Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Navigating the newsroom I

News Editor, Samani Amin,
was detained a week after
I was hired.
There were two other rookies---SS and MM---who reported to work on the same day on that hot and humid June morning in 1976. Like me, the two of them had failed their first attempts at the HSC examinations. Hence, they were elated to be chosen from the throngs of applicants and short-listed candidates who sat through the rigorous written tests and the gruelling interview sessions.

There were no formal in-house training in those days. We were thrown into the deep end and had to frantically thread water to keep afloat. SS and MM were eager beavers who wouldn't think of taking a tea break or playing truant before they obediently handed in four copies of their news stories into the stack of wire trays at the center of our corner. I tried to toe the line but, somehow or other, I was always late for the company transport (if one was available) or had inadvertently forgotten to book a photographer for my first few assignments.          

It made perfect sense then that I was the last of the rookies to earn a 'by-line' or credit to my news reports. It was well into the first month of our probationary period when Saad Hashim, who took over as news editor after Samani was detained, finally granted me my first by-line. It was based on a write-up of a PC by the Paper Dolls, a Filipino transvestite performing troupe. I was moved by his charity. He had generously overlooked my occasional tardiness and absent-mindedness. Alas, my joy was short-lived when he had my last name wrong!

How could he mistook a Badarudin for a Jusoh? Was he pulling my leg? Or was it just an after-thought? No matter, Nazir and my work-mates celebrated my first by-line. They assured me that I had grasped some rudiments of news reporting, that I was not totally out of depths. Still, I felt that I made through the three-month probationary period by the skin of my teeth. And my suspicions were confirmed when I was assigned to Jelita, a new women's magazine in Malay published by Berita Publishing (BP), the newly set-up magazine section on the top floor of the NSTP building. 

Although writing for magazines, especially women's magazines, was deemed as 'fluff' (imagine light and fluffy as cotton candy), it was a great opportunity to have well-known literary writers---Adibah Amin, Zaharah Nawawi and Salmah Mohsin---as mentors.

Endearingly known to underlings as Kak Adib, Adibah Amin was chosen as the first editor of Jelita. Like other fans of her popular column in the NST, As I was Passing, I was smitten by her keen observation and erudite writing style. Not only was she a graduate of the University of Malaya in Singapore in the early 1950's, but she was a former headmistress of a reputable all-girls residential school, a published author of two novels---Bangsawan Tulen and Gadis Sipu---by the time she was fifteen, a script writer and actor for radio dramas, and a champion of women's rights "within the accepted boundaries of Eastern culture"---mengikut batas-batas sempadan budaya timur!

(It was through Mad magazine that I was acquainted with the caricatures of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem---the icons of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1960's. Some of Moon's 'groupie' friends at the Jay Bee Blues' Pot-Parties in the early 70's had gleefully supported Women's Lib---not by burning, no, but by dispensing with their bras---much to the delight of the band boys and their male hangers-on. 

When I was swotting for my Malay Literature paper in Form Six, I learned that the fight for 'women's emancipation' in pre-WWII Malaya was, ironically, championed by progressive male writers. Syed Sheikh Al-Hadi and Ahmad Rashid Talu were two authors who delved into taboo topics such as Love Marriages and Modernization of Malay Women in terms of education, movement and attire in their novels, Hikayat Faridah Hanum and Iakah Salmah?, which were both charged of being plagiarized.)  

I was full of admiration for senior journalists and editors like Cheong Mei Sui and Adibah Amin who went about inspiring and blazing the trail for junior reporters such as myself without so much as torching their undergarments. In fact, they were the epitome of femininity, with their demure clothes, dainty gaits and breathless voices. I felt rough and uncouth whenever I crossed their paths.   

I didn't know much about Mei Sui's background but Kak Adib had a ready-made role model in her mother, Ibu Zain (Zainon Sulaiman), an 'emancipated woman' who published magazines in the late 1930's (which was 'a first' for a Malay woman in the pre-Pacific War years) and ardently fought alongside her male compatriots for Malaya's Independence. 

