It was 1955 and there was going to be an election and obviously we did not have a single clue what on earth was an election. My grandparents were staunch UMNO supporters but their son-in-law was not, as a matter of fact he stood as an opposition candidate fighting against the UMNO candidate.
Ahmad Hj.Ariffin was first married to my grandauntie Binti Dalilah Andak (grandma’s younger sister) and together they had three children, the second boy in his later life became the head of Party Rakyat of the Johor State. He was Razak Ahmad who became a lawyer and the most vocal politician always championing for the poor masses. After the death of my grandauntie, Ahmad married my auntie Rahmah (Mak Pon) and they were blessed with many children, three of whom became my ‘sisters’ during my growing days, Kak Shidah, Kak Arah and Kak Fuzi.
Now, it was election time and many houses began to put some flags at their windows. My house had a flag of a keris and with a red and white coloured background, in fact all the neighbours had the same flags but Ahamd’s flag was different from the rest. His house put up a white coloured flag with a picture of a padi plant. Why did Ahmad chose a different flag?
All of us nephews and nieces called him Pak Mat while many Muarians knew him as Mat Rippin. He was a draughtsman and had never worked for the gorvernment. He was a very straight forward man who would not tolerate any nonsense. His favourite ‘cursing word’ was baruah, literally it means a double-standard person. He was a very staunch supporter of the famous Johorian Dato Onn Jaafar who was once the Menteri Besar of Johor. Dato Onn was the first UMNO President but when he could not agree with some of UMNO’s policies, he quit the party and formed his own called The Independent of Malaya Party and later Parti Negara. Being a strong supporter of Dato Onn, Pak Mat joined Party Negara, and he became a candidate for the Muar seat for his party in the 1955 election. His opponent was an up and coming politician named Suleiman Ninam Shah.
The distant between grandpa’s house and Pak Mat’s was just a few steps away, and putting up different flags could invite many unnecessary gossips. Some thought that Pak Mat and grandpa had a big quarrel while few others even speculated that grandpa would disown Mak Pon for having a husband who was not only supporting UMNO but even went to fight as an opposition candidate. These rumours were nothing but mere speculations with a bad intention to discredit Pak Mat. As a matter of fact, both grandpa and Pak Mat were not only father and son-in-law respectively, they were very close to each other. Grandpa even allowed his sons to help Pak Mat in his election campaign and the most hard working son who gladly helped Pak Mak was our uncle Ibrahim (Wak Yem). He went all around Muar town putting up posters for Pak Mat’s party and of course with Pak Mat’s picture on it.
Unlike today’s campaigning period of between ten to fourteen days, those days the campaign period was quite long to almost a month. Party Negara was a new party while UMNO was more established and had the support from many quarters as well as the government bodies. So obviously Party Negara’s campaign could not draw many listeners while UMNO had money and even some government facilities. One of the few methods of wooing crowds to their election campaign was setting up free movies in some houses and UMNO did this pretty well.
The free movie was screened on a big white cloth with both sides attached to a long strong poles. The projector was placed quite a distance from the white cloth and the speakers were placed at both sides of the bottom of the two poles. Those days we called this ‘Papaganda” (which actually is propaganda). Halfway through every movie, they would stopped for half an hour and the political speech would begin. :Undilah party saya and all the jests and jazz. After the speech the movie would continue.
Two days ago they had it at Hj.Ismail Penambang’s house and tonight it was Suleiman Ninam Shah’s turn. I was roaring to go and that would be after we had our dinner. This time our maid-servant Mak Yang followed us.
When dinner was served, I was already dressed to kill. It was only two days ago grandma had bought a new shirt for me at the Tai Tong Textile shop of Jalan Abdullah and tonight was the right night to show off my new shirt. Kak Shidah, Kak Arah and Kak Fuzi likewise were ready waiting for me and Mak Yang was even more excited because tonight she need not pay any money to watch a movie.
It was now 8.30pm and immediately I ran towards Mak Pon’s house to invite my three ‘sisters’ and there were Kak Arah and Kak Fuzi waiting but Kak Shidah was not around. According to Kak Fuzi this time she refused to go because Suleiman Ninam Shah was Bak’s enemey. (They called their father ‘Bak’). I guess maybe she understood what an election was all about. So the three of us began walking together with Mak Yang. Two houses away we had a problem, a house with a dog. If we followed the other way, there was a Chinese house also with a dog and that way was a longer distant. So we began chanting ‘tabatyadah’ continuously and our eyes were focussed toward the house. It was an Indian house who was a laundary man and he had a son named Maniam who in later years became one of my very close friend. When we passed the house, there wasn’t any sign of the dog. So our ‘tabatyadah’ chants really worked.
When we reached the compound of Suleiman’s house, there were many people some bringing their small babies and they were all seated on the ground. Many elderly people came by just using their sarongs and the women wore their normal daily clothes and I was dressed to kill. Small children my age too came with their parents and their faces were unfamiliar. We looked for any available space for the four of us to sit and finally managed to get a small area enough for the four of us. Besides the house was a mamak sundry shop that normally closed at 9pm but tonight they worked overtime. Before the movie started, the babies cried first and throughout the night the sound of their cries kept coming. It was an English movie and since we all knew nothing of the English language, we just watched with our mouths wide open trying to figure out what was the movie all about. Mak Yang too just sat and watched trying to figure out just like we did. There wasn’t any fighting scene and since we understood nothing, Mak Yang suggested that we might as well go home.
Suleiman Ninam Shah’s house was not too far from our house and it would only take about two or three minutes walk if we used the back lane of some small bushes but we couldn’t do this at night. Using the main road would take us about twenty minutes of walking distance and so we began our journey home after almost an hour of watching a movie we understood nothing. Wearing my new shirt was a waste and tomorrow Mak Yang had to wash it so that I could wear it again maybe for some other important event.
The next morning Kak Shidah asked us what was the movie about but we were too shy to tell her and just shrugged with our shoulders. Tonight there would be another movie but this time we decided to stay home and to listen to the radio program. Those days there were quite a number of Malay programs of ‘Bangsawan diUdara’, Rancangan Kebun Pak Awang’, and there was an eerie program called ‘Seram’. The program started with an eerie cry of a female laughing like a ‘pontianak’ and I would normally listen with my eyes and ears closed but at least we understood every words spoken.
Everyday during the campaigning period, there would be a van with a loudspeaker passing by maybe telling the voters to vote for their party and most of the time the van would be carrying the red and white flag with a keris in the middle. Pak Mat was seldom seen at home and would only returned very late at night.
Few years later when I was old enough to understand many things, I remember asking Pak Mat one night at the tembok. Obviously he lost the election and that was his last stand as a candidate and he remained adamant that UMNO bred only corrupted people whom after being elected began to drive expensive cars and suddenly with big bungalows. He was proud to earn enough as a draughtsman without having to kneel before the government for any aid. He told me that every drop of rice that was eaten by his children was from his hard earned money and he was extremely proud of that.
Suleiman Ninam Shah (Tun) later became an Exco member of the Johor State government and was made a Dato. Most of his children became my very close friends and his eldest son Kadar Shah (Dato) remained closely knitted to our family members until his death. Pak Mat himself liked Kadar very much in spite of his father being his political opponent at one time. Likewise grandpa and grandma never for a minute disliked their son-in-law Pak Mat for being with the opposition party. Family ties should remained closely knitted inspite of our political differences. I learn this from the experience of my late beloved uncle Ahmad bin Hj. Arrifin.