

I had no hesitation to tell her newly wed husband, “You are a very, very lucky person. Look after her as well as you can.” And I meant every word of it. And my Zira smiled and looked straight at me with eyes brimming with tears.

….. to continue

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16 May 2011

Pakcik reminisces (Pt 18) – To Sir, With Love

The day was Sunday 15th May, 2011, and the time was almost 11.00 pm. Earlier I had put down my autographed copy of AMOT and I was beginning to get absorbed in the second chapter of ‘A Doctor in the House’.

“Abang, come and watch this old film with me.”
I stopped reading to ask what film that was - on TV2.

“It’s To Sir, with love,” came her reply.

Not for one moment I hesitated to put down my book to watch this film for the umpteenth time, our favourite. We first saw the film way back in 1967, 45 years ago, in a town named JESSELTON, the capital of the state Negeri Di Bawah Bayu. We had not long been married with only our two-year old daughter with us. I was sent to serve in ‘Borneo’ for about four years, almost the whole of the early years of our married life. Away from the rest our respective families we had a chance to build our own life without interference, casting the marital love the way we would want it to take shape. It was then Sidney Poitier’sTo Sir, with Love’, with Lulu singing the hit song, was first screened.

It was not just the very touching story and the beautiful lyrics but the very title itself evoked so much memory of our family life, blessed with love and affection.

To Sir, with Love ( See p/s at the foot )

Those schoolgirl days, of telling tales and biting nails are gone,
But in my mind,
I know they will still live on and on,
But how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
It isn't easy, but I'll try,

If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters,
That would soar a thousand feet high,
To Sir, with Love

The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end,
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend,
A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong,
That's a lot to learn,
What, what can I give you in return?

If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start,
But I, would rather you let me give my heart,
To Sir, with Love


The film ended this morning, 16th May, at 1.00 a.m. Before my tears ran dry I decided to write this, because I thought it was not inappropriate to have this posted on the Teachers’ Day. To Sir, With Love is forever to me a beautiful song and a beautiful film that tells about a teacher.

After all, in our own ways, we are all teachers in our lives.



Here is a video of Pakcik's grandson's UPSR ceremony held a few years ago . It was his last day in the primary school. The video : Convocation 2007 ( To Sir, With Love in the background)

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14 May 2011

Pakcik reminisces (Pt 17 – p/s) – An acknowledgement

Apart from the Great Planner/Creator Himself, to Whom we all owe absolutely everything, I owe this gentleman more than he can ever imagine, and I am forever indebted to him.

Picture taken 60 years ago, of one young man who had begun to learn that there were different roads in life.

He is now an aged gentleman, well into his 80’s, with frequent lapses of memory, but, otherwise, physically well. Sixty years ago he had a vision that his younger brother ought to be equipped better than he had been, to face a future. In so doing he became instrumental in sending his brother on a ‘road less traveled.’ Subhanallah.

Picture taken nearly 60 years ago of one cheerful boy with dreams of a bed of roses.

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07 May 2011

Pakcik reminisces (Pt 17-Sec2/2) – Who and what am I?

A cheat, no less

So, on Friday evening, Jan 4th 1952 with smattering of English learnt in afternoon classes I joined the evening classes at a private school, hoping that, by the end of the same year, I would have learnt sufficient English to be admitted to the only government English school in the state of Terengganu, Sultan Sulaiman English School (SSES). Whilst proficiency in English was never a necessity for one to further his studies in Cairo, it had, for unexplainable reasons, suddenly grown in importance in my case- the work of an unseen hand.

The morning classes at the religious school (MSZA) went well in 1952. Today I relate to my children with pride how their father completed a seven-year course at MSZA in five years, something unheard of until then. The two years saved was a gift from heaven without which I would never have an earthly chance to join the government English School. The age alone would put a stop to it and I would very likely be on a long boat journey to Egypt (Gaddafi would be a boy of about 12 then!) to join my other school mates.

I had to satisfy three conditions to join SSES viz,

i) Joining a class appropriate with my age group.
ii) Possession of a leaving certificate to show proof of
acceptable level of English education.
iii) Passing an entrance test in two subjects,

English and Maths.

AS mentioned above, the two-year credit the religious school was a blessing. I could be pegged to join Form 3.

The first condition satisfied, I was left with the impossible task of meeting the other two. It was simply impossible. How could one own a certificate when he had never sat for the exam? How could one pass a test for admission into Form 3 after a year’s study in the evenings.

What then?
Could we do it by-hook-or-by-crook principle?
Should we change the rule of the game so that crooked means justify honourable ends?

Yes, apply the ‘darurah’ (sheer emergency) rule and all should be legal!

