Notes on Moleskine

Whenever the practice of law nudges me to the border of insanity; whenever the thought of I-want-to-be-a-published-author-at-any-cost gets the better of me; whenever the chaos of life seems unnerving; I hide in my favourite bookstore. 

Must not reveal this place otherwise nosy friends would know, worse, if the husband comes looking for me.

The smell of books comforts me. Call me weird, snobbish or whatever you like – I don’t really care. 

This evening, I found this gem on The New Writer’s Handbook at page 251. Giles Turnbull wrote A Writer by Any Other Name in February 2008, and it was published in The Morning News

What an effortless (notwithstanding the actual effort the author had poured on the article) and witty write-up. Turnbull lives by the first tao in writing: show, don’t tell. 

Back to hiding now. 

Tender is the Night – V

Grandmother, deep in her Kelantanese accent, used to say: “Setinggi mana pun Kak Long sekoloh, Kak Long kena dudok ce’rok dapor jugok.” What she meant was despite my education, I will eventually end up in the kitchen.

Of course, the little me back then, whose paramount interest was to cycle around the kampong, had no inkling what she was talking about. I brushed off her wisdom like any other child my age would.

Even when wifehood, and subsequently motherhood came knocking at my door, I was fortunate in that I wasn’t expected to do the entire gamut household chores: just a few of them. Help came in forms of mama, mama-in-law, and an Indonesian domestic help.

My friends told me I was lucky; some just smirked disgustingly at me.

I heeded not the glaring jealousy on their faces. I went back and forth to the office like any other working mom. I left my son in the care of our helper, Sue – under under Mama’s eagle-eyed supervision – and went about my merry way.

Often (sometimes more than twice a week), I found myself sipping latte at Pavilion’s terrace with friends, while watching life unravel before our eyes. I stole time to write whenever privacy permitted me to do so.

I would read myself to sleep in the dark; now I need reading glasses. I had hours of quality time to goof-off with Luqman, while Sue took to the task of cleaning, mopping, wiping and ironing. As far as I was concerned, it was an arrangement made in heaven.

Last week, Sue flew to Surabaya en route her home in Pornorogo: she wasn’t coming back.

My neat little world went asunder.

The house turned into a factory mess. Dirty clothes that needed to be washed piled up. After washing, they the needed to be hung out to dry, then folded before being sent back into their respective closets.

Without Sue scrubbing it, walking on the kitchen floor felt like walking on fly-paper. Dust coated other surfaces in the house. I had mountains (not piles, mind you) to iron. Of all the chores, I despised ironing the most.

Last night, as I was scrubbing the bathroom floor, I reminded myself to replenish the grocery supply for the family. Running a household is no walk in the park. 

But, what broke my heart the most was the clutter on my bookshelves. When Sue was around, she kept the shelves intact and free of dust. She arranged the books according to their heights. Whenever I tried to rearrange it according to genre, she would put the books right back to the way she wanted them – and that was that.

I used to sit for hours in the small library in pursuit of reading and writing. I have not sat in that space for a week. My soul is dying an untimely death.

I would often fall asleep there with a book spread opened and turned over. In the morning, Sue would bookmark the page and leave the book on the bedside table under my reading lamp: one of the sweetest things she had ever done for me.

I miss Sue.

As I await the arrival of the new “family member” who will be replacing Sue, I think of what my grandma said years ago: she was right after all. 

Postscript: Photo above of Luqman and Sue. 

A Wedding at Aryani

In 1992, Shahirah was a child when her father, Raja Bahrin, took her and her brother, Iddin, back to Trengganu from his ex-wife, Jacqueline Gillespie, in Australia.

Prior to that, the father had endured 5 years of bitter custody battle after his divorce with Gillespie. 

While Malaysians called the prince “heroic” father, our Australian counterpart labelled the move “abduction”.

Raja Bahrin’s bold action torched the relationship between Canberra and Kuala Lumpur with the former calling for the prince’s extradition and the latter refusing to grant it. All diplomatic attempts to bring the children back to Australia failed.

Last weekend, Shahirah turned to be a woman when she married our cousin Ija. Raja Bahrin, a noted architect, solemnised the akad of her daughter at Masjid Tengah Tengku Zaharah – better known as the floating mosque – which he had designed. 

The royal wedding was held by the fringe of Merang Beach at Aryani Resort (it was flaming hot though!). 

We wish Ija & Sha a lot of happiness in their marriage, and as it is customary in our family, we welcome the new addition with food and laughter.  

Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea

My father first introduced Ernest Hemingway to me when I was barely out of high school. He had picked for me – among 17 books authored by Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I eagerly snatched the book from his hand, curled up in bed, covered myself in a blanket – as the monsoon rain pounded the window to my room – and began reading the book.

However, I found the depth of Hemmingway’s writing, and its complicated plot difficult to understand. I discarded the book after reading the first few chapters. I was thinking about what Mark Twain said: “A classic is what everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

When that book failed to hold my interest, I kept it on the shelf to gather dust. Ah, the folly of my youth…

A good one-decade had passed before Hemmingway and I could rekindle our prematurely doused flame, the one we had shared since my reading of Immovable Feast A Moveable Feast.

In this book, honesty flows effortlessly like a river; you could almost feel his forlorn presence at some Paris café, scribing his thoughts away on a battered notebook. Hemmingway’s axis in writing has always been his superbly crafted descriptions.

Slowly, I was drawn into his fictitious world like a moth to a flame. 

My favourite has always been The Old Man and the Sea. With minimal characters, uncomplicated plot and scarce dialogues, Hemmingway yarns page after page of suspense for his readers.

Hemmingway sets the novel in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana.

The story begins with an old fisherman, Santiago, struggling with a prolonged period of bad luck: He had not caught any fish in the last 84 days.

Meanwhile, Santiago’s young protégé, Manolin, had strived ahead of his master, prompting Manolin’s father to instruct him to join the “lucky” boat – one that had recently made astounding catches – and abandon Santiago’s.

Santiago was left to fish alone without the boy who has since grown to become his best friend.

The author moves the story speedily to the 85th day when Santiago set the skiff off to the Gulf Stream hoping, in his heart, that his fate would soon change.

A great catch indeed took Santiago’s bait and a great battle began. The catch fought and swirled the skiff around the ocean for days – with Santiago being unable to haul it onboard.

Hemmingway punctuates the Old Man’s boredom (while fighting to land the great catch) with conversation he made with himself, the bird, the flying fishes, the stars and the waves using remarkable prose.

The author demonstrates strength and determination through Santiago, who survived for days only on raw fish and sips water he had carried onboard; all the while towing the catch along side his skiff in his bid to get it ashore.

Hemmingway makes his readers wait until page 46 before they could get just a glimpse of the great catch (which turns out to be an 18 feet fish at the end of the story).

The author also shows that luck does not last forever when Santiago ended up bringing back only a partial carcass of the great catch: it had been mauled by a school of sharks on its way to the shore.

The curtain closes when Santiago – who had just reached the shore, and incoherent with fatigue, learned that the boy – out of great admiration for him – had decided to fish with him again (despite his family’s wishes).

Like every good book, the story does not really end.

This is one book that will stand against the test of time.