Thursday, May 5, 2016

Less Strings Attached

One year more and I will be reaching thirty but I still ditch people from my life every now and then. Popular wisdom tells someone near this age, when dealing with confrontation, should be docile, calm, and gentle. I embrace the idea and put it into practice all right, letting the bear with the sore head growl. Unbeknownst to them, as I walk away, I have ended all connections with them. From then on, they are no longer exist, unimportant, insignificant like a speck of dust in the universe. In social media, that would be a single click that removes the victim's account from my friends list. Pathetic it may sound, I cut the connection in real world as well. It has crossed my mind that my puny body on the deathbed would not be accompanied by many people because of that. Malaysia population is approximately thirty million. Thirty million antics to deal with. Sorting them into several groups with whom I am comfortable to deal, taking accounts differences of skin colour, culture and faiths, sexual orientation, age, nature of profession, political views, hobbies, etc.; that would leave me only a handful. A handful of people making a fragile network like criss-crossing cotton strings tied to pins pricked at random points on a softboard like seen in movies; one pin holds a photo of one man and the string connects to another. The strings sketch possible interaction between people; glimpses, silent judgment, small talk, casual conversation, pretentious laugh, argument now that the string is outstretched then broken making them become strangers once again. I am the gray pin over there positioned somewhere at the corner, separated from others by huge gaps at all sides, silently observing in solitude and peace. That huge ball of cotton strings down there is not important to me anymore.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Vision That Passes Through Seven Mountains

See not with your eyes for they may play tricks on you,” Guru says. “Use your conscience.”

As it clatters, I know Guru places a steel tray on the floor about two metres before me. It is certainly round and probably has flower ornaments embossed on the surface. This room deprived of light limits my sight; only shadows, different shades of blacks painted furniture and guru’s busty figure in rough strokes, lacks of fine details. Guru then sits cross-legged facing the tray and me.

Hati boleh berbolak-balik,” Guru adds. Heart is changeable by influence. Guru clears his throat and says, “do you see it?”

Breathing sharply then I confess, “I do not,” pause to pull my heels closer to the loin to stretch my back and relieve my aching ankles from sitting cross-legged too long. “I do not,” I stress.

“Hey, place your hands where they should,” Guru instructs. I pulled back my hands to the knees, palms stretched open facing the ceiling.

“Relax your muscles. Breath normally, stay calm, pull yourself together,” Guru says. “I am going to place another item on this tray.”

Guru makes a motion with his one hand, like carefully lifting water from a stream and throws it backwards, quickly. Then, he extends the same arm further away sideways, palm facing upwards like he is expecting early rain drops outside a window. After that, he carefully brings it towards the steel tray and he sets the palm askew. He then pulls back his hand.

“Now, what is it?” Guru asks, exhales a mouthful of air. “Tell me the first thing that you see. The first image; not the second, nor the third, and so forth as they are all lies. Now say it.”

It is an empty steel tray. Probably with embossed ornaments over its surface; liana plants curled in circles with flowers looked like morning glory or unfathomable curvatures resembling a tribal tattoo.  A faint white halo comes out from the tray the longer I stare at it, eventually making the steel tray a blurry background. It vanishes seconds later and the tray pulls itself together into its crisp, perfect circle frame. I have been staring at damn steel thing too long – my eyes have been working like a microscope with a magnifying tuning knob. Halos come and go, until suddenly tiny dots appear, flickering in heart beats rhythm – also bolting after another like meteorites rain heading towards random direction. They make up into shape-changing thing – cylinder to pyramid to a sphere then a box – all appear like lines painted by a colourblind painter interrupted by severe afterthought – sketched and erased then drawn again – indecisive. Probably just an illusion.

“It’s… it is like a weapon,” I say, hesitantly.

“What’s with the uncertainty?!” Guru barks. “Say it out clear! Be confident! I don’t want to hear ‘like this’ and ‘like that’!”

Stammered, I say, “It is a keris – sheathed.”

