The school holidays had just begun and I woke up very early to have my bath. Grandpa and grandma were busy preparing the luggage while our maid-servant Mak Yang was at the kitchen preparing for breakfast. It was 1956 and we were going to Johor Bahru to spend the holidays. A few days earlier many relatives came to bid my grandparents farewell and as words began to spread, many more came. Those days going on an outstation trip was like going to the moon. Your immediate neighbour would inform his immediate neighbour, the fish seller who had been told earlier would tell the kacang putih seller and he in turn would tell the rojak seller. Within a few days, the whole neighbourhood within the vicinity would have known that pretty soon you would be away on an outstation trip for a few days. Three days before your departure, your house would be filled with relatives and close friends and the atmosphere was like a mini carnival. Some even cried while waving at you when you departed.
A week earlier grandpa had sent a telegram to my grand auntie Mak Chah (grandma’s younger sister) that they would like to spend a few days in Johor Bahru and would appreciate offering accommodation. Two days later a postman came with a telegram and Mak Yang our maid-servant nearly got a heart attack. It was a reply from Pak Usop (Mak Chah’s husband) informing that they would be most honoured to have my grandparents staying with them. It was from this moment that words began to spread. We need not have any internet service to let the others know, somehow the news would spread like wild fire or even more wild than the ‘fire’.
I was a very bad traveler and so grandma made sure she brought along an empty ‘ovaltine’ container for me to vomit. I would vomit every ten to twenty miles and by the time we reached Johor Bahru, I was almost dead.
I can’t remember the car model but I can safely assume it was a black Austin and I can’t remember who drove the car. Grandma liked my cousin Kak Fuzi a lot and she brought her along. The journey took us more than six hours and we had to be inspected by few policemen at every road blocks. Malaya was under the emergence rule and road blocks were common scenes. We stopped at quite a number of places to have our drinks and ate the food we brought along.
We reached Johor Bahru town quite late in the evening. When we arrived at Mak Chah’s house, the scene of those waiting for us was like those Umno members waiting for the arrival of their President who had just concluded negotiation for our country’s independence in London. So many of our JB relatives had waited for us. Some even clapped their hands quite similar the way we clapped ours when Lee Chong Wei did a smash. Pak Usop and Mak Chah as well as their children greeted grandpa and grandma and some delights were already served at the dining table. That night my two uncles Wak Tan (Mohd.Noah) and Wak Man (Othman) came and we had a grand family dinner. Both of them were working in Johor Bahru. Wak Man had just got married to a Kelantanese girl named Azizah @ Sabariah and she came along too.
The next morning Wak Tan came to bring us to Singapore. It was earlier planned and he suggested that we watch a Malay movie called Hang Tuah. The leading star was an up and coming actor named P. Ramee and it was the first Malay film shot in Eastman colour film. It was directed by an Indian national named Phani Majumdar.
Before we watched the movie, we went to some other places. We visited the ‘chinchali’ (which is Chain-Alley), a shopping area quite like a bazaar. We visited the Haw Par Villa where many colourful stone sculptures of human and animal images were displayed in a huge garden. Haw Par was the manufacturer of the once famous ‘Tiger Balm’. Then we visited the ‘maqam Habib Noh’ and few other places.
It was in the evening when we arrived at the cinema (can’t remember the name) and Wak Man and his wife Mak Jah were already waiting for us. Kak Fuzi and me ran straight to the counter selling all sort of junk foods and bought ourselves some sweets. Inside the cinema, Kak Fuzi had to accompany Mak Jah to the toilet at least four times. Maybe she was not used to be in a cool place.
It was from this movie that I became addicted to everything P.Ramlee. Earlier back in Muar town I had seen some other movies where P.Ramlee played a leading role. It was always Mak Yang who took me to all these movies and in most cases I slept on her lap throughout the movie. The film Hang Tuah captivated my heart completely and throughout the movie I was very attentive and what made the movie even more interesting was I understood every word spoken. Of course the colour version was certainly an added value. I could not wait to go home so that I could tell Mak Yang about the movie.
We stayed at Mak Chah’s house for about two or three days and it was a very good stay. Pak Usop and Mak Chah were both very serious looking people and somehow I was quite scared of both of them. In later years when I was much older, I found out that Mak Chah was in fact a very nice person. Whenever I went to Johor Bahru, I would surely find some time to pay her a visit. She was a very good cook and one of her most famous delicacies was her ‘apam’ known among many Johor Bahru people as ‘apam Mak Chah’. Later, her daughter Kak Arah (Zaharah Yusof) inherited her talent and the ‘apam’ subsequently was renamed as ‘apam Kak Arah’. It was co-incidence that I got married to the daughter of her neighbour and during the ‘akad nikah’, Mak Chah became my accomplice. By virtue of her status, I should call her ‘Tok Chah’ but I have always treated my grand aunties as my aunties.
Back to 1956 and I was ready to go to school. This time I was not crying any longer and Pak Malek the beca man was always cheerful. As I stepped into his beca, I began my story. I told him about my Singapore trip and about the Hang Tuah movie, that the colour was so colourful even the colour of the original sun was not as bright as the colour of the movie. When we passed some trees, I told Pak Malek to look at the green colour of the leaves and I told him that the colour of the leaves in the movie was more greener. He was so overwhelmed at my story that he almost turned to a wrong junction. When Pak Malek asked me whether did I vomit on my journey, I replied ‘well, only once or twice’.
At school I told all my classmates that I went to Singapore and it was so very far like this country was at the other end of the world. I even exaggerated that it took us one day and one night to arrive. Then I told them about Hang Tuah and his four brothers and even exhibited how Hang Tuah defeated his enemy. I was the center of attraction and during the recess at the tuck shop I told almost everyone that I went to Singapore. I remember most vividly on one occasion in school when the class teacher asked me to sing one song from the Hang Tuah movie. The teacher brought us all to the school field, and each one of us was invited to exhibit our talent or skill. Some performed the silat dance, some sang their favourite songs showing off some of their missing front teeth, and few others performed the joget. When my turn was up, I stood up and sang the beautiful song of “Berkorban Apa Saja” and I thought my voice was quite like P. Ramlee.
About two or three months later, it was Muar’s turn to screen Hang Tuah and Mak Yang began to have sleepless nights. By now she knew the story from the beginning till the end and I was responsible. I had told her so many times that she understood every part of the movie. At one time when I forgot a certain scene, she corrected me with confidence.
During the screening of the movie at the Rex cinema, I sat besides Mak Yang. My three ‘sisters’ were of course together with us. When the movie started, Mak Yang was ready to relate some scenes ahead of time. She knew almost every part of the movie that she cried first before the sad scene started. Minutes before Hang Tuah was about to be brought before the Sultan for treason, Mak Yang was already showing signs of hating the Sultan. The final scene was more disastrous for her. When Hang Tuah finally stabbed Hang Jebat with his keris ‘taming sari’, Mak Yang shouted so loud “Alamak, mati dah Hang Jebat, betul kata Din” and she regretted that Hang Tuah resorted to killing his own loyal brother.
On the way home while walking, Mak Yang was still not too happy that Hang Tuah killed his good brother. She blamed Hang Tuah for loosing sight of the real happening and what Hang Jebat did was obviously right. She even blamed the Bendahara for keeping Hang Tuah’s safety a secret. She said had the Bendahara told Hang Jebat that Hang Tuah was still alive and well, Hang Jebat would not have rebelled against the Sultan, then everything would be very good. She complained many things about the bad behaviours of those who conspired to create lies about Hang Tuah and how the Sultan was deceived. She was really in a bad mood that made us all very silent. When we arrived home she was still grumbling and still insisted that things would have been different if Hang Tuah was more wiser.
It was from this movie that I began to admire P. Ramlee more. When the movie ‘Penarik Beca’ went to the screen, I watched it twice, the first time was with Mak Yang and the second time also with Mak Yang. Then came ‘Anakku Sazali’ and ‘Antara Dua Darjat’ but when ‘Bujang Lapok’ passed Muar town, Mak Yang was no longer staying with us. By then I was old enough to watch every P. Ramlee movie alone or with my new friends.
Although the western influence was quite dominant in my life during my younger days, my admiration towards P. Ramlee never faded, in fact I was fascinated by many of his new films. He was ahead of his time and some of the scenes he created in his movies are happening in our daily lives. In one scene of the film ‘Tiga Abdul’, Abdul Wahub the youngest of the three brothers found out that his late father had many properties overseas in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Conggostan and even ‘Gohead Gostan’. Those days we only knew two countries ending with ‘tan’ and that is Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now we know many countries ending with the word ‘tan’. In another scene from the movie ‘Seniman Bujang Lapok’, P. Ramlee cautioned S. Shamsuddin to be more polite in his conversation with his saying of ‘Bahasa menunjukkan Bangsa’.
In retrospect, P. Ramlee’s early contributions to the Malay society found no match not only among his contemporaries, even among today’s film directors, actors and singers. True to his famous song of ‘Dimanakan ku cari ganti’, finding a replacement of his talent is almost impossible.
It was only last week while I was trying to find a good program in the Astro channels, I discovered by accident a channel showing the film ‘Do Re Mi’. My quest was immediately answered and I watched it. That was perhaps the 100th time I have watched this film.