Thursday, November 30, 2006


HEARTIEST CONGRATULATIONS to Nicol David for successfully defending her squash World Open championship title in Belfast on Sunday. She has certainly done the country proud, again.

I remember first playing squash many years ago at my alma mater, the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, although I must admit I wasn't any good at the game. The college, a boys only residential school, had the only squash courts available for students in the country then.

Built in 1939, squash courts 'A' and 'B' were also the scene where the first squash tournament in the country took place also the same year. The winner, a young prince by the name of Tengku Jaafar, was later to become the Yamtuan of my home state of Negeri Sembilan and also the 10th Yang di Pertuan Agong. The losing finalist, Abdul Razak bin Hussein, was later to become the country's second prime minister.

Squash court 'A' - MCKK (photo from Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia official website)

During my time, the squash courts were also the scene where the boys will gather every week with sarongs and pillow cases stuffed with the week's washing to meet the mak ciks who did our laundry. These kind and enterprising ladies will often bring snacks and kuih to sell to us starving boys. Some of them will also bring their pretty daughters along, perhaps hoping to 'catch' one of the snotty kids who years later will become prominent politicians, senior civil servants and business tycoons...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Full Speed or Fool Speed?

This is the front-page headline in today's Star newspaper. However, it is only attributed to Pak Lah who wants all the 9th Malaysia Plan projects be implemented fast. Well, this should be good news for all Malaysians indeed.

As a mariner and a pilot, I was taught and conditioned to believe that full speed, especially in close quarters situations, can often mean fool speed. It should be used judiciously and perhaps only as a last resort to get one out of trouble.

The recent ferry mishap in Langkawi for example, the poor visibility notwithstanding, can only suggest that excessive speed was involved. The impact that caused deaths and serious injuries to the passengers could have been avoided if care and caution have been taken to enable speed to be reduced drastically or the engines be stopped in good time to avoid collision.

On the highways, at a time of an evolving culture of Formula One Racing and Mat Rempits where speed is very macho or 'king', the resultant carnage during the balik kampung seasons is really very frightening indeed. I know for a fact that even my children can also be demon drivers (sorry guys) but so what if you are a few minutes late for an appointment in Kuala Lumpur? You can always blame it on the traffic.

And if the car sticker staring laconically at you in the face from the rear windscreen of that old VW Beetle in front of you says "SPEED KILLS"... then you'd better believe it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kelana Jaya Park

Every morning (well almost, anyway, unless it rains) after completing my blog and promptly at 0630 hours, I will usually don my track suit, put on my fake Reeboks and grab my walking stick* to do a few tawwafs around the lakes in Kelana Jaya Park, near where I live. I will usually indulge in brisk walking (no jogging... dont want any surprises) just enough to work up a sweat and prefer the mornings when the air is much cooler, carbon monoxide free and there are less people about. My wife will usually join me a little later.

I am also a committee member of Friends of Kelana Jaya Park, an NGO committed to turn the park into one of the best in the country. We do carefully benchmark and monitor the overall cleanliness of the water in the lakes and also the environment.

Kelana Jaya Park

Also every morning I will join my now almost regular walking companion, the formidable MP from Kepong who will religiously pick up every piece of litter carelessly thrown around instead of in the waste bins by children and fish poachers the day before. My heart will usually go out to the Yang Berhormat as he laments the apparent lack of civic consciousness amongst Malaysians in general and wonders whether enough is being done to teach our children the proper values in schools, etc.

I do so often wonder myself, especially when other elected representatives do not often go dang down da padang (to echo an old MCKK classmate) or appear to really givashit about these things ...

* My dear wife had insisted on this as a 'deterrent' weapon of sorts more than anything else, since its usually still dark when I step out of our condo.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Portuguese Connection

While out shopping with my wife at the 1 Utama mall in Damansara yesterday, I got to watch a group of young enthusiasts or capoeiristas performing the Brazilian capoeira, an exuberant martial arts and dance form of Afro-Brazilian origin which I believe is fast becoming popular here. The beat and tempo of the music performed live by musicians playing the traditional berimbau, pandeiro and the atabaque (pronouced 'a-ta-ba-keh') and sung in Portuguese sounded very familiar: it was the ronggeng or joget long associated with traditional Malay music!

