Year in and year out in my life I continue to see the passing of August to September. The arrival of September heralds the soon-to-come Monsoon rain.
September in the rain
“The leaves of brown Came tumblin' down, remember In September in the rain
The sun went out Just like a dying ember That September in the rain
To every word of love I heard you whisper The raindrops seemed to play A sweet refrain
Though spring is here, To me it's still September That September in the rain
To every word of love I heard you whisper The raindrops seemed to play A sweet refrain
Though spring is here, To me it's still September That September in the rain That September in the rain” ____________________
September was the month I came into being three quarters of a century ago. I wonder whether it was raining then or bright sun-shine.
Now we have yet again left August behind and are moving towards the end of September 2011. These two months have brought Pakcik and Makcik a mixture of sadness and joy. Between the two of us we saw the last of five elderly relatives and a close friend, a very heavy toll in two months; and we have not yet seen the end of the month. We pray all will be well, until the next August, for us to celebrate another anniversary, and another birthday for Makcik; and the next September, another birthday for me. Makcik is just about to recover from the pain of having lost her only aunt and the aunt’s elder sister, Makcik’s own mother.
There is nothing magical about the months of August and September. However, the series of unhappy events which the two of us have to face during these two months prompted Pakcik to pick up one of my old diaries. Somehow that of 1956 was a natural choice. It was a very special year, not just a milestone to mark a distance covered, but a cornerstone to mark a prominent spot in time. It was in that very year I was allowed to realise a shift in the direction to one I was destined to head for.
I am looking at the year of 1956 from a different perspective, not just moments of joy and pain. On one part that year happened to be a year of discovery, when for the very first time I was made to explore life outside that I had been accustomed to until then. On the other part, the year carried a number of early academic successes, meaningful and important enough to chart my future.
In this posting I will explain why I have named 1956 'a year of discovery'. Insya Allah, in due course I will write another to give the other aspect of 1956.
I am fortunate to have kept diaries and carefully noted down what happened and how I felt at the point of writing. Today these entries bring to life what memory alone has begun to wear out in time. As I am reading the entries now, all seems like a playback of a video, uncannily real, despite a lapse of 55 years in time zone.
My 1956 diary
In my earlier posting, Pakcik reminisces (Pt 11), I described my maiden journey from Kuala TREngganu (note the original spelling, TRE…) to the far-away capital of MALAYA, Kuala Lumpur, with all its famous shopping areas along Batu Road, Mountbatten Road and so on. Till today I still call those two roads by their original names which are more meaningful to me (a sentimental old fool, maybe!). Through my mind's eye, I still see pictures of rows upon rows of shops no higher than two-storey buildings. And the Robinsons which drew mainly the elites.
That very first long bus ride to the Malayan capital in early January 1956 was a discovery expedition, a full two-day journey by bus. T here were seven of us. It sounds strange if I say that it was not just the seven of us who rode in the bus but the bus itself took a ride on a ferry on seven occasions along the journey. There were indeed seven rivers to cross en route to Kuala Lumpur. As the ferries were operated only during daylight, the journey required two whole days with a half-way stopover to spend the night.
Before the bus was driven up the ferry, all passengers (for safety reasons, of course!) had to step down. I do not recall being provided with life jackets or being advised what to do in case of emergency. I guess, as there was no record of serious incidents, safety measures were not deemed necessary. Standing on the ferries beside the empty bus was an experience for us. Maneuvering a ferry against the swirling current, which was pushing hard against one side of it, demanded skill and experience among the ferrymen. And there we stood in wonder whether the ferry would reach the exact landing spot across the river. It never failed. And watching the dark water around us, we wondered if there were crocodiles following us below the surface. The picture would be different if the ferry crossing was outside the rainy spells of a monsoon season, when the rivers flowed smoothly and everything seemed beautifully peaceful.
So the long bus ride was indeed an adventure for the seven of us, watching apprehensively at the strong current.
My ‘expedition’ to Kuala Lumpur, on 27th January, was just a start for the year. I was to join the Post School Certificate class (Form 6). During the course of the next eight months the sitution changed. In the evening of Friday 7th September I took a night train from KL station traveling second class to Singapore. That was an uneventful twelve-hour journey in the dark to reach Tg Pagar railway station, sadly closed down for good recently, at eight in the morning of the following day.
Then at 8.30 in the morning of Sunday 9th September I boarded a turbo-prop plane, leaving Singapore on the greatest ‘expedition’ of my life. I was heading west towards ‘negeri orang puteh’ (the white men’s country). After an eventful journey I finally set foot on the English soil.
