In the days when I still wore shorts, I remember my dear, late grandmother as the sternest taskmistress who ever walked the face of the earth. The fact that she was a headmistress probably had something to do with this. Her reputation as a tough (but fair) cookie lived on long after she passed away.
This brings me to the time when I was courting a girl in Taman Permata. Unknown to me, her mother had been one of my grandmother’s students. One day, after a nice spot of tea and meaningless small-talk, the mother started to interrogate me – Nazi SS style.
“Tell me about your mother, young man!” she demanded. The only things missing were bright lights in my face and testicular electrocution apparatus. I fought an instinctive reflex to protect my crotch.
“Well, her name is Rohani and she lives in Ipoh –” I began.
“Rohani? And she lives in Ipoh? And would your grandmother, by any chance, be Enchum? Cik Gu Enchum?”
It didn’t look good. At this point, I was about ready to forget all my romantic intentions for her daughter and run out the door – while I still had healthy testicles. But family pride got the better of me. Instead of scrambling out the door, I stood my ground.
A meek and hesitant “Y- y – yes…” was all I could muster.
Upon hearing my answer, her face lit up like glowed like a million pink diamonds. The expression on her face, hard and severe, immediately softened. I could swear that her eyes went all glassy for a moment. It was nothing short of a miracle.
“Son, if you are even half the person your grandmother was, I will be able to sleep at night knowing that my daughter is in good hands…” she sighed with with undisguised relief.
“Son, your grandmother may have been tough on us – very tough, indeed. But without her, without her brand of caring, many of us – me included – would have lost our way a long time ago. She was a good person, son. I hope you know that.”
“Why, thank you ma’am.”
But despite having thus gained her mother’s wholehearted endorsement, the girl and I eventually went our separate ways. I guess my genetic advantage was no match for a surgeon who looked like Julio Iglesias. And the fact that he had more money than his accountants could keep track of didn’t really help, either. However, he probably could not write a love letter to save his surgically enhanced 12-inch dick. But that’s a different story altogether – better told in another posting.
Now, back to my grandmother. I can also recall something odd about her; something that didn’t sit well with her no-nonsense, tough-as-nails, mess-with-me-and-you’ll-die image. Every once in a while, I’d catch her, looking forlorn on the verandah, singing an old Malay song called “Serunai Malam”. Here’s how the song went:
Dari mana datang rasa kasih sayang?
Dari mata ke hati lalu dikenang
Kerana budi menjadi kenangan, sayang
Sumpah setia disaksikan bintang
Bercerai mati batasnya di dunia
Di akhirat kita berjumpa pula
Mengapa hatiku selalu rindu dendam
Kerna kekasih tak jumpa seharian
Tidur tak nyenyak wajahmu terbayang, sayang
Air setitik tak dapat ku telan
Hendak bergurau di manakah kawan? sayang
Melainkan (cant remember the word) dan bantal bersulam
Aduhai, sayang, serunai malam…
To this day, I do declare that I have never had the pleasure of listening to a sweeter melody. The tune was so pretty that at times, I could not help but hum along as she sang that song. And I do declare that no one sings it better than my grandmother did; I doubt if anyone ever will. She sang it as if she meant it: every word, every syllable of it.
But over and above the melody, it is the lyrics that get to me. They just don’t write songs like “Serunai Malam” anymore. If, for some reason, you want to let your heart hang out for all to see, get yourself an old Malay song like “Serunai Malam”. Though I am a dunce when it comes to Bahasa Melayu, the power and emotions of “Serunai Malam” never fails to blow me away every time. Just how do you beat “Air setitik, tak dapat ku telan”? You don’t! Its one of those things – that unless you were truly and deeply in love – you would never ever fully appreciate.
And as for my grandmother, that song showed me that she was human after all. Sometimes, though, I’d ask myself, “I wonder who she sings that song to?”
But then, some questions are better left unanswered.