Sunday, December 31, 2006

... and goodbye to 2006

Saturday, December 30, 2006


This is where it all began.

I went back to my kampung in Linggi yesterday to visit and spruce up my late father's grave in view of tomorrow's Aidil Adha. It still looked much more presentable than the others around it in the vicinity of the old mosque.

I was also very much in awe, for here also lie buried most of my ancestors for the past several hundred years since they first arrived in their proud Bugis perahus from the Indonesian Rhio and Sulawesi islands to settle on this land.

Al Fatihah.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Long Wait

Newspapers report an earthquake of 7.1 on the Richter scale in Taiwan at 1234hrs GMT on Tuesday has severely damaged Internet links, causing a lot of disruptions all over the world wide webs. Repairs are expected to take up to three weeks.

When my PC appeared to 'hang' for long periods yesterday, I thought perhaps its time to consider an upgrading or maybe I am just getting too old for this sort of thing! A recent online survey by Microsoft showed that Asia's blogosphere is fueled by youth with almost half of all bloggers (56%) under 25, while 35% are 25 to 34 years old, and 9% are 35 years old and over. Also 55% of bloggers in Asia were found to be female and 45% male. This of course puts moi in a very small minority group. (OK, boys and girls, how many of your friends have uncles who have their own blogs ... haha)

I believe most of my blogging contemporaries (read: my age group) indulge in political commentaries. However, at this stage of my life or in the September of my years, to quote Sinatra, I no longer weigh the world's problems heavily on my shoulders nor do I share everyone's enthusiasm for a daily dreary fare of bellyaching and nit picking a la Naipaul* and his ilk. I honestly believe that we truly deserve the government that we have got. Period.

* (I have spent some years in the Indian sub-continent and must have met more than my fair share of these pukka sahib wannabes who somehow derive immense pleasure, perhaps somewhat akin to intense sexual orgasm, in fault finding amongst the powers that be. They sometimes go on to offer grand unsolicited solutions to the world's problems and incredibly quite oblivious to the fact that they were perhaps the primary contributors to the royal fu... er ... cock-up in the first place. And this certainly is not cricket, old bean.)

But I digress (also dah mula nak mencarut), so as they say, watch this space ...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Singapore Malays

My wife flew down to Singapore yesterday to spend the new year and Hari Raya Haji with family and friends.

Regarding the recent hoo-ha in the press about Lee Kuan Yew's statement on the so called marginalisation of the Chinese in this country and someone's retort that Singapore Malays are also in no worse fate, perhaps I can add something more about Singapore Malays (I think I can speak with some authority here since I spent some years there, my wife was a Singaporean and my eldest boy Imran was born there), I believe LKY's very subtle divide-and-rule policy has further marginalized the Malays in the tiny republic. Their contempt for our bumiputra or affirmative action policies have succeeded in creating a Malay bogey so much so that many young Malays there will now deny their Malay roots and instead claim that they are Arab, Javanese, Bawean or whatever.

Now I bet if one were to ask our Dato Syed Hamid Albar's young relatives in Singapore whether they are Malay or Arab, chances are they will claim they are Arabs instead. This is in direct contrast to the situation here in Malaysia, where even many our saudara baru or recent converts will unashamedly try to pass off as Malays or bumiputras. No prizes for correctly guessing why.

Sure they (the Singapore Malays) have made some great strides in education, business and the professions etc., but as my next-door neighbour (a Datuk and a retired senior civil servant from Rembau) once said, "... there are probably more Malay medical doctors and PhD's from the luak of Rembau than the entire island of Singapore." And I believe he may be right.