Bantus Capoeira Malaysia Troupe

The Portuguese in their mission to monopolise the Asian spice trade in the early 1500s, first colonised Goa on the west coast of India and subsequently were also the first Europeans to make an appearance in our waters. They have left a big imprint and influence on traditional Malay arts and culture, even the cuisine.

Many years ago, while dining with the family of a Goanese ship-mate* in Bombay, I was served a hot and fiery dish of prawns and asam belimbing in coconut milk which was exactly like the udang masak lomak cili padi my mother used to make. I had always assumed that it was a pukka original Negeri Sembilan dish. They even called the belimbing, blim blims in Goanese and I believe even belacan, often joked about to describe the quintessential Malay, is a variation of the word balchao, a Goanese shrimp preserve. Boy, it was a real eye opener indeed.

Now back to music. Perhaps with the strong cultural affinity we have vis-à-vis the Portuguese/Brazilians, I have always been an aficionado of the music of Brazil. Along with the samba, my favourite amongst the Latin jazz music genre has always been the haunting bossa nova of Joao Gilberto and the late Antonio Carlos Jobim, the man who wrote The Girl From Ipanema ...

* Capt. Walter Ferrao, now principal examiner for Masters and Mates in Adelaide, Australia.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tampin Linggi

Just came home late last night with my colleagues Capt. Tasripin and Michael Lee from Miri, in Sarawak. We were there yesterday for the 2nd IKMAL Forum and Workshop in Miri sponsored by Sarawak Shell thru the good offices of Capt. Zulkifli, a former IKMAL V-P himself.

It was good to renew my old acquaintance with the jovial and very affable Capt. Tormoti, my abang who was a couple of years my senior on the “Dufferin" and now a confirmed Sarawakian. He tells me that like moi, he is also semi-retired.

It was also a very successful half-day session indeed, which addressed a very pressing and urgent issue: succession. It would seem that there is a dearth of suitable candidates for planned succession in the marine and offshore industry in particular, and we plan to tackle this problem head on.

While on the subject of 'succession', I am happy to introduce "Tampin Linggi" (just click on this or see My Favourite Links) a very interesting personal photoblog of another son of Linggi, a fellow mariner and now a senior research fellow, the contents and layout of which would definitely appeal to the younger set and makes mine appear truly ANCIENT.

Happy blogging … from The Ancient Mariner.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


While serving on a Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka committee to translate English nautical and shipping terms into Bahasa Malaysia some years ago, I was delighted to discover that the word "Linggi", the name of my old kampung in Negeri Sembilan, was actually derived from an old Bugis word which means the 'stem' or the bow of a ship. This confirmed the nature and calling of my Bugis ancestors, a fierce and warlike seafaring people who ruled the seas of the Malay Archipelago several centuries ago.

An old Malay hikayat or chronicle had provided an example of the usage of the word or istilah in a sentence:

"... seperti ombak memecah di linggi" or
"... like waves breaking over the bow (of a ship)".

Linggi is also a small town on the banks of Sungei Linggi, which flows into the busy shipping lanes of the Straits of Melaka and also forms the southern boundary separating the states of Negeri Sembilan and Melaka. There are mainly old people left in the adjacent kampung since the young have all migrated to the big cities. It is noteworthy that the Akademi Laut Malaysia (ALAM) or the Malaysian Maritime Academy is also located nearby.

My seafaring forefathers, from a lesser lineage originating from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and later the Rhio islands must have sailed in upriver aboard their proud Bugis perahu and pinisi a few centuries ago to plant their roots and settle down in what eventually became the only Bugis enclave in the mainly Minangkabau state of Negeri Sembilan. Other elite clans, the famous and princely Daeng brothers of Makassar in particular, went on to found what is now the royal houses of the states of Selangor and Johor.

A Bugis pinisi

My ancestors fought a long protracted war with the Dutch in 1756 over tax collection rights on the lucrative tin trade in the area then and a treaty was signed on 1st January 1758 in a jointly built fort in Kuala Linggi, at the mouth of the river. The remnants of this old abandoned fort, a.k.a. Fort Filipina (named after the daughter of Jacob Mossel, the Dutch Governor-General in Batavia) can still be seen today.