“Good,” Guru commends. “True. I placed a keris on that tray. Now –,” Guru says, clears his throat “—here comes another item.” Guru does the same hand motion, lifting a handful of water from the stream, throws it away backwards, picks another object from out of the imaginary window to which the realm beyond is connected.

A staff; an old king’s throne; a tall glass; a spear; a box filled with gemstones; another keris with gemstones engraved to its golden sheath; a pile of cloths; a necklace with ruby; a chongkak board carved out of a dark brown hardwood. Loud and clear, graphical, assured, verified.

“Here comes a creature,” Guru says, motioning his usual magic hand signs. He, for a brief moment, places his palm above the tray at a foot height like someone cold feeling the warmth of bonfire. Then he moves it away in one quick horizontal slicing motion. “Describe it,” he orders.

Small, bald and shirtless and the head is putting a lot of weight on its body, judging from its weak sitting posture. Besides cheek pressing against its chest, that bend also makes its bulgy belly apparent; not fat, just well fed. Its skin is gangrene green. Above its pouting lips and button nose are bloodshot eyes glaring at the man who now believes he possesses vision that passes through seven mountains.

Toyol,” I say magisterially, while imagining this evil leprechaun was once a stillborn dug out from its eternal bed. Probably laid lifelessly on a piece of crumpled yellow cloth with cake of soil dirt still covered its holes and creases, incomprehensible chanting of a man cracks silence of wee hours, jolting a solitary djinn from its slumber somewhere far in a humid cave deep in an eerie jungle. Under the dark blanket of night covering the terrestrial, the djinn feverishly finds the voice who summons its name, dashing from a stone to another, zigzagging between trees, slip through walls; all done in shadowless supersonic maneuvers, leaving a long trail of baby cries and howls of canines. The man already knew the djinn is nearby; intuition and physical changes; warm sensation all over his back, intermittent goose bumps, dizziness from sudden rush of blood to the head; from which his chanting gets more intense. Three knocks on the wooden wall and a slight disturbance on the candle flames, the dead baby moves its finger.

“Another one,” Guru pulls me out of my imagination.

“A-a jembalang,” my guess. Carrying features of a demented woman, I describe the thing that sits on that steel tray, “Tall with white robe. It’s big. Broad chest. Long, peppery, thick wavy hair reaches the floor.  Chin presses its chest. Hair draping its face, I cannot describe what behind it. It’s all dark.”

“Alright,” Guru says, removing the demented ghoul, replacing it with another. “This is a khadam.”

Immediately a stolid man is seen meditating on that tray. He shares a little similar features with the jembalang I have seen just now, big and clads in white robe. A layer of green fabric sits on his white serban wrapped around his head and extends down his elbows and back. A string of wooden rosary beads clings around his neck with its tail resting on his solar plexus. Bearded but the details of his facial features are ink streaks of a letter smeared by a drop of water.

“Tell me his name. Ask him,” Guru says. “Communicate with your heart.”

Girl-cat-alien-car what’s-what is your name? What’s your name?’ my heart speaks in my lowest voice. That khadam does not respond. It is difficult to speak with the heart when it is governed by mind, the fertile soil for thought noise grows wild. ‘What is your name?’ I repeated to reassure the composition.

Head tilted to the left spontaneously when I hear indistinct murmurs which I could only grasp a little throughout; Ibrahim, hissing voice, Zakaria, Ishak, unfathomable vowels, Yusuf.

“Ismail,” I say.

“Yes, his name is Ismail as he told me,” Guru verifies.

What?” I say under my breath. “That was picked randomly from the air. How could Guru be so sure?

“What Terengganu Sultanate did he work for?” Guru asks. “Was it the Sulaiman or Ahmad?”

I know my brain always opts for the shortest consonant, so…

“Ahmad,” Guru says, “Sultan Ahmad, wasn’t he?”

I say yes. It is ‘Ahmad’ that I heard. Can Guru read my mind?