In other words, if the situation is indeed reversed here in Malaysia and Malays are the minority instead, we may just suffer the same fate as our Singapore brethren. So will our non-Malay friends who have been involved in the recent spate of Malay/Muslim bashing get off their bloody high horses ...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


When I first saw the 1969 movie Krakatoa, East of Java many years ago, it did not leave a long lasting impression on me although the 1883 eruption of the volcano on this Indonesian island in the Sunda Straits ejected more than 25 cubic kilometres of rock, ash and pumice and generated the loudest sound ever historically reported — the cataclysmic explosion was distinctly heard as far away as Perth in Australia (approx. 1930 miles or 3100 km), and the island of Rodrigues near Mauritius (approx. 3000 miles or 4800 km). Atmospheric shock waves reverberated around the world seven times and were detectable for five days. Near Krakatoa, according to official records, 165 villages and towns were destroyed and 132 seriously damaged, at least 36,417 (official toll) people died, and many thousands were injured by the eruption, mostly in the tsunamis which followed the explosion.

But nothing really prepared me for this day exactly two years ago to see the horrors on my own TV screen as recorded on personal web cams and digital cameras as the waves came crashing down on the poor unfortunates in Sumatra, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and in our own northern west coast. More than 200,000 people perished and billions of dollars worth of property were damaged or wiped out.

I read somewhere that another earthquake of a far greater magnitude is probably in the offing in about the same area during the next couple of decades and I shudder to think whether I will get to see it again during my life time.

(Movie poster from IMDb Photo Gallery)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

On Days Like These*

More rain. More reported deaths from the floods. Gloom and a sense of foreboding that the worst may yet to come?

Red alerts. Now whats with our penchant for American military terms like pre emptive strikes and collateral damages. I suppose red spells danger but tell that to the Chinese who for thousands of years have associated the colour with 'ong' or good fortune. Also what happens to the colour blind?

It is noteworthy that for the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has wisely chosen to 'number' the security levels instead, from Level 1 when everything is 'normal' to a heightened Level 3 when all hell is expected to break loose.

* This has always been one of my favourite Matt Monro songs, a haunting bossa nova tune written by Quincy Jones for the 1969 movie The Italian Job.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I must confess that I haven't been quite me old self these past few days with the cold and fever and yesterday morning I found out that I have lost 3 kg. So late last night, against my better judgment, I went bananas on a banana split which I haven't had ever since I was a teenager, while having coffee with my old friends Mustaffa and Bala at the Eastin.

Must now work towards my new year resolution again for the umpteenth time : to stop smoking ...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

View from the Top

With seasonal rains causing flood havoc in Johor and elsewhere, here's the rather bleak view from my bedroom window yesterday taken with my new Canon Ixus 60. The peaks of Genting Highlands can normally be seen in the foreground on a clear day where you can see forever. With the now regular Sumatran smoke haze and now this ... fat chance.

My first camera was a Japanese Skymaster my late father bought me when I was sixteen years old about to embark on my sea career. It was a simple SLR with manual shutter speed and lens aperture controls which served me faithfully during my growing up years in the black and white film era, the word 'auto' wasn't yet in fashion then. My second was an Asahi Pentax which I bought to record my children's births and growing up years. This camera became obsolete some years ago when the children grew up and able to afford their own.

I had to buy this camera after I found out that my cell phone camera was grossly inadequate for my occasional survey and consulting jobs and especially after seeing the excellent photos in Tampin Linggi's blogs ...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Actress Carol Channing once invited Sir John Gielgud to a sporting event at which she was slated to award the prizes. Gielgud, suffering from a viral infection, scribbled a note by way of apology: "Sorry, love, cannot attend," he wrote. "Gielgud doesn't fielgud."

Neither do I. Must go and see my doctor this morning...

Gielgud Caricatures by Clive Francis

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Warehouse Sale

I left the house early this morning after the weekly marketing with the memsahib for fish and veggies at the pasar tani in Kelana Jaya, hoping to be one of the early birds at a year-end warehouse sale of a leading Japanese brand name. Boy was I surprised indeed.

There were already hundreds of people ahead me in a long queue which stretched all the way to the main road in Subang. Parents with entire families, school children with cellphones, mothers pushing prams, retirees a.k.a. 'golden citizens' like moi, grandmothers and grandfathers with walking canes et al. Cars were parked haphazardly all over the quiet neighbourhood. Obviously some of them were already there at the crack of dawn.

What's with us Malaysians, always keeping an eye for good bargains and ever willing to endure the jostling and the grabbing in the hot morning sun? I could see that the schoolkids were mostly going for the electronic calculators selling for RM1 apiece and the teens for the digicams and mp3 players at give away prices. But the grannies and the grandads? Well, it sure beats me.

I made an about turn and headed for home, sans any purchase. I was rather looking forward to buy a cheap discounted digi camera. Some other time maybe.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sex and Mystery

My friend and fellow IKMAL council member Capt. Apandi had suggested some time ago that I write a book or an autobiography, pointing out the dearth of books in the Malaysian nautical scene. I was a bit sceptical and not sure I have enough material for one. Perhaps I may consider publishing a collection of some of my blogs later.

I am also mindful of the fact that for books to sell well these days you will need two very essential ingredients: sex and mystery. The sad truth is that there was nothing very sexy or mysterious about my life thus far, so I am not sure if this is a good idea. (I can almost hear my friend Dato K ... not that one lah ... guffawing over this).

This reminds me of the joke about the college student who won a contest for writing the shortest essay or short story ever to contain the four key ingredients: sex, mystery, religion and royalty. His winning entry was:

"My God," said the Queen. "I am pregnant! I wonder who did it."

This prompted my old friend Capt. Jimmy Shroff, then on the high seas, to suggest that in this day and age perhaps you will need a fifth ingredient: technology. Therefore a possible winning entry could be:

"My God," said the King. "I am pregnant! I wonder how I did it."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

This, That and the Other

Today is exactly a month since I started this blog and I am quite surprised myself that I can actually blog-a-day with relative ease. Perhaps its simply because all my little anecdotes, for example, are already in me and even most of the photos I choose to adorn my blogs are readily available on the Internet. Since I have not kept any diaries, I do have some difficulty remembering names, places, dates etc. so the day may just come very soon for me to get a mental block to blog ... or maybe I should just take it a bit easy.

But what really gives me a great deal of satisfaction, what makes it all worthwhile and what really matters is that I know for a fact that a good number of people who are reading my blogs regularly are also people who have known me for some time and therefore are people who really matters to me.

Now that makes a whole lot of difference.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I was in Port Klang yesterday and took a longer route via Pandamaran just to catch a glimpse of the controversial 4-storey 'palace' being built by a local politician which I wrote about recently. It wasn't that impressive.

I also passed by the nearby Workers Institute of Technology (WIT) now also known as Kolej WIT. The institute, a brainchild of my old friend the late Dr. V. David, former DAP strongman and general secretary of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and also the Transport Workers Union (TWU), was built more than 20 years ago mainly from generous donations from many international labour unions, mostly from the transport sector. To date, it has helped many a young school leaver acquire the necessary technical skills for gainful employment in the various industrial sectors in the Klang Valley.

While dining with Harold Lewis, the then general secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) in Kuala Lumpur some years ago, he confided in me that the late Dr. David had initially proposed that the institute be named Transport Workers Institute of Technology or TWIT, but he had gently 'vetoed' the idea. He said, "You will agree with me Capt, that the word twit must surely have the same meaning here in Malaysia as in UK and elsewhere!".

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Batu Seremban in Space

My niece Hani, now studying medicine in London and whom we all are very proud of, commented in my blog recently about the game of Batu Seremban to be played and teh tarik to be made in outer space by our future astronauts and whether these are things we should indeed boast about.

Although Seremban born and bred myself, I have only a vague idea of how this children's game is played. Something with a few pebbles thrown and caught in the hand and the winner being the child who caught the most ... or something.

I cannot recall which authority made this startling announcement but there is always a clear and present danger of light hearted statements made in jest being misquoted in the press. Having been in the trade union movement myself as president of the Klang Port Authority's Senior Officers' Association, I have had on a few occasions in the past been misquoted by the humourless press, much to my disgust and to the dismay of the Management.

But that's another story...

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Royal Sailor

Monday morning blues? Well, perhaps not for us here in Selangor. Today is a public holiday to celebrate the official 61st birthday of His Royal Highness Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, the Sultan of Selangor Darul Ehsan.

HRH has always been a sailor at heart, taking a keen interest in the sea and ships. In the years 1995-1996, while still the Raja Muda, he distinguished himself as an international yachtsman of repute by circumnavigating the globe with his yacht "Jugra" in 21 months for a total distance of 27,940 nautical miles. This made him the first Malay royal to achieve this feat and which was also a fitting tribute to the proud seafaring traditions of his Bugis ancestry.

On his return, HRH very kindly consented to receive the award of an Honorary Fellowship from our Institut Kelautan Malaysia (IKMAL) or the Malaysian Maritime Institute. In 2003 after becoming the Sultan, HRH again graciously consented to be IKMAL's patron, thereby making IKMAL one of the very few professional bodies in the country with a Royal Patron.

From a Bugis sailor to another: Happy Birthday, Tuanku.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why I stopped reading the NST...

I stopped reading the NST (not the New Shit Times as claimed by some) the day I opted for early retirement about seven years ago (gee, how time flies when you are having fun). There was a gratis copy daily for me at the office.

I must admit that I was really put off my teh tarik kurang manis after having had to endure, on separate occasions, a couple of agonising luncheons with one Abdul “Cardiac” Jasin and later with one DollahKok Lanas”. These two were very prominent scribes with the NST… Well, I’d better not elaborate here, since I don’t have the millions to pay for libel suits!

The former was simply full of himself. The latter, a fellow MCKK old boy, had alleged that he was persuaded by the Establishment to confess to being a communist some years ago while being detained under the Internal Security Act. He also told me that he was the least bothered by NST’s dwindling readership and that he was not concerned about quantity but more on enhancing the quality of the paper to something more akin to the Times of London and New York. Oh yeah? Well, bully for him.

But no, my reasons are not really personal or political. Now that I am semi retired, it is simply a matter of economics. I now subscribe only to The Star, mainly because the paper carries a maritime and shipping supplement on Mondays which is of interest to me, and also because the tabloid page then fitted the kandang for my pet Persian purrfectly...

On Sundays, I also subscribe to the Mingguan Malaysia as a special treat for my wife who enjoys reading the entertainment pages.

I now get other news and information from the Internet. Thank God for IT.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Staying on Course

This is the front-page headline in today's Star newspaper. The headlines do seem to be getting more nautical these days.

Staying on course for a ship involve keeping to the planned tracks as laid out by the navigating officer on the ship's navigational charts. With the advent of satellite global positioning systems (GPS), this is now quite academic. Gone are the days when the navigating officer will lead his congregation of cadets for the daily 'noon prayer' ritual of determining ship's position by shooting the midday sun with sextants and the use of nautical almanacs. Nowadays he will just press a few buttons and voila, he gets the ship's latitude and longitude accurate to the nearest few metres.

'Noon prayer'? Well, this is what we used to call it back then. This will also answer the oft asked question: Why do Muslims need to pray 5 times a day?

Perhaps it is no strange coincidence that our prayer times coincide roughly with the times i.e., noon, morning and evening twilights, when the ship's navigator will shoot the sun and the stars to periodically determine position so as to ensure that the ship remains on the charted courses and have not deviated.

Muslims pray 5 times a day precisely for the same reason, among others: To remain on life's charted courses i.e., jalan jalan yang di redhai Allah s.w.t. or God's given paths ... and not deviate.


This and That

It has been almost a month since I started this blog and I am not sure how long I can keep this up. I also thought that I'd better change the template and layout. Someone had commented that the fonts were a bit small even for 'young' eyes and it did seem a bit cramped and hard on my eyes especially in the wee hours of the morning when I can blog away without any interruption.

I rather liked the film noir look and ambiance of the old and the print looking like what it would appear on my old portable typewriter.

But as they say, out with the old and in with new, so here goes...

Friday, December 08, 2006

My Home Town


Oldtimers may remember this Paul Anka hit song of the early 60's:

I took a little trip to my home town
I only stopped just to look around
And as I walked along the thorough-fare
There was music playing ev'rywhere

Well, I went back to my home town Seremban to see my 80-year old mother yesterday, but alas, there was no music playing everywhere. As the eldest amongst my siblings, I was in fact feeling a little guilty since I haven't seen her since Idilfitri, more than a month ago.

My mother now lives alone in a single-storey bungalow my late father had built more than 30 years ago in the outskirts of Seremban, next to the golf course in Ampangan. My youngest sister Rashadah also lives nearby and pops in daily to check on her.

Although she does appear healthy physically, my mother has been suffering from bouts of depression ever since my father passed away more than six years ago. She also now have lapses of memory and her itemised telephone bill showed that she hasn't been making any phone calls lately, perhaps she has simply forgotten how to. She also has trouble remembering the name of her young Indon maid and I dread the day pretty soon when she will have trouble remembering mine...

Now thats bloody depressing, if you ask me.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On Dress Codes for Women etc.

Well, the newspapers are full of reports of the sense of outrage by some women's groups on the recent ruling on sexy dressing for women in Kelantan.

When I was studying in Bombay many years ago, I played host at the hostel I was staying during the term break to a couple of lads from Kelantan. They were en route to Pakistan to study Syariah law in some madrassah there. They both seemed pretty ordinary fellows, very humble and quite open minded then that it didn't strike me that one day they will be part of a band of simpletons who will rule their state, become very obsessed with SEX and blame their primal urges entirely on the way their women dress.

I have been to all the states in this country except Kelantan, having travelled only as far north on the east coast as Kertih, in Terengganu. I do not think I will ever have the time nor the inclination to go there and from what I can now see, I will not miss anything much.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Women at Sea

Yesterday's maritime supplement in the Star newspaper carried above story about Akademi Laut Malaysia (ALAM) or the Malaysian Maritime Academy finally opening its doors to female cadets. These days when we already have women mountaineers, Arctic explorers and jet fighter pilots, I dare say it is about time.

Pretty soon the 'great debate' will start on whether it is right and proper to allow these young women to spend long periods of time aboard ships at sea without their mahrams, or male blood kins. At a time when self-righteous mobs are now breaking down doors at resort hotels to nab foreign tourists for khalwat, or 'close proximity', I do sometimes wonder whether these people do not have anything better to do than be very preoccupied with SEX. Perhaps all these pseudo mullahs need to have their brains examined.

I do believe that whether illicit sex acts can only take place aboard ships, planes, bullock carts, in resort hotels, space crafts or wherever is indeed very subjective and open to debate. An English judge once ruled that the only place where one cannot possibly commit adultery is on the ceiling! (Unless one is Spiderman, of course). In other words, it can also happen anywhere and at anytime too, so what the fish...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Of Halal Foods and Closed Minds etc.

Before I left home at age 16 to embark on a sea career, one of the things I did was to seek advice from my late grandfather, who was a very revered imam (to this day) in my hometown. Since there was a strong possibility that I may not get to eat halal food aboard ships then, he told me to eat anything as long as I do not “knowingly” eat pork, ham, lard etc. This has really endeared him to me forever.

This issue really became quite academic much later since it was just awkward and hypocritical for me to insist that my steak is halal when I am washing down the damn thing with scotch. I was, after all, a sailor man…

But certainly not as moronic as a former colleague, who sat defiantly munching on his own homemade sandwiches while we were flying MAS business class to an overseas assignment some years ago. This was in spite of the captain saying Assalamualaikum and Insya Allah on the intercom that we will get to our destination safely according to schedule and the pretty cabin crew repeatedly assuring him that the airline’s food was indeed guaranteed halal etc.,

Anyway, you shoulda seen his face when I ordered a petit rouge to complement my filet mignon

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gandhi and the Maharani of Jaipur

Aboard my training ship Dufferin in Bombay (now Mumbai) many years ago, there was a tall and handsome Punjabi senior cadet by the name of Gandhi*, a not altogether a common surname in India then. One day, I saw him trying to chat up a very pretty girl at some shore function. He must have told her his name and she obviously did not believe him, so on seeing me, he called me over and the conversation went on something like this:

Gandhi: " Yusof, can you please tell this pretty lady what my name is?"

Me (to Pretty Girl): "His name is Gandhi. Honest!"

Pretty Girl: "Are you sure?"

Gandhi (becoming agitated): "Look, why would he lie to you? He's not even an Indian, he's Malaysian!"

Pretty Girl (looking at me suspiciously):"You don't look like a Malaysian to me."

(Like she was an expert on what we Malaysians look like).

Her Mama musta done tole her not to trust dem sailors...

Anyway, when he told her his name earlier, I bet she must have told him off so:

"Oh yeah? Ach..cha. If you are Gandhi, then I must be the Maharani of Jaipur!"

*I met Gandhi again some years later in Yokohama when he was a chief officer on one of the early MISC vessels. He is now retired and lives in Melbourne, Australia but now calls himself Dick Gandy. I wonder why.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


I had dinner last night with my wife at the Malaysian Shipowners' Association (MASA) 30th Anniversary dinner at Istana Hotel, Kuala Lumpur together with a few other IKMAL council members and their wives.

There were many guests at the function, but the food was really nothing to shout about and my wife would not have come along if not for the star attraction of the dinner show: Anita Sarawak.

What more can one say about Anita?

I remember her make her first appearance on Singapore TV when she was about sixteen and I was a young bachelor doing my second mate's 'ticket' in Singapore. Even on the black and white television screen then she was absolutely electrifying and the famous family name notwithstanding, I could tell that she was going to go very far indeed.

The same way I also could tell when I saw the late great Sudirman Arshad perform for the first time on RTM some years later.

Well, it was indeed a great show and a splendid evening. Thank you, Anita Sarawak.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Elites

Perhaps apologies are in order if I have sounded a trite 'boastful' with the constant name-dropping in my blogs. The late British actor David Niven in his delightful autobiography The Moon's a Balloon, wrote: "People in my profession ... well, it makes little sense to write about the butler if Chairman Mao is sitting down to dinner!".

In early January 1960, a group of 30 eager-eyed and very impressionable 12-year old Malay boys, moi included, sauntered out of Prep School, at the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar to assemble in class Form 1A in the Main School building. We were a truly mixed bunch indeed: the sons of farmers, teachers, clerks, senior civil servants and even royalty from all over the peninsula. In the following years we were to grow up studying and playing hard, sharing the same nasi kawah and bathe half-naked together in the open shower stalls. We even had some of the best teachers in the country, a few of whom often were the authors of the textbooks themselves.

The Big School, MCKK

Almost half a century later, I believe most of us from the original 30 have made it to the Malaysian Who's Who list. A very prominent class-mate, who subsequently became the college's head boy and later a Tan Sri, died a few years ago in a tragic helicopter crash after building a huge business empire. Another became a deputy prime minister (I recall he wasn't that 'smart' in class, I was smarter ... haha). Others include a CPA who became head of Price Waterhouse, a university dean who founded MIMOS, a few corporate leaders, doctors, senior civil servants, politicians, a couple of professors, an ambassador and even an air force colonel.

Obviously, it was due to the success of this elitist learning environment, perhaps part of an early affirmative action plan ironically initiated by the British here themselves, that encouraged the establishment of other residential schools and the MARA science colleges many years later.

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)