Wednesday 25 February 2009

From 11th March 2008 - Leicester (CsH)

Today, the 11th of March 2008, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General who said that it was legal for Britain to attack Iraq in 2003, suggested a policy where all secondary school students had to make an oath of allegiance to Queen and Country every morning, just like they do in USA and Singapore. I shudder because I can just visualize what those kids will do to 'embellish' the occasion. Oh, I pity the headmaster and the teachers.

I recall my experiences with demonstrations of loyalty which stretched from the time I was in Pasir Panjang Primary School from 1951 to 1957. We used to celebrate Empire Day, indeed we did, believe it or not!.There would be a School Assembly and we would salute and march past the Union Jack. We were taught that the Union Jack was made up of the flags of St George of England, St Andrew of Scotland, St Patrick of Ireland and and St David of Wales AND we had better remember that! After the march past we were given a talk by a superior-looking English Colonial Officer. As we were just little brown piccaninnies (I'm being ironic here), the sight of an actual 'white man' left us quite gobsmacked, as they say nowadays. No wonder we looked very, very attentive, even scared.
Before 1953, we were taught to sing 'God Save the King' and when his daughter took over, it became 'God Save the Queen' and that anthem became absorbed into our blood and bones. Many years later in 1974 I went to a movie in London. At the end of it, they would play 'God Save The Queen'. Everybody else, mainly the indigenous people of England were desperately scampering out while I stood rooted to the spot. Old habits die hard. I had to be almost forcibly dragged away by my 'native' companion!
When I was attending Crescent Girls' School (1958-1961), I sang 'Majulah Singapura' and later when Singapore was embraced into Malaysia, I also sang 'Negara Ku'. When Singapore was unceremoniously ejected from Malaysia, we kept to the former. When I entered the teaching profession in 1967, I found myself supervising tetchy and testy teenagers during the flag raising and oath-taking ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem.
Unfortunately, one of my students who was not too pukka with the English language wrote in his school composition for me : 'every morning we sing our national anthem and swear at the flag' !! (Honest, Guide's Honour) Bless his cotton socks.

With all these demands on my loyalty, no wonder I sometimes go to bed thinking, "Who do I belong to?" or rather "where do I belong?". It has to be where I take off my shoes or as they say in this country, where I hang my coat.

Bunga Tahi Ayam (Lantana Camara)

The four of us as wee bairns with our first cat, Puss. He waited for Abah to come home before he gasped his last breath.

Now, if I had a chance to design my own flag, it will look like this. The middle will be filled with all the brilliant colours of my favourite kampung flower, bunga tahi ayam which unfortunately translates as 'chicken shit flower'. Never mind, it is still special to me.
I shall illustrate the border with pictures of Puss, Puteh, Tina, Dajal, Belang, Kooky, Suzie, Rosemary, Fido or Oscar, Poppy, Bendy, Quincey, Mana, Poppy Mark 2, or Kuntum, Fido Mark 2 aka Adek, or Tiger, Socks, Hitam, Rusty, and Comot aka Coreng. These are all my cats from Singapore, Batu Pahat, Leicester and Kuala Lumpur; from 1946 to the present. Most have gone and many tears were shed when they departed. Here are the KL Mob.

Comot, literally a messed-up kid (ooops, cat)
Can't resist this picture of a cat destined for the garden tip!

Is this Hitam or Rusty - no idea!

Socks the Snob
Rusty at the top and Poppy and Comot exploring their humongous loo

I would also include Pedro, our one and only puppy, but we had him for such a short while because he disappeared after a big flood in the kampung house at Pasir Panjang. I will have to find room for our rabbits, geese, chicken and especially my very little chicken, the runt who was almost featherless, named Bogel. Whenever I got home from school, I would sit at the threshhold of the back door and called out 'Bogel, Bogel' and he would come running to peck my hand or peck my cheek. I think I was his only friend because he was so terribly bullied by his stronger siblings. Later when his health showed signs of weakening, my dad decided to do what he thought was best and my pet became a meal. (In those days, in the 1950s, you get a chicken meal only on the most rare occasion.)
From that day on, I could not bring myself to eat chicken meat. It was only after 10 years, when I was staying at Eusoff College (Singapore University), that I started eating chicken again because you eat what is on the menu or you go hungry.

