The nation owes Pak Samad an apology – Johan Jaaffar

The nation owes Pak Samad an apology – Johan Jaaffar

In the final part of the series, the writer calls on researchers to relook at all of A. Samad Ismail’s works and his many contributions to society

IN one of the discussions I had with Dr Maszlee Malik, who was at the time the minister of education, we spoke about the late Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail or Pak Samad.

I told him Pak Samad was one of the most productive sasterawan (literary person) the country has ever known. He wrote 11 novels, more than 50 short stories and many essays on literature, culture and the arts. And of course countless write-ups on current events during his years as a journalist and editor.

He was, in my mind, the least decorated creative writer in the country. He had never won the Hadiah Karya Sastera (the yearly national literary awards) that was started in 1971. He was not the recipient of the coveted Sasterawan Negara Award (National Literary Laureate). Lesser writers have been bestowed the honour.

The government created a special award, “Pejuang Sastera” (Literary Pioneer Award), and gave it to him in May 1976. Three weeks later he was an ISA detainee. The story of his five-year incarceration is poignantly penned by Datuk Nuraina Samad in her book, Tuesdays With Bapak.

Pak Samad was the only recipient of that award. It was a scam if anything else to mislead the public. By giving him the award, the government was seen as acknowledging his contribution to literature, yet he was made to confess he was a communist soon after. The literary community can never forgive the government of the day for that charade.

The memoir published by Penerbit UKM. He was resident writer of the university from 1991 to 1993 when he wrote this. – Pic courtesy of Johan Jaaffar

I told Maszlee we have marginalised some really good writers for the Anugerah Sastera award. I was thinking of names like Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako), Shaharom Hussein, Abu Yazid Abidin (Wijaya Mala), Abdullah Sani (better known as Ahmad Boestamam or Ruhi Hayat), A. Latiff Mohiddin and three great women writers Adibah Amin, Zaharah Nawawi and Khatijah Hashim.

They were all alive when the award started in 1981, the first recipient being Kamaluddin Muhammad (Keris Mas). Among the eight, only Latiff, Adibah and Khatijah are still around.

Dr Maszlee was aware that the National Literary Laureate cannot be given out posthumously. He was even contemplating creating a special award for Pak Samad.

Pak Samad was in a class of his own as a creative writer. I am not going to touch on his other involvement during his early years as a reporter at Utusan Melayu at Cecil Street Singapore or the years when he was helping Indonesia’s struggle for Independence.

Also, very little has been written about his involvement with the People’s Action Party (PAP) which he founded with Lee Kuan Yew and a few others. Lee Kuan Yew’s version of the story in his book was his, not necessarily that of the other founding members of the party.

Pak Samad has always been reluctant to tell all. There was always an air of mystery about him. The inscrutable Pak Samad. There were still many facets of his incredible life that are left untold.

His first of 11 novels, published in 1966. – Pic courtesy of Johan Jaaffar

In his preface for the book Memoir A. Samad Ismail di Singapura he wrote:

“Bagaimana pula saya harus menulis mengenai diri saya? Sekiranya saya agak membesarkan peranan saya, sebagai wartawan atau sebagai pejuang politik, atau sebagai budayawan, maka barangkali ada pula yang menuduh saya takbur, angkuh dan sombong. Kalau saya kurang menceritakan hal diri saya, maka saya tidak berlaku adil pada diri saya sendiri. Selain itu, ada pula hal-hal yang terlalu pahit mengenai perjuangan saya dan beberapa teman yang barangkali tidak dapat saya ceritakan.”

(How am I to write about myself? If I amplify my role as a journalist or a political fighter or as a man of culture, perhaps there will be those who accuse me of being boastful, conceited, and arrogant. If I speak less about myself I would not be fair to myself. Other than that, there are things that are too painful about my struggle and that of my friends which I am unable to tell.)

His reluctance to tell all, therefore, is understood.

The pre-war years of Malaya and Singapore were marked by the emergence of the autochthonous intelligentsia in the form of sasterawan, wartawan, guru and ulama (literary men and women, journalists, teachers and religious scholars).

Literary scholars like Anas Haji Ahmad, Drs Li Chuan Sin, Zainal Abidin Ahmad (Za’ba) and Arifin Nur were of the opinion that the majority of literary writers at the time were either teachers or journalists.

Hud is one of the most under-rated Malay novels, a dark story about personalities involved in the other side of the law. – Pic courtesy of Johan Jaaffar

The literary scholars and researchers came out with the labels “sasterawan-guru” (creative writers who came from the teaching profession) and “sasterawan-wartawan” (the journalists). Many of the teachers were trained at Maktab Perguruan Sultan Idris (MPSI) in Tanjung Malim, Perak.

Two years after MPSI was inaugurated in 1922, Jabatan Karang Mengarang (Office of Literary Writing) was established. It followed the format of Indonesia’s Balai Pustaka.

Started by O.T. Dussek, the Principal of MPSI at the time, Jabatan Karang Mengarang was instrumental in publishing books for the Malays (including translated ones) and nurturing literary talents among the trainees. One of the most influential publications published by the office was Majalah Guru.

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), established in 1956, was basically modelled on Jabatan Karang Mengarang and Balai Pustaka.

