My only maternal uncle , Haji Atan @Baliya bin Siraj aka Pak Atan, just passed away. The one who broke the news to me was none other then my mother, his devoted sister.
I started writing this on my flight to Singapore to pay my last respect and posted it on this blog while at Changi waiting for the flight home.
There were 4 of them, offsprings of my maternal grandfather, Haji Siraj. They came from three mothers : Raden siah, Fatimah and Siti. I addressed them as Nek Raden, Nenek and Nek Oda. My mother is the only daughter of Fatimah.
Having no son with Raden and Fatimah my Atok married Nek Oda, or younger grandma and they were blessed with the only son, this guy who passed away today, and another daughter Yatibah.
The story of atok’s marriage to SITI was a story of epic proportion and deserves a separate anecdote. As a teaser the man married his third wife on the same day that he married of his eldest daughter. All hell must have broken loose. While the kerbaus, the buffaloes were getting slaughtered this cool cat went off quietly to get his marriage solemnized.
War must have been declared but all was well after the birth of the male heir my Pak Atan. My mother in particular was so happy to have a brother about 14 years younger and has been doting him ever since. Everyone seemed to have pampered this boy and he turned out to be quite a rascal when he was young.
Many things happened in that 5 years after that fateful day of the double marriage, dramatic indeed which would put any melodramas to third rate dramas : the newly married bride passed away after 3 months. The groom the favorite student of my Atok was then offered to marry my mother thus becoming my father. The patriarch himself passed away when Atan was 3 years old after the birth of Yatibah. And my father at the age of 29 inherited his position as Imam and the responsibility of the head of the household : 2 mother inlaws, one wife and 3 orphaned siblings as there was also an adopted daughter Badariah or kak yah to take care of.
Life must be difficult. Nek Oda migrated to Singapore with Yatibah and subsequently remarried leaving Atan with Mak Wa Fatimah, or older mother and Bang Lam, as he addressed my father, to bring him up.
There were many stories of what a rascal Pak Tan was during his teenage years. He was full of energy and coupled that with the practical pranks he liked to do to my sister Ngah. There was also my brother who was born 5 years later who always regard Pak Tan as his role model and hero.
My favorite anecdote was this story about him being angry with my mother for not entertaining his request. He took a changkul and started to dig a big hole underneath the big house. When asked what he was doing he said he was going to bury my mother alive.
His nemesis was my sister Ngah his sibling rival due to the narrow age gap. There was this story about him being asked to get a coconut for the day lunch of masak lemak. Unusual for him , the request was diligently executed, only to find the cut coconut being filled with his excrement nicely deposited in between the two shells.
His first job was in Cameron Highlands as the personal assistant to the Chief of Registrar of Vehicles. It was through the good office of the registrar that he got his driving license at a time when having a car license was like having a pilot license.
He later moved to Spore. That was Spore after the war, roaring spore at the height of the Malay film industry before the Malay mullahs got hold of the Malay minds.
There were photographs of him with the first Norton. I remember the First car a Morris Minor. He must be fuming mad when the windscreen wiper didn’t work after I fiddled with it but he did not show it. Then there was the sporty Anglia.
That was the thing he liked : cars and driving. That was the profession all his life.
My best memory of him was him as the driver with CALTEX. He drove this bus which ferried all the Caltex executives to Tanjung Penjuru Terminal . He was the doting uncle who would pick me up to accompany him in his driving in that Caltex bus all around spore. That wad my first exposure to the oil and gas industry.
One lasting impression was the company dinner he took me. It was my first and the best Chinese seafood dinner. There was the tiger beer, the sharks fin, the crabs and the prawns. Now whenever I have my Chinese dinner I would remember him.
This was an intelligent man a Bon Vivant with the desire to have a good life but lacked the education.
When I went to England to study I learnt that he was dealing with the peddling and importation of unlawful merchandise. The law soon caught up with him and he was put behind bars.
On his release he was a changed man. He continued to work as a driver and became devoted to mosque activities.
At the mosque today I learnt from the congregation how devoted to religious knowledge this man was. The guru gave an unusual and moving eulogy.
This is what the guru said ” This man Atan Siraj was a man of tawadu’ (egoless) served to learning. The prophet said that you can find the garden of paradise in functions devoted to learning and knowledge. He had asked to be given his last rite in one of the Sunday functions. Today we see that his prayers are being answered. Even before he meets his God he is already enjoying paradise”
A good 15 minutes was devoted to his eulogy, very unusual in a Muslim funeral prayer.
As I sat in the bus that took him in his last earthly journey , I remembered the many journeys he took me in his drive, how those drives made a lasting impression on me. I took a photo of the empty driver’s seat, from the seat just behind the driver. That was the reserved seat that 9 year old occupied whenever he was being driven around by his doting uncle. This was another journey he was taking but this time he was not in the driver’s seat.
PS; He bought me my first bicycle and I could still remember that funky shorts he bought me when I was 7 or 8.