by Raja Mariam Raja Mohamed
My father had long left us. Too long, really. And even as I struggle to pen this, I realize that this is one way for me to keep his memory alive.
It was a clear star spangled night, I was told, on the 1st day of April, 1961 and Bapak was on his way home to cook the mee goreng he had promised his expecting wife, my mother, who was then in the early stage of pregnancy. He had almost reached home, which was the Istana Kenangan (now the Muzium Kuala Kangsar) when it happened.
The already malfunctioning MG Sports car, belonging to his elder brother Almarhum Sultan Idris II (then the Raja Muda of Perak) suddenly swerved violently and Bapak failed to control it. Instead of hitting the brakes, Bapak hit the gas pedal. The car hit a lamp post, which sent it somersaulting a few times into the air. The hood was down, and Bapak was flung out of the car onto the tarred road. Bukit Chandan was sent into darkness from the impact.
The cigarette dropped from his mouth when he heard the crash, and as he reached the scene of the accident, the good neighbour found a seriously injured Bapak on the tarmac, lying on his back. He taught Bapak the syahadah, and after repeating it the best he could, Bapak turned over and passed away.
My mother was waiting at the head of the steps at home. She instinctively cried his name out, jumped down the stairs and wanted to rush to him. She knew that Bapak was involved in that horrible sounding crash.
And so, on that fateful night, at the age of 33, Bapak left us.
Sadly, I have no recollection of my father. I was too young. What I know are just snippets of the kind of person he was. My mother described Bapak as a jovial and generous person who hardly ever lose his temper. He was fiercely devoted to his mother, siblings and even friends. He could never say ‘no’ to them, especially to his dear mother, Almarhum Raja Perempuan Kelsom. My mother recalled that once, while having lunch, his mother sent word for him to meet her. Without a word of complaint, he stopped his lunch immediately, and went over to see to her needs.
Winning my mother’s heart was no easy task. And it was not much help that my mother happened to be an acutely shy homebody with a very strict father watching over her. Even to catch glimpses of her required some elaborate planning and strategizing, not unlike the plots of a P. Ramlee movie! With the help of his sisters, his ‘partners in crime’, they would ‘lure’ my mother out of the house in the pretext of attending a function or the other, and oblivious to her, Bapak would steal some looks from behind doors or walls! It took a while for my mother to warm up to Bapak, but when she did, it was for a lifetime. She remained loyal to him to this day and refused to remarry when she became a widow at the age of 26.
Bapak adored his children. He would always have them, my elder brothers, around him on his outings, be it kite/wau flying, fishing, swimming in Sungai Perak or even playing the gasing/top . And then I came along, the first girl after a string of three boys, and the baby of the family. Naturally, I fast became his favourite little girl. As a person who had always managed to rein in his temper, he would, however, lose it on my account, reminisced my mother. Once, after bumping my head against the sewing machine, Bapak gave the poor machine such a kick that the noise had startled the people on the grounds of the Istana Kenangan! The top pockets of Bapak’s shirts would always have a little tear at the corner because that’s where I would hang my hand whenever he carried me around.
During his days, Bapak was an unbeatable speed boat champion, with his boat called Damak. The speed boat race would always be held at Lumut, drawing boat racers as far as Singapore. His closest rival was his brother, Almarhum Raja Ahmad Siffudin, who never managed to beat him, remembered my mother. Unlike his brothers, Bapak was not musically inclined and much preferred to feel the wind against his face in his speed boat.
I never knew my late Bapak, but I love him all the same as any daughter would. And for those kind visitors of SembangKuala who had known my late Dad, it would be nice to hear your stories about him. And perhaps, I will get to know him a little better.
Al-Fatihah for you, Bapak. May Allah keep your soul safe. Amin.
Raja Mariam Raja Mohamed lives in Rapat Setia, Ipoh. All photos are provided courtesy of the author.