Fort of Kuala Linggi

Linggi has remained a sleepy little hollow today despite the fact that it had produced several distinguished Malaysians who include two Mentris Besar of the state, a cabinet minister, the first Datuk Bandar or mayor of Kuala Lumpur, a few ambassadors, and of course ...ahem ... yours truly.

I was probably amongst the first in recent years to go back to sea to answer the call of my sea-going ancestors.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Name Game

What's in a name?

The question cropped up when I was reading an obituary of the late actor Marlon Brando some time ago. He had made his name in a Hollywood version of the famous Tenessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire and it occurred to me that some ships have been named a lot worse.

Here's a hilarious example: Titan Uranus (pronounced: "Tighten your anus"?)

Q: What is the first thing you do after you pee?
A: Titan Uranus ...

Some years ago there was a ship, a regular caller at Port Klang, named Lembu. It was a small, old and unobtrusive coastal vessel, not even a cattle or livestock carrier but the Indonesian master was sporting enough not to take offence when my pilot office staff had a field day calling him,"Captain Lembu, Captain Lembu, Captain Lembu" on the VHF radio!

(Perhaps also because the Indonesians usually prefer to use the word sapi for 'cow' instead of lembu).

While going through a website on names of British battleships in WW2, I was impressed by the quality of the names that the British have given their warships, besides those named after English counties, there were HMS Relentless, HMS Repulse, HMS Resolution; fine names, names to gladden the heart of every true Brit and dismay any foreigners with a grasp of English. Names redolent of courage and firm-jawed determination - HMS Sceptre, HMS Scimitar, HMS Seadog, HMS Spanker - HMS Spanker? It had to be a misprint. I soon discovered that HMS Spanker, a minesweeper, was not the only warship to bear a silly name. A quick check unearthed the destroyers HMS Fairy and HMS Frolic, the light cruiser, HMS Sappho and the corvette, HMS Pansy!

Now I bet if you are the captain of a battleship taking some punishment from superior enemy firepower, you will not be too thrilled on learning that help and reinforcements are on the way with ships named Fairy and Pansy.

Merchant ships belonging to national shipping lines usually have nationalistic names, a good example is MISC's vessels with the Bunga prefix and named after flowers in Bahasa Malaysia. There was also a time when all Japanese ships had the Maru suffix, leaving one in no doubt of the nationality and flag-state of the ships. India's national Shipping Corporation of India Ltd (SCI), where I served my apprenticeship, had named their vessels after Indian states and I remember on one occasion, for M.V. State of Uttar Pradesh, one exasperated and tongue twisted Thames River pilot spluttered out "State of Utter Rubbish" instead.

But to really take the cake, I remember reading in the local newspapers a few years ago that a wayward younger brother of the Sultan of Brunei had once owned a luxury yacht named Tits ...!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I have always been nervous about the proper salutations to make when giving a speech at official functions in this country, especially as to whom one addresses first in the correct and proper pecking order of things. The Tan Sris first followed by the Datuk Datuk etc., with each and every individual dignitary identified and which is actually a bit of a lengthy and tiresome protocol. A manifestation of a feudal system we have inherited from the British perhaps?

While leading a delegation of senior port officers on a study cum goodwill visit to an Indonesian port some years ago, I remember then that the Indonesians, being republicans or whatever, were less formal and very sparing with their salutations. Divisional heads, for example, were simply addressed as "Kepala kepala" and everyone else just "Bapak bapak".

So a speech there will simply begin with "Kepala-kepala dan bapak-bapak sekalian" etc.

When it came to my turn to give a speech in reply, I remember then that I had to fight an almost overpowering urge by the 'little boy' or the 'juvenile delinquent' in me to just 'buat bodoh', simply smile and say, "Kepala bapak, kepala bapak sekelian!"