As for my Anthem, I choose the Beatles' "In My Life".

All these places have their moments; Of lovers ( people) and friends that's gone before. Some are dead and some are living, In my life, I love them all.

Especially my four-legged friends and my two-legged, beautiful Bogel.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Revisiting My Jottings of March 2008, Leicester.

Last night on the 8th of March I watched on BBC2, Rivers of Blood, an examination of "former shadow Cabinet Minister Enoch Powell's controversial speech in 1968", part of BBC's White Season. This is an excerpt of Powell's speech from You Tube.

Here is the review of the documentary from The Guardian Guide.

Forty years ago in April, the then Conservative MP Enoch Powell made what remains one of the most famous - if not one of the most deranged, paranoid, cynical and mean-spirited - speeches in British history. This film examines Powell's melodramatic rant on immigration, its context, and its consequences. Interesting, but incomplete - Powell, were he still alive, might derive sour satisfaction from noting that the producers appear to have made little effort to interview anyone who still agrees with him. And it is extraordinarily naive to pretend they don't exist. AM

This is the Daily Telegraph's Review.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Enoch Powell's infamous speech , the film 'Rivers of Blood' re-examines Powell's argument, asking whether he was right to predict that ultimately, multiculturalism would herald disaster. Andrew Pettie

I find it ironic that this Great Britain has so much angst about 'multiculturalism' or what in Malaysia is described as 'multiracialism'. They agonise about how they have been flooded with foreigners when these people make for less than 10% of the British population.

The British , in fact 'created' at the turn of the 20th century, for their political convenience and rapacious greed, a 'multicultural-multiracial' construct in Malaya - when they opened the gates for Chinese and Indian migrants to work on the tin mines and plantations to 'develop' the Golden Chersonese.

The result? Today out of a total population of about 27 million, the Malays make up 60%, the Chinese 25% and the Indians 8%. What would the bleating Brits do if today, the immigrants (especially the 'coloured' ones) make up 33% of their citizenry? Rivers of Blood and Tears? However the EU saved their skin, (white, that is) because white, mainly Christian immigrants from Eastern Europe can now settle onthis island. Perhaps this is why Turkey cannot be an acceptable member of the EU - slightly wrong colour and wrong religion, despite all that Mustafa Kamal Ataturk had done to 'wogify' his country.

Following this documentary came another about the arrival of the Poles.
This is the review by the Guardian.

Tim Samuels trademark approach of tackling serious issues through insouciant humour works well on this documentary about the impact of half a million Polish workers coming to Britain.

I am amused by this insouciant humour in dealing with this documentary about the Poles. 'Rivers of Blood' had no injection of humour, insouciant or not. It was dressed in ominous doom and gloom - a kind of doomsday scenario. Most telling was the way the documentary slid into anti-Muslim/Islam diatribe, making the insidious and crooked connection that the Muslim immigrants have proven true Powell's predictions: what with the 7/7 London bombs and the Salman Rushdie brouhaha.

Muslim reactions have little to do with the negative outcome of multiculturalism. It has a lot to do with the 1500 years of anti-Islam hostility and the barbaric onslaught of Anglo-Saxon, Judaeo-Christian army into the Muslim world. How then do they account for all the bloodshed by white, Catholic IRA in Britain?

Well, that was what I wrote a year ago in my notebook. Today we have witnessed the Flood of Blood in Gaza and the western economy is falling to pieces. What will it be like one year from now?

N.B. Let me clarify some parts of the posting .

