Monday, September 1, 2014

An Arranged Marriage

Newly Weds

A Family of Four

In the 1940s
Girls were not allowed to choose their spouses
One day they could be engaged to a sweetheart
The next day they could be married off to a brat

So whenever her marriage hit the rocks
Ma would evoke a secret spot
A bamboo thicket at the edge of Orange Grove Road
A favourite rendezvous with her fiancé, a Javanese bloke

With that wistful, faraway look
She bemoaned the fact
That her first love was thwarted
By her father’s lack of foresight

How she wished she could turn back the clock
And not stopped by Ustaz Jalal’s abode
After a photo session at a studio in Joo Chiat Road
When she and her brother, Pom
Suddenly had a craving for Wak Jenab’s lontong

As soon as they got off the trishaw
Pa sighted Ma in her white Cheongsam
Hair crimped and styled ala ‘Nona dari Shanghai’
Her moon-shaped face luminous and charming
Never had he seen in all his years of sailing
A damsel who set his heart a quivering

Seconds after their shadows were gone
Pa persuaded his godfather to ask for Ma’s hand
Upon Ustaz Jalal’s recommendation
Granpa Mat hastily broke off Ma’s engagement

Pa had charmed the socks off both the elderly men
With his pious family background
And deep knowledge of Islam

It’s not everyday that a Javanese family from Kendal
Receive a proposal from a progeny of an almost Royal
Grateful that God Almighty had showered his Blessings
Granpa Mat hastened to prepare the wedding

It was mid ‘42
Just a few months before
The Japanese Kempetei had cycled down
500 kilometres from Kota Baru, Kelantan
To catch the BMA with their pants down
In the renowned Battle of Singapore
And turned it into Syonan-to
Where their flag, the Rising Sun soared
While the Brits and Aussies shuddered
At the fate of their foot soldiers
Either tortured at the infamous Changi Jail
Or sent to labour at the notorious Death Railway 

Granpa Mat sighed with relief
Since the timely offer
Meant he didn’t have to hide his teen-aged daughter
Up in the attic or in the bunker no longer

In spite of the Japanese Occupation
Ma’s family didn’t compromise on fashion
The bride was dressed in a kebaya moden
Enhanced by a sweetheart neckline
And on the pelamin, a raised dais with a velvet divan
She sat next to a groom she had never known
Though from her veiled gaze
He looked pretty sharp in a beige suit and black fez

Eighteen months later
Ma gave birth to eldest brother
Pa named him Muhammad Hatta
After the first Vice President of Indonesia

By that time
There was a near famine
Caused by a food shortage
Prices of basic items sky-rocketed
And the value of the banana notes plummeted
Tapioca, yams and sweet potatoes were planted
At first, as supplements to rice
But later, as staple themselves      
Pa was ingenious
He picked up some Japanese
Soon he was hired as a radio operator based in Bukit Tinggi
The new command centre for the Nippon 25th Army
Some 500 kilometres from Padang, the capital of Western Sumatera
There the family stayed ‘til the Japs’ defeat two years later

In the cool hill station
Clasped between two volcanic mountains
The dormant Singgalang and the active Marapi
It peered over Lake Maninjau and Harau Valley
Ma learned to prepare spicy Padang dishes
And immersed herself in Indonesian literature
In May ’45, she produced her first daughter
And four months later, 
The Yankees bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki 
    Which forced the Nippons to their knees 

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