This is a short story by Adlan Benan Omar - a fellow lover of history and a dear friend who died on Thursday, 24 January 2008. He was only 35. Those of you who know him will remember Ben's almost encyclopaedic knowledge of Malay history
There can perhaps be no fitting tribute to this remarkable young man, and no better way to remember him, than to reproduce this short story by Ben, which not only highlights the passion that he had for Malay history, but also shows a bright, intelligent mind that was a breath of fresh air and a shining light in contemporary Malay culture.
I continue to remember Ben with great fondness
The Day Hang Tuah Walked Through My Door
by Adlan Benan Omar (1973-2008)
Everyone knows who Hang Tuah is. Everyone knows that he was a great warrior, that he was loyal to his king, that he fought and defeated Hang Jebat in a gruelling duel. But I knew more about Hang Tuah than anyone else. No... I didn't read more than anyone else (how much more could a twelve-year-old have read anyway?). I knew more about Hang Tuah because he came to live with us a few months ago.
Yes, you heard me right. Hang Tuah did come to live with me and my family. Abah took him home one day. He had found the old man walking around the local playground one evening, while he was out jogging. It was getting dark and the old man had no place to go, so we took him in. Mak was not too happy about that, she thought the old man looked crooked. He was dirty and he didn't wear shoes. Mak said that people might think our family has gone weird. Abah just laughed. "Kasihan ...dia orang tua," he said.
My friends didn't believe me at first. They thought I was dreaming, or making things up, or just plain lying.
Azraai said that the old man was an alien from Mars and not Hang Tuah. Eqhwan laughed at me and said that either I or the old man must be mad. Anuar said that if Hang Tuah was still alive I wouldn't be able to understand what he said because he spoke classic Malay like in the hikayats. Hilmi (our local school's smart alec) tried to explain to me that the Melaka Empire was no more and that Hang Tuah was just a legend. He said that if Hang Tuah was still alive he would be at least five and a half centuries old and the latest edition of the Guinness Book of World Records stated that the oldest man in the world lived only to 120 years. Only Farid sympathised with me... and that was because he had an imaginary friend whom he always took along to play marbles with us.
I really didn't care what they said. I knew that old man was Hang Tuah. I know because I asked him myself.
The morning after we took the old man in, Mak asked me to wake him up for breakfast. I went to the spare room and found that he was already awake. He was sitting on the edge of the bed with a blue batik bundle on his lap.
"Jemput makan, Tok," I said, politely.
"Terima kasih," he said.
I was curious, so I asked, "Apa dalam buntil tu Tok?"
"Barang Tok... barang orang miskin," he replied.
Then he opened it up slowly. I saw him fiddle for something, then he took out a long keris with an ivory sheath. It was at least a foot long and studded with jewels.
"Ini keris Taming Sari," said the old man.
I snickered, "He! He! He!". I thought the old man was joking. Everyone knew that Taming Sari belonged to Hang Tuah and that it must have disappeared with its master.
The old man looked up at me. His eyes stared into mine. I felt a little queasy at that. His expression changed, he began to look angry. Suddenly his eyes drooped and he looked more hurt than angry.
"Kenapa cucu gelak?" he asked.
"Tak ada kenapa," I answered, a little frightened.
"Tok tahu, cucu ingat Tok bergurau." I kept quiet.
He began again, "Inilah keris Taming Sari yang sebenar. Ini keris Tok sendiri."
"Kalau begitu Tok ni tentulah..."
"Hang Tuah," he interjected, "nama Tok ialah Hang Tuah."
"Tapi Hang Tuah sudah mati."
He laughed, "Tidak, Tok belum mati. Tapi Tok sudah tua..."
"Berapa umur Tok?" I questioned.
Mak didn't really like Tok Tuah. But she didn't say anything when he just stayed on and on in the house. She didn't say a word when Abah and I took him to Hankyu Jaya to get some new clothes. She just kept quiet when Tok Tuah joined us to watch TV in the living room after dinner. I told her (and Abah) that the old man said that his name was Hang Tuah. She wrinkled her face (and Abah just laughed).
It was a Wednesday night and RTM had a slot then called "Teater P. Ramlee". It so happened that they were showing Phani Majumdar's "Hang Tuah". P. Ramlee, so young and thin, acted as the hero and the late Haji Mahadi was Sultan Mansor Shah.
When Jebat got killed, Tok Tuah pipped in, "Tidak langsung macam tu..."
Abah stared at Tok Tuah. Mak stared at Tok Tuah. I too, stared at Tok Tuah.
"Aku sudah tua masa tu, Jebat muda lagi. Jebat kuat. Dia sepak aku hingga aku tertiarap, kemudian aku berguling. Aku himpit dia. Aku kata sama dia 'baik sajalah kau mengalah'. Apa gunanya kita dua bersaudara bergaduh?"
Mak started to look worried again.
"Jebat tak mati."
Abah looked surprised. He said, "Habis tu, apa jadi pada dia?"
Tok Tuah said, "Aku tak mahu Sultan bunuh dia. Aku tahu Sultan zalim. Jadi, aku sorokkan dia di Ulu Melaka. Macam Tun Perak sorokkan aku masa aku difitnahkan. Lepas Melaka kalah dengan Portugis, Jebat ikut aku merantau."
I said, "Bila Jebat mati?"
Tok Tuah laughed, "Jebat belum mati. Baru tahun lepas aku jumpa dia. Dia meniaga di Kedah."
"Meniaga?" I said.