1. I was writing about BBC2"s documentary made on the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell's speech of 'Rivers of Blood" on 8 March 2008, and another documentary on Polish immigrant workers in Britain.
2. I placed an excerpt of Powell's speech of 1968 taken from You Tube for the benefit of some who are not familiar with his ideas.
3.I wish I could find a way to post all of that first documentary because it tells a lot about the nature of western 'serious' documentaries. Somehow they always manage to home in on Islam and Muslims as a problem they have to live with in their 'open and democratic societies'.

Friday 20 February 2009

Ma'Ngah's Second Letter

To : Sham, Mahzan, Maria, Hidayah, Shah, Mariam, Hannah and Ida

Dear Kids,

Here's the next exciting episode. In recent years we have seen the alliance between Jewish Zionists and Christian Zionists. The latter now subscribe to the Bible's prophecy that the expansion of Israel and the removal of the Palestinians are a pre-cursor to redemption, the sign of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. The American Christian Evangelists, led by powerful political shapers like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Tom Delay, ( leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives) and their organisations like Christians for Israel and the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem also adopted this agenda. Israel happily embraces this match especially the ruling right wing Likud Party. When Ehud Olmert (remember the Goliath of Gaza?) was Mayor of Jerusalem, - together with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, they set out to unite the Israeli Radical Right with the American Christian Fundamentalists. It was a strategic partnership and organisations were set up to channel funds into the Likud Party from rich Christian Fundamentalist coffers.

The mainstream Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church disassociated themselves from this Dispensationist belief, but their impact on reducing the sufferings of the Palestinians were minimal. They could not overcome this powerful alliance of the Christian and Zionist extremists and the Christian Zionist elements in the Republican Party. There are also the peaceniks from the Jewish, Christian and secular sectors but this position is hard to sustain and justify because as James Brooks puts it :

You can hear ...from the White House, and booming from Capitol Hill. Language that would get people fired if applied to blacks or Jews or Hispanics now passes without comment when used against Arabs and Muslims. It can be found somewhere, every day, in almost every newspaper and TV news show in the land. We tend to view this disturbing trend as the result of two, or twenty or fifty years of politics and events. ..... The roots of our "new" bigotry stretch through our racist American past to a thousand year old blind spot.

This one here is a beauty. I kept it for a long, long time from the early 80s, taken from the lovably humourous MAD magazine - which inspired Malaysians to publish GILA GILA. It's a MAD fold-in. I leave you to make your own conclusion.

At the bottom it reads, "Oil rich sheiks now support hospitals, schools, libraries and other things that were once held in poverty's tortured grip, but one thing is still kept out of reach." Note the obese sheikh and his scantily clad harem.

The words below read "Liberty's Torch"

Admittedly, there's no 'democracy' of the western American type . But somehow Arabs (and inevitably Islam ) are the world's only bad boy.

Where extremism and fundamentalism are concerned only Muslims are a threat to peace. When the American Jewish Fundamentalist Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron in 1994, you hardly hear a whisper of Jewish extremism. Timothy McVey and the Oklahoma bombing were disembodied from the Right wing Christian Fundamentalist Movement. Anders Strindberg puts it nicely.

U.S. media and politicians have become accustomed to thinking of and talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one in which an enlightened democracy is constantly forced to repel attacks from crazy-eyed Islamists bent on the destruction of the Jewish people and the imposition of an Islamic state. Palestinians are equated with Islamists, Islamists with terrorists.

We must remember Palestinians are Christians too. They suffered the same brutality. Their churches, convents, land and homes were also mowed down and 'confiscated'. They are Arabs, with Arab names. In 1948 they made up 20% of the population and now they are only 2% of the Arabs in Israel and occupied Palestine. The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, the Reverend Riah Abu al-Assal explained "The Arab Palestinian Christians are part and parcel of the Arab Palestinian nation. We have the same history, the same culture, the same habits and the same hopes." But the fact that they are Christians will not save them from the plans of the Christian Zionists and the Judaizing of Palestine.