Reading my entries about the journey, I can feel the great excitement and expectation. The kampong boy, just turned twenty, had left many things behind; his mother and ailing father and grandmother, his familiar environments, his friends, his way of life and above all his earlier dream of going to Al Azhar University for religious and Arabic education. I had now taken a one-way journey along a new path heading for a new destination.
Entry on 9th Sept 1956
The plane, before the advent of jet airliners, made four stopovers, Calcutta, Karachi, Beirut and Zurich. In total the number of hours we were in the air, as I meticulously jotted down in my diary, was close to 32 hours. That does not include the number of hours at the airports en route. (One of my children has just returned from his business trip to London. He took less than 12 hours in all to reach KL. How about that for a comparison?)
To make the historic journey of discovery more eventful, the plane to London had to be diverted to a military airfield about 30 miles (50 km) away from Calcutta. It was due bad weather. From there, we were taken by bus to Calcutta airport. That bus-ride itself was another interesting part of the discovery –running along a dusty road of the sub-continent of India. As if that was not enough, the plane was found to have engine trouble, and that caused a delay of another four hours. It was just as well that the fault was discovered while we were on the solid ground.
All in all, it was an exciting journey for this kampong boy, seeing the vast surface of the sea from the sky, admiring the inside of cloud formations and the upper side of the clouds, and watching the desert and the Alps (which I was familiar with from the geography lessons) with it snow-covered tops. There was a one-line entry noting down how air pockets after Zurich nearly made me throw up.
I summarise below the places we stopped and the flying time for each sector.
Leaving Singapore at on Sunday 9/9/56
Singapore to Calcutta7 hrs 45 min
Total flying time 31 hr55 min
Arriving London at on Monday 10/9/56
Indeed, the kampong boy had his year of discovery.
The ‘discoveries’ alone are not all the reason that made 1956 a milestone, a cornerstone and a prominent landmark in my early years. A number of early academic successes resulted in my change of direction. 1956 was the year I reached a fork on my path, where I chose one, knowing I could never go back to take the road not taken (reflection of Robert Frost's poem, The Road not Taken). HE had it all planned for me, for which I can never thank HIM enough but to serve HIM with humility whilst there is still daylight.
Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan
P/SInsya Allah Pakcik will have another posting on the personal successes of 1956.
Although I have reported several departures of people, this is the third in my special series ( Hatinya baik ). On 2nd November Dato’ Ahmad Badri Basir passed away. He was a very close family friend of great many years, especially during our years together in Jesselton ( now Kota Kinabalu) in mid 65’s. He had his way of showing his appreciation for the work I was doing related to Almanar. His gift of a set of 150 copies of reference book for English grammar was one of the ways. Over the years, since his demise, children at Almanar remember him with Al Fatihah before opening the books, which is on a daily basis.His wife , Datin Rohani, took over her husband’s role. Sadly, she passed away following an operation on 15th September. The couple was so dear to us and both had Almanar at heart. For that Almanar blog pays tribute to her. Now she will join her husband to be remembered by us at Almanar. Semoga Tuhan cucuri rahmat keatas roh suami isteri yang intimewa ini. Takziah kepada anak cucu mereka yang berjaya.
I think most of us, from time to time, do receive from friends interesting items, slides, pictures etc which are meant to be shared without infringement of any copyright. I do not see any reasons why I should not share what I have received; and for this reason I am starting a new series – ‘What Pakcik received’. We will see how it goes with this first one.
The following is one Pakcik received from an old friend overseas. Titled ‘various birds and sayings’ is a set of 31 slides, 29 of which are sayings. I enjoy watching these slides against the enchanting old favourite tune ‘unchained melody’.
Click where it is shown to change slides and enjoy the music. At the same time give some thought to the sayings. Like what I have done you may like to pick, say, three sayings you like best.
A week has passed. Makcik and Pakcik are not likely to forget the Hari Raya of 30th August 2011.
During each of Hari Raya periods of past years we could expect not less than 80 ex-pupils of Almanar paying homage to the old couple of Almanar. This year, because of our untimely absence from Nuri, only about 40 of them managed to catch us at home after our return and before they had to leave KT for their places of work or learning.
We are sorry to have missed those dear old Almanar pupils, especially those who came with spouses or babies. There is next year, insya Allah.
Here are a few photos taken after Hari Raya.
Except for the last two the few shots recorded below show a few of those who turned up upon our return to KT three days after Hari Raya.
An early child while the mother is still doing her degree in computer science
A cheerful bouncing baby belongs to a young couple, both civil engineers working in Klang valley. The happy mother was born in a family of great ‘satar’ maker ( the subject of ‘End of the end of tunnel’ Pt 7)
Group of 2006. The proud radiologist ( subject of 'End of the tunnel' Pt 9 ) surrounded by a bevy of beauties made up of secretary, nurse and undergraduates in Environmental Health and Psychology.
Belated birthday gift from our missing two members away in London.
A group I can proudly call mine (less two away in London)
At sunset, the end of an auspicious day – A mother and a son beside a new grave of a super grand-mother. May Allah bless her for her years of love and dedication to help us build a happy home.
More than 70 years ago a sweet sixteen was married to a young teacher, and two years later the couple was blessed with a baby girl. So much adored, being the very first, the baby was given a pet named, Ning. Following that came two baby boys.
When Ning was nine, the family of five moved to England where the father was appointed a lecturer at a Teachers’ training college. Ning continued her primary education at a primary school with local English children.
Leaving for England - for a better future
Three years later the young lecturer left England and became a lecturer at a university in Singapore.
Everything was seen to go well with the family who, by then, had a second daughter.
But it was not all sunshine and rainbows.
At the age of 39, barely one year after taking up his new post, and a few months before celebrating the Merdeka of Tanah Melayu in 1957, the lecturer passed away.
So at 34, the lady, Ning’s loving mother became a single mother and was left alone to raise the four young kids. The loss of her father affected Ning’s progress in education. She had to work soon after finishing school. And the mother chose to remain faithful to the memory of her deceased husband, remaining a single mother all her life. Her first real reward was when her adored Ning was married and, a year later, gave birth to three children, who in turn had ten children who were,naturally, the old lady’s great-grandchildren – a new generation.
So life went on for good many years. The once sweet sixteen was now 88, a great-grand-mother. In April this year she fell ill, but life went on for Ning who has now taken over the role of a grand lady – or should I say the ‘first lady’!
Before the 30th day of last month, the very special month of August, Ning’s three children had planned a special gathering to be held at our home, Nuri, in Terengganu. There was something special about August 2011; firstly, there was Ning’s (and Pakcik’s too, of course) 47th wedding anniversary. Then there were two wedding anniversaries of our first two children, making it three wedding anniversaries in all. There was also the Merdeka anniversary on 31th August. Then there was Hari Raya which fell on 30th, all in the same month of August.
But that was not all. Tuesday 30th was not just any Hari Raya. It was also Ning’s 70th birthday. So, for all intents and purposes, that day ought to be a befitting day of the month to celebrate – (not to mention Pakcik’s own birthday which would fall three days later – just into September.)
As planned, the Hari Raya started all too well with the birthday and delayed wedding anniversaries cakes and all. And that being a Hari Raya, soon after ‘sembahyang Raya’, relatives and friends began to call in – the promise of a wonderful and joyous day.
Disangka panas sampai kepetang, rupanya hujan ditengah hari.
While things were warming up and the family gathered to take group photographs, Ning received a phone call from her sister near Tanjong Malim. Their bed-ridden mother had just passed away. Was this not a divine planning that the faithful wife, the grand old lady chose to breathe her last at the age of 88, on a Hari Raya, on the very exact day, 70 years earlier she gave birth to her first child, Ning? Just imagine how Ning would feel, celebrating her birthday and the Hari Raya to be followed with the death of a very loved one.
It was perfect – the work of the Greatest Planner of all.
So, Pakcik has lost two loving mothers. Fifty years ago my mother passed away while doing her pilgrimage in Mecca. I do not, as a result, have her grave to visit. Then this loving lady, who had been my mother, left us on that very auspicious day of 30th August.
On hearing the sad news, Pakcik made a snap decision to stop our part in the day’s celebration. The next seven hours of Hari Raya saw me driving on a relatively quiet route. We reached the burial ground when the last group was leaving the freshly made grave covered with flowers. There we squatted with tears running down our faces, reciting Al Quran, marking the end of our Hari Raya. We had to stop as the sun had gone down behind range of hills.
The final destination
We planned and planned, and we often forget who the Ultimate Planner is. HE reminds us over and over again in the Quran of HIS overall power ABOVE EVERYTHING.
Almanar Trust The Almanar Trust (Amanah Almanar) was established in 1992 by the family of Hassan Abdul-Karim from Kuala Terengganu. The aim of this small private body is to provide academic support to deserving individuals who have slipped through the formal channels due to various circumstances.