Today I live to marvel at how with five ringgits (mind you, that was in 1952!) I became a proud owner of a leaving school certificate that came from someone/somewhere, the details of which transactions best left undisclosed. The certificate categorically stated that I had passed Form 2 in all subjects. This satisfied condition (ii)

Having achieved to satisfy the second condition, we began to work on good ‘human relation’ practices – one must cultivate the skill of intimately knowing who and who. This town was a small town where almost every one was connected to everyone else by blood or whatever. So it was not all that difficult

The long and short of it I was discreetly given a chance to study the test questions while everyone's eyes were closed. Armed and well prepared, on Monday, Jan 13th (lucky number!)1953, as recorded in my diary, I sat for the entrance test and with sheer brilliance I DID IT!


And so, as recorded in my diary, on Sunday ( Fridays being weekend in the state) Jan 18th, 1953, I joined one of the two Form 3 classes at SSES, coy with inferiority, to be with a group of about 30 pupils consisted of Malay, Chinese and Indian boys and pretty girls. And the English teacher was an elegant English lady (in knee-length skirt!) named Mrs Patton. This was my first taste of ‘culture shock’.

How I envied my new friends, seeing them socializing with ease, and merrily conversing in English among themselves and with teachers. And I, in the course of the next few weeks, was a laughing stock when I, with sheer ignorance, read aloud certain words like ‘stomach, rhythm, volume’ etc (pronounced sto maach, raai m, vo luum etc) like an Arab!

However, it did not take long before I began to get on very well with them, albeit keeping my safe distance from the opposite sex. And, soon, I began to be myself again, a serious and determined fellow.

A dream is just another dream

Circumstances and new atmosphere created new ideas, new aspirations and new dreams.

In those days Bukit Besi in Dungun, if one studied geography as a subject, was known as having the world largest tin mine. Those who managed to be employed by the company operating the mine were seen as especially privileged people, earning good salaries and all, against the backdrop of farmers, petty traders, fishermen and so on in the state.

It would be nice to be a mining engineer working in Bukit Besi’, a seed of a new dream began to germinate to rival that of a graduate from Al Azhar university.

The following three years saw me being carried forward by my own momentum. All went on so well that I found it hard to step on my brake. It was just what Frost said:

‘ …….. Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back


Five of these seven musketerrs (1956) have sadly gone

Early 1956 saw me taking a two-day bus ride with a group of friends heading for KL, my first ever trip (Pakcik reminisces – Pt 11), to join the Higher School Certificate Class at two prestigious schools having ‘Mat Salleh’ principals, teachers and all; but at a price. Must I join my new non-Muslim classmates in the school chapel on Monday mornings (me, the product of a religious school with a headful of Quranic verses)? - more cultural shocks

I was beginning to come to terms with who and what I was in life – and more to come.

Just as I was settling down nicely in KL, getting acquainted with the busy Batu Road, Malacca Street, the week-end ‘pesta’ at Lake Garden nearby, the marvel of Robinsons departmental store, and my new hostel life of course, I came yet to another fork , two roads diverged in a yellow wood.’

One morning I was summoned to see the school principle who asked me whether I would be interested to be nominated a candidate for interviews with a multinational company which was offering two scholarships to boys in MALAYA. Successful candidates would be packed overseas to do an accelerated one-year A-Level course followed by a four-year tertiary education; and, all being well, would need to serve the company for a specific number of years somewhere on earth.

A new challenge; but what became of my earlier dream, a prosperous engineer mining this good earth?

Subsequently I did attend a series of interviews, only soon to be advised that two Chinese boys from other schools had topped the list. That ought to be my first bitter taste of appointment. But was it really?

Look at the opening page of my 1953 diary.

from 1953 diary

The highlighted words coined in Arabic told me on no uncertain terms : Never cease to expect His bounty. So as early as three years earlier I instinctively forewarned myself that life was not going to be a bed of roses. Be prepared and never cease to expect better things to come.

But there was an unexpected twist of event. Hardly two weeks later, came an official from the multinational company to my hostel. He was a bearer of good news that one of the two successful candidates had failed his medical check-up. Would I accept it or was I too proud to be just a stand-by? God works in mysterious ways. I did not win it but someone lost his chance by default. With little thought I made up my mind to go for it, knowing fully well that

‘I doubted if I should ever come back’

Accordingly, in early Sept 1956 I bade farewell to my parents, leaving behind a dream of the revered posts of an Al Azhar graduate and the prestigious position of a mining engineer. As Robert Frost said:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverging in a wood, and I,
I took one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I will end this posting with one saying that I learnt some 60 years ago, one that I do not expect to forget ever. It came from an early Islamic thinker/philosopher (before Imam AlGhazali), Yahya ibn Muaz Al Razi. He once said:

Yahya Ibn Muaz Al Razi

A person who truly understands and knows who and what he is, is indeed, one who knows who his Creator is.

Today I know better who and what I am, my weaknesses, strengths, failures, successes and how I have been led from one path to another less traveled one; and I think I know HIM better.

And today whenever I raise my two hands, I never fail to say in whatever little Arabic that I learnt sixty years ago, “My God. I thank You for the very life You have given me, and for giving me a wife, children, sustenance, knowledge ………”

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