Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cinematic Armament Is the Arabs’ Last Chance

By Maged Hebtah
Translated by Abdelazim R. Abdelazim

Mustapha Al-Akkad has many important projects lined up for the future but faces lack of finances. According to him the modern Arab world is in great need of the seventh art.

Most importantly, such movies would correct the twisted image of the Arab Muslim held in the Western world. These projects are ready for production, but financers are not in the same state of readiness. Mustapha Al-Akkad simply waits for funding to be more forthcoming while continuing to produce his suspense and horror movies. I ask him why he chooses to take this passive stance.Islam Online

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False Projects

By Maged Hebtah
Translated by Abdelazim R. Abdelazim

In the lobby of the New Cairo Hotel, with the blaring volume of the classical “background” music making me increasingly uneasy about the clarity of my sound recording, I discuss the failed projects falsely attributed to him, with the director-producer Mustapha Al-Akkad. The public reads about such projects in newspapers, probes for their authenticity, and finds out that the news is false and merely brought into the world to polish the image of some other failed director. Al-Akkad comments that he rejoices in such news, as it shows that those slanderers greatly appreciate his name and standing.

Al-Akkad tells me that dozens of actresses, some of whose names he has never even heard, approach him at festivals and conferences and request to be photographed with him. After a day or two, he comes across the photos published in a newspaper or magazine with a caption that Al-Akkad had chosen this-or-that actress to play the heroine role next to this-or-that superstar actor in a new blockbuster!

Are people hauling with the name of Al-Akkad?

“Neither hauling or anything like that,” he replies laughingly, “It is a simple matter; as long as they don’t mention my name in a disgraceful context, I’m delighted.”

The Hebron Operation

I mention the movie The Hebron Operation to him, which, it turns out, he has never heard about. I tell him that Reuters News Agency published a headline in September 2002 claiming that Al-Akkad would direct a film about Israel’s interference in the selection of the American president. The body of the news maintained that the internationally renowned producer, Mustapha Al-Akkad, had agreed to the proposal of the Egyptian Company for Cinematic Production and Distribution to produce a movie based on the novel The Hebron Operation, written by a former CIA agent. The source of this news, according to Reuters, was Dr. Salah Hasabulnabi, CEO of the Egyptian Company for Cinematic Production and Distribution, who had reported that the film would carry the same title as the novel.

This news was then published by many Arab papers, some of which added that the project was initiated after the decision of the company to postpone the international Egyptian movie project on the Arab civilization of Andalusia because of its very high production costs.

Among other things, Salah Hasabulnabi announced that he had been in contact with the celebrated director Mustapha Al-Akkad about producing The Hebron Operation for an international audience.

The Hebron Operation is a novel written by Eric Jordan, a former CIA officer who worked in the Middle East . It centers on the influence of the Israeli Intelligence Agency, the Mossad, in selecting the US presidents and its practice of attributing their political assassinations to the Arabs.

Al-Akkad is very surprised. “I don’t recall anyone ever putting such a proposal to me.”

The Vicar Kabuchi

After the embarrassing history of The Hebron Operation, I hesitate for a moment to bring up The Vicar Kabuchi. This time, however, the director turns out to be acquainted with the project, though this history also ended before the project was begun.

Al-Akkad told me that Mamdouh Al-Lithy, head of the Cinema Department of the Egyptian Company of the Media Production City, actually contacted him and presented him with the idea. Al-Akkad was very enthusiastic about the project, as its aim would be to show the world the reality of the Palestinian issue. The story of The Vicar Kabuchi would approach the conflict from a new angle: as a conflict between Zionists and Arabs, whether Christian or Muslim, rather that a conflict between Zionists and Muslims. This approach could influence the Western perception of the issue.

From Al-Akkad’s point of view, the movie could have successfully addressed the West with its portrayal of a European Christian man of religion, sympathizing with the Palestinian right to live and defend themselves. It would condemn the cruel Zionist regime for its attacks against an unarmed people. In this context, Al-Akkad tells me that he more than once advised Hanan Ashrawi[1] to wear her crucifix whenever she delivers a speech in an international context to emphasize that the Palestinian issue is not just a Zionist-Muslim affair.

The Vicar Kabuchi lived in the occupied land of Palestine for a long a time without being involved in any political activity, until one day in the 1970s a wounded child called Ali sought refuge from the Israeli forces in his monastery.

At the time it was published in the papers that Omar Sheriff would take the role of the Vicar Kabuchi; but what happened then?

“I believed,” replies Al-Akkad, “that this type of film would most effectively target the Western audience by featuring English-speaking world-famous stars. However, I didn’t mind Omar Sheriff because he is an able and famous actor.

“We would lose much if this film had been starred by local actors, because its impact would have been confined to the Arab world. If it had featured well-known Western actors, it would have achieved the desired effect.”

Mamdouh Al-Lithy responded that he could not provide the necessary budget for the project Al-Akkad had in mind. The negotiations ended there.


In addition to The Hebron Operation and The Vicar Kabuchi, there are dozens or even hundreds of movie projects to which newspapers have linked Al-Akkad’s name. Some of these projects were about movies tackling the biographies of former and current Arab presidents or kings. When I asked Al-Akkad about the verity of these reports, he posed that contemporary history knows no honorable Arab leader save Abdul-Nasser, who gave this history an aspect of dignity and esteem he, as an Arab, has never seen since.

After seconds of silence, Al-Akkad adds, “I will never forget his speech about the Egyptian ship, the Cleopatra, which reached New York during the War of Attrition. American port workers refused to unload it under pressure of the Zionist lobby. Abdul-Nasser’s response was a speech addressed to the Arab port workers from the ocean to the Gulf, requesting that they refuse to unload of any American ship entering an Arab port.

“The Arab workers complied with Nasser ’s request, which forced the American army to immediately unload the Cleopatra. This incident made all the Arab residents in the United States feel proud of their Arab origin and affiliation to an Arab world on whose land lived a strong man like Abdul-Nasser.”

Al-Akkad notes that he produced a 4-hour documentary film about Abdul-Nasser’s life in English, in which Mohammed Hassanein Haikel is the narrator. The film was not screened in the United States because it covers the event of the Jewish blowup of the Lavon Cinema in Cairo, known as the Lavon Scandal, and the event of the Israeli sinking of the American ship Liberty in the Mediterranean .

Al-Akkad also produced a 7-hour Arabic version of that same film, but not a single Arab channel wanted to broadcast it for reasons he does not know.

With regard to possible documentaries about other Arab leaders, Al-Akkad laughs, “I call upon Allah to give me the opportunity to present their biographies as they are in reality, and this, I believe, would satisfy none of them!”

[1] Hanan Ashrawi (b. 1946) is a Christian Palestinian politician, peace activist, and professor of English literature.

Source: Islam Online

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The Story of The Message

By Maged Hebtah

Translated by Abdelazim R. Abdelazim

“A director over here is the same as a director over there. There is no difference between one director and the other. Creativity is creativity. Creativity is not confined to the so-called ‘international’ cinema; it is itself an international language.”

Al-Akkad did not say these words out of modesty but out of a firm belief that international and Western cinema do not in the least outshine the Arabic cinema in individual creative capacity. They are merely more advanced in a technical and economic sense as well as in the mechanisms of cinematic production. He mentions the Egyptian actor Abdullah Ghaith’s performance in the Arabic version of The Message, which greatly surpassed superstar Anthony Quinn’s performance in the English version.

The Message in Court

Despite its huge international success, The Message has been banned in both Egypt and Syria. However, leafing through the movie’s censorship file, I was surprised to find not a single paper referring to an objection against the film, either from Al-Azhar[1] or any other party. On the contrary, the file contained evidence that the movie’s screenplay had been approved by a number of scholars from Al-Azhar.

Al-Akkad himself affirmed the approval of Al-Azhar. “In fact, I was sitting side by side with Sheikh Muhammad Mutwalli Al-Sharawy as he was watching the film, and in the end he asked for more. I brought Harry Kiggaf from Hollywood to stay in the Cairo Nile Hilton for a year to write the screenplay for the film in cooperation with Abdul-Hamid Jodda Al-Sahar, Tawfik Al-Hakim[2], Ahmed Chalabi[3] and, from Al-Azhar, Dr. Abdul-Moneim Al-Nemer and Dr. Al-Beisar. Thus, I find the ban imposed on the movie an insoluble puzzle. I filed a lawsuit against the bans 28 years ago, which is still being studied by the court!

“What makes the puzzle more complicated,” Al-Akkad adds, “is that more than one Arabic channel showed the film without either asking my permission or anybody informing me about a lifting of the ban.”

The Essence Is Profit-Making

In addition to his well-known Islamic productions, Al-Akkad has produced a number of high-profile Hollywood films.

Most of these movies do not bear Al-Akkad’s name, such as the Halloween series, which already has eight sequels. Reflecting on the large audiences that such movies draw, Al-Akkad notes that in Hollywood a director-producer should ask himself two questions before producing a film: Who is your audience and what would you like to say?

“The cinema,” he adds, “is about entertainment in the first place. However, a good director employs entertainment to put across the ideas he would like to transmit. In this lies the artistic cleverness of the author and screenwriter. The essence of every piece of work is to establish a channel of communication with the audience and reap enough profits to produce the next movie. Unfortunately, some believe that success and making profit is a crime and shame.”

“The success of a movie,” Al-Akkad resumes, “depends on the audience and on the profits it makes. This does not involve degradation, but we have to come down to the audience, however low its level may be, and then try to subtly raise them up. This can be done neither by mystery, haughtiness, or the use of pedantic cinematic language.

“Neither Oscar prizes, Cannes prizes, critics, or decorations equal the success of a movie in the theaters. If you managed to produce a masterpiece movie without being able to gain the audience’s approval, the movie is a total fiasco. We, as cinema professionals, consider ourselves to be the link between the idea, the art, and the audience. Our success lies in our ability to employ the idea and the art to bring about a reaction: to make people cry, laugh, suffer and be thrilled.

“Furthermore, home entertainment devices have passively affected cinema and theater; at home you sit in front of a big screen, smoking, eating, and drinking. Accordingly, the cinema-goers in the USA and the rest of the world are mostly the young; 80 percent of the total audience thus imposes its interests—sex, fear, and love—on the cinema industry.”

[1] Al-Azhar, located in Cairo , Egypt , is the biggest and most well-known institution of Islamic learning in the Islamic world.

[2] Famous Egyptian novelists.

[3] Famous Egyptian scholar of Arabic language and linguistics.

Source: Islam Online

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From Aleppo to Hollywood

By Maged Hebtah
Translated by Abdelazim R. Abdelazim

How did a young man born in 1933 in Aleppo (Halab), Syria’s second largest city, become attached to the cinema? And how did he make his way to the United States in 1954?

Al-Akkad relates his story with a calmness conjuring up the coziness of dear reminiscences of a man who has chosen to cling to his origins. He reveals that his love for the cinema stems from a small cinema that was owned by one of his old neighbors.

“I always accompanied that man; I used to watch how he cut the scenes and put the film into the projection device. It was my passion in life. Gradually I started dreaming of becoming a moviemaker. When I turned 18 I started announcing my enthusiasm to become a film director, and not just any director; a Hollywood director. The whole Aleppo neighborhood used to laugh and make fun of me.”

California Dreaming

Al-Akkad affirms that he does not blame his neighbors for thinking he was crazy. The dream, in a way, was a kind of craziness. “In addition to the fact that a job in the movie world was socially unacceptable,” Al-Akkad explains, “my father was a poor man. The best he could do was enroll me in an American school. However, despite the mockery of others, I didn’t give up my dream and began to take steps towards its fulfillment, one of which was applying to UCLA (University of California atLos Angeles). It came as a great surprise when my application was accepted!”

I ask about what his family thought of all this and expect the response narrated by most actors and actresses who relate the story of their early steps towards stardom: that his family strongly opposed the idea and that his father tried to convince him to forget about his dream altogether.

However, Al-Akkad’s story does not fit the general paradigm. “My father brought me up on the principle of self-reliance. His comment was, ‘You should do what you want to do and choose to live your life as you wish; but I’m afraid I cannot help you financially.’ Thus, I was forced to work for a year to be able to pay for my education. After this year I told my father I would be traveling to the United States. He put $200 into one of my pockets and a copy of the Holy Qur’an into the other and said, ‘This is all I can give you.’ However, he had already given me the most invaluable of things; he brought me up to be morally and religiously mature and responsible. Whenever I remember him, I praise Allah for having blessed me with this father, who sent me to America penniless but rich in morality, religion, and heritage—the reasons I still cherish my Arab Muslim background.”

Inferiority Complex

I asked him whether being an Arab called Mustapha caused him any trouble in America.

“Of course, there were many troubles, but they were not initiated by those around me. The problem was inside of me. I went to the United States laden with inferiority complexes because I wrongly thought I was inferior to those around me, that they were far more intelligent than me, and that it would be difficult or even impossible to emulate them. However, once I sat at my desk and mingled with other international students, I found that being an Arab Muslim did not make me inferior in any way. Conversely, I realized from the very first class that there had never been a difference between me and any Western student, and that I possessed the qualities that would make me surpass them. When I studied society there, I realized that I was morally stronger than them and truly appreciated the moral values with which my father had raised me. After this illumination, I experienced a transformation in my way of thinking, and the inferiority complexes turned into self-confidence. From that point onwards, I began studying Arab-Islamic civilization to deepen my sense of self-confidence and awareness that we had been leading the world at a time the West was inhabited by a group of barbaric tribes. I learned that we had been much more advanced in many branches of knowledge while they were in a state of ignorance and backwardness. These are the themes I have ever since been trying to visualize on the big screen: portraying the days in which we ruled Andalusia, taught the ‘barbaric’ and ignorant Europeans the sciences of astronomy and medicine, and helped them to put their feet on the ladder of civilization.”

So, what about your name specifically, I asked again.

“As far as my name is concerned,” he replied, “there is no doubt that it has caused me severe problems, to the extent that many have advised me to change it so that I could practice my work more easily. I resolutely refused. I firmly believe that changing the name chosen for me by my father would mean rejecting my identity as well as the man who raised me. I realized that the worst my name could do to me was to make me more determined to exert effort to increase the demand for me. I worked incessantly to gain the respect of my colleagues and audience. I’d like to highlight the fact that others won’t respect you unless you respect yourself.

“Those Arabs who come to the United States, change their names, and deny their Arabic tongue only to make more money disgust me. This opportunism is due to inferiority complexes that they are not managing to get rid of. They simply assimilate completely and deny everything, even their own selves; they forget themselves.”

I asked him, “You cherish your name and work hard to distinguish yourself; how did you manage to achieve this?”

“I armed myself as a cinema director and leaned on my Arab Islamic background, which provided me with the creative capacity to learn to command the secrets of the seventh art and the American cinema, which dominates internationally. Praise be to Allah, I managed to firmly enforce my artistic presence because I mastered my cinematic language and instruments. I believe this is reflected in The Message and Lion of the Desert. The Message acquainted Western society with the true Islamic religion and Lion of the Desert very credibly reflects the current tragic situation in Palestine!”

I ask Al-Akkad what his presence in Hollywood has accomplished for him in the movie industry. He says, “They now know for sure that I can make profit-reaping, audience-attracting movies. That’s why their studios seek my experience. Universal Studios asked to me to direct Halloween 8, and many other production companies seek my professionalism.”

During the interview, a young man resembling Al-Akkad greets us. Al-Akkad introduces him as his son Malik and says, “He has been fond of cinema direction ever since he was a child and specialized in it. Considering his young age, he has already overtaken me. He participated in directing Halloween very distinctively. Because he can communicate with and understand the youth better than me, I always ask his opinion whenever I want to address them. He will assist me in directing Saladin. Even though he has been raised in America, he attaches much value to his Arabic background and origin.”

Perhaps he notices the surprise on my face, so he says, “Don’t be astonished. If you visit my home, you’ll feel as if you are in Aleppo —its atmosphere, food, music, language, and religion. However, when I go out and close the door behind me, I become an all-American man in my way of thinking, practicality, logic, work ethics, and everything else.”

Source: Islam Online

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Saladin and Other Projects

By Maged Hebtah
Translated by Abdelazim R. Abdelazim

“Ice over a hot bosom” is the Arab expression by which Al-Akkad’s situation can be most eloquently summed up. The phrase describes his relationship with the Arab world, whose reaction to his cinematic efforts has been conspicuously cool.

It is well known that Al-Akkad has been hunting for a financer for his movie project Saladin for over twenty years. Hence, as I was formulating my first question to him, I was silently hoping that he would tell me that he had finally obtained the resources. I had read about negotiations between him and some Arab financers, but these turned out to have been in vain. “Most of these negotiations,” he said, “have been aborted due to non-cinematic reasons.”

Al-Akkad tells me about an Arab prince who wanted to finance the project only in return for choosing the movie’s heroine, who would have been a superstar. He also tells about a political regime that was only willing to finance the project on the condition that he would direct a movie about its leader. There have been negotiations between him and an Arab director-producer who would have financed the film only if some “slight” modifications to the screenplay were made. According to Al-Akkad those “slight” modifications would have virtually destroyed the project’s aim.

Al-Akkad is willing to negotiate only as long as there are “no political sacrifices to be made and no obligations upon me to direct movies about individuals who do not deserve the praise they would have me shower them with.”

Saladin in Akkadian Perspective

Al-Akkad believes that a biography of Saladin should be screened in several high-quality movies rather than one long epic. There already exists more than one cinematic rendition of the story of Saladin, for example, the Egyptian Director Yousef Shahin’s Saladin the Victorious and the Egyptian Director Hossam El-Din Mustafa’s serial The Vulture of the East.

When I discuss these films with Al-Akkad he points out that those works, although important, are in the Arabic language and address an audience with an Arab cultural background. “The character of Saladin,” he says, “should be presented to the outer world through a big production that addresses the non-Arab viewers in a language they understand and interpreted by actors/actresses well-known to them. The movie would then achieve its expected effect because it would crystallize its message in a way the foreign audience can relate to.”

When I brought up the previous films on Saladin, I had expected a very different response. I had expected the director to focus on the present need for Arabs and Muslims to study the character of Saladin. However, he explains that his main aim has been to shed light on the Arab historical heritage. “In the light of unjustified accusations of terrorism directed towards the Arab world, Saladin is—in my perspective—the most suitable character to present to the West as our mouthpiece. Is there a more barbaric example of religious terrorism than the medieval Crusades that Saladin confronted? However, nobody accuses Christianity of breeding terrorism.”

Al-Akkad asserts that the present Arab status quo very much resembles the Arab condition during the days of Saladin. “The Arabs back then,” he explains, “were few in number, disunited, and fighting among each other. It was Saladin who united them, purified their regimes, and defeated the Crusaders. Through my movie I want to transmit the message that we are in need of such a man, or at least in need of following his strategies in order to face today’s challenges and overcome those waiting to ambush us.”

“My desire to make this movie,” he adds, “stems from a persisting problem, namely, Jerusalem. Historically, the movie will depict the city from an Arab and Muslim perspective. Saladin united the Arabs, conquered the usurped land, and acted as a protector for all religions, doing justice to both Muslims and Christians alike. The Crusaders, or the Franks, on the other hand, demolished churches, killed monks, set fire to Byzantium, and slaughtered Jerusalem’s Muslim, Christian, and Jewish inhabitants. I will present Saladin as the embodiment of magnanimity, nobility, and morality. The West is more aware of Saladin’s virtues than we Arabs are. The biography of Saladin is but the contemporary projection of today’s events. The Palestine of his day is the Palestine of today. He “purged,” united, and morally conquered. I want to produce Saladin to emphasize the Arab character of Jerusalem.

An American Screenplay for Saladin

To my question of whether the screenplay has already been completed, Al-Akkad answers in the affirmative: “The screenplay is ready, and its writer is John Heil, an American.”

In response to my surprise the director explains, “Why wouldn’t he? I agreed with him that the script will be translated into Arabic, so that Arab-Muslim historians can revise it. After their approval the screenplay will be translated back into English. We planned this for accuracy’s sake. I dealt with my movie The Message in the same way.”

In response to my question why he chose Sean Connery for the lead, Al-Akkad proceeds enthusiastically: “He is without a doubt the most qualified to interpret the role of Saladin. In addition to his skills as an actor his eastern features make him the perfect choice. Sean Connery’s name would also draw the desired audience. He likes the Arabs and is familiar with our history. He always tells me off for having chosen Anthony Quinn to star in two of my films and always reminds me that he is looking forward to work with me.”

A movie about Saladin will be very costly, if only for the many big battles to be staged and Sean Connery’s wage, which in itself equals a full movie budget.

I ask Al-Akkad about the required budget to start work on the film. “I need $80 million, though I am sure the film will make many times as much in profits. You see, historical films in general reap great returns, and a movie starring Sean Connery would make tremendous revenues. Let me illustrate this with the example of The Message, which back then cost $17 million for producing both the Arabic and international versions. The international version returned ten times the costs, was dubbed into 12 languages, and still makes profits until now. The American Department of Defense, for instance, bought 100,000 copies of The Message for its soldiers to view before being sent off to Afghanistan!”

Chechnya and Jerusalem

Saladin is not the only project in the pipeline; Mustapha Al-Akkad has more up his sleeve. “During the war in Bosnia, I thought of making a movie about the conflict entitled Wa-Mu`tasamah[1]. For a while now, I have been playing with the idea of making a film about Jerusalem. I also hope to make a portrait of Muhammad Shamil[2], the Chechen who fought the Russian czars.

“I have also finished reading a script for a new movie project that sheds light on a particular period in Islamic history. It is based on a historical document published by the British Sunday Times. It relates the story of a delegation sent by the King of England John III to the Muslim caliph in Cordoba, proposing that the English embrace Islam, pay the jizyah[3] to the caliph, and be under Muslim patronage. The latter’s reply was ‘A king who willingly sells his people and kingdom does not deserve our patronage.’ This event took place in 1213. The document published by the British Sunday Times lists the names of the English delegation members who submitted the proposal. The script will be written by European authors to render the message more powerful.

[1] Al-Mu`tasam was an Abbasid caliph who is famous for waging a war to release a single female captive from her prison after she called for his help saying, “Wa Mu`tasamah!”

[2] Muhammad Shamil (1797 – 1871) was a Chechen Sufi imam who led his people in a jihad against the Russians after their invasion of Chechnya in the late 1700s. He became famous for his inspiring speeches and poems that were chanted on battlefields. He was the first to found a national territorial state in Chechnya, while until then every town and village had been independent in practice.

[3] A tax that non-Muslims paid to their Muslim rulers in return for protection.

