Saturday, June 07, 2003

P. Ramlee: Anak-anakku dan Sazali

Stories about Malaysia's legendary actor, singer and composer P. Ramlee's sibblings have been brewing up in Harian Metro recently. Apparently the press has been playing up the fact that there have been some squabbles between them over the distribution of royalties from the late P. Ramlee's artistic works.

The whole thing started from a report in the same paper about one of P. Ramlee's son, Sazali (who's name was immortalized in his father's black-and-white classic Anakku Sazali and song by the same name) who is reportedly working as a street sweeper or garbage collect in Kajang. How the son of Malaysia's most honoured artiste could end up having such a fate was beyond comprehension of the public. Why is he not enjoying the royalties from P. Ramlee's huge canon of songs which are still constantly being played in the airwaves?

Sazali bin Ramlee, an old, sick and forgotten down-and-out labourer in Kajang? Sounds like something out of one of P. Ramlee's melodramatic movies. The fact that P. Ramlee has a real-life son called Sazali is also a surprising fact to many people. Some may have heard of Dian P. Ramlee or even Nasir Ramlee whose names crop up every now and then in the presses. Dian P. Ramlee was quite a popular TV personality some time back.

Now, to understand the background of this "controversy", we have to understand a bit about P. Ramlee's love life. He was married thrice in his lifetime. His first marriage was to Junaidah Harris who bore him two sons: Nasir and Arfan. Junaidah herself brought a son, Abdul Rahman from a previous marriage.

P. Ramlee later divorced Junaidah to marry fellow actress Norizan Mohd. Nor. The marriage did not produce any children but it was during this six years of life together that they adopted three children - Sazali, Norbetty and Norma.

P. Ramlee's most well-known wife was his third, the late Saloma. She outlived P. Ramlee who died of a heart attack in 1973. Their marriage also did not produce any children but Saloma herself has a son, Armali from a previous marriage to comedian A.R. Tompel. During this time, they had three more adopted children: Zakiah, Sabaruddin and Dian. Dian P. Ramlee - the well-known one - is from Chinese parentage and was adopted by Saloma herself.

Despite bringing up so many children from his three marriages, P. Ramlee in actual fact has only two children who can be considered his own flesh and blood - Nasir and Arfan, both from his first marriage to Junaidah. Arfan has already passed away in 1998. This leaves Nasir as the only surviving child with direct blood ties to P. Ramlee. However It was reported that Sazali was P. Ramlee's favourite among all his children.

One can imagine the complications that arise when it comes to claims to royalities for P. Ramlee's work. Based on a report in Harian Metro, Nasir is the one who has the legal claims to such royalty payments and he has distributed a portion of them to his step-brothers Sazali and Sabaruddin. The reports did not mention why the other sibblings are not in the picture. Dian P. Ramlee when asked on the issue of royalties by reporters, said:
"Orang dengar pun tidak bagus, daddy sudah lama meninggal dunia tetapi anak masih sibuk pasal royalti"

(It is not nice to still make a big fuss about royalties when my daddy has long passed away)

P. Ramlee has already passed away for three decades. I've watched many of his movies and try to collect the VCDs whenever possible. My favourite is Antara Dua Darjat. I also play P. Ramlee's songs in my car whenever I'm driving in KL. Listening to his songs and watching his movies makes us feel nostalgic for a time when life was simpler and maybe happier. It was the old Malaya that we all loved and P. Ramlee represents all that was good about it. May his soul rest in peace.

Friday, June 06, 2003

The Soul of Jakarta

In a previous entry to this blog I have written about some of the positive things about Jakarta that are often overlooked by the casual visitor. I have been visiting Jakarta since 1996 and have tried hard to understand what it is about this city that attracts me so much.

I often tell people that it is the culture and the history of Jakarta that I find endlessly fascinating. And these aspects of Jakarta will definitely be the subject of many of my blog entries to come. But that is not all. There is something else about the city: It has a soul.

With 10 to 12 million people crammed into this metropolis, human contact is inevitable and privacy is minimal. One can scarcely find a corner of the city that is free from the signature of human presence or activity. Singapore lacks space too but people there still have the relative isolation of individual HDB apartments with HDB estates properly interspersed with lovely green parks. The average Malaysian middleclass live in fenced-up terrace houses in relatively well-planned tamans . The middleclasses with their HDBs and terrace houses define the surban landscape in Singapore and Malaysia. They commute to work daily using MRTs or Protons. The cities belong to them.

In Jakarta, the middle and upper classes also live a life as luxurious, if not more, than the people in their neighbouring countries. Their mansions are opulent and they have a retinue of maids and servants to tend to their everyday needs. But they live in a super-terrestrial world that is removed from the real Jakarta. The city belongs to the labouring masses - the people who throng the streets peddling aqua (mineral water) at traffic junctions, salesgirls selling the latest ponsel (handphones) in crowded malls, hawkers frying gorengan below the flyover, tukang pijat (masseurs) in international five star hotels, teenage hookers in Chinatown diskoteks, menial clerks in small trading companies and vagrants who nongkrong(loiter) by the sidewalks: They define the city.

Here working class families pack into shanty dwellings that sprout between skyscrapers owned by the super-rich Indonesian Chinese conglomerates. They work, eat, fornicate, sleep and breed in this nether-world beneath the rich. Students and young workers would live in kos-kosan (boarding houses) or rumah kontrakan (rented houses) and take the rickety buses, ojeks, bajajs or mikrolets to work. Every now and then, truckloads of hired placard-shoving, slogan-chanting demonstrators of some insignificant political party would spill out into the streets to protest against yet another corruption scandal or demand for the umpteen time, the resignation of their government leaders causing macet (jams) in the city center.

Jakarta is one big chaos. But somehow by some miracle everyone seems to have a purpose, everything seems to fall into place and the city functions as one. The faceless masses give the city a certain colour and personality. Their ceaseless, uncomplaining struggle to eke out a living in whatever way they know defines the indomitable spirit of the Betawi people. And the city, like one gigantic organism, breathes and heaves to the rhythm of their activities. This is the soul of Jakarta.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Morality Report

"pak toh pun sekarang tak bolehkah?"

(Translation:Are couples not even allowed to court nowadays? Note: pak toh is Cantonese for courting or dating)

That was the question posed to Perak Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Mohd Tajol Rosli Ghazali after an outcry broke out over the issue of a Chinese couple who was issued a fine for "indecent behaviour" at the Ipoh Padang. Apparent since the new mayor of Ipoh, Sirajuddin Salleh came on board, the Ipoh City Council has been asked to enforce these "indecent behaviour" by-laws strictly. What did this young couple do to warrant their act indecent in the eyes of the law? Well, they were just doing what all other young courting couples do in parks - hugging and kissing.

Facing criticism from both the press and the public, Datuk Tajol Rosli has asked the City Council to suspend enforcement until views of all concerned parties have been sought. Critics say that it is not the job of the City Council to be the moral guardians of the people.

In Malaysia, it is common for unmarried Muslim couples to run the risk of being caught for khalwat (close proximity) or even zina (adultery) by the religious authorities. One reason why there was such an outcry over the Ipoh incident was that non-Muslims fear that Islamic laws are slowly being enforced on the general population, though in this case, the government insists that the couple was fined based on the City Council's park by-laws which have been around since 1985.

This slow creeping-in of religious intolerance is a concern for many in Malaysia. Perhaps Malaysia should take a cue from Indonesia on such matters. Even though religious extremism does rear its ugly head here every now and then, the general population is far more open and tolerant over such things. One can find non-halal food like sate babi (pork satay) being advertised and sold everywhere; screen kisses among local artistes are also common and Indonesian singers dress far sexier than their Malaysian counterparts. No one makes a big fuss over such things. Yes there was an outroar over the sexy hip gyrations of dangdut singer Inul Daratista recently but the massive public support that rallied behind her only proved that moderation still has the upperhand.

And there are certainly no religious policemen who go around snooping on pak toh couples in Jakarta parks.

Raja Yoga: The Royal Path

Raja Yoga is one of the four paths towards God realization mentioned in the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita (Celestial Songs) and is considered the highest form of Yoga practice. The word "Yoga" is usually associated by the general public to a form of exercise involving very acrobatic postures. This form of Yoga is actually a subset of Raja Yoga, traditionally known as Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga consists of various preparatory practices involving breathing, dieting and physical exercises, which set the foundation for the higher attainments of Raja Yoga.

And nowhere is the practice of Raja Yoga more succinctly expounded than in the 196 aphorisms composed by the ancient mystic Patanjali, initially handed down orally from teacher to disciple. These Sanskrit aphorisms are terse, concise and sometimes cryptic, but deep in its richness of meaning. It contains the distilled essence of Raja Yoga and has been the bible, if you will, of Yoga practice for thousands of years.

An example of the economy and depth of its language is given in the second aphorism, where Yoga itself is defined:
Yoga citta vrtti nirrodha

(Variously translated as: Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind, Yoga is the quelling of the waves of the mind or Yoga is the restraint of fluctuations of he mind).

Because of its terseness, the aphorisms of Raja Yoga have been widely interpreted in commentaries by many religious teachers, academics and practitioners. I first read a rather difficult intepretation of these aphorisms by a I.K. Taimni, entitled The Science of Yoga in 1991. Difficult as it was to me then, the book left a deep impression and laid the foundation for many of my current philosophical beliefs.