Looking back, given the differences in syntax between our two languages, perhaps even that wouldn't have been construed as extremely rude on my part by my gracious hosts. Maybe a trifle confused (?) and the audience would have been left wondering why I was referring to their "fathers' heads" instead...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rich Politician, Poor Politician

My late maternal uncle who was a Mentri Besar of my home state of Negeri Sembilan have been derided in jest by some as one of the most 'stupid' of all former MB's in the country. Why? Well, perhaps because he was an honest and upright gentleman of the 'old school' and who didn't make any money while in office. Although he was a reasonably well-off general practitioner (he was one of the early pioneer Malay medical doctors) before he entered politics, he died almost a forgotten man some years ago in an ordinary kampung bungalow in a low-cost housing area in Seremban, my hometown.

Now compare this with the recent hoo-ha in the mass media over the 4-storey 'palace' (photo) being built by a local politician in Port Klang.

I must confess that I had a hand in helping this man rise to his present 'exalted' status by awarding him his first small contract for the supply of 'berthing and unberthing' gangs for ships in Port Klang, more than 20 years ago. A former railway gate-keeper turned businessman, he was a brash and a bit naive young man then. I was quite aghast then at the way he was aggressively pursuing his political ambitions and the dubious methods he used to get the required political patronage and be in the 'good books' of his party elders.

But at least then he was honest enough to admit to me privately. He said, "Capt, I am a coolie. I didn't go to school and memang kurang ajar. So how else to make it to the top?"

In retrospect, I guess he was absolutely right. The man just didn't know any better and can hardly be faulted since he didn't get to go to Oxford.

And if everybody else amongst the cerdik pandai politicians are also doing it and getting away with it, then dammit sirs, why not him indeed ...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A panacea for all ills?

Rainy days are here again and we will have to be careful not to catch a cold. If you are getting on in years, like moi, it usually takes a little longer to recover if you have the flu.

Having a fever? Nose all clogged up? Getting the shivers?

Well, there was a time during my young and carefree sailing days when I was quite convinced that there was nothing that a chilled glass of lager cannot cure... never mind what the Ship Captain's Medical Guide says.

Some time ago when I was having a bad case of the flu and what have you, an old MCKK classmate, now a retired academic, suggested that I do head stands i.e., standing on my head for long periods of time daily. He insisted that this will clear up everything and also prevent a lot of other illnesses as well.

I wasn't too sure how reliable this piece of advice was medically, but being a true seaman at heart, I didn't really take him seriously. Like a ship at sea, radical daily shifts of the centre of gravity and a constant loss of equilibrium will surely affect one's stability or even sanity ....with possible dire consequences all around! This also isn't mere superstition like in the case of Chinese fishermen who will never flip or turn over their fish dinner for fear of their boat capsizing...

Yang dio ni pulak
Lain korjo tak ado

Dah lah den ni domam
Disuruh berdiri
Tunggang terbalik
Ateh kepalo

Kalaulah dio ni dokto
Sengsaro kito

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Do you still remember

Not too long ago, in a moment of inspiration, I sat down to write a poem for my training ship alumni 40th anniversary reunion souvenir program but was somehow distracted and never got around to finishing it. But then again, that's the story of my life...haha

Yusof Ahmad

Do you still remember
The sound of reveille in the early hours of the morning
Cadet captains screaming "Get up! Get up!"
The mad rush to the heads and changing into boiler suits
Drinking scalding hot tea and munching dry biscuits
With eyes barely open

Do you still remember
Holy stoning ancient decks and chipping away never ending rust
Morning exercises with the PTI on the quarterdeck
The Beatles yay-yaying over Radio Ceylon from the fo'c'sle head intercom
The smell of frying eggs and fresh coffee
And on to bathe and change, breakfast and Ash Bash...

(PS: The young cadet bugler sounding the morning "Reveille" in picture is now Capt Percy Master, chairman of the MasterGroup of companies, India.)

Friday, November 17, 2006

True vs 'Celup' Malays

It is often said amongst the non-Malays in this country that when they talk of a ‘towering’ Malay who does well academically or makes good in business, they will usually quip: "Ah, but he is not a true Malay!"

