Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Riddle of the Sphinx

Myth has it that the Sphinx was a figure of half man and half lion. It stood guard near a road in Egypt, posing a riddle to all who pass by; those who fail to answer correctly were consumed. On its part, the Sphinx promised to turn itself into stone should the riddle be solved by anyone.

Centuries may have passed with not one person able to give the correct answer. Till one day, a young man approached the Sphinx and challenged the Sphinx.

‘What goes on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and on three legs in the evening?’ asked the Sphinx.

To its horror, the man replied with the correct answer, forcing the Sphinx to honour its pledge.

I do not know what happened to the young man as the story I read as a child ended there. Nor do I remember his name. But I do remember the logic of the reply: As an infant (morning), we use all four limbs to crawl. As we grow (noon), we learn to walk upright on our legs. In the later part of our life (evening), we are forced to use a walking stick.


I was reading kak teh’s 'Memories of Pak this Ramadan' about the old man in the television ad, and could not but be reminded of the riddle above. As the only child living with emak, I think can understand and relate to kak teh’s story and the old man. 74 this November, alhamdulillah, emak is still going strong and able to fend for herself. She still does her own cooking, sewing, cleaning, and even gardening. When she is able, she would refuse any assistance to the chores she has assigned herself to. But now, slowly, she’s beginning to accept.

Her other children may not notice it, but emak is getting to be slightly forgetful than before and she is often hard on hearing. These may be minor, but at times I do have difficulty dealing with it. For one, I now have to speak louder which has made me feel very much guilty. Another is that I may have to repeat things many times over as she may have not heard it, or forgotten what was said.

We still joke and laugh with each other. I still play antics with her in hope of keeping a lively atmosphere at home. But slowly, I’m beginning to see the signs of old age on her.

This Raya, she had the rendang ayam outsourced to a neighbour. I cannot ascertain the motive yet. She claims to be tired of having to cook too many things for Raya. Then again, I know she’s beginning to take a liking to the neighbour’s daughter who may be a divorcee. Honestly, I do not mind at all…to both! Perhaps the reason why I’m still single is that Allah would like emak to have a daughter-in-law she could live with. No, its not that her present ones are a bad lot, its just compatibility, I suppose.

Emak like to prepare things in earnest, and Raya is the time when she really tries to outdo herself…but not anymore. She’s given up on our favourite biskut sultana for sometime now, citing the tedious task of baking them. Can’t blame her there as the task of pulping those prunes is indeed tiring.

This Raya, emak has confined herself to making the lodeh, nasi empit, ketupat, rendang peparu, but no ayam goreng this year, unlike before. Alhamdulillah, her sambal daging is a dish that she herself insists on, one that I still dream of eating with the sweetest ketupat palas I can find. Sadly, there’s no such thing as the latter in KL.

Also, rather sad development that has taken place this year is that we – emak and I – are spending the Raya in KL. In the so many years that I can remember, never had we not been back to Melaka for Raya. At the very worse, we would be there by the morning of the third. But not this year. This year, it’s a concrete jungle Raya. We might only go back next week.

There are other things…but they’re things which can never be mentioned, little family secrets that best remain as such. Oh, nothing precious which certain daily tabloids would scavenge for, but, a secret nonetheless. Every family has one. Still, when I look around, I’m grateful that emak is still emak. Perhaps one day, when the riddle no longer applies to her, someone would take the pen and write her life story; the pain she has gone through, the sacrifices she has made, and the betrayal she received. I have asked her to write it all down so that her other children too would know, and weep, for the sorrow she has felt for every one of her children, including me, and more. But emak being emak, I know she will not.

May Allah subhanawata’ala bless, protect, guide and have mercy on emak, for truly, if there is a heaven here on earth, then surely it is at the feet of a mother.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pleasing a friend

A close buddy sent the below to me. For some reasons not made known to me, he insist that I put it on my though mine is a widely read one. But, since he almost pleaded, I guess there's no harm to it.

Theme From Mahagony Pt1,

Do you know where you're going to
Dunia semakin tua. Pelbagai kekotoran meracuninya. Dan hari demi hari
ianya terus diracuni dan di cemari oleh durjana durjana bernama manusia,
bersama syaiton dan sekutunya. Kemanakah arah tujuan kita?

Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Korupsi, maksiat, jenayah minda dan fisikal berluasa tanpa batasan.
Adakah ini yang dinamakan kehidupan?Dan adakah ini kehidupan yang dicari?

Where are you going to?
Bukankah arah tujuan kita untuk kembali?

Do you know?
Tapi tahukah kita walau sekadar membaca kompas untuk arah tujuan?

Do you get what you're hoping for
Jauh di dalam hati, ramai yang bermohon dan berdoa untuk, walau sekadar
kedamaian, ketenteraman, namun kesemua itu akan sia belaka

When you look around you there's no open door
Kesejahteraan abadi tiada lain jalan nya melainkan Ad-Deen.

What are you hoping for?
Atau adakah kita meminta perkara yang sementara, yang bathil

Do you know?
Tahukah kita di mana yang bathil dan yang Haq?

By: Lekaran.


Abu Hurayrah (radhiallahu anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allah
(sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said: "Whoever believes in Allah and the
Last Day, let him say what is righteous or keep silent. Whoever believes
in Allah and the Last Day, let him be kind to his neighbor. And whoever
believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him be generous to his guest."

[Saheeh Muslim]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A House in Melaka Pindah.

When the Japanese invaded Malaya in World War II, Jetty Ahmad was serving as a Lieutenant in the British Army. Though conferred several military medals for bravery in the line of duty, his name is one of the many that was never mentioned and perhaps will never be in the history books - only to be remembered by the military as one of their unknown heroes.

It was slightly just after midday when we arrived. The front gate was locked and I had to gain entry to the rear compound via a neighbour. Somehow, the whole place was eerily quiet - there was no one at home. And the chicken house and coops are no longer there.

I could not have been more than 7 of age then. As dusk approached, I stood transfixed looking at the two elderly figure talking to each other. Can’t remember why, but perhaps it was the sight of the tall and slim figure of the man that mesmerised me. Perhaps, it was the sight of his bald head that did. Still, I remember blushing – as a child would when smiled upon – as this man would with all children. Yet, the smile was only there when he wants. Other times, he has a serious look that command respect. His life seems regimented by a daily routine which include reading at a table near his bed, deep into the early morning. Even then, it is not he which the adults seem to fear, but his wife; a stout 4feet 10inch disciplinarian whose body was literally dwarfed by the husband’s 6feet odd. In fact, one would be forgiven to take her as the military figure instead of her husband.

It has been a very long time since I even had a look into the rear compound. So much has changed since the old man and his wife passed away. The squatting toilet here had disappeared, as though it was totally uprooted by a hurricane. With the thickening layers of dry leaves, I could not discern its exact spot. But as my leg shift the leaves and sand, I found its unmistakably – a square slab of cement hidden by sands, pebbles and rotting leaves. I couldn’t help but smile to myself. Here I stand on one of the two spots I dread most as a child. This particular spot now lay buried, complete with its own grave-mark. Gone too the intricate carvings of the dish-dryer placement that juts out the rear of this house. They do not exist anymore, except in the corners of my childhood memory.

At this particular time mentioned, the elderly couple had lived in this wooden house for more than 2 decades. The house comprised of 4 sections: the main house or ‘rumah ibu’; the kitchen; the middle section which housed one of the only two bedrooms; and the ‘serambi’ or what is now termed as the living room. The two latter parts of the house were a later add-ons while the kitchen was separated from the ‘rumah ibu’ – joined only by wooden planks that were rather loosely placed but with no roof of what-so-ever covering it; when it rains, the whole area would be soaked to the skin, and the kitchen seem, temporarily, a totally different structure altogether .

There used to be a small pond beside the kitchen. It served a dual need; one of a drainage system, the other as a duck pool. It is no longer there, again covered by sand, pebbles and rotting leaves. And a little further to the front near where visitors would park their automobiles, the rambutan tree still stands with its splendour of delicious yellow fruits. I plucked one peeling it open with my fingers. The tree still bore sweet and juicy fruits as I remember it.