Years later I was able to get hold of an audio version of Vivekananda's commentaries on Patanjali's aphorisms. Vivekananda's style is free-flowing, conversational and lucid and it helped to further my understanding of Raja Yoga. This audiobook still remains as one of my all-time favourites. I listen to it even here in Jakarta - each listening unveiling deeper layers of meaning.

Yoga teachers often repeat the fact yoga is a way of life and not a religion. I personally see it as the art and science of living. Yoga is an art because it requires an intuitive feel of one's mental states and it is a science because it outlines systematic methods to achieve specific results, using the mind as the instrument of exploration and observation.

Raja Yoga is a path for leading life, laid out by the combined wisdom of the ages. And as its name implies, it is the royal path. A path that leads the practitioner ultimate to the jewel of the crown - spiritual salvation itself.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

The Mobile Menace

Reducing traffic congestion by monitoring the location of cellphone users on the road, a cellphone that monitors heartbeat and blood pressure and another that has a projector to project web pages onto large screens - these are some of the new patents issued for cellphone-related inventions recently, as reported in the New York Times and highlighted by Smart Mobs author, Horward Rheingold in his blog.

One of the inventions mentioned, which ironically, I think is the most useful and important one, is a system that is able to cut off signals to mobile devices such as cellphones and pagers. This would be extremely useful for restaurants and theatres who have a headache persuading their patrons to switch of their noisy devices. For some reason people seem very reluctant to do so.

It is common nowadays to see people shamelessly answering cellphone calls during meetings and even while doing presentations. Cellphones have become the backdoor to get hold of people who under normal circumstances would be quite inaccessible. In the old days secretaries would think twice before knocking apologetically on the door to interrupt a meeting; and it had better be something important. But these days it seems that even one's babysitter has a right to trigger an eruption of the Ketchup song in the middle of a million-dollar deal negotiation.

It is therefore timely indeed to have a system that could cut off signals to all these irritating mobile devices whenever necessary. People need to realise that not all calls are important and warrant the same attention. It is alright to switch off the phone. OK, OK. Maybe I can accept a system that sends out SMS warnings to everyone first before cutting off the signal.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


When one woman strikes at the heart of another, she seldom misses, and the wound is invariably fatal.

- Marquise de Merteuil (played by Glenn Close), in Dangerous Liaisons

Dr M's Legacy

Former Keadilan leader, Chandra Muzaffar, said something very interesting about Dr Mahathir:
"I don't think Dr Mahathir is very fond of the ISA. In contrast to previous leaders, he has favoured relatively shorter periods of detention".

This comment was made in the wake of the release of 4 ISA detainees on Monday. Many of the younger generation today are familiar with all the nasty labels hurled at Dr M, such as "dictator", "Mahazalim", "Mahafiraun" and others. Very few remember that when Dr M came into power as Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981 after the retirement of Tun Hussein Onn, the first thing that he did was to release many long-serving ISA detainees. Dr M together with Datuk Musa Hitam, his hand-picked Deputy Prime Minister - the so-called "2M" administration - was a breath of fresh air to the Malaysian political scene. They were young, energetic and visionary, promising a new administration that was bersih, cekap dan amanah (clean, efficient and trustworthy). Though Datuk Musa Hitam resigned as Dr M's deputy not long after, Dr M continued to transform Malaysia from an agricultural backwater to one of the leading industrialised developing countries in the world.

When one travels to other third world countries such as Indonesia, one begins to appreciate how far Malaysia has progressed. This was not achieved without great difficulty and many I think, underestimate the achievements of Dr M. We all know about the Penang Bridge, Proton Saga, Twin Tower and the MSC. Not many however remember the small but not insignificant things that Dr M initiated like how he forged closer integration with Sabah and Sarawak by putting the whole of Malaysia on a single time zone (Peninsula Malaysia had to move its clock half-an-hour forward and Singapore had to follow suit). We have Dr M to thank today if we are pleasantly surprised that when we fly to Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai or Beijing, we do not have to readjust our watches.

The ISA could be an anachronism in today's world where human rights and freedom of speech are considered as basic a need as food and water. But Malaysia is transforming, albeit slowly. The Malaysian government is cautious about drastic change. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the present Deputy Prime Minister sums up the Malaysian approach succinctly when he said:
"If we have erred, we have erred on the side of caution".

Monday, June 02, 2003

The Parahyangan Procession

I occassionally make business trips to Bandung, a historical city located about 4 hours drive away from Jakarta. It is common for people to make day trips there for meetings - departing early in the morning and returning late evening. The drive passes through some of the mountainous areas of West Java, culminating at the highest point of Puncak, a popular weekend getaway for Jakartans. The western Java region, populated by slumbering volcanoes and swathed in lush tropical greneries is the traditional home to the Sundanese people and is also known as Parahyangan (sometimes spelled Priangan or even Preanger) - loosely translated as "Abode of the Gods".

One can find many Sundanese working in Jakarta. They have their own distinct language, music and culture. Sundanese women from Bandung, also known as mojang priangan, with their fair skins and good complexion are well-known for their beauty. And Sundanese food, with its healthy staple of salad, fish and tofu, is also very popular everywhere in Indonesia. It is believed that the fresh cool mountain air coupled with the healthy diet is the secret of their beauty.

Bandung, the capital of Sundanese culture was also an important Dutch administration center. One can find many excellent examples of colonial architecture in the town of Bandung, relatively well-preserved compared to the ones in Jakarta. There are no high-rises in Bandung and instead one can find many beautiful colonial bungalows and mountain resorts within its vicinity, making Bandung the number one favourite weekend escape for the stressed-up Jakarta people. Many say the weather in Bandung is not as cool as it used to be as pollution is on the increase: the weekend Jakartan tourists being the main contributors.

The day trip by car to Bandung from Jakarta can be very tiring, especially if you have a tough day of meetings scheduled. Whenever I can, I prefer to take the train from the Gambir station and stay overnight in Bandung. There are two train services plying the Jakarta-Bandung route: the Parahyangan Express and the executive class Argo Gede. The three hour journey to Bandung on the Argo Gede is an especially comfortable ride. The journey takes you through an amazingly lush landscape of mountains and valleys. It is the quintessential tour of Parahyangan: The train runs steadily on tracks elevated above plunging valleys, like a slow procession of gods, across a delightful vista of tea plantations, paddy fields, cascading streams and pastoral villages.

Among my most pleasant memories of Indonesia is being on board the Argo Gede returning from Bandung to Jakarta, reading Sukarno's autobiography. Sukarno himself spent some time in Bandung as a student at the Institut Teknologi Bandung and started a pro-Independence movement there. He was also for a while imprisoned by the Dutch in this city. Dipping in and out of my book, visions of Indonesia's historical past streamed through my mind as the undulating landscape rushed past me. The three hours passed sweetly. And always, the strange experience of arrival in Jakarta: The procession takes one slowly from the mist-shrouded mountains into the messy urban sprawl of Greater Jakarta, slowly entering its fringe, dotted with fields and shanty dwellings, into its center of slums, canals and gleaming skyscrapers. One arrives - as if awakened from a dream - under a darkened evening sky, within sight of the majestic Monas, into the noisy bustle and sweaty embrace of porters and peddlars at the Gambir station. One steps out from the train feeling like a god cast out from heaven.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Food for Thought

I'm lucky to be living within walking distance of a good bookstore, QB World located along Jalan Sunda near the Sarinah departmental store.It is one among many of QB World's expanding chain of bookstores here in Jakarta, the largest is located in Pondok Indah. Being a bibliophile, QB World is definitely one of my favourite haunts in Jakarta. And having purchased more than a million rupiah worth of books within a month, I have also qualified myself as a QB World member, entitling me to 10% discount on all my book purchases.

When I first decided to move to Jakarta, the availability of good bookstores was a bit of a concern for me. I have seen a couple of Times and MPH bookstores around but they do not seem to carry a comprehensive enough selection. Four years in Singapore with Borders and Kinokuniya have spoilt me a bit. It was therefore with great joy that I discovered that at that time QB World has just opened their first two stores - one in Plaza Senayan and the other in Pondok Indah. It's not in the same class as Borders, but it is good enough. I can find most of the books that I'm looking for, they provide good service and they always have the latest releases in hardcover.

QB World also organizes many literary and artistic activities such as movie screenings on weekends, talks and book signing by authors. I had my copy of The Year of Living Dangerously autographed by the author Christopher Koch here at the Jalan Sunda branch of QB World.

One can find great food stalls everywhere along the streets in Jakarta and I am pretty fond of the local fare here - soto betawi and soto sulung being my favourites. But books are food for the mind without which its growth will stagnate. British soldier, Sir Spencer Chapman, in his classic on World War Two guerilla warfare, The Jungle is Neutral, accounted how he suffered from a lack of reading materials during the 4 years he spent in the Malayan jungles. Available books were read and reread again. That's one advantage books have over food - they can be "re-eaten" again. Sometimes tasting even better.

I know how torturing it can be to be stuck in some dingy waiting room without reading materials. That is why I always bring a book with me wherever I go in Jakarta. I can "snack" on my book during those snippets of time I have while waiting for food for to be served in a restaurant. I'm glad QB World is around to serve me the nourishment that my mind needs. I know I'll never be hungry in Jakarta.