So who or what is a true, pukka, original, 100% pure unadulterated Malay, the real McCoy? By an academician friend’s definition he is probably somebody from the "... dwindling numbers in Johor among the Orang Laut and Kanak Orang Asli communities, the remnants of the original Malays from pre-Islamic times, and off Pulo Phuket, the so-called Sea Gypsies."

Being a descendant of Bugis pirates myself (where I got my sea legs from, meh) and perhaps with a few Indian and Chinese “connections” somewhere along the way, I believe this would make the rest 99% of us Malays in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore really celup Malays, the chap chengs (lit. "many flags") or the Petaling Street cetak rompak, a real bunch of losers and no-hopers (?). This is hardly surprising considering the fact that our country is truly a melting pot strategically placed at the crossroads of some of the world's great ancient civilisations.

No more surprising than the fact that Chindians i.e., the offsprings of local intermarriages between Chinese and Indians do somehow end up looking like Malays and very good looking people too. Much to their consternation, I believe, especially during the fasting month!

Now if we so called Malays can only get it through our heads that presumably within our bodies and our veins already flow the blood of the wise and entrepreneurial Sayyids of Araby, the fierce warrior descendants of Iskandar Zulkarnain, the culturally sophisticated Moghul emperors of India and even the beautiful Hang Li Po of the Middle Kingdom. Only then we can truly throw away all the historical and cultural baggage hanging from our necks, get rid of all the misconceptions and stereotyping, hold our heads high and start from there.

And we don't need to be told by any ‘great leader’ that we are actually genetically deficient or even inferior as a race or ethnic group, especially when he himself don’t really look like an Orang Laut or a Sea Gypsy from Phuket...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lord Jim

The classic English sea novel, Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad was 'required reading' in English Literature class aboard my pre-sea cadet training ship many years ago. It was a moving story of an idealistic seaman forced to deal with his act of cowardice and how he ultimately redeems himself. He had abandoned a ship and left the passengers to die. This book was later made into an excellent movie in 1965 starring Peter O'Toole and James Mason.

I didnt even know it was adapted from a true maritime incident involving an early local kapal haji, the S.S. Jeddah until I read the book review below recently. The heroic tale of our jemaah haji overcoming the odds in the face of adversity is forever lost in time and will never be told. It would have made for an interesting, if not truly inspiring reading. Our own great great grandparents could have been on that ship.

But how times have changed, eh?

PS: The italics and text colouring are mine.

(Movie poster from IMDb Photo Gallery)

And you, what are you doing here?

Michael Gilsenan

A Season in Mecca: Narrative of a Pilgrimage by Abdellah Hammoudi ed. Pascale Ghazaleh · Polity, 293 pp, £12.99

The Jeddah sailed from Singapore on 17 July 1880, bound for Penang and Jeddah, with 778 men, 147 women and 67 children on board. Muslims from the Malay Archipelago, they were traveling to Mecca and Medina for the pilgrimage. Some came from the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia); some from the different Malay states, then beginning to experience more direct British intervention; some from Singapore.

The ship was under the British flag. Seyyid Muhammad al-Sagoff, the managing director and part-owner of the Singapore Steamship Company, to which it belonged, came from a wealthy Arab family, originally from Hadhramaut in south-east Yemen but already well established in the economy of Singapore and the Hejaz, the region in western Arabia within which lie the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Seyyid Omar al-Sagoff, Muhammad’s son, was on board. In addition to its Singapore office, the business had an important branch in Jeddah, the main port of the Hejaz, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It also ran an agency in Aden, since its conquest in 1839 a key link in British maritime influence in the Indian Ocean, and after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 an even more important port on the Europe-Asia routes. This is the high point of 19th-century imperialism.

After terrible weather conditions in the first week of August, the boilers ‘started adrift from their seatings’. The Jeddah had for some days been taking in water. Now it sprang a heavy leak. The water rose rapidly. The captain and the European officers abandoned the settling and heavily listing ship, taking Seyyid Omar with them, and were picked up by another vessel and taken to Aden, where they told a story of violent passengers and a foundering ship. The pilgrims were left to their fate, an apparently certain death.

To much astonishment, however, given reports of its loss, on 8 August another steamship towed the Jeddah into Aden. The pilgrims had survived. They had been abandoned by those meant to protect them. Official inquiries followed into this great scandal of the sea.