“Which district in Java Ismail hailed from?” Guru asks.

“Banten,” I say, which I do not know why.

“Ask him what did his first master do for a living,” Guru asks me. “Was he a panglima or hulubalang?”

“What-what-what is… your master work?” my skeptical heart speaks in a broken sentence, as the mind already succeeded in reconnaissance tactics, now infiltrates its attack to the heart’s main capital.

Two difficult choices there as my understanding of the roles of a panglima and hulubalang are very limited. The panglima, probably in complete royal regalia, deploys hulubalang from his tent into battle field over territorial disputes; in a figurative sense; brain and muscles, respectively. I do not think my great great great grandfather, the erstwhile Ismail’s master, taps his pen on a Terengganu map spread across the bamboo table, thinking which sides of the hills he wished to flank with a battalion of lower ranked blood thirst hulubalangs. Maybe he was a hulubalang himself, armed to the teeth with blades, a spear, projectiles, a pair of instinggar firearms, possessed by Ismail the khadam, running around in killing spree during the civil war. So I think I might go for the…

“He reared chickens and ducks, catching fish at sea,” I say, awkwardly. I wish I could see Guru’s face by the time I said that.

“Rear chickens and ducks? And…” Guru sounds perplexed. “Was he a fisherman?”

Alright, what are poultry and fishing have anything to do with keeping the Sultanate at peace? It is a profession for peasants, not for a man of noble blood. By dint of clairvoyance ability, he told me about my bloodline history. It has directed a snippet of black-and-white motion pictures in my mind; showing my maternal great-great grandfather was a man of Bugis descendant, a noble knight and warrior kind of specimen who once served Sultan Ahmad of Terengganu, fought in civil war, retreated in near defeat, then finally assimilated with the commoners as he grew old. That contradicts with everything I have been told all my life that my maternal great grandfather was a Javanese man from Johore, nicknamed Pok Mat Jawa by his new friends and in-laws in Terengganu. Guru told me the otherwise; he was a Bugis instead, the son of a noble knight who served Sultan Ahmad. My brain failed to understand the connection. Was Guru making up the story? I told Guru about my great grandfather’s place of origin, which was the Island of Java but very uncertain about the specific district Pok Mat Jawa was born and grew up in as a teenager. Banten was the district in the Island of Java which I knew best from my interest in watching documentary about foreign culture, hence the reason why Banten was spoken. Guru verified Banten is true, anyway.

I have been thinking about the name 'Ismail' for no apparent reasons a week prior to this event. It was not the only names that came out from my mind when Guru told me to ask for the khadam's name. So, 'Ismail', it is and Guru agrees it is true. Damn. Ismail came out as a mystical being clad in the dress of a pious sheikh from Guru’s account on a khadam, the unseen race that serves human for the good; genderless but usually present themselves as a male with white robe. Ismail’s demeanor were very much like a higher order Sufi disciple’s character, often appears as a stolid man with judgeless eyes, bearded. Guru had already planted the image of a khadam in my mind prior to this event. Ismail’s character may vary to some people. He might have worn all blacks if the eyes of yours truly have been watching Iranian propaganda beforehand.

Guru also has told me about a mystical small creature, the child like toyol, which some people keep it for stealing people’s stuff. When Guru momentarily placed his palm facing towards the tray at a foot height, he was making an image in my mind that the mystical creature he was about to bring into the steel tray stands at such height. Toyol’s physical attributes are common knowledge shared by all. With that, my detailed description of its features was purely imagination. Its glare must have been its discontent over so much cliché.

The jembalang hid its look under the thick wavy strands of hair draped across its face. My subconscious failed to draw what lies behind the messy hair which was a mind trick due my limited knowledge on jembalang. I might have also mistaken my jembalang with pontianak, the long haired lady with a mood swing, often cheerful with laughter when making an entrance to sudden down-right mourns with her lifeless blood bathed child in her arms. But that is too extreme for me to imagine.

