Kuali Hitam

Warisan Zurinah Hassan



THE
CURSE OF KUALA KEDAH

(original tittle SUMPAH KUALA KEDAH, Murka Lautan, itbm 2016)

translated by the writer.

Ayub carefully lifted the tray of
shrimps that he had put to dry in the sun since morning. He had collected the
shrimps from the river behind his house. Shrimps was plentiful especially with
the ebbing tide. He brought back the shrimps and soak them in a basin of  water to remove mud and sand. A few minutes
later he  changed  the water, 
churned and shook the basin to remove more mud. He repeated the process
several times to make sure there are no more mud and dirt. The clean shrimp
were filtered to drain the water and put to dry on a tray. On sunny days the
shrimps only take two or three days to be nicely dried and ready for
consumption. Dried shrimps will be  wrapped in a clean white cloth with
one end carefully tied up.  The bundle was beaten onto  a coconut
trunk nearby to remove the skin of the shrimps. The skin will be separated further
by use of a sieve or tampi. The
shrimps will then be ready to be packaged for sale.
Every morning his cousin Hassan would
come to take the  shrimps to sell at
Pekan Rabu. Hassan came home in the evening  to hand over some coins  collected from
the sale. Usually they will be a few pieces of five cents coins and a few
pieces of one cent copper-coloured coin bearing the image of King George V of
England. The money was enough to spend on the family. His mother spend money
very carefully. Every day mother will make it a point to put a one cent coin
into a round tin, well-kept above the closet. When Ayub was admitted to the
Sultan Abdul Hamid College, mother opened the tin and brought out  enough
money to buy his school uniforms, books and other needs.
But since last year they no longer
use the copper-coloured coins. Those coins no longer have any value in the
country. Ayub was sad everytime he recalled how his mother cried because the
coins that she saved have become useless. Now they had to use  the
Japanese  paper money bearing  the picture of banana tree.
Ayub knew that If he go a little far
down the river he would have caught more, but his mother and father
disapproved. They would be angry at him “Do not be too brave. You need do
all the work. Take care of yourself. Are you not scared of being caught by the
Japanese?”.  That’s what he will
hear from his father every time he disappeared from home. Ayub just kept
silent, he did not answer back not wanting to argue with his parents. He had
been taught that it is a great sin to be rude especially to one’s  mother. But sometimes he tried to explain to
her.”The Japanese are no longer in Kedah mother. Now Japan has handed
Kedah to Siam.  It’s the Siamese who govern us today.”
Ayub too did not dare to go freely
here and there. But he had to find some money to survive. Look as if that was
the only work the he could do. He had been doing this since he was unable to go
to school anymore. Indeed, he was sad and angry with what had happened.
Ayub  had just started studying at Maktab
Sultan Abdul Hamid. The joy of schooling had been cruelly destroyed when the
Japanese invaded his country.  The
Japanese caused  havoc  and
committed atrocities everywhere. Everyone lived in fear.
In the middle of 1943 Siamese guards
and police ware seen patrolling   the town of Alor Setar. They heard
that Japan had surrendered Kedah to Siam  supposedly out of
 gratitude to the government of Siam for allowing them to walk through to
invade Malaya. Ayub felt bitter and sick over this He often grumbled “Who
do you think you are. This is too much. How can you turn my state into a gift
item. Are we mere slaves who must obey with no right to say anything?”. 
But  he dared not speak out. He swallowed the bitter words. They were  stuck in his throat causing more pain in his
heart. To Ayub, both  Japanese and Siamese were outsiders  who had no right to do as they please in his
inherited land.
After storing the dried shrimp into a
container,  Ayub sat down to watch his
sisters Lijah and Kamariah and playing in front of the house near the
staircase.  His pregnant mother was
washing tapioca by their well.
For the time being  the
situation was quite safe. Although the Japanese military police called
Kempeitai  still exist in Kedah,  they did not behave violently as before towards
the civilians. People  say the Japanese were less ruthless because they
respected  the  Siamese soldiers
sent to watch over the state.
With this condition, the 
villagers could go on with their live 
although with much struggles and poverty. Lijah and Kamariah could play
near the stairs. They collected coconut shells to be used  as their pots
and plates.  They collected leaves imagining they were fishes.  They dredged out sand and imagine it was rice.
They did what they saw their mother do in the kitchen. They repeated what their
mother said with the neighbours. They talked about difficulty of getting
rice,  about the children with high
 fever, about neighbouring kids with scabies and sore all over the body.
Suddenly, Ayub heard someone calling.
He looked up towards the road and saw a group of men carrying something and
walking hurriedly toward their home. When Ayub could see clearer his heart
pounded faster for what they were carrying was his grandfather. He shouted to