One element in the case that added to the embarrassment as well as the outrage of the European and seafaring communities concerned the conduct of the pilgrims. The Vice-Admiralty Court in Singapore, meeting in September 1881 to consider the amount of salvage to be paid, found that the pilgrims became agitated only when they realised that they were being left to die by the crew. They had not threatened violence as had been alleged in defence of the decision to abandon them. Indeed, the judgment says, they did not use their knives to injure anyone. The master had communicated nothing to them and their ‘demeanour’ could be quite reasonably accounted for by the realisation that they were being deserted: the master’s leaving the ship ‘roused the pilgrims to violence in attempting to swamp his boat, and such the Court consider might naturally have been expected from any body of human beings, even Europeans, situated as the pilgrims were’. Moreover, the Malay pilgrims appeared to have acted with great efficiency when it came to working the pumps to clear the ship of water, desperate work they continued when the Jeddah was under tow by the French vessel that had spotted their distress signals. The colonial stereotype of ‘the Malay’ as ‘running amok’ when not being the classical ‘lazy native’ he was held to be by some British authorities could not have been challenged more strongly.

The moral reversal - natives behaving properly while being betrayed by white men who violated their own codes of the sea - impressed the inquiry and, no doubt, the devourers of the now fast traveling news between Aden and London and Singapore.

This was the scandal that inspired Conrad, who had landed in Singapore in 1883 after himself being forced to abandon ship, to write Lord Jim etc., etc.,

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Golden Rivet


An old nautical myth was that one of the rivets in the lower parts of the ship's hull was made of gold. The Golden Rivet myth is as fabulous as the Key of the Starboard Watch and the Hammock Ladder and, like them, has covered many a new seaman with some confusion.

When the royal yatch H.M.Y. "BRITANNIA" (photo) was berthed in Port Klang during the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) in Kuala Lumpur in the late 80's, I was invited on board for a 'cupper tea' by the captain, a jovial Royal Navy Commodore (sorry I forgot his name) who was also an aide-de-camp to Her Britannic Majesty. It was an honour indeed for yours truly since nobody gets invited on board except personally by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (it was her ship, after all.)

After tea and the small talk, the Commodore gave me a personal guided tour of parts of the ship which were not 'off-limits' to us peasants and commoners, including the spotlessly clean engine room. He also showed me the solitary 'golden rivet' on the starboard (or was it port) side engine room bulkhead.

"Rumour has it that all the rivets on this ship are made of gold, so now you can tell your grandchildren that there was only one," he laughingly told me. He then presented me with a framed and autographed photo of the ship.

As I took the salute at the gangway on disembarking, I reflected on the fact that the rivet had looked suspiciously like it had been painted over with gold paint!

I certainly wouldn't put it past these mats salleh to pull a fast one on me.

(Photo source: The Royal Yatch Brittania official website)

"Kurang Asam" vs "Kurang Ajar"

I have always been hesitant to use the term kurang ajar to describe recalcitrants and the ill-mannered amongst today's youth and would prefer to use the term kurang asam instead. I believe the former is a bit too strong and would unfortunately also reflect poorly on teachers and parents.

I was a pilot in Port Klang some years ago during a time when ship masters were pretty generous to pilots with complimentary bottles of whiskey and cartons of cigarettes. On Indonesian vessels in particular, we would often be rewarded with oleh-oleh of cartons of then very rare Gudang Garam kretek or clove cigarettes, which we would then distribute among pilot boat crew and office staff.

(Now, some would want to call this bribery and corruption, but lets not get bloody holier-than-thou about this).

So on occasions when I was piloting Indonesian vessels, some cheeky and expectant pilot boat crew member would invariably quip on the VHF radio: "Captain Yusof, ini rezeki bagus, pak. Mesti ada 'Gudang Garam'!"

Whereupon to avoid an awkward situation with the Indonesians, I would then retort with fake indignation and equally fake Javanese accent: "Gudang Garam nggak ada, dong! Gudang Asam ada. Goblok lu ... kurang asam!"