On that steel tray, there are literally nothing; neither physical nor metaphysical. The keris and the old king’s throne, staff, spear, gold chain with ruby, everything was purely an expression of a mind set to picture royal objects. Mineral water bottle for example was nothing royal about it.

I wonder why Guru never objected all the nonsense I had said.

“He was a panglima, wasn’t he?” Guru asks.

“Yes, he was,” I say.

“He was a panglima. Reared poultries and caught fish during free time,” I add more bullshit into it.

Guru stands up with joint snaps cracking the silence. He lifts the tray away.

“You have seen things beyond this physical existence,” Guru commends. “Seven layers of alam ghoib and you have just gone through the first.”

I exhaled sharply in relief. Tough test. Yeah right.

“Have a drink,” Guru pours water into a cup from a clay hour glass shaped bottle, the same type Mother bought a pair in Sarawak. “You don’t get this bottle anywhere else but alam ghoib (mystical realm).”

I sip the water from the cup while hearing Guru say, “we take five now. Your next test will be ‘inner energy’.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

We Are All Actors

“Actors – actors Pok Deng, do you think they see those people at the benches?” questioned Al. It was raining heavily that evening.

“What?” I replied, bewildered.

“God, Pok Deng! A theater stage, there are actors acting,” Al grunted, “Do you think they see people watching?”

"They don’t, I suppose.”

“You shouldn’t be one,” said Al before sipping his tea. “Be the one who watches instead. The problem with you, Pok Deng, is that you see them but never observe.”

“I am observant,” in my defense.

“But you never learn anything from them,” Al reprimanded. He continued, "You can't be anywhere better than at a bus station for crowd watching. Lots of weird people over there showing different characters, idiosyncrasies, awkward social interaction. One day I saw one man wearing a ring with big gemstone on his every finger..."

"Long time haven't been at bus station, mate," I said.

"You never learn," Al replied, took another sip of his tea. He seemed uninterested to tell me more about people at the bus station.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Devil Within

People are so drifted with fear of hypocrisy. I embrace hypocrisy for crying out loud, if you define hypocrisy as ‘false profession of desirable publicly approved qualities’. Had I obeyed the devil within, I would have been so vulgar, pervert and harsh at my workplace.

My creed was shaken to its core a month after I signed my tenure agreement. Forgive me; I did not spank any young lady’s bottom. I had a quarrel with my former lab superior over a dispute about whether I should be her shadows, trailing her every step in the organization as a lad manipulated to do all the jobs while she can take care of her personal business or commit treason by choosing someone else with better skills and profound knowledge as my rightful superior. She had unpleasant views of a man I was about to work with. Dirty workplace politics. Then we had a fight through email. It was a nitpicking and rebuttal game in which I wished not to prolong as before my very eyes was a woman who possessed a very weak reasoning (quality of a bad scientist), so weak that I thought I might have gotten better comebacks if I had an argument with a dud coconut. My ambition, career path, and future were matters which she selfishly chose to overlook. She has finally known my true colours – sarcastic, outspoken, a formidable wordsmith forging letters for destruction. That was the last time I spoke to her, and then silently clad myself again under the veil of hypocrisy.

Men really are a minority at my department. I find it difficult to find an apprentice among them who are willing to inherit a responsibility which I am slowly developing distaste for. It would be the same person carrying out duty as an imam of any congregation, leader of khatam Quran ceremony, sometimes source of general Islamic jurisprudence. It is pretty straight forward to be one – you must be fluent pronouncing Arab words, possess excellent clarity in speech, confidence that moves a mountain. I have all those qualities perfectly covering my fallible spiritual virtue. I understand very clearly that they cared not the meaning of the prayers. So do I. They would amin in unison whenever the prayers reach a comma. Food matters the most. Roasted lamb & cheese cakes. May they know the man reciting prayers out loud at my workplace’s every social event also has the devil within.

