|Pak Sako, the intellectual vanguard, literary giant and freedom fighter|
“Give me ten young men, and believe me, I can shake the world” - Soekarno
I never asked Mak why Bapak did not immediately bring the family home to Malaya after the Japanese surrender in August 1945. There is a gap in my memory about the five year period following the end of World War II (WWII). Mak might have told me why the family stayed on at Bukit Tinggi ‘til late 1940s but it must have slipped my mind. However, I am sure that they were there ‘til Abang Hatta was about six and Kak Aida about four for the two children were about that age in the family photo at one of the summits overlooking the scenic Tasik Maninjau and Lembah Harau.
Bapak must have been reluctant to miss the exciting events that unfolded just days after the Japanese surrender to the Allied Forces. On August 17 1945, the Indonesians declared their Independence and established the Republic of Indonesia. They accepted the Pancasila (Five Pillars) as their national ideology and, a day later, adopted the Constitution as the basic law of the land. Soekarno became the first President and Mohammad Hatta, the first Vice-President. On September 5 1945, the first cabinet was formed but the Indonesians had to fight a War of Independence that dragged on for five years before they were finally freed of Dutch rule.*
During the protracted war, the Indonesian freedom fighters went underground and carried out guerrilla warfare against both the Brits and the Dutch. On December 19 1948, the Dutch forces invaded the capital of Yogyakarta and detained Soekarno, Mohammad Hatta and other leaders on the island of Bangka. Bukit Tinggi was then made the headquarters by a caretaker government formed under Syafruddin Prawiranegara. Jawaharlal Nehru of India initiated a meeting of 19 nations in New Delhi and produced a resolution submitted to the United Nations (UN), demanding for total Dutch surrender of control to the Republic by January 1 1950, the release of all detainees and the return of territories taken during the military attacks. On January 28, 1949, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution to call for a cease-fire, the release of nationalist leaders and Yogyakarta. The Dutch stubbornly ignored the call and continued to occupy the city. Soeharto, a Lieutenant Colonel in the National Army, led “the first of March all-out attack” on the Dutch troops in Yogyakarta and occupied the city for several hours. On May 7 1949, an agreement was signed between representatives of Indonesia and the Netherlands to end the aggression, restore the legitimate government in Yogyakarta and hold further negotiations. On August 23 1949, the Round Table conference was initiated in den Hague under the patronage of the UN. It was finally agreed on November 2 1949 that Holland recognize the Independence of the new nation. At long last, on December 27 1949, the new Republic of Indonesia snuffed the life out of the Dutch East Indies.
I believe Bapak took his family back to Malaya after the nationalists had won the War of Independence. Excited by the Indonesian victory over the Dutch colonialists, 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. Once there, he registered Kak Aida’s birthplace as Telok Anson and that was how she was the only sibling who was a Malaysian citizen.
Bapak’s nationalistic spark was rekindled by the fervent struggle and fiery speeches of the KMM (Kesatuan Melayu Muda or Young Malay Union) leaders who were active throughout Malaya since it was registered in 1938. He was roped in by some friends* into setting up a publishing and printing house known as Ra’ayat Trading at one of the ground floor shop lots facing the Ipoh Padang. The young family moved into the three bedroom quarters one floor above the printing press. Abang Hatta was enrolled at an English school* around the corner while Kak Aida stayed home since she was not of school-going age yet. It was at that time that Mak went through a few miscarriages and she recounted the days when she took Kak Aida along the shallow Kinta River for her visits to her gynaecologist, Dr Megat Khas, at his clinic nearby.* On fine days when Abang Hatta got home from school, he and Kak Aida would be frolicking on the wide, green expanse of the padang, resting under the shades of the semarak (flame of the forest) trees and venturing to the wire fence of the Ipoh Club at the far end of the padang.
Bapak was in his element then, being part of the frenetic publishing and printing operations and living the live of a man about town during the evenings. Our jaws dropped when we heard the names of his partners* and close friends and their exploits at the night spots of Ipoh and Taiping. Some of them were sons of rich men (literally Orang Kaya) who had no qualms lighting up fifty dollar notes as cigarettes to impress their buddies and the “taxi girls” (ladies trained in Latin and Malay dances, whom the gentlemen had to purchase tickets and wait in line to dance with) at the cabarets. We asked Mak if she was ever jealous of his interactions with those ladies, one of whom even sought his opinion on her prospective husband, but she just said: “None of the wives were indignant, so how could I?” I had a tingling suspicion that she even felt honoured because Bapak had chosen her to be his confidant.
But for certain, Mak would well up with pride whenever she mentioned the names of the nationalist leaders and activists - Dr Burhanuddin Al Helmi, Ahmad Boestamam, Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako), Abdul Rahman Rahim and Jamil Sulong. Dr Burhanuddin was a trained homeopathy doctor and a schoolteacher in Singapore who wrote letters to the editor to protest against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. In 1945, he founded the Malay Nationalist Party (MNP) which succeeded the KMM when it was declared illegal in 1950. Ahmad Boestamam, the Assistant Secretary of KMM, one of the editors of Majlis (a daily newspaper based in Kuala Lumpur) and one of the founders of PKMM (Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya founded in 1946), was of Indonesian descent.* Pak Sako, Abdul Rahman Rahim and Jamil Sulong were regular contributors to the company’s publications and remained firm friends even after all of them had moved to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Pak Sako was a true maverick. A qualified magistrate, he chose to be a journalist and a freedom fighter. Even before the Japanese occupation in 1942, Pak Sako had covertly gone to Japan to seek help to liberate Malaya from the claws of the British colonialists. He could have been tried for treason, which was punishable by death, if he were discovered. Pak Sako’s initiative was followed up by Dr Burhanuddin who held meetings with Soekarno to plan their countries’ liberation from the colonialists. Alas, the Malayan nationalists failed to proclaim independence on the same day - August 17 1945 - as the Indonesians. The Brits returned in full force to Malaya and wasted no time in crippling the nationalist movement by detaining leaders like Mustapha Hussain (the Vice-President of KMM) for "collaborating" with the Japanese.* (The President, IBHY, was earlier detained during the Japanese occupation).
Both Pak Sako and Dr Burhanuddin joined PKMM when it was founded by Ahmad Boestamam and Musa Ahmad in early 1946. The party members would greet each other with cries of “Merdeka!” with their fists clenched and held against their chests. PKMM’s first newspaper Suara Rakyat was published at Hale Street, Ipoh, which I believe must have been Ra’ayat Trading and that must the reason why their printing press was confiscated. (PKMM soon opened branches all over the country with its headquarters at Batu Road, Kuala Lumpur). UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) was formed six months after the establishment of PKMM. The party was launched with the single aim of challenging the proposed Malayan Union which transferred the powers of the Malayan Rulers to the British Residents. Unlike the PKMM leaders who came from among the intellectuals and literary writers, UMNO leaders were mostly colonial civil servants who were strongly against the idea of independence because they felt that the poor, uneducated Malays were not ready to govern themselves. The party member’s salutation was “Hidup Melayu!” Since the PKMM leaders thought that independence should come first, only then the education of the Malays and the development of the country, there were bad feelings between them and the UMNO leaders.