Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I have mix emotions when celebrating the end of Ramadan, Hari Raya Aidilfitri festive. Behind the joy there is the nostalgic when it comes to the time of “forgive and forget”, when we reminisced our past, mistakes and misdeeds, and resolute for a better future after forgiving and forgetting.

The trip to the mosques or suraus and joining the chorus of “takbir” with the congregation was poignant indeed wherever I was on Hari Raya morning. I would listen attentively to the sermon which encouraged goodness to be significant, after the prayer. After that it was the “salam” among the long line of devotees. Normally I stayed on for a while for niceties with the regulars at the snacks prepared before heading home to the family.

“Balik Kampong” mania has different connotations at different phase of my 70 years. In the beginning it was devoted to my late “bapak” (father) and late “emak” (mother). Father being a penghulu in government service would stay in his “mukim” and be with the populace. So that became our kampong.

I remember only once when I was a toddler he took us to the kampong where he was born as his late father, our “atuk” (grandpa) was on his dying bed. The journey from Sungkai, where he was stationed during the Japanese occupation, to Kampong Padang Tenggala in Bota, Parit, Perak, was an adventure of sort.

First we took the steam locomotives all the way to Ipoh where we took the bus to Parit town. In Parit a horde of relatives were waiting with bicycles where the young and restless would be despatched on the career of the bicycles for the long arduous journey through the kampong path of more than 10 miles. The roads of today were non existence then. The elderly and baggage went by the “ferry”, local mode of transportation consisting of sampan (rowing boat) along the leisurely huge Perak River and would land directly in front of atuk’s house downstream. Those days the houses faced the river. Later when the road came the frontage changed direction. That was the reason some of the older houses seem extended with two frontages which is a rare sight these days.

The journey back in reverse was just as adventurous.

When father was transferred to Sungai Manik our house was in the hamlet of Chikus. Unlike Sungkai on the main trunk road of the country, Chikus was what the Malay would term “tempat jin bertendang” (god forsaken place) for being out of the way but the railway between Tapah Road and Telok Anson Wharf passed through it. There was no station there but a sign board prominently displayed “HALT” stand in front of our house. It is routine for the train driver to slow down to embark and disembark passengers. If we are taking the train we just wave and it will stop. If we are on the train to disembark we just inform the guard cum ticket checker and he would signal to the driver. The train ply 5 times a day to and fro during daylight hours only, perhaps for economic (people sleep early those days of non entertainment diversions) and safety (it was the emergency period and the “enemies” move at night) reasons. The train no longer ply on these tracks today. I was in the Malay School and had many friends. Our house became the focal point on Hari Raya day.

When I joined the Special Malay Class at Anglo-Chinese School, Telok Anson (English school) and stayed at the hostel, puasa and raya had a more significant outlook for me. Being away I look forward to be home with my parents and siblings. It was more significant when father was transferred to the more cosmopolitan Ipoh in 1952. It was no balik kampong per se for me. Hari raya celebration include cycling around town and going to the cinemas without worry of catching the last train as in Chikus.

In 1953 I was admitted to Anderson School, Ipoh, and stayed at home. There was no balik kampong mania; not until end of 1957 when father shifted to Taiping for his final posting before retiring. Upon retiring he built a house for the family at Jalan Kampong Jana Baru in Kamunting adjacent to the well known Kampong Pinang. So I finally got a kampong to go back to.

Hari raya was a little lonely in a new place and strange environment. I had few new friends in Taiping. So I decided to spend the days in much stranger but attractive atmosphere in Penang where a former neighbour from Ipoh was studying. I had an enjoyable stay in good company.

Then in 1959 I went to Kuala Lumpur to study and subsequently worked there. In the early years I was caught in the balik kampong craze like all the other younger generation of t timere. On reaching home in Taiping I found myself at a lost for company. Beside catching up with lost sleep and lazing around, I decided to make myself useful by helping emak with her chores of making cookies and “bakar lemang”. She trusted me with the preparation of the gluttonise rice and the heating as she considered me to be an “expert” just as she trusted me with choosing the best of durian in her dusun in Sungkai then.

When I joined the Malay Service of Radio Malaysia late 1963 the balik kampong resonance became insignificant as work load did not allow us the luxury. With limited number of staff we have to be regulated to work on hari raya days. Being fresh I was assigned to interview those who visited the Kampong Baru graves at Jalan Ampang. That made me realised how I missed the raya spirit in the “kampong”. A week later I paid my courtesy to my parents at home after getting the break.

Then in 1966 I got transferred to take charge of the Northern Region based in Penang. My life became more organised. I was able to release myself for the festive season as I have two trusted and capable assistants who were locals, in the late Ismail Long and Nor Hashimah Ismail. That became the routine till 1972 when I went back to KL on transfer.

By that time family was on the way and hari raya was more devoted to the kids. The trip “balik kampong” was sort of archaic when the kids were in school and berating “why balik kampong? This is our kampong, all our friends are here. You also don’t have many friends there”. It was the end of the balik kampong rush for me, especially when both my parents were called by the Almighty in early 80’s. The kids finished schooling and were pursuing their different paths to the future. By that time it was visiting the graves of my father in Padang Tenggala and mother in Taiping, normally on 2nd or 3rd day of raya and on to Penang to visit Jun’s relatives and the family graves. We would be there a couple of days before hitting home.