Many of the trainees and graduates of MPSI became creative writers in various genres. Among them were Harun Aminurashid, Abdullah Sidek, Mohd Yassin Makmur, Shaharom Hussein and Ahmad bin Abdullah.

On the other hand, Malay newspapers and periodicals were playing an important role in the life of the Malays of the Archipelago. The first Malay newspaper Jawi Peranakan was published in Singapore in 1876.

According to W.R. Roff in his book The Origin of Malay Nationalism, between 1900 and 1918 there were 13 newspapers and periodicals in Malay, eight published in Singapore, and three in Penang. Between 1920 and 1930, 34 more vernacular newspapers were published.

Thus an era of what was commonly known as “linguistic journalism” was born. The newspapers and periodicals were critical in the blooming of Malay consciousness and the nurturing of Malay nationalism. Many of the editors and journalists were using literature to profess their positions on all things Malay. Many of the newspapers became powerful tools to articulate their views, demands and expectations.

Many of these journalists were using poems, short stories and novels to further pursue their nationalistic fervours. The sasterawan-wartawan were in the form of A. Rahim Kajai, Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako), Abdul Wahab Muhammad (Awam Il Sarkam), Usman Awang (Tongkat Warrant), A Samad Said, and of course Pak Samad himself.

The newspaper Utusan Melayu which was published in 1939 was home to many of these talented creative writers and at the same time, respected journalists.

Pak Samad was hardly 17 when he joined Utusan Melayu, believed to be the first daily “owned, financed and staffed solely by the Malays of the Archipelago.” His memoir, A Samad Ismail di Singapura, provides an insight into his years in Singapore, from his early days at Kampung Melayu to his love affair with his wife.

He was quite candid in the memoirs. There was even a chapter entitled ‘Berkenalan Dengan Kupu-Kupu Malam’ (Getting To Know the Ladies of the Night). But he was the resident writer of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) at the time and the book was published by the university’s publishing outfit.

Understandably he exercised caution in terms of the content. It was tame compared to his real exploits during his younger years as reflected in many of his autobiographical novels, like Patah Sayap Terbang Jua and Tembuk Tidak Tinggi, or his short story like ‘Rumah Kedai Di Jalan Seladang’.

The late Said Zahari and the late Puan Seri Hamidah Hassan (Pak Samad’s wife) in an undated picture at Utusan Melayu in the early 50s. Said was later incarcerated soon after the Mogok Utusan Melayu in 1961. He remained in prison for 17 years. – Pic courtesy of Johan Jaaffar

I would always refer to Pak Samad’s works to understand the world of Singapore in the 40s and 50s. As much as I was enamoured by A. Samad Said’s tumultuous world in his great novels Salina and Sungai Mengalir Lesu and his classic play, ‘Di Mana Bulan Selalu Retak’, I have paid my dues to both of them for their literary worlds had impacted upon me in more ways than one.

I was more familiar with English literature because I went to an English school in 1960. It was only in Form Four I discovered Salina. I fell in love with the novel and the characters. I read Salina 17 times.

In 1986 I adapted Salina for the stage. A budding singer at the time, Fauziah Nawi played the part of Salina and Jalil Hamid was the antagonist, Abdul Fakar.

Under the direction of Dr Hatta Azad Khan, I played the part of Omar, the playboy in Samad Said’s play ‘Di Mana Bulan Selalu Retak’ in 1983.

In my earlier article, I mentioned how I was hooked to ‘Rumah Kedai Di Jalan Seladang’ by Pak Samad. I adapted the short story for the stage in 1989. It was a fulfilling experience and I was happy that Pak Samad was happy albeit confessing about his admiration for my work six years after I staged it.

Pak Samad was a legend in the world of journalism. And he was the country’s first Tokoh Wartawan Negara (National Journalism Laureate). He had been the teacher of countless reporters for more than 60 years. He was a terrifying guru for many. But many of them became good journalists in their own rights thanks to Pak Samad.

For me, Pak Samad was unique. He was a good storyteller. His narratives were appealing. He was never intellectually empty nor was he emotionally obtuse. Just read his novels like Hud, Orang Lama, or Sutinah. He wrote about little people and based his stories on real people he knew. He was never presumptuous nor bombastic. He told his stories like they were, very Samad-ish, spectacularly spartan yet penetratingly truthful.

He was a great writer, unfortunately, the least decorated among his contemporaries, but for him, perhaps it mattered little if he was not awarded for his works. Pak Samad can live without the accolades. His body of literary works is the testimony of how he created great narratives, in his own style, at his own leisure, and on his own terms.

I suggest more researchers and scholars should study Pak Samad and his works. There are many more layers of the legendary man that needs to be peeled off. He must be appropriated within the context of more than just his involvement in journalism and literature but his role in the struggle for Independence both in Malaya and Indonesia. We must relook at all his works and his other contributions to society.

He has been incarcerated three times for his belief and conviction.

The nation owes Pak Samad an apology.

The story of Pak Samad needs to be rewritten.

Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar was a journalist and former Chairman of DBP and Media Prima Bhd. He is the 12th recipient of the National Journalism Laurette (Tokoh Wartawan Negara). He adapted one of Pak Samad’s short story, ‘Rumah Kedai Di Jalan Seladang’, for the stage in 1989. He is currently working on his memoir, 1998: An Editor’s Story.

source – The Vibes

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