"Ya, Jebat duduk di Kulim. Dia meniaga kereta. Apa tu? Kereta 'second-hand' kata orang. Proton, Honda dan Nissan. Laku jualannya. Banyak orang beli."
One day, I took Tok Tuah on a walk around KL. He got bored just sitting in our small bungalow in Bukit Bandar Raya. So after school, we took the mini-bus to Central Market. Tok Tuah really enjoyed the walk. "Banyaknya orang..." he wondered. We ate at McDonald's. He didn't like the cheeseburger (well, he didn't like the cheese, though he loved the burger itself). After lunch, we went to Muzium Negara.
I showed him the frieze of a young Hang Tuah which was sculpted by an Englishwoman in the 1950s. It showed a handsome Hang Tuah in 'Baju Melayu' and 'samping'. He was holding Taming Sari in his hand.
"Siapa tu," Tok Tuah asked.
"Itu Tok-lah. ltulah orang putih gambarkan sebagai Hang Tuah. Hensem, kan?"
Tok Tuah chuckled, "Apa tulisan atas tu?"
"Ta' Melayu Hilang di-Dunia. Eh, takkan Tok tak ingat? Itu kan Tok yang cakap dulu?"
He kept quiet. Slowly he mumbled, "Ta' Melayu Hilang di-Dunia? Tak ingat pun."
Suddenly, he started, "Oh! Bukannya Ta' Melayu Hilang di-Dunia. Silap tu. Tok tak pernah cakap macam tu..."
"Habis tu?" I asked.
"Masa tu Tok tengah pergi masjid untuk sembahyang Maghrib. Isteri Tok ikut sekali. Dia tengah ambil air sembahyang di tepi perigi, kemudian kakinya tergelincir. Dia terjatuh masuk. Orang ramal pun menjerit-jerit sebab perigi itu dalam. Apa lagi, Tok pun terjunlah untuk
selamatkan dia. Isteri Tok bukan sebarang orang, namanya Tun Sa'odah, anak Bendahara Tun Perak."
"Kemudian?" I urged.
"Bila Tok bawak dia naik, Temenggung Tun Mutahir ketawa. Katanya, Tok sayang betul pada isteri Tok. Tok pun jawab, "Mestilah... Ta' Isteriku Hilang di-Telaga. Jadi, mungkin orang silap dengar...!"
Tok Tuah stayed with our family for more than six months. He stayed at home in the first few weeks but he felt guilty not doing anything to contribute. So, one morning, he followed Abah to work. Abah was manager of a factory in Sungai Buluh which made video tapes and CDs. They needed a new 'jaga' or watchman. Tok Tuah got the job. Abah said, "Who better to guard us than the great Malay admiral Hang Tuah?"
The workers got along well with him. Amin, Abah's driver, said that Tok Tuah told them lots of funny jokes about Sultan Mansor of Melaka and his fifteen wives. Tok Tuah also got to know Rajalinggam, the sweeper, who he said reminded him of Mani Purindan, the father of Bendahara Tun Ali. Like Rajalinggam, Mani Purindan too came from Tamil Nadu and cooked delicious dhal curry.
One morning, my teacher at school said, "Tomorrow I want you all to bring a model of an old artefact. Then I want you all to explain its importance in front of the whole history class."
Hilmi (always the teacher's pet) spent days working on a matchstick model of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Azraai decided to build a spaceship instead. Eqhwan bought Anuar's origami keris for fifteen dollars and brought that to school. Farid asked his imaginary friend to draw a picture of Mel Gibson as Sir William Wallace. I? Well, I just brought Tok Tuah along.
My teacher was flabbergasted. She said, "Why have you brought this 'jaga' along?"
I smiled, "He's not just a 'jaga'. He's the great warrior Hang Tuah!"
My teacher said, "I'll call your father and tell him you're playing jokes in class."
"Please, Cikgu. Just listen to what he has to say," I insisted.
Tok Tuah stood in front of the class. He coughed. My teacher sighed. I smiled. My friends sneered. "Assalamualaikum," he said. "Wa'alaikum Salam," we answered.
Tok Tuah began his speech. He started out by saying that the Melaka we read about in the history books was very different from the real Melaka. He explained how the Sultan used to let anyone come to the palace with any complaints at all, and he would settle it there and then. He told us that he and his four friends used to go on tours to Pahang and Terengganu and Ujung Tanah, even to Siam, on great galliards with five big sails. He described to us that Melaka had 120,000 citizens, each of whom had land and houses of their own and that no beggars were allowed to go even a day without food and shelter. He mimicked Sultan Mansor's snarl, and Tun Perak's twitching handlebar moustaches and Jebat's swaggering walk. Finally, he told us how Melaka got corrupted by its wealth and warned us not to do the same now.
That day, Tok Tuah got a standing ovation. Even Teacher clapped. I got an 'A' for History.
Tok Tuah died seven weeks after that. He was 542 years old. It was during the Puasa month and he took the LRT from Sungai Buluh. He wanted to stop and buy some sweetmeats (he absolutely loved 'pau kaya'). When he arrived at Chow Kit station, he collapsed on the platform with a massive stroke.
They rushed him in an ambulance to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital but he was already gone. He didn't feel a thing.
We buried him at Ampang Cemetery, right across from the grave of Tan Sri P. Ramlee, who played him in that film. I visit the grave sometimes just to tell him that I'm now a lecturer in Malay History
at Leyden University.
I still remember the day he walked through my door. It's as if it was just yesterday. Ah, well...
By the way, did I tell you I met King Henry VIII whilst I was studying in Cambridge? He worked as a night porter at my college. But that, as they say, is a different story.