Featuring 'First Woman' in male-dominated domains---First Woman Minister, First Woman Doctor, First Woman Judge, First Woman Director of a Government Agency, First Woman President of the Pan Malaysia Lorry-Owners Association, so on and so forth---was thought to inspire young women and girls to reach for greater heights in their chosen career paths.

However, in the actual newsroom, apart from Kak Adib and Mei Sui, very few women held top management posts. Many were content to be sub-editors and head Women, Features, Entertainment and Literary desks once they became wives and mothers. It was pretty much male-dominated and patriarchal. The male reporters in the Malay papers were, unabashedly, Male Chauvinist Pigs (MCP) and the females just shrugged them off and went about their work unfazed by the raunchy vocabulary of the editorial floor. 

Newspaper organizations then resembled large clans who tolerated members' idiosyncrasies and looked out for each other's welfare. Even the terms used were familial---Pak Samad (Ismail), Abang Samad (Said), Kak Sal and Kak Jee.                  

Big Sis---Fauziah Samad aka Jee

Best Buddy---Jalil Salleh aka Juwie
Role Model---Adibah Amin aka Kak Adib

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Jelita's 40th Anniversary & Pertama's Meet-up at Puteri

N.B. Badarudin and Rohani Pa'Wanchik, Editor of Jelita in the Nineties
It seemed only yesterday that I walked through the glass doors of the NST building as a wet-behind-the-ears cadet reporter in June '76.

Although my maternal grandfather worked as a typesetter for Warta Malaya, and later Utusan Melayu, in pre-World War II Singapore, I had never dreamt of being a journalist or a writer.

My primary school ambition was to be a Veterinary Surgeon or, in simple childhood parlance, an animal doctor.

When young Malay entrepreneurs launched their boutiques, hair and beauty salons in PJ Section 14, Ampang Shopping Complex and Wisma Central in the early '70s, I harbored fantasies of being a fashion designer cum boutique owner, a hair stylist or a beautician.

The reality of not having sponsors to finance my education in fashion and aesthetics forced me to pound the city streets for sales promoter jobs, waiting on restaurant tables and, finally, reporting the news for a BM daily. Since I had zero experience in writing, not even for the school year book, I had to hike up a steep leaning curve for the first few days, weeks and months. I struggled with the Five Ws & a H, keeping up with what the Source was saying and, at the same time, jotting down the key points on my reporter's note book, organizing the news story in my head while on the bus, taxi or company transport, rushing for a typing spot, hitting the keys of the Olympia (when I had never attended a single class in typing), juggling three sets of carbon copies, avoiding Pak Samad's scrutiny as he made his newsroom rounds and let out his signature lion's roar, shuddering before News Editor Saad Hashim's bark, squirming at male colleague's risqué jokes and double entendres, and taking the late night bus home, mentally and physically exhausted.  

Writing features for magazines was a vacation compared to the pressure and pace of covering and reporting news for dailies. In the beginning, it was exciting to interview entertainment and sports personalities, entrepreneurs and politicians, then it became a daily grind to keep tabs on the activities and goings-on of wives' associations, the latest recipes, beauty tips, so on and so forth.

Father Fortune smiled in the form of the suave suede-suited and bow-tied GM, Encik Mansor Wahab, who approved my university scholarship to attend a Program in Creative and Descriptive Writing at the University of Malaya. When my plan to gain admission into ITM---to escape a miserable home life---was dashed in '74, I was the only one in my sixth form class who didn't raise my hands when the class teacher asked who among the forty something of us bright boys and girls aimed to enroll into university. I just wanted to pass my examinations and get a job that will make me financially independent. I accepted the fact that, being born in Singapore, I wasn't eligible for either state or federal scholarship.

Most of the members of PERTAMA (Persatuan Wartawan Wanita Malaysia
or Women Journalists Association of Malaysia) at the High-tea meet-up
at Puteri Restaurant, 27 Feb 2016
Approximately three years (1993-1996) was spent on writing the proposal,
applying for funding, directing the research work and editing 
the first drafts of the manuscript 

The Preface by Rohani Pa'Wanchik, President of PERTAMA in 1996.

