Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“Selamat Tinggal, Singapuraku” (Farewell, my Singapore)

“God does not forbid that you do good and make justice for those who do not fight you in the religion or drive you out from your homes. Indeed, God loves those who do justice. God only forbids your friendship with those who fight you in the religion and drive you out from your homes and back those who drive you out. And who befriends them, such are wrongdoers.”
 - Surah al-Mumtahana verses 8-9
Tanjong Pagar and Tanjong Katong, December 1965
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

In December 1965, after much persuasion from Siddi, Mak agreed to move and start a new life in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city about 20 miles from Klang, where my grandfather worked as a Mufti.
The last few days before the departure were a blur of sorting and shoving our belongings into a few old trunks and boxes.  Welcoming and saying goodbyes to neighbours and relatives who could not send us off at the railway station.  And the last minute bookings for the train tickets and the 'teksi pa'wan chah', the local cab, to take us to the train station.  
Just like a scene from a P. Ramlee movie, it was suddenly time to step off the concrete platform and onto the low, steel stairs into the belly of the winding Senandong Malam.  The station master blew his whistle for the third time and flagged down the red triangle cloth as a signal of departure.  I stood and held Mak's sarong, with my sisters and second brother peering over my mother's shoulder to wave with one hand and wipe their tears with the other on that narrow aisle between those thinly cushioned seats in the third class coach.  My eldest brother stayed behind.  He was 22, already a constable in the police force, and a Singapore citizen. 
I could see the edges of Mak’s eyes brimming with tears as she said her customary words of advice:
Jagalah diri baik-baik.  Rajin-rajin tulis surat.  Kalau sunyi carilah Aim ke Razak
(Take good care of your self.  Do write often.  If you’re lonely, look for Aim or Razak). 
Leaving him alone in Singapore was one of the hardest decisions in Mak’s life, one that she regretted until her dying day.  But recent events which unfolded in the young nation's life and our personal life left her with no choice but to leave the island where she was born and had spent the first 42 years of her life.          
My vision was a bleary image when the coach started to sway from to side to side.  We held the back of the seats to steady our stance and sat down.  I pressed my face against the thick window pane and lifted my hand to wave goodbye to all my mother’s brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces - Wak Som, Wak Enah, Wak Yok, Wak Aman, Mak Munah, Wak Aeng, Pak Cik Pom, Abang Aim, Abang Razak, Abang Omar, Abang Amzah, Kak Pet, Kak Imah, Tutut, Tenah - and our neighbours – Mak Cik Mani, Mamat, Enchah and Yon - who had sent us off.  As the dusty row of brown and yellow carriages snaked its way out of the station and headed north, I bade a silent farewell to my childhood in Singapore.  
Mak’s family was large – four boys and three girls.  Wak Asan (Hasan) passed away before I was born, so I only knew Wak Aman (Rahman), Wak Aeng (Rahim) and Pak Cik Pom (Said).  Wak Enah (Zainah) was the eldest sister and Wak Yok (Sa’adiah) was the second. 
They all had big families – Wak Asan and Wak Som had 10 children (Abang Sed, Abang Tep, Abang Ajis, Kak Azizah, Kak Kamariah, Abang Razak, Wahab, Wahid, Manan and Dadeh. 
Wak Enah and Wak Sirat had seven – Abang Osman, Abang Ali, Kak Bulat, Kak Jamilah, Abang Omar, Kak Halimah and Maimon. 
Wak Yok and Wak Said had eight – Abang Imat, Kak Imah, Abang Sani, Kak Pet, Kak Milah, Jamil, Tutut and Tenah. 
Wak Aman and Mak Munah with six of their own – Kak Bibah, Abang Amzah, Kak Alimah, Anapi (who died in an accident when he was pre-adolescent), Alim and Achim. 
I was quite certain that Wak Aeng and Wak Jarah had more than five but Mak rarely visited his home so I hardly knew their children. 
And the five of us (the other five had died in the womb or were stillborn) and Pak Cik Pom who did not marry ‘til he was his forties when we had already moved to KL. 
And just a few weeks ago, they had gathered - easily 200, 300 of them - and spent a whole Sunday by the sea side.  Every year, the more active members of the Kerabat – the Clan - had organised the large gathering at Kampong Wa' Asan on Tanjong Katong, one of the sun-soaked beaches along the East Coast of Singapore.
Katong Beach 1965

