Tuesday, May 12, 2009


The daily downpours have ceased and the sun's been openly glaring outside since. It isn't as humid now as it was a month before but by midday I'm wrestling with my eyelids and my only solace is the couch, the air conditioner and more often than not a deep, left-hooked kind of unconscious slumber.

So instead of sweating it out like a dog I have kept away from the unbearable heat in the kitchen, as much as possible, until I feel it cool enough to indulge in some superfluous food fiddling. So forgive me my lack of food posts.

But post I must so I did finish a book in spite of myself so here's the review for the latest book that a friend, Kalsom, has written....


I sense the past generations of Andaks as extremely close knit and lived largely as extended families brought and kept close by the love, care and concern of the elders, irrespective of their relationships, whether close or distant, whether through birth or marriage or adoption; their bonds constantly and firmly sealed by a deep spiritual and religious faith.

Kalsom starts off as with her first book, "Taib Andak - In a Class of His Own", with a history of her ancestors but this time burrowing deep into her mother's side of the family. Through their veins run the blood of the Siantan, the Bugis Malay and the Semantan people. Kalsom has traced their roots to Raja Iskandar Shah of Malacca (the first Sultan of Malacca from 1400-1414) from which the Tok Jabbar clan eventually branched off and to which the Andaks belong. The Tok Jabbar clan has produced five Menteri Besars (Chief Ministers) for Johor, State Secretaries, State Commissioners and Head of the Johor Military Force. With such an impressive lineage it is no wonder that Kalsom has gone to such great lengths and devoted much time into deep ancestral researching and finally into publishing her work. Several family trees have been drawn up with the most complete being spread across two pages of the book and with photographs imprinted.

As a result of this historical and ancestral excavation much has been unraveled revealing vastly complex and confusing relationships through marriages and endogamy where former cousins become father-in-law and son-in-law, where uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews become husbands and wives, wives and husbands where a father marries his daughter's sister-in-law and other mind baffling, rubic-wrenching relationships. The first two chapters have been comprehensively devoted to this bewilderingly entangled associations and in the process Kalsom finally solved the puzzle of Abdul Rahman Andak's (a well known nationalist of the late nineteenth century who was later sent into exile in England for being "troublesome") relationship to them; a missing link in her first book.

Before going into detail about her mother, (Puan Sri) Zainab, Kalsom finds it necessary to bring us stories of her mother's indomitable grandmother, Ummi, and Tok Mat, Zainab's father, fondly relating their quirks and whimsical habits and the obvious influence they have had on Zainab's childhood, her personality and her future. With them come further twists and shifts in family relationships through marriages.

In chapter eight, Kalsom describes Zainab, her mother - the person. The woman who has in her own quiet and unobtrusive way kept the family together, stood by her husband and received tragedy and personal pain stoically. For a woman of her times, born in 1919 during the colonial era Zainab was one of the few Malay women who received an English education in a French convent and who paved the way for other Malay girls to follow suit. Had it not been for her early marriage one can only imagine what could have been; for she had haboured dreams of becoming a doctor. But being a young Malay woman and a woman born at such a time she had pushed her dreams aside and obeyed her parents when she was told after returning home for the school holidays one day that she had been engaged to be married to Taib Andak; a man she had come to know and love only after her wedding day and during their long and successful fifty-seven year marriage.

But marriages are not made in heaven for there was an unhappy secret that Kalsom reveals in her book; one that she shockingly discovered one day several years ago. Polygamy which was practiced amoung some of her ancestors became a fifteen year secret that unveiled and lodged itself too close to home and for comfort. It was received with disbelief by her children but with calmness and self-control by Zainab as she carried on with her responsibilities and maintained her marriage resolutely. To add more interest Kalsom has made a little digression by relating the various probable reactions should polygamy strike other female members of the family.

It is through the telling of her family's story too that one gets the feel of the active social life of civil servants and their spouses during the colonial period when much British influence have resulted in the love of dancing and parties amoung the Malays at the time. Kalsom describes some of her older male relatives as 'Malay gentlemen' after the British fashion and how husbands taught wives to dance Western dances. One senses their love and admiration for certain aspects of British culture while remaining faithful to Islam and the Malay culture in the privacy of their homes and families.

Kalsom writes first and foremost as the historian that she is. Facts, dates, names and family connections abound in the first several chapters and the book ends with notes written by various family members relating their own special relationships and experiences with Zainab. A whole chapter too has been devoted to list each of Zainab's childrens' achievements as well as their quirks and personalities.

This book has been written simply, clearly and concisely, interspersed here and there with Bahasa expressions and with some humourous passages that describe some idiosyncratic Malay practices and habits. It is a very personal, ancestor-searching and family driven book that has been written to inform and to preserve the overwhelming facts and details of the Andak family for the Andak family and to give them a sense of their roots and ancestors. It is a book that would be held close to the hearts of family members and their future generations as proof of their genealogy.

Without a doubt this book complements Zainab's other half "Taib Andak-In a Class of His Own". It was completed within a month to celebrate and mark Zainab's ninetieth birthday on the 7th of May 2009.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails