Monday, March 31, 2014

THIRTY-SIX YEARS AGO THIS SATURDAY, 13 AUGUST, 1978… AND COLUMBIA REVISITED. – PART II.

By Mansor Puteh



Anyway, I was not eager to pursue my education in film then, because I knew I could still wait and do my diploma with the hope that I could somehow get a place to study my master’s degree anywhere in America afterwards, so I need not have to spend many years there, and only two years to complete the program.
I was also encouraged to study at ITM by an Australian who was teaching at the School of Business Studies called, Graham Card. He later reverted to Islam and was called Abdul Karim Khalid Abdullah Card, when I was in the third semester.
Karim, as we called him, also taught us a course at the School of Mass Communication where I was majoring in advertising, came to the class one morning to announce this.
No one asked why he had done so. He had lived in Malaysia for many years when he was working at Nestle before teaching at ITM and he mixed with everybody and also had a foster family in Alor Gajah. Karim and the head of the school, Marina Samad, were amongst those who gave me the encouragement to pursue my career for which I am eternally grateful. 
When the final semester came early 1977, some friends and I at the school had started to apply for admission to study for our master’s degree in America. None of us shared our experiences and anxieties or wanted to make our intentions known by the others, except me. Everybody in my batch knew I had always wanted to study in America.
I got application forms from all the universities I had applied them. I dutifully filled all of them and sent them off from the post office in Shahalam. My sister, Asmah who was living with her husband, Mohammed Omar in Canberra, Australia where he was working on his doctorate at the Australian National University (ANU) and the they had just had their identical twin sons called Adam and Nizar, whom I had met last year in June/July, 1976 when I went to Sydney with my younger brother, Abdullah, during the semester break, often gave me some pocket money to spend on campus.
But that year she gave me more so I could use it to pay for the application fees.
Most of the universities charged US$10 except for Columbia which charged twice as much. But the application procedures Columbia had was different.
They only sent me what they called, the ‘pre-application’ forms. And I had to fill them in and send them out to them. I was told, only if they find that I am qualified to apply, then they would send the application forms. I was anxious because this was the only time I had to deal with this sort of procedure. I didn’t know much about Columbia other than it was in New York City.
I got a quick reply from Columbia which sent the application forms which looked similar to the ‘pre-application’ forms, except that this time I had to pay an application fee of US$20, which was M$50 at that time. (The Malaysian dollar has since then been called the Malaysian Ringgit or RM).
And not long later, I got a shock for my life when I got a letter from Columbia which was addressed to my elder sister Azizah’s house in Taman Greenwood that my application had been accepted. I remember how I had to try and control my knees so that they did not collapse. What was more scary was that the letter which had the correct address, was given by the mailman to the next door neighbor, who did not know my name, but was kind enough to hand it to my sister, who then gave to me when I came over from Shahalam one day, out of a hunch to expect something interesting to happen.
I immediately made it known to the other members of my family and friends.
At the same time, I was still dealing with the few universities to whom I had sent applications to. All of them did not seem eager to offer me a place except for the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Houston, Texas, which had taken me on a very long ride. Someone at SMU called James McGrath wrote again and again and even asked me to take a medical test.
Even after furnishing them all the information they needed including the medical test results, which I got at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital, they finally turned me down. I was not worried with that because I already had a place at Columbia. On the contrary I was happy.
The only sad part that made me feel anguished was when Mara rejected my application for a scholarship or study loan to study. And I had to work for Utusan Melayu as a reporter for a year before I was given a loan following an appeal.
So when I finally got to Columbia, and living in the dorm called Harmony Hall, I decided to be funny and write to the same dean at SMU, and innocently asked him to send me the application forms. I did not say anything else. I only wanted him to know that despite being rejected by SMU, I could still study at Columbia. As expected he did not reply.
Something ugly happened in my second semester at the Film Division, School of the Arts of Columbia. I thought I was doing okay with school and was able to mix well with the other students who mostly thought I was Japanese.
But when my hair got to be very long, many of the members of the public thought was a Native American. None ever thought I was Melayu from Malaysia or a practicing Muslim.
When some of my classmates wondered about my religion, and I said Islam, they were pleasant surprised, because they had not met Muslims looking like me before, someone who looked like a Japanese or Native American with very long hair, and from Malaysia, yet a Muslim. Few of the students at Columbia thought I was Buddhist because to them I was Japanese, so chances are I could be as such.
I was diagnosed as having a giant cell tumor of the upper left tibia in the second semester. Dr George Unis of the Columbia Health Service called me to say this, and said I had to be admitted at the St. Luke’s Hospital nearby for the biopsy. I was admitted for one month at this hospital where he conducted the surgery that left me on two crutches for the first time.
And I had to wait for another month before I could be admitted to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, also in Manhattan for the surgery conducted by Dr Ralph C Marcove, who scrapped the tumor and inserted plastic cement in the bone.
I decided to move to Boston to live with some Melayu friends, and shared the apartment with Mus in Peterborough Street, which is near the Fenway Stadium of the Red Sox baseball team. After six months living there, I decided to return to Malaysia for a break, before I returned to New York City again to resume my studies, after taking a one-year medical break.
I lived in Astoria, Queens with some Indonesian friends and was happy to be able to commute from there to the campus and completed my studies except for my thesis film which I had to do and submit in order to graduate.
I was negligent in this and did not inform the faculty about my plans and returned to Malaysia, i.e. six months after my third surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. This time Dr Marcove removed the plastic cement and wanted to conduct a bone-grafting surgery so that in one and a half year’s time when my left knee became stronger, I could start to walk on my feet again. But he discovered that my left knee had developed an infection that caused the tendons to melt so in the last few weeks prior to the surgery I had in July, 1981, my left tibia was hanging from the femur and no wonder it was very painful when I tried to apply pressure on my leg when I wanted to walk on it.
I was later informed by Dr Marcove after the surgery that he had to abort the original plan for the bone-grafting surgery and inserted a Cuepar knew prosthesis in my leg instead. And I had to be on two crutches for a total of fifteen years, before I gained confidence to walk on my own again, with the prosthesis in the left leg.
But this did not stop me from traveling to thirty-three countries, attending film seminars and conferences and festivals where my first feature film was invited. I also took the opportunity to find interesting stories to write for my novels and other books.
I thought I had come a long way from studying at the St. Francis’ Institution in Melaka from Standard One to Form Five; at MTC for my Form Six where I lived in Kampung Tunku, Petaling Jaya, until I got to ITM in Shahalam. And with all my sixty books I have managed to produce, to share with the public, I feel some of my ambitions had been realized, although I would have liked it if that could have happened more than ten years earlier.








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