The musical talents among the Kerabat sang:
      Di Tanjong Katong, airnya biru
      Di situlah tempat, dara jelita   
      Duduk sekampong, lagi kan rindu
      Ini kan lah pula, jauh di mata
      (In Tanjong Katong, the water is blue
      That is where you’ll find pretty damsels
      Missing you, even when you’re here
      What more when you’re out of sight)
      But the rugged coastal kampongs of Katong were a far cry from smoothly paved boulevards that led to the palatial mansions with manicured lawns and wrought iron gates which dotted the shoreline.  Those 'Katong Girls', the creme de la creme of high society, were sought after marriage partners, not only for their upper-class pedigree but also for their morally-upright English education at the convents ran by the prim and proper Christian nuns. 
A couple of our cousins - Wak Aman's daughters, Kak Bibah and Kak Alimah - had attended the prestigious single-sex Tanjong Katong Girls School, known for its simple uniform of white shirt and dark green skirt. 
Our eldest aunt, Wak Enah, had somehow befriended some genteel Nyonya ladies of Katong.  She and Mak were proud to share their trade mark – starched batik sarong from Pekalongan, matching embroidered kebaya from the finest kasa rubiah, moonstone kerongsang (brooches) daintily decorating the bodice, matching star-shaped studs and rings, the stiff linen handkerchiefs with their tiny pastel floral embroidery, the twin gold hairpins to secure the sanggul tinggi (high, tight notch which was Wak Enah’s signature) or siput kuih keria (the low, doughnut style bun that Mak would not be seen out without) - and signature dishes – asam pedas, pai tee (tophats), kuih talams (a variety of coconut-based cakes steamed in small and large round containers and cut into diamond-shaped pieces before they were served).  
Unfortunately, their association with the Peranakans (Straits-born, English-educated Chinese, whose ancestors arrived in the Nusantara in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, married local women and absorbed their language, culture and cuisine) had somehow jaundiced their views of the Sin Kehs (the newcomers, Chinese immigrants who came later in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as traders and coolies, who maintained their own dialects, costumes and cuisine).  
Be that as it may, the Kerabat gathering was full of activities for the kids and grown-ups – there were greasy pole, tug-of-war, gasing spinning, kite flying and cooking contests – but the high point of the event was the Kebaya Queen contest. 
Kak Pet and Kak Eka, along with two other second cousins, had dolled themselves up in tight batik sarongs, coquettish corsets and delicate lace kebayas filed into the hall in their best posture, swiveled and turned in front of the panel of judges who tried to remain calm.  We sensed that Kak Eka was the audience favourite in her demure beige sarong and pink kebaya by the roar of applause but Kak Pet in her black sarong and blood red kebaya was the jury's choice.  All the way home and the following days, we debated on the choice but finally agreed that it must be Kak Pet’s buxom figure (36-24-36) and sensual moves that nailed her that coverted title of 'Ratu Kebaya Kerabat 1965'. 
·    Tanjong: cape
*    Katong: the rippling effect of a sea mirage when looking at a shoreline.                         
·    The were a few significant events which pushed the Malays in Singapore to move to Kuala Lumpur in droves between 1957 and 1965.  One of them was the Maulid-ur-rasul riots of July 21 1964.  It also paved the way for Singapore’s tumultous relationship with Malaysia and its exit on August 9 1965.  The Malay exodus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, which began after Independence in 1957, gained momentum in 1965. 
      Fleeing the political dominance of the Chinese majority in Singapore, Malay journalists, literary writers, intellectuals, professionals and artistes left to take up posts in Kuala Lumpur, which had become the centre for the cultural industry in Malaysia. 
      Since most of the journalists and literary writers were also political activists, their departure created a vacuum which were filled by UMNO defectors such as Haji Ya’acob Mohammad (Member of Legislative Assembly for Bukit Timah 1959-1964, MP for Kampong Ubi 1968-1980, Parliamentary Secretary for Minister of National Development 1965, Minister of State, Senior Minister and Ambassador) and Rahmat Kenap (Member of Legislative Assembly and MP for Geylang Serai 1963-1980) to represent the interests of the Malay community.  It took much persuasion for Malay graduates such as Cikgu Sha’ari Tadin (MP for Kampong Chai Chee 1968-1976, Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Culture 1972-1976, MP for Bedok 1976-1980) to be MPs under the PAP ticket since it was seen as a betrayal to align themselves to the political party which had challenged Malay Special Position and Malay leadership.  Other PAP leaders such as Othman Wook (MP for Pasir Panjang 1963-1977, Minister for Social Affairs 1963-1977) and Abdul Rahim Ishak (MP for Siglap, Minister of Education 1965-1968, Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs 1972-1981) were seen as Malay leaders who have “sold out” on the Malay cause in Singapore.
Singapore, the epicentre of Malay journalism, literature, education, film industry and finance since the 1930s was gradually abandoned in the 1960s.  From 1930s to the 1960s, Malay journalism, literature and political activitism had been inextricably bound.  Journalists and literary writers such as Pak Sako, Rahim Kajai and Samad Ismail were also political activists fighting for the independence of the nation from British colonialists. 
Although Yusoff Ishak, the founder of Utusan Melayu and an ardent champion of Malay nationalism, was made the first President of Singapore in 1959, the headquarters of the publication was moved to Jalan Chan Sow Lin in Sungei Besi, Kuala Lumpur.  His successor, Said Zahari, who led the workers’ strike on July 21 1961(to protest against UMNO’s take-over of the newspaper) was barred from entering Malaya on August 30 of that year and banished to Pulau Ubin for 17 years. 
When Tunku succeeded in acquiring Utusan Melayu, Ibrahim Fikri took over as the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.  Usman Awang left Utusan Melayu to join Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka, while Samad Ismail, one of the founding members of the PAP and a leading political activist in the 1950s and 1960s, took up the Editorship of the Berita Harian in Kuala Lumpur after his release from detention at Changi Jail. 