The routine stopped this year due to health reason, the inability to drive long distance and the hazardous traffic along the north-south highway, more so at festive occasions and week-ends.

Now we look forward to the visit of the kids and the cucus (grand children) with the small preparation that Jun made. This is their kampong. We are here to stay!

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri
Maaf Zahir Batin.

Friday, September 3, 2010


The subject of humour over the airwaves was brought up by prominent blogger Tengku Mohd. Ali Bustamam on Facebook lately with good response all round. Tokcik took part too based on experience of the past to highlight the fact that we do have talents of calibre in Malay without resorting to run of the mill slapstick by exponents of the period since over 40 years back. This is the contribution:

The first and only "Johan Lawak Jenaka" Radio Malaysia 1967, Zainal Abidin Zain and the late Zainuddin Arshad from Gunong Semanggol did theirs stand-upper complete in suit and tie to beat the like of the slap-stickers from all over the country including the established lot in Klang Valley. Check it out, may be RTM-Radio still keep the recording in their ARCHIVE. Its a pity, the so-called expert then recommended not to continue with the contest!

The comment was crafted with facts laced with hidden messages. The lengthy first sentence was factual, while the next two may raise eyebrows and perhaps issue.

I was involved with the “Bintang Radio” contest by virtue of being the MPO of the Northern Region, Radio Malaysia (kindly refer to earlier postings on the subject) way back in the middle 1960’s. I was never musically and entertainment inclined but the MPO post entailed the incumbent to be one. I depended on many people to carry the day for the station in Penang, an endless list.

Zainal Abidin and Zainuddin were trained teachers (Cikgu) from the backwater of Gunong Semanggol, once well known for its Madrasah (religious schools). Both told me they keep their skits to while away the vast time they had to fill in the way out place and at the same time entertained friends who were bored for lack of entertainment after the school chores. Radio has limited frequencies and TV was just launched on the west coast of the peninsular. They got involved with the youth movement and naturally the local politics. As teachers (government service) they went UMNO way. The Islamic party was considered extremist those days. Of the two Zainal was more dominant

I came to know most of the comedians in the North through audition, the contest and eventually the weekly programme dedicated for them. It attracted the listeners and eventually they became regular features on local stage show, mostly entitled simply “Anekaragam” encompassing singing, musical performance, local dances (tarian) and “lawak” to add laughter to the show. The theme of the lawak over radio were mainly propagating the national policy and events of the day that touched the daily lives of the common folk. That became the standard on the stage too, for lacked of ideas perhaps but the majority continue to resort to slapstick which was easier to laugh at.

There were already established comedians in Penang itself then but none could compete with the immerging teachers groups in the contest. Eventually Zainal and Zainuddin emerged top to represent the Northern Region at the national contest later. Our back-up was runner-up another teacher’s couple Md. Noh and Turan Senapi who hailed from Kubang Semang, Province Wellesley, the mainland half of Penang. Their act was thick of Penang accent and made use of the Penang slang very well. In third place was the Sungai Petani, Kedah group of Mydin and friend who later made it to the local celluloid world and became celebrity of sort.

So the Northern Region was strong in that department then. The late Ismail Long being the producer handled them well. We roped in our Director the late Zainal Alam (later bestowed the datukship by the Penang state government for his contribution in the entertainment field) as well to assist grooming our candidates. Being a prominent comedian and singer (he sang the first election song of the country) in his heydays, he saw the potential in Zainal and Arshad and readily imparted his knowledge and experience to them. They were in good hands. We were not really surprised they won the contest hands down.

We were terribly disappointed the subsequent years the power that be in KL decided to dispense away with the competition on the advice of the so-called “expert” in house who propagated the existence in the first place. We in the northern region could merely speculate the arrival of the decision. The coming of the “new kids on the block” possibly may erode the popularity of the established lots in Klang Valley. Should the contest be continued I dare say that the northern region as well as the eastern region based in Kota Bharu, Kelantan would dominate with their fresh natural acts.

It was fated that all good things come to an end. Zainal was more interested in improving his career and life. Being a comedian was a phase in life for him while Zainuddin was content being a school teacher in the idyllic kampong surrounding. Many weeks before the famous 1969 General Election Zainal seek my opinion if he should accept Tun Razak’s offer of being a Perikatan candidate for the Semanggol constituency Perak State Assembly seat. He was among those selected as he was the UMNO Pemuda chief there. At that time he was toying with the idea towards getting a degree at the newly established Universiti Sains in Penang. After a lengthy discussion over the famous Penang “pasembur” we concluded that politic and election can come later, a degree those days were precious ticket to a better future.

So Zainal pursued the degree in earnest and well before the next election he was already a graduate. I was only monitoring his progress from afar by then as I was transferred back to KL. In the next General Election he became the candidate for the same constituency and emerged as one of the State Exco. By that time I lost touch with him, only hearing hearsay from mutual friends, but I did receive the Raya Kad regularly, indicating he still remembers. In later elections he won the Federal Constituency of Bagan Serai and eventually emerged as Deputy Minister of Defence and later Home Affairs. He was one of the tsunami victims of the 2008 elections.

I missed the durian from their family dusun in Bukit Gantang. My DOA for his, his wife Cikgu Asimah and family good health.