Hence the preference for the term, which should be about a notch or two below in severity...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Destination Unknown

Many years ago, when I was a lowly and underpaid apprentice* in between ships, I spent an idyllic holiday in a small hamlet called Ranchi, in West Bengal, India. There I met a very famous Indian futurologist (forgot his name) who read my palm etc., and told me in no uncertain terms that I shall never be RICH, only just "comfortable" (which probably is more than anyone can ever wish for).

For many years thereafter, since there was no way I could become rich on a civil servant's salary, I tried to prove the s.o.b. was wrong by buying a lot of lottery and 4D tickets - but no such luck! The old guy was right and I am now quite resigned to the fact that I probably shall never be another Bill Gates or even Lim Goh Tong.

Anyway..... Ranchi, which is just a few hours away by rail from Calcutta, was also the birth place of Rabindranath Tagore, India's very much revered Nobel Prize winning poet.

On this lazy Tuesday afternoon, I would like to share with you all one of Tagore's famous poems (attached) which moved me very profoundly at the time. I had harboured the hope of being able to translate some of his work into Bahasa Malaysia from the original Bengali but somehow never got around to it.

* Apprentice cadet or apprentice sahib to the Indian ship crew. Very often this gets inadvertently bastardised as panties sahib !


Rabindranath Tagore

How much farther will you lead me on, Lady Beautiful?
Tell me where will finally land your golden boat?
Whenever I ask you, Lady of Far-Off Land,
you only flash at me your dulcet smile.
I do not know what thoughts stir in your mind.
Silently you lift your finger
and point to the infinite sea which heaves.
In the far west the sun hides behind the sky.
What lies there? What is it we go to seek?

Tell me, I once again ask you Lady Unknown:
On the evening sands burns the day's funeral pyre,
the waters shine like liquid fire,
the sky melts down in limpid flow,
the eyes of the horizon swim in tears.
Do you have your dwelling there beyond the wave-studded sea?
At the foot of the cloud-kissed western hills?
You smile silently but say no word.

The wind moans day and night with long drawn sighs.
The waters swell and roar in blind agony.
The dark blue waters are full of doubts.
There is no trace of shore on any side.
An endless weeping sweeps through the world.
On the sea of tears floats the golden boat.
The evening sun strikes it with golden shafts.
Why in its center you sit and smile silently
I do not understand what stirs in your mind.

When first you asked who will come with you,
I looked into your eyes in the early dawn.
You pointed with lifted finger
to the infinite sky that stretches west,
the restless light that flickers on the waves like hope.
I boarded the boat and asked,
"Shall we find new life there beyond?
Does hope yield there its golden harvest?"
You looked at my face and smiled without a word.

Since then we sometimes saw the sun and sometimes clouds.
Sometimes the sea was rough and sometimes calm.
Time flows on and wind strikes the sails.
The golden boat moves blithely forward.
Now the sun descends in the western sky.
Once again I ask you, Lady of Mystery,
Is cool death to be found there beyond?
Is there peace, is there sleep in the depths of the dark?
Again you lift your eyes and smile silently.

Soon the dark will spread her wings.
The golden light will be lost in the evening sky.
Your body's fragrance comes floating in the air,
in my ears there is murmur of moving waters,
your hair flies in the wind and touches my face.
With faint heart and tired frame,
once again I shall ask you impatiently,
"Where are you? Come and touch me once".
You will say no word and I shall not see your silent smile.

(Translated from the Bengali by Humayun Kabir)

Well, steady as she goes and full speed ahead ...

I have been mulling over this for quite some time, starting a blog (short for weblog), that is. A log or logbook is essentially a nautical term and we mariners have enough experience in maintaining one.

Why am I doing this? Well, for one it sure beats the hell out of vainly trying to write, publish (and sell!) my memoir or autobiography. Speaking of autobiographies, Prof. John Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard University once wrote: 'Books can be broken broadly into two classes: those written to please the reader and those written for the greater pleasure of the writer.'

So here, I must confess that the pleasure is strictly mine.

Now that I have started I am at quite a loss for words. So perhaps I shall begin with a few saved postings to a few yahoogroups forums in the past...