Pioneers of ASAS 50 (Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 or the Singapore Writers' Movement '50) such as Asraf, Keris Mas and Awam-il-Sirkam also moved up to take up posts in Utusan Melayu and Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka in Kuala Lumpur.
Asas '50, founded on August 6 1950, claimed to be the first and oldest literary association in post-war Malaya and the Malay region, had members who comprised of journalists, teachers and lecturers. Besides the Malay Teachers Union, the Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM), and Sriwana, it was the voice of the Malay community, using literature as a platform in the fight for independence.
Driven by its philosophy of “Arts for Society”, instead of “Arts for Arts’ Sake” (championed by Hamzah Hussein of Majalah Hiburan), ASAS 50 shaped the development of modern Malay literature.  Masuri S.N., among the members who opted to stay in Singapore, later won the Public Service star in 1963.
Many of the story lines in P.Ramlee’s movies were also influenced by the ideology of Asas '50.  Since his wife, Fatimah Murad, was the editor of P.Ramlee's film magazine Majalah Bintang, Asraf had ample opportunities to trade views and opinions with P.Ramlee. These views on society were reflected in films such as “Bujang Lapok”, which were regarded as social satires of the Malay community in the 1950s. 
In 1963, P. Ramlee left the Malay Film Production (MFP) studio at Jalan Ampas to join the Merdeka Studios in Hulu Kelang, Kuala Lumpur.  Jamil Sulong, Rosnani, Latiffah Omar, Ahmad Mahmood, Sarimah, Sa’adiah, Ahmad Daud, Normadiah, Aziz Jaa’far and Jins Shamsuddin were other film makers and movie stars who moved north in the 1960s.
The shipping, gold, diamond, and textile trading which were once controlled by the Malays from the Malay Peninsula (Johor), Borneo (Kalimantan) and Indonesia fell to the control of the Chinese and Arab traders.  Malay millionaires such as Mohd Eunos Abdullah and Ambok Soloh who made their fortune from real estate, diamond trading and shipping had passed away and their wealth divided among their offspring, who were unknown. 
·    In 1965, the PAP initiated the establishment of an opposition pact as a counterfactual to the Alliance.  The PAP had joined United Democratic Party (UDP) under the leadership of Dr. Lim Chong Eu, PPP and Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and formed the Malaysian Solidarity Convention. This opposition pact had pledged to implement the policy of “Malaysian Malaysia”.  The concept of “Malaysian Malaysia” which was the basis of their struggle had raised the objection from the ‘ultra’ Malay faction.  They pressured the Alliance leaders to arrest and detain Lee Kuan Yew under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for inciting racial hatred by questioning the Malays’ control over the country’s administration.
The Malays also regarded the formation of the PAP-led opposition front as a confirmation of Lee Kuan Yew’s political ambition to spread his influence throughout Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.  There were slogans and posters which criticised and demanded Lee Kuan Yew’s arrest. The pressure finally culminated in mid May 1965 during the UMNO General Assembly. In the meantime, the Malay press especially Utusan Melayu and Berita Harian published statements condemning Lee Kuan Yew and PAP, which were countered by the supporters of PAP in Singapore. The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) urged Tunku Abdul Rahman and the government to be firm towards Lee Kuan Yew and his supporters, as he had been with the Malay opposition parties which had attacked the formation of Malaysia. The Alliance cabinet ministers stood firm by their decision to counter Lee in a democratic, not draconian manner.
During the Parlimentary session in May 1965, an open debate occurred between the Malaysia Solidarity Convention with the Alliance government. Lee Kuan Yew condemned the Alliance government for its failure in implementing the policy of ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ and sounding the death knell for democractic system in Malaysia. This compelled the Alliance government to launch an information campaign against “Malaysian Malaysia” by publishing and distributing a booklet on the Alliance position on the concept. 
Lee Kuan Yew’s provocative views and statements such as, “if we must have trouble, let us have it now instead of waiting for another 5 or 10 years” and “if we find Malaysia cannot work now, we can make alternative arrangements” led to escalation in racial tensions.  Lee’s statements also hinted to the proposed partial break-up discussed in secret meetings between him and Tunku in January 1965. 
In those trysts, Singapore was to be granted full autonomy except in the areas of foreign policy and defence on condition Lee Kuan Yew withdrew from the politics of the Federation. Tunku finally lost his patience while on a month-long medical treatment in London in June 1965 when he uttered: “The more pain I got the more I directed my anger on him (Lee Kuan Yew) and pitied Singapore for all its self-imposed problems”. 
And June 29 1965, he made the sole decision to expel Singapore from Malaysia. Tunku then wrote a letter to Tun Abdul Razak, the Deputy Prime Minister, to discuss the separation of Singapore with the senior cabinet ministers. Tun was also asked to meet Lee Kuan Yew to resolve the dispute. Tun met Lee Kuan Yew on July 20 1965, but the meeting ended in a stalemate. 
Singapore’s separation from Malaysia became a reality when the Malaysian Parliament convened on August 9 1965 to pass the amendment to the 1965 Constitution to expel Singapore from Malaysia. While presenting the proposed amendment, Tunku explained that the decision was unfortunate but there were many problems between Singapore and Malaysia, especially in 1965, chief among them the communal issue raised by Singapore and the dissemination of the propaganda on the ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ concept.
The amendment received the support of PAS leaders.  In a telegram by Lord Head (British High Commissioner to Malaysia) to the Commonwealth Relation Office dated August 9 1965, he cited the deep concern among the Malays on the probable political progress achieved by Lee Kuan Yew in Malaya and Tan Siew Sin’s concern over MCA’s future.
* Revised version of earlier draft on 'Kerabat, Katong & Kebaya Queens'