his mother who was washing tapioca by the well. His mother, , ran towards the
men carrying her father. ‘Dad, dad, dad, why? Minah almost cried.
Lijah and Kamariah instantly threw
away the coconut shells and the leaves.  “What’s wrong with Tok Wan.
Is Tok Wan  dead?” They both broke into tears.
Ayub’s grand father, Darus was lifted
and placed on the platform in front of the stairs. Grand children felt a bit
relieved when Darus waved his hand and coughed. Darus made some signs and asked
to be laid by his side. He moaned that his back hurt terribly. Minah lifted
Darus shirt revealing    bruises on his back.  Everyone shook their heads .
More  neighbours came to the
house when they noticed the commotion. The concerned neighbours ask what had
happened to Darus “Ah the wicked Siamese police ….” said Ahmad one
of the men who brought Darus home . He was still holding Darus head,  and breathing fast out of sheer anger.
“Why? What’s wrong? More
questions asked
“The Siamese police kicked him
and he fell on his face to the ground. They kicked him several time and we
thought he was dead” explained Dolah with angry voice. They happened to be on
the scene.
Uda Leman ran to scoop water from the
well with a bucket. He poured  water onto
his palms  and dabbed on Darus face. Minah rushed to the kitchen and
returned with a glass of water for Darus to drink. Darus  tried  to sip and his cough subsided a
bit. Saidin reached for medicated oil bottle placed near the front door of the
house and started massaging  Darus’s chest.
Someone helped to massage Darus’s
shoulder to relieve his  pain.Two or three neighbours were massaging his
arms and legs.
The neighbours were really sad with
what happened.  Everyone knew how fierce and harsh the  Siamese police and soldiers were as they
patrol the streets of Alor Setar.
“Well, Pak Darus was cycling in
front of the police station. At that time they were raising the Siames flag and
the national anthem  was being played. As
usual everyone is expected to stand upright. Darus did not stop. So this is the
terrible things that happened to him. He was stopped and beatened by the
bastard police.
Minah was almost in tears when she
ask her father “Why didnt you stop? You know very well that we have to
stop and stand straight to show our respect everytime they raise the flag. We
hate to do such thing but we have no choice because they can shoot us to death.
 “
Darus rubbed his chest and finally he
could utter a few words “How could  I stop when  I could not
hear the anthem being played.  As you know, my ears are not good
anymore”  Darus broke into a long
uncontrollable cough that tore through his chest and alarmed everyone present.
When the coughing subsided ,Minah
spoke while still massaging Darus’s chest, “Poor Dad. He cannot hear
properly nowadays. He can hear a bit if we talk near him but if we go a bit far
he cannot make up anything. “
“That is why we are worried and
did not like father to cycle to  town. It
is very dangerous when he hardly hear the cars. ”
Minah knew that his father was
cycling  to Tengku Sulaiman’s house. The Tengku was their regular
customer. He always bought their shrimp. “Actually we did not allow father to
go anywhere alone. He is old and not feeling well. But my father is a stubborn
man. He said he need to go out and sweat a bit. If he stay at home he will feel
weaker. Oh how can the police treat my father like this. He is so old and weak”
Minah spoke almost in tears.
Darus was carried into the house and
placed on his bed. He moaned and groaned 
in pain. He hardly swallow his food and became weaker. He never
recovered from the  atrocities  of the Siamese. Three days later Darus
breathed his last. Minah came back from the burial ground and immediately had
labour pain.  She gave birth to a
premature baby. Coincidently that day was Ayub’s birthday. His new brother was
named Hamid.
Since the incidence of his
grandfather being kicked by Siamese police, Ayub did not talk much. He was
often silent and pensive. He spent time looking outside the window.  A
stretch of swampy land extended to the row of hills. He became more sad and
remorse when the sun set and the hills disappeared in  darkness. The anger
was seething in his chest. His head felt like a smoky heat. He was frustrated
that foreigners can come to their country and do whatever they like. They
treated the natives very badly. They were cruel  to elderly people who
were weak and  helpless like his
grandfather Darus.
Kuala Kedah 2003
It was a tranquil evening in Kuala
Kedah when Datuk Ayub walked into a restaurant with his brother Hamid and
Hamid’s sons Kamal and Hisham. People who recognized Ayub stood up in respect.
Ayub returned their smiles and greeting even though he did not recognize most
of them. Hamid walked beside him feeling proud of his brother’s position. Kamal
and Hisham too were equally proud to be walking with their uncle,  a man with important position and quiet well
known in the country.
They sat at a table with a nice table
runner and  a small vase of flowers.
 “Today is uncle and father’s birthday.” said Hisham and Kamal.
“Oh so you plan this as a surprise?” said Hamid and Ayub  almost
simultaneously.
Datuk Ayub turned seventy four years
old today. He felt grateful to Allah that he could still stand and walk on His