The published work was funded by the Canada Research Council
and launched by Rafidah Aziz, 
Minister for Trade and Industry in the 1990s

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Impetuous Fire

The notion of romantic love as peddled by Western, Hindi, Indonesian and Malay movies greatly influenced young, impressionable minds in the Sixties and Seventies. Starting with Franco Zeferelli's Romeo and Juliet (Olivia Hussey & Leonard Whiting, 1968) to Eric Segal's Love Story (Ali McGraw & Ryan O'Neal, 1970), it spread to Hindustani, Indonesian and Malay films---Bobbi (Rishi Kapoor & Dimple Kapadia), Romi dan Juli (Widyawati & Sophan Sophian), Cinta Pertama (Slamet Rahardjo & Christine Hakim) and Permintaan Terakhir (Uji Rashid & Sonny Abdullah).

The source of class conflicts were external---mainly status-conscious parents and relatives. All the young couples were so immersed in each other that no obstacle could dampen their ardor. Their world was seen through rose-colored eye glasses and their path was strewn with primroses. Trite one-liners---Love means never having to say you're sorry, memorable song and dance routines set in 16th century Verona, verdant hill stations with myriad flowerbeds and picturesque winter wonderlands (A Time For Us, Love Story, Cinta Pertama), dashing and good-looking actors who died tragic deaths---were the standard formula that never failed to pull at the audience's heart strings.  

Unfortunately, pop culture is a poor imitation of life. Its goal is to distract viewers from their everyday problems, not to confront them.    

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Into the Valley: Albatross

When adults evade problems, a girl has no choice but to confront them ...:
Underneath the frivolous outfit, she shoulders heavy responsibilties

Revised Blurb: 

A poignant story of gratitude, compassion and entrapment. Three adolescents --- Moon, Mat and Betty --- desperately sought escape from their tumultuous lives. The end of a disastrous affair forced Moon to move out and head for the city, leaving Betty stranded and saddled with Mat's heroin addiction. Her effort to get Mat into Rehab turned into a noose that bound her to a stifling relationship to an author who was more Albatross than Svengali.




Friday, January 22, 2016

The Gold Standard of the Seventies

Those were the days when Malaysian beauties were content with Japanese beasts

Like the passenger who missed her train ride, I felt that I always arrived at the station just as my coach was leaving. The Malays' term for it is ketinggalan kereta api.

My career in journalism began at the end of its Golden Age when A. Samad Ismail was arrested in mid '76. Though I was spared  of profanities and news copies being hurled around the newsroom, I missed the opportunity of being under the tutelage of one of the greatest Malay journalists who had ever paced the editorial floor of the NSTP building. 

My college education commenced three years after the Universities and Colleges Act was introduced in '74. The Orientation Week was tame compared to the notorious Shampoo & Wash and the Panty Raids of yesteryears. Gone were the decadent Freshie Queen pageants, Varsity Balls and Screaming Contests. No more fiery oratory at the Speakers' Corner. No trace at all of protest demonstrations and defiant sit-ins. 

The early '70s were the worst of times. They were the best of times. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A new beginning

KL, December ‘65
I felt like I had been guarding my luggage for ages before I caught sight of a kuning langsat nymphet fluttering in through the haloed entrance (or was it the arched exit of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station?) like a capricious illusion created by the morning mist.
The yellow-skinned young lady looked around the station platform and waved frantically as soon as she saw Mak circumnavigating our bags and boxes. Mak and I frowned and blinked. And frowned and blinked.

It was hard to reconcile the image of this pretty lass in her black, shiny, tight sarong which split in the center up to her knee caps and her soft, pink chiffon blouse which ended just above the V-shaped creases which followed the shape of her now flat tummy with the picture of the miserable, pregnant teen in her drab, grey sack of a baju kurung when we first saw her sitting on that white iron swing in the garden of the Home for Wayward Girls on Jalan Rimau.