In jest, a few of elderly ladies at my workplace proposed me to be their son-in-law. You know, it is heartwarming looking at a lad donning perfectly matched turquoise baju melayu paired with navy sampin wrapped around his loin, sitting cross-legged politely, body rocking to the sine wave rhythm of mass zikir. Pretentiously, giggled a little in embarrassment, I said I am nowhere near a fine gentleman for their dear daughters. I learnt how to say that from watching movies. If they hear my inner voice or see images in my mind, they must have warned their daughters to stay away from this creep.

After dissing my former lab superior until she hurt so bad that she took few days leave to lick her wound, I lead my life as a quiet man at my workplace – too quiet that every day I wished I come and go unnoticed like a cat out of its nightly prowls. I was told by my colleague that she badmouthed me in front of my boss. My subconscious saw disappointment in his eyes, a hint of regret for letting me in permanent position. Regaining his trust took me three years. Bootlicking I must not.

Hypocrisy saves me from more troubles over here. I wonder whether I define hypocrisy well herein. There is indeed a gap between feeling and action. Hard to accept it is already written somewhere in the divine realm that I must walk through this path. Perhaps it is just a way of cleansing bad vibes hovering my skin every now and then. Perhaps one day you will see me as a soft-spoken man wearing enormous serban, large white beard, white robe, talking about Sufi stuff like Hakikat Insan and shit.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Lemon tarts. Valencia orange tarts. Oregano bread. Cinnamon roll. Apple crostata. Pear crostata. Aglio olio spaghetti. Pesto spaghetti. Chicken curry. Fish head curry. Fried rice. Tom yam. Beef soup. Lemon tart again, but a little less tangy. Orange tart. Baking and cooking are my current obsession. I think I will be a good husband with these self taught skills.

You don't want to invite me to any football match. I don't know jack about football. But I'll invite you to my place where you yes yes yes please chop the cilantro for me while I saute the shallots, garlic and mushrooms. Pass me the salt, please. Thank you. We will wait for the spaghetti cooked al dente (I don't know what that means, anyway). I will pretentiously plate the pesto spaghetti on a big round white plate like Jamie Oliver does. We will sit facing each at a small table with dried flower stalks placed in an empty glass jar in the middle. We will see each other's face showered with incandescent light that colours everything warm. We will let the television back there blare whatever appears on screen so that we could sense extra company. We will talk about almost anything in particular except football. We'll go deep into our nation's politics and their clowns. We will exchange stale jokes. We'll wash the dishes together then close the night with a cup of my watered down version of affogato and a slice of lemon tart. Bitter and sweet, just like our future will be.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

He Is Alive

Mat Jeng with a baby stroller. Photo source.
He is still alive and kickin'. I wrote about him some time ago. A reader had probably mistaken my Mat Jeng and the one from his memories. He is surely not dead as I found a Facebook page dedicated to bringing news related with Dungun published a photo of Mat Jeng seen pushing a baby stroller yesterday. The caption under the photo says, in a thick Terengganuspeak:

"legend dungun...dari admin skoloh lg mmg takut ke mat jeng kdang2 sakit ati tgk budok2 brahi sangat khianat ke dia..padahal dia dok cara ke orang pun..mat jeng mat jeng..aku eluk mu kang aku iyum mungg..hehe ayat femes dia"

"This is Dungun's legendary figure. Ever since my (the page admin) school days I was very afraid of Mat Jeng but sometimes my heartstrings were torn by children who loved making fool out of him whenever he never brings problem to anybody.

O Mat Jeng.

'Aku eluk mu kang aku iyum mung (I'll hug you, I'll kiss you)'.

Hehe that is his words known by everybody."

The comment section was swarmed with colourful remarks and childhood memories about Mat Jeng from Dungun netizens. Someone says the bicuk (swollen flesh) on this forehead has gone. Another observant Mat Jeng's researcher said Mat Jeng should have been given Innovation Award for his creativity in adding accessories to his stroller. It seems like everybody loves him.