earth, though his  doctor had made it compulsory for him to be present at
the hospital once a  month for monitoring. Hamid was fourteen years
younger,  but he was thinner and  with more health problems. Hamid
was shorter and smaller than Ayub. People had made remarks about this but he
took it in  good face. He even joked, “It’s because I was born during
the Japanese occupation. My mother only had tapioca to eat when she was
pregnant with me, so she did not have much milk”
Datuk Ayub certainly remember that
today was his birthday and the birthday of his brother Hamid. Every time he
faced this date he would be much disturbed. He remembered  very well his grandfather moaning in 
pain after being kicked by the Siamese guards in front of Alor Setar police
station in 1943. He had repeatedly related the incidents to his son and
nephews. He repeated the story again and again whenever he was invited to give
a lecture or talk at Historical seminar and forums.
After retiring from public service,
Ayub spent more time heading the Kedah Historical Society. It was also a way of
overcoming his loneliness after his only son decided to live in a foreign
country, while his wife was occupied with her activities as the President of
National Women’s Association. He came back to Kedah regularly to participate in
the society’s activities. When in Kedah, he rarely stay in hotels. He preferred
to stay with Hamid in a comfortable house  built at the site of their
original family house. There he felt very close to the past. Hamid was his only
surviving brother. Lijah and Kamariah died of beriberi which attacked many
children at the time of war and malnutrition.
Ayub was not a History student in the
University but he was deeply interested  in history particularly the
history of Kedah. He read many books and subscribed to  Historical
journals. In his view, Kedah occupied a unique place in history being  the
oldest empire in the Peninsular. Since the 13th century Kedah had been a sovereign
state with a  famous city port  in Sungai Bujang. His state
 history had been written in glorious ink. But the colour of gold began to
fade when Siam emerge as a great power. Siam, now known as Thailand adopted an
imperialistic policy expanding its colonies and succeeded in forcing the
northern states of Malaya including Kedah to send bunga emas or gold flower as
a tribute. In 1791 Siam conquered the Malay Sultanate of Patani comprising the
provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and renamed it  Pattani Changwat.
In the mid 18th century, British and
French fleets roamed the native water of Southeast Asia with their policy of
expansion.  In 1786 the Sultan of Kedah was forced to hand over the island
of Penang to the East India Company, headed by Captain Francis Light. Ayub
could imagine the pain in the heart of a Sultan having to forgo a part of his
land and sovereignty to a foreign power. But the Sultan had no choice because
he was  in sheer need of protection from
the Siamese attack.  Not enough with that, the East India Company coveted
the strip of territory opposite Penang Island. The Company acquired the land
and renamed it Province Wellesley.  There was some payment and
compensation but it was still a  lost  of honour.
Penang changed hands, but when Siam
attacked Kedah in 1821, the English did not help. Britain had reneged on a
small country that cannot fight back.  Kedah came under the clutches of
Siam.
Not that they did not fight back. The
land had recorded names of brave warriors. There were Tunku Kudin who headed a
fight to restore the dignity of the country in 1831 and Tunku Mohammad Saad who
sacrificed his life in an attempt to repel the attackers. Tunku Mohammad Saad
succeeded in chasing away the Siamese as far as Singora or Songkhla.
Unfortunately the success did not last long. Siam counter-attacked with more
violence. How painful it was when the British sided Siam as they realize that
friendship with Siam will be more profitable.
With the support of Britain, Siam was
not afraid to do anything. Part of what had happened could be read in the
account of Sherard Osborn a naval officer in one of British warships sent to
blockade and to suppress upheaval in Kedah. On his arrival Osborn saw and
recorded the deeds of unimaginable atrocities and utmost cruelty of Siames
soldiers on the poor people of Kedah.  Sherard Osborn recorded the the
bloody accounts in his book The Blockade
of Kedah in 1838
. He described the various methods of torture. One method
was cooking people alive. Prisoners were stripped naked and put into a hollow
of tree trunks. Then a slow steady fire was maintained round it. excruciating
shrieks and howls of pain of the victims was an entertainment to the
devilish  soldiers.
The tale of Osborn  coupled with
the memory of his beloved grandfather groaning in pain after being  kicked
by a Siamese policeman drove to Ayub’s head like fire and smoke. But there was
nothing that he could do except thank God that everything was over. He was
grateful that his children and grandchildren were spared the horror and panic
of living during wartime.
When the war ended, Ayub was able to
continue schooling.  He gained admission to the University of Malaya then
situated in Singapore. He took a train with a transit at Bukit Mertajam. The
journey from Alor Setar to Singapore took at least two days.
“Were  you studying with
Dr. Mahathir uncle? ” His nephew Kamal asked
“Dr. Mahathir was  younger.
He  came in when I was
already in the final year” Ayub explained..
Ayub graduated and served as a
government officer.  Hamid became a  contractor and did some
business. Hamid’s footsteps was followed by his son Hisham while another son
 Kamal lived quite comfortably as a bank officer. The place  where
they were having dinner that night was one of Hisham’s Seafood
restaurants. 
Ayub  incessantly advised his
children, nephews and the younger generation to take the opportunity provided
by the government. Ayub often  said to Kamal and Hisham, “You are
both lucky being born when  the  country is no longer under invasion
and suppression. You can go to school and do business freely. Your father and I
had suffered a lot”
“But now we face other forms of
difficulties especially in doing business. Not like those who live on a fixed
salary  like Kamal” Said Hisham
“The most complicated problem
for  contractors is managing employees.
We are very dependent on labour force. Sometimes we have ample manpower failed
to get any contract. Sometimes we manage to obtain a job but but did have not
enough workers”
Hamid, who had been listening their
conversation attentively chipped in, “The main problem of businessmen
everywhere in this country is keeping reliable workforce. We have to depend on
foreign workers when our own youths prefer to be unemployed rather than  do
a laborous  job.  Last year our
cousin, Salma, pleaded me to give a job to his son, Mokhtar. Well I thought why
not . I was more than happy to give money to my own relative. But see what
happen, Mokhtar only work for less than three months. He said I make him do all
sort of things and make up untrue stories against me. Salma believed his words
and did not speak to me. We are not on good term anymore  “
“I know  that Mokhtar. I
used to see him playing truant. I found him wandering in supermarkets during
school times. He had no pity for  his mother who work hard to get him
money for schooling. He spent money at the game stations”.  Kamal added.
They eat their dinner while talking
and observing the surrounding. From the table they could clearly see the road,
the estuary and the pier jutting  out into the open sea. Unfortunately the
beautiful evening  view by the seaside was disrupted by irritating sound
of screeching tires of motocycles being driven fast on the road. It was a
common sight of  street racing by the youths, mostly local. Hisham who
understood what was  lingering  in his uncle’s mind said. “ Look at
them, what a show off, causing public disturbance. They are not afraid to die.
The government widen and improved roads  but the youths   misuse
it to race for cheap thrills. Even the police fail to control.  Yesterday
Uncle Halim, our former chef came here crying because his son met with an
 accident. His son go racing all the time despite his mother’s plea and
persuasions to stop. The accident was bad and his leg has to be amputated. Now
he is causing more hardship and misery to his parents”
Ayub took a deep breath and
sigh.  He heard such news many times before. He felt very old and tired of
hearing such news of youngsters wasting their live away, getting killed in road
accidents due to ruthless driving and racing. Many more die or leading a
useless live as drug addicts. Besides these there were also news of unmarried
mothers abandoning their babies in garbage  bins and everywhere.  So
many  Malay schoolboys  were wasting their time at game stations in
the shopping complexes. With this situation, what is going to happen to his
race and his mother land?  Is his race
 heading  for a defeat while other races are improving themselves and
strengthening their position even sharpening their weapons.
Ayub eyes fixed on the fort of
 Kuala Kedah across the river. The fort  was still standing like a
lonely monument, overlooking the estuary where blood had splashed and thousands
of his predecessors  tortured and killed.  There was a scar that
cannot be erased. But how many people passing by it had stop to recall the
history and read the massage? Ayub recalled the words of George Santayana
“People who do not learn from history will be cursed by history to repeat
their mistakes.” The words are often quoted by Dr.Mahahtir in his
speeches.
The straits was calm and the wave was
low. The estuary was beautiful. There was no more alien enemies to be seen
terrorizing  his people like what Sherard
Osborn had written in his book. Unfortunately his people  are inflicting injuries and hardship on
themselves.
Before returning home Datuk Ayub took
pictures of the fort of Kuala Kedah with his hand phone camera. That night
Datuk Ayub typed and send a new entry into his blog. He uploaded the image of
the fort Kuala Kedah and wrote  a poem underneath,
The Fort of Kuala Kedah
Still stand strong
But I wont be here for long
Before I go I leave this
message to remind
What history have left behind
Now that we are free of
foreign enemies
Let us not  inflict our own injury

Oh you my grand children
See  what
history has written
At the fort of Kuala Kedah, read it
or you will be cursed to repeat.

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