Sustainable Living Institute (SAVE) said...

Guess you must be writing a book on memoirs. Interesting with details of family life and tribulations in those days (though I haven't read all postings). In the earlier posting your mentioned about Selekoh. I used to pass an old madrasah there by the very roadside when driving to work at Sg Sumun from T. Intan. Now, I know who has led his mark there. May Allah bless Siddi, a pious man.

"Bapak returned to Sitti’s hometown in Selekoh, Perak, where Siddi had set up his waqf (pious foundation) and madradasah (religious school) in 1918. Although Siddi and the rest of the family had left for Makkah once again in 1937, his former students must have kept the waqf alive and Bapak’s family may have stayed at an ancestral home or relatives on Sitti’s side."

BaitiBadarudin said...

Salam SAVE,
Yes, I am, although it's still at the stage of the outermost 'skin of the onion'. There's many more layers to peel and requires 'digging' deep into the recesses of my memories.
Ultimately, it's not about the life of a single family but a composite of the Malay family in Singapore who underwent political, economic, social and cultural upheaval during that 25 five year period, beginning from the Japanese Occupation to the Formation of ASEAN.
The main protagonists are represented by Siddi, the old school ulamak; Bapak, the 'bourgeoise' supporter of the 'Radical Left'; and Mak, the 'protected' female who had to fend for herself and her children.
Thank you for the recognition of my Siddi's mark on this world, albeit it must be a crumbling institution (physically and metaphorically) by now.
And I applaud your efforts in 'greening' your part of the world.

Sustainable Living Institute (SAVE) said...

To me reading the history part itself is painful what more for you to write as the first person. You bear the courage to go through back those years is commendable. Reserve me a book.

BaitiBadarudin said...

Yes, SAVE, it is an excruciatingly painful yet carthatic process. But the waves of memories surged into stories, where I'm just a powerless witness and a hesitant scribe. InsyaAllah, with the encouragement of readers such as your self, I'll get to publish the final draft. Thanks a million times.

Anonymous said...

Grew up in Geylang. Now based in KL. Remember some names u mentioned. Especially Shaari Tadin. Was my HM at Telok Kurau Sec Sch. Also Haji Yaakob Md who's my father's friend. He used to love in Lor Marican. Yes also Rahmst Kenap. MP for Geylang Serai or Kg. Ubi.


BaitiBadarudin said...

Oh, when was that?
And where in KL?
So, you were at TKSS?
Here's my e-mail address too if you'd like to reminisce at length: