Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rembering Zailah Tun Dr Ismail...

By Mansor bin Puteh

Zailah Tun Dr Ismail, who passed away at 4.30 am 21 July, 2017. She was the second child of a former deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. She was sixty-four.

I knew her and her husband, Mustapha Najmuddin when we were studying at different universities in New York City in the early 1980s, they at the New School of Social Research and I at Columbia.

I first met them after I returned to the city and living in Sunnyside, Queens, after taking a three-month break in Malaysia and got to know them and her younger sister who was studying at a university in Canada, and brother who visited her.

After they left their apartment they were renting in Sunnyside, Queens, to leave the city they put up at our apartment in Astoria also in Queens, a few days prior to their departure for Malaysia.

Her husband's father in Malaysia had died earlier and they had tahlil sessions in their apartment which was attended by many students from Malaysia.

The two of them asked me to accompany them to go for the drive to a hair salon for her husband to get a haircut.

He had earlier driven me back from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on York Street in Mahattan where I had a major surgery performed on my left knee.

The three of us had also driven together in his car to go to Binghamton in New York State to meet some Malaysian students there for a gathering during the summer break.

I remember Zailah or Zai as we called her gave me her husband’s prayer mat which I kept and used, because he could easily get a new on in Malaysia. I then passed it on to another student when it was time for me to leave the city and America to return to Malaysia.

But the first time I knew or saw her was at a Bee Gees concert at Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur. I attended it with my sister and her husband and their two children. We got front row seats. The tickets cost M$15.00 each which may seem to be a small amount today but back then it was not so. Yes, the Malaysian currency then was still called ‘dollars’ and not ringgit as they are called now.

I was in Form Six studying in a private college in Petaling Jaya then in the 1970s. And it would not be too long before I met Zai personally in New York City.

And after the concert was over I saw her and her friend climbing up the stage to meet the group.

Later when we were back in Malaysia I met her in Hotel Istana in Kuala Lumpur where she introduced me to her elder brother Tawfik...

And from there we walked to a shopping center where she had a small store selling sweets she brought in from Turkey. I did not ask her how that happened because for the first time I met her and Mus, at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in February, 1982, they were teaching at the university there.

I had left New York City on a one-way Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) ticket to Malaysia but was allowed to make as many stops along the way so I decided to do that and ended up in Bangkok before taking a Malaysia Airlines flight to Pulau Pinang for two days before flying to Subang Airport near Kuala Lumpur.

It was then I bumped into Zai and Mus at USM. In fact, I did not realize they were at the staff cafeteria until they approached me, much to my surprise. They had been back much earlier and were teaching at the university.

I remember when we were still in New York City, she had said how Mus was interested to pursue his education for a doctorate at a university in England. I thought that was a matter of choice and he could get to the best university in the country including Oxford or Cambridge if he wanted to, but he first would have to spend few years at USM before he could work on his doctorate.

However, much later I found out that she had left USM to work at Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) which is the National Bank of Malaysia.

I do not know about Zai, but Mus told me he had been back to New York City a few times, like I had. But he did not take the trouble to return to the places where he had lived in, Sunnyside, Queens, like I did and also Astoria, where I move to after six months living in Sunnyside.

I would also take the opportunity to return to my alma mater, Columbia University each time I am back in the city. And it is easy to get there on the No 1 Local train to return to the Film Division and just to be there, taking photos and maybe grab a new Columbia tee-shirt to keep and wear when it suits me.

I do not know anyone there and all the instructors I knew had all left or retired. One, Andrew Sarris who taught History of Motion Pictures had died. And I found out about this when the Academy Awards show ‘In memoriam’ section mentioned about it.

I still feel like I am back there as a student when I am back on campus and at the Film Division. And no one bothered with me and everybody thinks I am one of them or a student of another school; maybe because I still have that ‘student look’ that I could not shake off.

In fact, I was back there in New York City in November, 2016 and in February, 2017 and hope to be able to make another trip there in October hopefully with news and confirmation that I have finally managed to raise funding for the production of my new feature film that had taken so long for me to do.