I am not advocating a collision course between Islam and the other two Abrahamic faiths.
Not only in Palestine but also in the war-torn parts of the world, religion cannot be excluded from the equation. What Israel and the Christian Zionists claim is the Holy Land for all 3 religions. Jerusalem does not belong to any one religion

Muslims cannot help but perceive that the Muslim heartland and Muslims are under attack and under siege, that Muslim property, resources and land are being laid to waste and/or confiscated, that Muslims are paying a heavy price with their lives , and naturally there arises a response of "an eye for an eye". But this will not work because the scale is tipped to the other side. Neither should Muslims "turn the other cheek" - not when justice and human lives are at stake.

Other than the physical assaults, Islam and Muslims are subjected to all manners of humiliation and insults, from videos, cartoons, movies and novels. There is a kind of feeding frenzy to demoralise Islam, ranging from a bottom feeder like Geert Wilder and his Jihad video to a top feeder like Pope Benedict XVI who, in 2006 gave a lecture on how Christianity is based on reason while Islam is spread by the sword. Anyone can select any bits of any text to suit a particular agenda So, what is a Muslim to do? The Pope quoted the words of an Emperor of the Eastern Church. The Muslim will have to read about that period of Christian history and the context of the accusation. So Islam is based on blood and violence - so read about the Christian Crusades, how the Ottomans treated their Christian and Jewish minorities, read about Catholic Spain and the treatment of Muslims and Jews after the Reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabella - read about the genocide of the indigenous people of North and South America, of Australia and Africa at the hands of the Church and the Colonial powers, - read about European slavery of the Africans and compare it to Muslim slavery. Read about the historical background of the Holocaust and its Christian antecedents. Read about the torture, rendition, imprisonment without trial, of Guantanamo prison and other crimes committed under the umbrella of the War on Terror.

So, read. And if you read enough, you will realise that whenever an atrocity is committed by the Judaeo-Christian world it will always be interpreted as an aberration, a one-off madness like the Holocaust. Steve Bell gives a cutting picture to the Abu Ghraib disgrace.
Or if there's any direct link to Christianity - it will be claimed that it's a cultist fringe group, it's not mainstream like the brutal Christian terrorist organisation, The Lord's Army in Uganda. The blood orgy in Rwanda is regarded as a tribal conflict, - no connection with the Protestant and Catholic divide; like the "sectarian "war in Northern Ireland.

But no such caveats are allowed where Muslim reactions and retaliations are concerned. "It's their religion, you see, it's all in the Koran!".. But read and study the Bible. (In fact Muslim countries should set up Departments of Judaeo-Christian studies in their Universities like they have on Islamic Studies in Western Universities.) It is also ridden with bloodiness. Take this from Deuteronomy 7 and 20 relating to the return to the Promise Land for the Chosen People.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods.........In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them.

Can you see the frightening near realisation of that instruction in the Occupied Territories of Gaza and the West Bank?
Why do they hate us? It's not just because of land and oil. The politics of imperialism cannot be separated from religion. We are often accused that we are not democratically inclined because Islam does not allow for the separation of religion and politics. It will take another lecture to explore this fallacy. However on 6 Feb 2009, Mr Blair , an Anglican recently turned Catholic was invited to lead the 'prestigious US National Prayer Breakfast' where he proclaimed that religion should be given its 'rightful place as a guide to our world'. He said to President Obama "It is fitting at this extraordinary moment in your country's history that we hear that call to action; and we pray that in acting we do God's work and follow God's will."
HALLELUJAH say I. Onward Christian soldier!!!
But which God is Blair thinking of? Now that the Catholics are claiming the Aramaic word Allah for God does that mean that Islam can join the Club? Years ago, I read a book by an American Black Christian titled "Your God is too White", about how blacks were not welcomed in the White Man's Church. Under those circumstances we will certainly be shown the door as well. Technically they can claim the word Allah, though that will seem like the last nail in our coffin - the last imperialist act - to co-opt and colonise a potent signature
of Islam.

Now hold on. Don't start foaming at the mouth. You see, they have studied us SO WELL and they know how to put the knife in, like Salman Rushdie and his Satanic Verses, - without breaking the rules. If we respond with shouts and slogans and censorship we are only doing damage to ourselves. We have to resort to a long-term and dignified riposte. If our faith is strong - no amount of scorn and attacks should dent our belief. Our God and our Prophet and our Religion do not need explanation and cossetting. They stand on their own, inviolate and intact.

Not too long ago our grandparents did not want us to go to English schools because we might become Christians. They have a point because in those days most English schools were Mission schools and one of their objectives is to attract you to their 'cause'.
Today we have to draw out the maturity and temerity to study the history, the culture and the ways of the Judaeo-Christian ethos, not for the purpose of imitation and assimilation, but to learn how to manage and deal with their hidden and explicit agenda and manipulations ; a game of tit for tat. We want peace and we want justice. Peace will not come from inserting flowers in the barrels of the invaders' guns. Justice will be denied us if we do not learn how to look at them in the eyes and let them know we mean business and we know what their game is. It's a tall and long order I know. We cannot go on with our home-made bombs and human bombs. Too many mothers have cried too much tears.
We need to take a deep breath, to clean up our stables so to speak, roll up our sleeves, put on our thinking caps and keep our house in order. We are not to be westernized or arabized. Our Islam is not just for our personal salvation and redemption but for caring and educating our brethren. We declare our modesty not only in terms of our physical attire but also in our manners and our consumption. We have a real battle on our hands, to be fought with our heads and our spirits because -

The enemy increaseth every day; We, at the height, are readyto decline. There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.

William Shakespeare : Julius Caesar

You, the young ones are now holding the tiller and you are responsible for guiding your children, your people and their ship on that difficult voyage.

Phew!!! That's all. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the test will be postponed indefinitely.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Letter from Ma'Ngah

To : Sham, Mahzan, Maria, Hidayah, Shah, Mariam and Hannah,

Dear Kids,

For the past 20 years, during our annual visits from Leicester, you lot were subjected to many angry and frustrated comments about life in Britain for a Muslim - especially after the Salman Rushdie affair in 1988. It got worse after 9/11, 7/7, the First Iraq War, the Second Iraq War, the two Palestinian Intifadas, the war in Bosnia, the Assault on Chechnya, the Bali Bomb, etc.

The demonisation of Islam, or Islamophobia did not begin in1988. You can look back to the time of the Ottoman Empire or as far as the Reconquest of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella at the end of the 15th century, or to the Crusades or even as long ago as the Middle Ages. For as long as Islam existed, western Christianity looked on our faith as a threat. And when English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish imperialists came to our world, Christian missionaries tagged on to the coat-tails of these merchants and soldiers to spread their religion to the natives and counter the growth of Islam.

Today, we Muslims are swept under the same carpet as Jihadists, Islamists, Extremists, Fundamentalists, Terrorists, Undemocratic- women beaters, - you can run the whole gamut of hate and hostility and apply them to Muslims and Islam. Now that the Russian Bear has been made toothless, we have been designated The Chosen Demons. We are mad, bad and sad. We are the perpetrators, never the Victims.

Over 20 years ago, when I came to live in England, I felt a sense of excitement and adventure - to be part of the English countryside (which I still love), to enjoy the canals, the country lanes, the daffodils, watching Wimbledon tennis on TV in summer, the Houses of Parliament, reading English newspapers and scoffing strawberries and cream! And I would be able to meet kind and friendly English people just like my father's friends and colleagues that we had met as children in Singapore. But soon enough, the scales were to be removed from my eyes. All that I had enjoyed and appreciated was only the icing. What lay beneath it was a canker, a source of disillusion and anger.

With the Rushdie brouhaha, I discovered that my secular, broadminded local friends were not as liberal as they made themselves out to be. Scratch them a little deeper and you'll find a dormant, deep seated, calcified anti-Islam animus. Phobia in Islamophobia implies fear of an extreme and abnormal nature. However to me , Islamophobia has more to do with revulsion and contempt, we are their pet bete noir, their favourite bogeyman. Keith, my late father-in-law once said ; "you have to be in the belly of the whale" (from the story of Jonah and the Whale in the Bible), to fathom the workings and the hypocrisy of the West.

It is so easy for people like us to be seduced by and inducted into the oncoming headlights of Western liberalism, freedom and equality - to turn us into clones . We become poor copies of their ideals and ideology, singing from their hymn books and touting them as prototypes in our journey away from our so-called "degenerate and regressive" ways. It is what Keith described as being deracinated, turning into Uncle Toms and Brown Mems and Sahibs. We become apologists for our ' wild and woolly ' beliefs and practices and if we're cowardly enough, we even join them in their denigration and mockery of things that we and our ancestors hold dear.

Oh dear, where does all this lead to, Ma'Ngah - you 7 may ask??

Paul of Ephesus saw the light on the road to Damascus. I met mine on my mental and spiritual journey of empathy with the Palestinians. I am appalled when little or no mention is made about the place of religion in 60 years of bludgeoning that the Palestinians received at the hands of the Zionists. This is after all the HOLY LAND, home of the three Abrahamic faiths. Israel was not a nation before 1948. To understand Israel's beginnings, we have to look into western Judaeo-Christian history.

The movement and succour given to the Israelis' claims for a Jewish Liebensraum stretching from the River Euphrates in Iraq to the River Nile, i.e. the fulfilment of an Eretz Israel did not begin after the Holocaust of the Second World War. It began with the history of Christian Zionism. English Christian scholars and clergymen like Francis Kett in 1589 insisted that one day the Jews will return to their land and this Restoration is part of the Bible's prophecy. Of course this was heresy in the eyes of the mainstream Church then and Kett was burned alive. He was followed by other theologians or those well versed in the Bible and Hebrew like the Cartwrights (1649) who believed that Palestine was the ancestral home of the Jews and petitioned Parliament to repeal the act banning Jews from England. Under Cromwell, the Jews were given entry.

As the Ottoman Empire was on it last legs in the mid-19th century, political motives were added to these Christian initiatives. Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885), a committed Christian Zionist worked with Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary for the realisation of this belief. All this connivance culminated in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration which ensured the Restoration of the Jews to Palestine and General Allenby, another staunch Christian Zionist 'liberated' Jerusalem from the Turks. From then on it was the beginning of the end for Palestine. Interestingly enough , a British clergyman, William Hechler (1845-1931) played a key role as a supporter of Dr Theodore Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement.

As for the United States, from the landing of the Puritans at Plymouth, American Christianity has always been supporters of the Restoration of Palestine to the Jews. Compared to the anti-semitic Euro-Asian Christianity, American Christians tended to be pro-semitic. William Blackstone, an American Christian Zionist (1841-1935) was credited with persuading President Woodrow Wilson to accept the Balfour Declaration and to honour his role as a supporter of Zionism, a forest in Israel was named "Blackstone Forest".

Righto kids, am stopping for now. Wait for the next exciting episode and I'll give you a test after it's all done.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Dearest Maznah (CsH)

My sister lent me her Autograph Books from 1953 and 1954. How she managed to conserve hers through all these years is beyond my ken. I have absolutely no idea what I did to mine. But thank goodness I have hers to savour. Thank you, Nah.

In those good old days we used to nag our parents to get us these autograph books so that at the end of each school year we could pursue our friends and teachers and relatives to fill them up with little poems and homilies - especially to let us know how well we are liked and loved and remembered. How quaint and innocent.

However they remind us of how we were schooled, how we regarded one another, how we valued our teachers and their kind regards for us. There were no Teacher's Day, no Valentine's Day, no need for presents and roses and cards. But in these little books, we have a treasure of endearing sentiments, affection, wisdom and amiability expressed very simply, in words. We may laugh at lines like :
In the middle of the ocean,
There lies a rock.
On it were written,
Forget me not

but they meant a lot to us. And remember, we have lots more in our little book of pomes to write for our friends.

But for Nah, someone wrote a very, very special poem for her, called Chermin Maznah by a good friend of Abah, Pakcik Agus, the draughtsman at the School of Health, Nee Soon, Singapore. He came from Sumatra, and lived with his wife at a kampung off the Mandai Road. I recall him as being a kind, quiet man, always with a smile on his face. Here is what he wrote for my very, very privileged sister.

This was what Maznah asked for on the first page of her Autograph Book.

And here are Pakcik Agus on the left, Corporal Jamaludin in the middle and Abah on the right - as to when, probably late 50s (?).

And here's our dear Maznah, now mother of 4 great kids and Tok Wan to 9 lovely grandchildren, and of course wife to the indomitable Abang Long Harun.

Thank you Nah, for letting me enjoy and share your book. Loads more treasures to show but later.

Monday 2 February 2009

Baju Kurung (CsH) - The Ramblings of a Malay Malcontent - Part 3

A happy mother and son (Mus), Maznah in her cute baju kurung looking at ?????? and me the tomboy at Kampung Chantek (off Dunearn Road) - sometime in 1948.

I'm not ashamed to admit I was a tomboy. I was the family's general factotum and was very happy to jump on my trusty steed, the Rudge bicycle, at any time to run errands for my mother. We lived at 5 m.s. Pasir Panjang Road and I especially enjoyed cycling to 4 m.s .to get her the kelapa parut (grated coconut) because there was only one shop there that had a mechanical coconut grater. Remember what your fingers looked like when you use the home grater? It looked like a colander!!! Cycling to 4 m.s. also meant I might get a chance to catch a glimpse of Ng Kian Ann hanging out at Boon Leat Terrace. But alas he was already spoken for. I was just 12 in 1956 - a regular tomboy in love with the Marlon Brando of Pasir Panjang Primary School.

MY Rudge bicycle and those two pests Mus and Akim, 1956.

During the school holidays that bicycle was a constant source of bickerings between myself and especially Mus. But, most of the time I used my seniority (and size) to tell him to buzz off!

Being a tomboy, naturally the baju kurung ( enclosed dress) was not my cup of tea. Every Hari Raya Day, my mother would have to cajole, persuade and finally force me amidst my tears to put on the traditional baju and the gold necklace and bangles. I simply abhorred it!
As soon as the salam and minta maaf to mak and abah were done and after visiting our great-uncle tok Malik,and great-aunt nek Esah, (where we were overjoyed with the 50cents angpow ) it was off with the new and on with the old. I knew my long-suffering mother disapproved but abah just indulgently ignored my cussedness. In the baju kurung, I just couldn't walk, or rather, stride properly. The sarong was constantly knocking at my knees, impeding my freedom of movement AND you can't jump on to your bicycle in that outfit. (Why can't me mum empathise with me?). I looked clumsy, gawky and was terrified in case I bumped into any of my classmates, especially the boys. After all I do have my reputation to maintain!! I don't want them to see me dressed up girly-like!

Tomboys grow up into young ladies but the baju kurung was not my 'scene'. I only wore them for formal, serious occasions and visiting relatives especially fussy ole aunts.

I was at the University of Singapore from 1964-1967, studying Geography and Political Science. Some people prefer to use the word 'read' instead of 'study' - which I regard as pompous and snooty. It reminded me of a colleague at Yusof Ishak Secondary School who 'read' English at University but refused to teach Shakespeare's "As You Like It" because she did not study the play at University! But that's a digression.

Myself and about 5 or 6 other Singapore Malay undergrads were given a Special Malay Bursary of about $1,000 a year as a scheme to help and encourage Malays into higher education. We were thankful for that help although it was minimal compared to what Malays from Malaysia were given.

