My dear Cikgu Ali
Here was one person I consider myself very fortunate to have come to know for twenty years with high degree of respect. He was a gentleman , very sincere and one who spoke his mind. Above all he was a very loving and caring father. Sadly, he passed away on 3rd November leaving behind his wife and 15 well-raised children. He was Cikgu Ali Jusoh, a retired headmaster and an extraordinary novelist. (AlFatihah for him)
Mother and 14 children
(15th not in the picture)
Arwah Cikgu Ali wrote more than twenty Malay novels. Of all the many awards he received for his works, Alor Miang topped the list, for which he was honoured with the coveted Sako 3, a prestigious national literary award named after Ishak Haji Muhammad, or better known by his pen name Pak Sako.
However, personally, I know how he felt about his latest over-540-page Orang Orang Perang, published just weeks before his demise. The pleasure of having completed the book was tremendous.
Orang Orang Perang (last piublished)
And it seems like yesterday when, while driving in town, his voice came through the phone with excitement. A few copies of his latest book had reached him. I was to drop by for my copy before being high-jacked by others
To avoid making this a long posting I may, one of these days, post a note on why I believe he judged his last book, Orang Orang Perang, to be his best achievement; and I will write why Alor Miang is not just an award winning novel for him but one book very personal to me.
Arwah Ali Jusoh often expressed his enthusiasm in training young novelists, several of whom owe him success. To my mind he was a born writer, not needing tertiary education to be what he was. I cannot help believing that characters in his novels were of real people and so were the events and environments. He often told me how he made trips up a hill, into a jungle or down a river to study the environments. He was adamant that one should not imagine the feeling of being in jungle at night without experiencing it, camping overnight if necessary. One should feel the serenity, the rustle of leaves, the buzzing of mosquitoes, the sight of the moon, or the lack of it, among the leaves.
It hurt me deeply, during the last year of his illness, to see a novelist of his calibre sitting idle with plenty of time on hand, sadly unable to use his fingers. What he could compose in his mind could not be translated without the use of his fingers holding a pen or striking the type-writer keys. Recitation was never an option for him.
How did I get to know this wonderful person?
Way back in 1994, a good 20 years ago, it was my ‘hijrah’ with Makcik from KL to KT to start a new phase of life. A couple of months after settling down Pakcik decided to start my voluntary tuition for the needy children. My small tuition Almanar building was about to be built but I could not wait to start. My first thought was to begin with a small number of Standard 5 children. For that purpose I drove to the nearest primary school, about 3 km away. At the school office I requested to see the headmaster, whoever that might be. It turned out to be Arwah Ali Jusoh whom I had never mat or heard of.
Without being asked for the reason of my visit I was ushered into the HM’s office. With a smile he gestured me to a chair and he sat himself in one. I told him briefly the reason for seeing him; to request for a small group of Std 5 children, stressing my preference for those from needy families. That person must have studied me and understood what I wished.
That was the beginning of my 20-year friendship with that headmaster. When I subsequently knew of his writing skill I began to have dreams of being a writer as well. Finally, I completed a two-sheet type-written essay (that was my pre-laptop era!) and proudly handed it to him one day. Soon after that he dropped by the house. Pakcik knew He had read my master piece and was about to give me his comments, nothing short of high praise, I anticipated.
Then came the bomb-shell. “Haji, tulislah saja dalam Bahasa Inggeris. ( addressing me – Haji you are better off writing in English.) he began. Then, while placing on the table my two-sheet work, which was now full of lines , scribbles and circles in RED ink, he went on (in Malay), “ This is not the Malay way of writing. It is English. Even your Malay spellings are all wrong, Zaaba’s era!” The man was no-nonsense. We understood each other well enough. What a blow to my ego that was!
He had plainly told me the truth. Thence, I ceased to dream of becoming a novelist.
With his Alor Miang
Trying hard to scribble his initials on
my copy of Orang Orang Perang
That was Ali Jusoh. My prayers go with him.