Like most house of its era and location, it was built on stilts with attap roofing which was later changed to zinc, a supposedly a better material. But when it rains, even the roar of a Regimental Sergeant Major could not be heard over the din of water dropping on it. And when the sun shines – especially in midday – the house is more of an oversized oven rather than an abode. But, it was a beautiful house of split level architecture and steeped roof, and a lovely front staircase linked to the serambi giving it the distinct look of a typical Malacca house complete with an attic and that tangga Melaka.

I look around and notice the presence of a wider open space and soon realise that the kui – a tool shed cum small rice silo - is no longer present. My uncle and his daughters – the present occupants – had found no use of it and had had it dismantled only a year or two back. Its wood lay quiet beside the rubbish burning area. But in the minds of the many children that once crowd this house, the kui remains in our memory as the castle fought for in mock battles that children play world over.

As night approach, one of the old man’s children would light-up some 4 or 5 kerosene gas lamps for night use; Electricity would not reach this are for another 3-4 years, and like many villagers then, this house too turn in early each night. The humming sound of the lamp was romantically soothing. Together with the night sounds of a typical village, which include the sound of a tapping woodpecker or two, of crickets, the hooting of an owl, and the occasional buffalo’s grunt - its sleep briefly disturbed by some small creatures of the night; they were like an ensemble serenading us to sleep.

In the distant, I could hear voices; my uncle had returned from Alor Gajah for some grocery needs. As they walk in towards the house, I walk out towards them. It was like scenes from the past when families would greet one another especially during Eid Fitri. But this is not Eid Fitri. Some burglars had broken into the house and ransacked it. My mother and I had made the trip back out of concern for the only brother she has alive.

With little or no modern structures which absorb the day’s heat and release it in the night, a village night can be a very cold night. Children and adults alike pull blankets to keep warm especially as dawn approach. But for the old man, it is time to begin the day, faithfully awaken each morning by his wife to prepare for the dawn prayers. The wooden floor panels began to creak as more and more feet begins to shuffle, no doubt, they too were awaken by the old man’s wife.

The driveway is a path about 100 meters long and flanked on both sides by trees that still bear fruit till today. Rambutan trees of different colours and textures, palm, durian and the odd belimbing tree, stands testimony to the old man’s untiring effort to make the house a slightly more than decent home for his family. But it was his wife that put grace to the entire surroundings with flowering plants and pots of various sizes and shapes. How each morning she would sweep the entire compound while he was away teaching, and how the grandchildren were ‘press-ganged’ into her service by their parents.

When the war ended, the old man resumed his teaching post and was appointed the Headmaster of a school quite nearby to the village, a post he held till his retirement. Sometime in 1972, an automobile accident made him almost cripple and he was immobilised till his last breath sometime in early 1990’s, some 10 years after his wife passed away.

On our way out of the house heading back to KL, we passed several elderly people who had come to visit my uncle. My mum waved to the ladies and I could hear them saying: “Awa! Anak Cikgu Jetty…”, the rest of the sentence was lost as the car drives out of the gate.

To the people in the village, the old man will always be remembered as ‘Cikgu Jetty’. To the British Military, the records may show him as Lieutenant Jetty. But to us, his grandchildren, he will always be remembered as Datuk. And his wife as Encik.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pain: A Blessing in Disguise

Early yesterday morning while I was working online, I received a rude shock: a virus sneaked into my system! Unlike their normal modus operandi - via emails and bursts of attacks online - this email came in through a message on Yahoo Messenger. Initially I was pleasantly surprised to receive the message. But as I was working and did not want to veer my attention, I left the message window open thinking of replying once the work was done. But horrors! The moment I pressed the 'Enter" key, the whole system went bonkers!

Multitude of windows suddenly sprung up; the cursor was irritatingly sluggish; various sounds - some unheard before - suddenly kept repeating themselves; and the screen was intermittently flashing red as though it was dancing to a John Travolta disco era music! After almost 5 minutes of indecisive actions, I decided to reboot the system.

Alhamdulillah, though the system was chugging heavy, I managed to activate one of the two antivirus software. What should have normally been a 5-minute operation, took almost 90 painstaking minutes to complete. But when it was done, the virus was contained sufficiently for me to activate the other a-v. And after a 15-minute battle, the virus was at last defeated leaving only several files as casualties. Otherwise, the whole system seem intact and operational. But what a pain it was.

Needless to say, I was fuming mad and angry at the episode, and was cursing the people who invented such inconvenience for other people. As my mind was conjuring the various and most inhumane torture methods on those virus inventors, I am suddenly reminded of a verse (cannot for the moment remember whether its Quranic or Hadith): Pain, even if its as small as the thorn, serves to expiate one of his sins and cause a rise in ranks.

MasyAllah! Allah the Most Beneficient and the Most Merciful, and He is the Most Compassionate. As strange and ironic it may seem, but pain - something which human as a whole try to distant ourselves - can, and is a 'method' which would help us to be closer to Allah. We are reminded - during those moments of agony - that we are nothing but His servant, and that we are helpless except that which He wills. It should go without saying that we, off course, have to readily accept His wills. That, I assure you - and ashamedly - try as I might, is a platform I have yet to attain.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Abdul Malek Hamzah bin Abdullah

Allahyarham Abdul Malek Hamzah bin Abdullah.

We were friends, classmates, busmates and neighbours for slightly more than 5 years.

We were young, stubborn, full of energy, and rebelious.

It was not the best of circumstances we came together. I was the guy hated most by the class in Form 1. He was a meek, skinny and the only child of a Chief Auditor of a government agency. On that particular day, he showed me a letter from his father addressed to the Headmaster of the school. The letter was a request that Abdul Malek be exempted from school that day, as he has to prepare for a religious duty. I was also told that the Headmaster had agreed to the request. Thus, I allow him to walk out of class. What aroused my suspicion later was that he and a friend climbed over one of the gates. But I made no fuss about it then.

When the Form Master walked in, I presented Abdul Malek's letter to him. Immediately he went into a furor! The Headmaster, it seems, was not and has not been to the school for the day! He was called to the Education Department for a meeting of some rather urgent matter. And soon, the manhunt begins. The entire Prefect Board with the Discipline Master began combing KL, searching for two Form 1 truants as though they were

Can't remember what really transpired after that. But the boys were caught and subjected to disciplinary actions which include public caning. Life, for Abdul Malek soon changed after that that; he was no longer the meek guy in school.

Cannot remember how I was sucked into it, but soon, his father appointed me as Abdul Malek's guardian angel. Huh! If only he knew better. No, I was not the Devil. Then again, neither was I an angel. Fact is, we were young and growing. Each step, each day, brought new charts and challenges; new grounds to explore. Unknown to us then, our exploits were like a self-made initiation rites into manhood.

We began mixing with the 'big boys', and that paved the way for us into the triads. It was at this juncture, Abdul Malek found a new fascination - the 'occult' of martial arts. In simple words, he began delving into supernatural powers - ilmu batin. Wali Suci, Rimau Berantai, and a host of new 'disciplines' had begun to rear its head then. While I step back to watch from afar, he immersed himself into it with gusto.

Time passed and soon, after Form 5, we each took a different path. Less than a year later, we began meeting again but only for brief moments. He had found a new friend, a guru! It was with this guru he said the syahadah and became a muslim. Thus was born Abdul Malek Hamzah bin Abdullah. (Abdul Malek means Servant of the Almiighty King; while Hamzah was taken from the Prophet Muhammad's s.a.w. uncle - a feared warrior who became a martyr in a battle)

No matter hoe many times my mother advised him to register with Perkim, Abdul Malek would always refuse citing his guru's advise against it. He became elusice and soon, just stayed away from me and my family, no doubt under the advise of his guru.

Not too long a time after that, I received a call from a mutual friend saying Abdul Malek had been involved in an automobile accident and was lying in coma in Kuala General Hospital. Several friends and I got together and visited him in the emergency ward. When the police began questioning us about his identity, we left for we knew he did not have a valid driving licence.

Early the next day I received word of his death. My friends and I visited his parents but only for a brief moment. We were angry and feeling very much helpless. That afternoon, Abdul Malek Hamzah bin Abdullah was cremeated as M Siva Mailsvagnam.

We were young, stubborn, full of energy, and rebelious. We were also foolish.

For the 25 years or so since his death, I have never really bade farewell to him. Perhaps its time for me to do so.

Abdul Malek Hamzah bin Abdullah, may Allah bless you and forgive all your sins. AlFatehah.