Each time the note pinned to the Notice Board at the entrance to the Union House informed us to get our Bursary from the Bursar's Office, we would find written on the notice nasty remarks like "why give money to stupid Malays?" or "why so special?" or other vulgar words in Malay, English and Hokkien - all very multi-racial. This was during a very difficult and critical part of Malaysia's and Singapore's relationship. On 9 July 1963, Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia - acceptable to Singapore because of the economic, employment and security benefits that membership would bring. But that also brought along with it racial and political tensions and the Chinese in Singapore were particularly against the affirmative policies towards the Malays and especially Article 153. Their rallying cry was "Malaysian Malaysia" - a term/demand that the Malays were very suspicious of.
We, the Singapore Malay undergrads, sensed this undercurrent of hostility and resentment. All this because of the $1,000 Bursary. We got into the University on exactly the same credentials as the non- Malays, no favours in that direction. We were not the offsprings of well-heeled professionals or taukehs, mostly lower to upper working class families. Admittedly there were no unpleasant face-to-face encounters. But the bigoted racist remarks about Malays, Malay rights, the Sultans, etc. which were scribbled in the Library's history and politics textbooks left me gobsmacked and confused. There weren't enough Malays in the University to 'counter' this 'vandalism' of the text and the context - so we just sat tight and took the brunt.

On one of my trips home from the hostel (Eusoff College), I asked my father why? How do I live with Article 153? He told me to read the History books, to study the statistics of the unequal distribution of wealth and income in the country, the big gap, economic and educational between the rural Malays and the urban non-Malays; why the Malays challenged the Malayan Union of 1946, and what are the Malays doing fighting the Communist guerillas in the jungle? Of course all these issues were not the concerns of my A-Level History and Economics.

And when I glibly remarked - but the Malays are lazy and backward! All those scribbles in the Library's books had an effect. His jaw almost dropped and he calmly said, "It took the West, including Britain, 500 years to move from feudalism to the present modern age. The Malays had less than 100 years and the British did not have to cope with a large immigrant population of Indians and Chinese as well as a Colonial power that was only concerned with filling up the coffers of their Treasury." It was my turn to gulp. I have never been as proud of my father as that time when he put me down and put me in my place. He had no tertiary education, only the knowledge and wisdom of a man who thinks. A sound education does not necessarily make a thinking man/woman.

The campus itself was buzzing with all kinds of talks and lectures by prominent politicians from both sides of the Causeway. There was generally an air of apathy even among the miserably few Malays. In fact, I felt that the Peninsular Malays tend to look down or look askance at us Singapore Malays - like the country mice who were poor and pathetically unsophisticated. I felt so disenchanted with University and thought of applying for a NZ Scholarship to study Physiotherapy!

One evening, I can't remember when exactly, but before 9.8.1965 when Singapore was 'expelled' from Malaysia, I attended a lecture by Dr Mahathir Mohamed, of course he wasn't the PM then. Came one question from the floor by a Senior Lecturer in the Law Faculty, now a prominent Ambassador for Singapore. He queried the rights and privileges of the Malays as enshrined in the Constitution and sort of recommended an alternative as espoused in the 'Malaysian Malaysia' mantra.

Dr Mahathir looked at him and said. " You know what is the problem with you Chinese? You cannot accept the Malays running the Government because you are so used to seeing them as your drivers and gardeners." That was that. The Lecture Hall was hushed.

The next day, I put on my beigeish-yellow cotton Esbyline Baju Kurung, which I had 'borrowed' from my sister and walked to my lectures with my head held high. My Baju Kurung is my heritage, it was not to enclose me but to set me free, not as a proud Malay, but one at ease and comfortable with my Malay ways and purpose - Malay warts and all. Over 40 years on, the racial and racist problems are still simmering, but we are getting there. After all, it took the West 500 years.

Me in my baju kurung (second from left) at the 1966 Christmas dinner at Eusoff College. That one table attests to the Malay population at that time and there were only 2 Singapore Malays present.

I still wear the Baju Kurung for special occasions. I still have my mother's Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga with the pocket on the left and the edge of the neckline hemmed with very fine and delicate tulang belut (herringbone stitch ? ). And I can still struggle on to a bicycle, but just a little wobbly. What do you expect?

Hannah, I hope you find this long essay useful.