Tuesday (3 April 2012), we made a long trip crossing Kuala Lumpur city to reach Ampang Hilir at the invitation of our old friend Dato’ Zainal Abidin Zain, the former MP for Bagan Serai and former Deputy Minister of Defence and Home Affairs and his wife Datin Asimah Abdul Latif at their home. The invitation was extended to Atan Wahab and me last week.
[This picture was taken by Datin Asimah during our conversation in the course of having tea with the serving of delicious “Semanggol Laksa” prepared by Datin herself. The traditional “kueh” was not to be left behind. L-R: Tokcik, Atan & Dato’]
The journey across town was quite hazardous as it was drizzling all the way. From Subang Jaya Jun and I had to traverse the Federal Highway to fetch Atan Wahab at his home in Kelana Jaya. We were prepared for the worse, traffic jams and puddle of rain water here and there, but we were blessed with a smooth drive except some congestion. We took the connecting road opposite the old Istana Negara to join Jalan Sungai Besi that connects us to Jalan Tun Razak. As we approached the Bukit Bintang area Dato’ Zainal called enquiring our where about. It was slightly over 3.00 pm and we were behind schedule. Then we made it to the alleviated toll highway heading for Ampang. In no time we were in front of their house.
It has been many years since the Hari Raya invitation that I met them. I noticed Dato’ has a slight limp. He got a torn ligament on his tight during exercising on his bicycle. Otherwise he was in good shape except for the normal failing of eyesight.
Atan as usual had his field day of political exploits as UMNO “power broker” which Dato’ listen intently. Dato’ didn’t change much there, being a good listener and putting his personal experiences whenever needed. That was his nature since I came to know him way back in 1966. Now he seems content in retirement surrounded by his children and grandchildren, with the normal trip to his former constituency and his “kebun” in Gunong Semanggol.
I was invited as Dato’ wanted to reminisce old time, the happy carefree years when we were in the North. He was a young school teacher in Semanggol active in youth activities. A natural and talented, he was elected to be Ketua Pemuda UMNO there. I was then posted to Penang in 1966 to head the Malay Programme of Radio Malaysia Northern Region as its Organiser (MPO) at the time when other stations in Perak, Kedah and Perlis didn’t exist.
Our path cross when Radio Malaysia (RM) was organising the “Bintang Radio” series of competition. Originally the competition was to spot singing talent in the genre of “Langgam” (Modern) and “Asli” (traditional) only. That year the power that be extended the competition to the singing genre of “Sariosa” as RM was in need of singers who could sing patriotic songs in the style of the prolific Jamaluddin Alias who was successful in burning the Malaysian spirit during the “Konfrantasi” era with Indonesian Sukarno regime. “Lawak Jenaka” (comedian) was also introduced to add to the lighter side of life in the multi ethnic society. RM lacked the talent in that area those days with exception of the trio of Jamal Mohamad, Ibrahim Din and S.M.Salim.
This was where Zainal and his partner the late Zainuddin Arshad stepped in. They came for the audition at our Studio in Jalan Burmah. I was impressed with their unique and clever presentation of playing with the Malay words. When the real contest came for the Northern Region they were the only group that didn’t come with the paraphernalia to support their act. They came well dressed in suit complete with tie, walk-up the stage and approached the microphone. They went on and on with their skit and wit, making the hall full of laughter within the specific period. Straight away I knew we have a winner here. They won the contest hands down leaving behind the Penang locals who were very much influenced by the “boria” style skits and humour.
After winning the Northern Region contest we took them as our “resident” comedians. They were happy to take a break from their teaching routine in the backwater of Semanggol to be in the bright light of Penang for the week-ends. The payment was pittance compared to today; only RM 30.00 to be shared between both of them. They were happy sharpening their hones and wits; what more to be heard over the air.
A few weeks later we went to Kuala Lumpur with the singers who won the Langgam and Asli (male & female) together with our Sariosa exponent. The singers were polished by none other then the late Jimmy Boyle day and night. The late Ismail Long gave Zainal and Zainuddin some briefing with tips from our former Director the late Dato' Zainal Alam, the accomplished comedian in the English broadcast. We had a field day at the national event taking away four of the titles. One of them was the coveted inaugural “Bintang Lawak Jenaka”. Zainal and Zainuddin wowed the audience and the judges with their easy going jokes on the stage in front of the microphone. The group representing Kuala Lumpur who were confident of carrying the title were left behind.
In the run to the prize presentation show Zainal and Zainuddin was specifically told to cut down their skits to 5 minutes. Zainal told us they were asked to meet the Head of Malay Service at that time the late Aziz Abu Hassan and relate their story within the specific period. Aziz was a serious man of few words but he approved their skits after laughing heartily at the duo wits. They must have reminded him of his favourite Hollywood comedian of Bud Abbot and Lou Castello.
Sad to say that was the only “Bintang Lawak Jenaka” ever held by RM. It seems it was suggested that the contest be scrapped due to the difficulty in judging by those who suggested the introduction in the first place. I personally feel Zainal and Zainuddin should be in the Malaysian Book of Record as the only champion of “Bintang Lawak Jenaka” ever of Radio Malaysia. Zainal is the sole survivor as Zainuddin pass away some years back.
The weekly comedian show in the Northern broadcast was dominated by Zainal and Zainuddin with the late Ismail Long as the producer. Whenever we produced the musical extravaganza “Anekaragam” and the festive days “Special” they were among our top performers. They became well known.
Zainal said they had their hands full fulfilling request for stage shows all over the place. They enjoyed doing it. The only snag was that most of the time they didn’t get the payment promised by the organisers on the excuse they should contribute to charity. It was not fair to them as they had to pay for their transport, accommodation and food. The exposure over RM made them see the other side of the entertainment world in its true sense.
Zainal continue to be active in the UMNO youth activities in Semanggol being its Ketua (Head). When the infamous 1969 General Election came he was offered to be the Perikatan candidate for the Perak State Assembly constituency of his area. Being a young man I think he was in a dilemma of being in the bright light of comedian, getting a degree at the University Sains Malaysia which he had worked so hard in his spare time to be admitted or being the “wakil rakyat”. My advice to him at that time was to go for the degree, which he did. After getting the degree at USM, at the following election he was elected to the same constituency he was offered previously. He was then chosen to be one of the Perak State Executive Councillor (Exco). By that time I lost contact with him due to work commitment and I was busy expanding my career in RTM at the headquarters in KL.
I followed his political progress as Member of Parliament for Bagan Serai and later Deputy Minister of Defence and Home Affairs.
It was great meeting old friends and updating ourselves with the world of our old acquaintance. I hope to visit Semanggol one of these days to look at the progress of the last half a century.
Thank you Datin for the sumptuous laksa and tea. Insyaallah we will get together again.