Kuali Hitam

Warisan Zurinah Hassan


My short story ANITA have been published in a personal collection MENERUSKAN PERJALANAN (CONTINUING THE JOURNEY) Kuala Lumpur, Dbp 1987, reprinted in 1989 and 2016.  I have done a free translation of the story as published below. It has been compiled with other short stories for a dual language book. 

The first part of the book is an account of my personal involvement in writing, how it began, the experiences,
and  the struggle that followed.  The  long
and winding road taken  manifested the
hardship that a woman in Malaysia has to overcome to pursue her aspiration of
becoming a writer or to create a name for herself  amidst the social and cultural situations. 

I  talk  about
issues in poems and short stories, exposing creative processes of some selected
work that have been highlighted.  The
issues in the writings are also common in the literary works  of other contemporary Malaysian writers. This
will serve as an insight especially to  
foreign students and readers , into contemporary Malay literary scene
and the background  that mould the
thought and creativity of Malaysian writers. The writer also made observations
of fellow  women writers, some of which
did not survive and disappear after marriage.. At the earlier stage writings by
women did not receive  attention and
review. They were usually considered of lesser quality than works produced by
male writers.

translation of Anita

Anita and I were close friends since school days. While in
high school she was a well   known
figure   in our town because she excelled
in almost everything . She was on top of the class in her academic performance.
She was a fluent debater and a leading actress in drama society while I was
just an ardent spectator in the audience. Not enough with that she was also in
the school netball team, while I was only a member of  the cheer group.
I must also admit that she looked more beautiful .  Her skin glowed  and her eyes sparkled due to physical
activities, mental alertness and intelligence. 
 She was friendly and got along
easily with anyone. She became the centre of attraction wherever she was. It
was not unusual when several boys from other schools tried to  come near me, only later to ask my favour to
introduce them to Anita. Any boy would feel proud if he was seen  walking with Anita. I knew that many girls were
jealous and secretly wished they were as popular as Anita.
I too wish I could come out with   have brilliant ideas like Anita. I saw how
impressed the audience was when Anita voiced her opinion on ways to improve the
living standards of the rural people. I know that I will never be near it. Put
me  standing on stage in front of the
crowd ,  my knees will start shaking .
Anita befriended the boys that she met in student activities,
at school halls, or on  playing fields. But
I did not see any signs of Anita picking anyone for a special relationship. I
understood that she was in no hurry, she had ample time and ample opportunities
to make any decision.
We studied in form six. Anita continued to gather friends and
fans and have not chosen anyone as a  boyfriend. it’s a different case with me. I do
not have many friends but it is known to many that I am attached to Halim who
rode with me every day in the the school bus .
Later, Anita, Halim and I went to a same university. Anita’s
Higher  School Certificate results were  much better than us. Her good result was a
pride of the school. It glorified our school name.
Anita continued the good work at the university.  She soon emerged as a student leader and
elected as student council member. In that first year she was elected as a
committee member of the Association of Malay Language. A few months after our
arrival at the university, Anita has become known as a leading personality. I
felt proud that this outstanding personality came from my birth place.
Anita became a national figure in student organisation. She
had made progress rapidly while I  did
not change much. I still prefer to sit at the back rows. I still looked down
and dared not lift up my face during 
tutorials, hiding away  praying
that the tutors would  not ask me
challenging questions. It was Anita who often raise her hand ready with
opinions and bright ideas.  As usual I
would be among those ready to listen and jot down her points.
 Anita was active  and her main interest was  in Bakti
or Students Voluntary Service. The society visited rural areas giving
free tuition classes  particularly in
Science and Mathematics, the two subjects 
that the rural Malay students 
were thought to be weak in. This voluntary teaching was done during the
university semester break.
I heard Anita campaigning for more students to get involved
in the community service. She said “ We should be aware and help the poor
students of our own race.   We have to do our part by talking to the rural
Malays who believe that they are destined to be poor and such were not
encouraged to strive  to improve their
living condition. We had to change their thinking . It is we who must carry out
a major role in changing the attitudes and way of life. If not us, who else?
I felt guilty and ashamed that I have never help.  I admired Anita’s strong will but what could
I do. Halim would  not approve of me going
into the villages.  He said I’d better go
back home during the holiday and  help my
mother. Besides I also felt obliged to help my own mother who was always busy
with the domestic chores. I should take opportunity of the university holidays
to take a load off her back. Halim said with a smile that it was better for me
to have all the practice of cooking and looking after younger siblings because in
less than a year we would be married. He said that  he did not need a leader or a champion of the
people as a wife. All he needed was a woman who could give full attention to
the family. I did not say anything and I was carried away in a beautiful dream
of a beautiful life with Halim.
Not that I did feel the 
limitations  of being attached. I
felt it  once or twice that  I could not move freely.  But on the other hand  there was an advantage of having a steady
boyfriend since it gave me some sort of protection. The male students dared not
disturb me as they respected me as 
“belonging”  to Halim. Girls
without a partner would easily be the target of gossips. Such was the campus
Among what is termed as “unpaired girls” was Anita.  During early days in the campus, I noticed
that she was closed to Asmawi . She often talked about him and I thought it as
a good sign. The relationship did not work well when Anita was chosen to go to
Japan for a study visit.  Asmawi was not
pleased and tried to  talk to her against
it. After that they were not seen together again.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree, Anita and I
continued to take Diploma in Education for another seven months to qualify as
teachers. Halim went home to start a career 
as an administrative officer. He was appointed   an  Assistant
District Officer, the position of his dream all these years.
Three months later we were married in a befitting ceremony, even
though I still have a few months left to study for the Diploma.  Of course we have a reason behind the
immediate marriage,  and that was  to make it easier for me to get posted to a
nearby school for a reason to be near the husband. The Education Department was
usually considerate and generous about this.
In January the following year I was sent to the school of our
alma matter. And Anita was together with me.  
Anita started  as a
teacher with ardent interest.  This
was  her vocation as she had shown in
voluntary teaching in rural areas under Student Service program. That was her
mission for pursuing the Diploma in Education although a graduate  of such standing would have no problem getting
jobs  that was thought to be more
glamorous such as in the civil service.  
I admire her determination and quietly admitted to myself that I took
the Diploma In Education because Halim encouraged me to do so. According to him
as a teacher I would only work half a day and there would be more time for the
family. You may say that I did not have vision of my own.
Anita performed her job
with  enthusiasm,  bringing some innovations   to upgrade 
student performance. Besides her work in school, Anita  joined Youth Associations as a channel to
serve the society, carrying the good work nurtured in the campus.  There were programs for school leavers and
free classes for the illiterate adults. 
Anita said to me, “This
is the time to serve our society. People had passed remark  that student leaders were active in the
campus only and  once graduated they will
forget what they had advocated for. They will be busy making money.   Let me prove them wrong. I’m glad that we
are  sent back to our  own place. My job will be easier since we are
quite familiar with the people and the situations here”.
Anita’s assumption that the
job would be easier in a familiar surrounding was soon proven wrong.  A few months after setting up  adult classes and activating the youth association,
something annoying happened.
One morning we were in the
teachers  room, marking students work.
Suddenly an unfamiliar lady walk in, looking left and right apparently
searching for someone. On noticing Anita, she 
walked to her desk.  Her face was
a mixture of anger, worry and sadness. Anita stood to welcome her even though
not knowing what was the visit for. The unexpected visitor took a nearby chair
and started to say something. I could guess that she was angry but she kept her
voice low perhaps realizing that she was in an office. As my desk was a little
away from  Anita I could not hear their
conversation despite my curiosity. It could have been something unpleasant
because Anita’s face turned red and sad. 
Fortunately, the other teachers were not around.
I wanted to ask Anita for the
detail of the visit but there was no time as we had classes to rush to. I had
to hold the curiosity until after the final bell. Anita told me that the woman
was the wife of Rosli, the Vice President of 
the Youth Club. Anita was  working
closely with him and  irresponsible  people were spreading  rumours of a 
romantic relationship. What hurt Anita most was the visitor’s unkind
words that as  an old maid Anita was
desperately looking for a husband and as such did not mind to be a second wife.
I felt sorry for Anita. I felt
very sad if those were what is in store for her after all  her devotion and sacrifice. I held her hand,
squeezed he fingers saying “Doesn’t matter, Allah knows you are sincere and
will reward accordingly”.
After a moment of silence I
said   “It’s difficult  to be a woman”

Anita answered promptly  “No, not that difficult . It is only
difficult to be a woman of your own will. “

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