Source: Islam Online

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Mustapha Al-Akkad: A Cinematic Puzzle

By Maged Hebtah

For those who do not remember the name, Mustapha Al-Akkad is the director of The Message and Lion of the Desert, two great films that established his name as an internationally renowned director.

Dozens of questions have been triggered about why the screening of The Message has been banned in Egyptian cinemas and on official TV channels of several countries despite the fact that it has been successfully screened almost all over the globe. The puzzle gets more complicated when considering that Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest religious institution, approved of the movie’s screenplay. The need for the movie’s director to shed light on these issues has hence been pressing.

In my interview with him, he talked about the many projects he hopes to realize in the future. One of these is the Saladin movie for which he has failed to find a financer over the past twenty years, in spite of the fact that the famous actor Sean Connery has expressed his willingness to star in it. Al-Akkad also spoke about how his reputation has been tarnished by embarrassed directors who attributed their failed cinematic projects to him.

The director still waits for a helping hand to share in the fulfillment of his dreams and realization of his projects—projects which, he believes, the Arab world is more badly in need of than the building of arms arsenals from which no single bullet will be fired in the end.

Source: Islam Online

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cerpen: Lemang Nan Sebatang

Lemang Nan Sebatang
Oleh Nisah Haji Haron

Seronoknya di kampung"ESOK-ESOK bilo Busu dah tak ado, jangan cari sampai kubur! Meraung-raung: 'Busu, macam mano nak buek ni? Anak-anak sey nak makan. Den tak tahu nak buek!' Maso tu, Busu tak pek nak nolong do."

Suara itu masih gemersik di gegendang Angah. Suara Busunya. Susuk tubuh Busunya yang gempal itu juga terbayang-bayang di penjuru ingatan. Angah tahu, dialah anak buah kesayangan Busu. Setiap kali ayahnya membawa mereka sekeluarga pulang ke kampung, Angah tentunya yang paling riang - mendapat perhatian sepenuhnya daripada Busu.

Jarak umur mereka juga tidak berapa jauh. Hanya sepuluh tahun berbeza. Lalu, banyak rahsia kehidupan desa dan juga kota yang sama-sama dikongsi bersama-sama Angah dan Busu. Sebagai ibu saudara yang paling bongsu, Angah menganggap Busu seperti seorang kakak yang tidak pernah dimilikinya.

Tidak seperti abangnya, Angah lebih serasi dengan kehidupan di kampung. Dia akan susup-sasap masuk ke hutan belukar mencari rebung bersama-sama Busu; melihat-lihat anak-anak durian yang pernah mereka tanam di dusun Uwan dan mengecal ikan. Paling tidak pun, merebankan ayam dan angsa yang berkeliaran di halaman rumah apabila senja.

“Di kampung lebih adventure!” Angah pernah memberitahu abangnya. Pun, si abang hanya memuncungkan bibir dengan wajah bercemberut. Angah pun tidak pernah peduli dengan perbezaan minat masing-masing. Dia bahagia apabila dapat pulang ke kampung setiap kali tiba musim cuti sekolah. Malah, dia sanggup pulang awal ke kampung, jika ayahnya berkelapangan untuk menghantarnya terlebih dahulu. Kala meningkat usia, Angah sudah belajar pulang ke kampung menaiki bas, jika ayahnya tidak berkesempatan.

Akhirnya, menjadi satu rutin kepada Angah : penghujung Ramadan pastinya dihabiskan di kampung bersama-sama Uwan dan Busu. Biarlah ayah, ibu dan adik beradiknya yang lain tiba lewat. Angah pun berlagak seperti tuan rumah yang menyambut ketibaan keluarganya sendiri.
Nisah Haron

Namun, itu secebis kisah bahagia dalam hidupnya sepuluh tahun yang lalu. Sudah lama nostalgia itu dipadamkan. Angah tidak ambil pusing lagi apa yang terjadi kepada anak-anak durian yang pernah ditanamnya dahulu bersama-sama Busu. Angah tidak peduli lagi kepada rebung-rebung yang sudah menjadi buluh. Biarlah ayam dan angsa Uwan tidak lagi tidur bereban. Angah sudah tidak mahu ambil tahu lagi.

Angah sudah cukup kecewa. Paling mencabar hati lelakinya, Busulah punca semua itu!

Menikam kalbu

“AYAH, marilah kita buat lemang. Ibu kata, ayah pandai buat. Adik nak tahu macam mana orang buat lemang.”

Permintaan itu datang daripada sepasang mata yang penuh mengharap. Angah merenung kembali dengan pandangan yang tenang. Permintaan itu bukanlah keterlaluan, tetapi bagaimana dia harus memberitahu anak dara suntinya itu bahawa hatinya sudah terkatup rapat. Segala apa yang pernah Busunya ajarkan dahulu, seolah-olah tidak mahu dibukanya kembali.

“Adik, nanti sehari sebelum pulang ke kampung ibu, kita belilah lemang banyak-banyak. Kita beli di Pasar Ramadan dekat Ampangan ataupun dekat Jalan Jelebu,” dia cuba berdalih.

“Beli dengan buat, tak samalah, ayah. Adik tengok gambar-gambar dalam internet, orang bakar lemang tu tak pula perlu kawasan luas-luas. Belakang rumah kita pun cukup, ayah. Ada blog yang Adik baca, buluh boleh kita beli di Pasar Tani. Nak yang siap dengan daun pisang sekali pun ada orang jual. Kalau malas nak perah santan, beli yang dah siap diperah pun boleh. Nanti kita singgahlah Pasar Tani Ampangan semasa hari mantai. Tentu ada!”

Ah! Anaknya yang seorang ini benar-benar mencabarnya kembali.

“Adik ni bercakap macam pernah buat lemang. Kalau macam tu, tak perlu ayah nak ajar. Adik memang dah tahu dari internet. Tengok sajalah di situ. Mungkin ada orang upload video cara-cara buat lemang sekali.”

“Kalau ada pun, takkan sama dengan pengalaman membuat sendiri, ayah,” anak gadis itu masih lagi belum kenal erti putus asa. “Manalah tahu, kalau saya ada anak nanti, anak saya pula yang hendak makan lemang dan minta saya buatkan. Macam mana saya nak tunjukkan? Kalau ayah sudah tak ada, takkan saya hendak menangis meraung-raung di kubur: ‘Ayah! Macam mana nak buat ni? Anak-anak saya nak makan. Saya tak tahu nak buat!’ Masa tu, Ayah tak dapat nak tolong saya!”

Berderau darahnya!

Persis sekali dengan kalimat yang pernah diucapkan Busu suatu masa dahulu. Cuma tanpa loghat daerah yang pekat di lidah Busunya. Namun, ertinya tidak lari.

Ah, apakah anaknya sendiri merupakan jelmaan Busu? Ketika isterinya sedang sarat mengandung anak bongsunya ini, kala itulah kekecewaan Angah terhadap Busunya memuncak. Selama sepuluh tahun usia perkahwinan, selama itu jugalah Angah tidak menjejakkan kaki ke kampung lagi. Hatinya benar-benar tertutup dengan apa yang Busu lakukan terhadapnya.

“Ayah, kita buat lemang ya!” anaknya masih lagi memujuk. Dia merenung anak mata puterinya dalam-dalam. Tanpa disedari, pandangan itu dibalas dengan renungan seakan-akan milik sepasang mata milik Busunya.

“Alah, rebus ketupat macam biasalah.”

Anak itu berlalu dengan langkah yang longlai. Dia menoleh ke arah bapanya sebelum menghilangkan diri ke ruang dapur. Tiada senyuman pada bibirnya.

Angah terpukul dengan rajuk anaknya. Ada sesuatu yang sama dengan rajuk Busunya. Dalam diam dia tertanya-tanya pada diri sendiri. Siapa sebenarnya yang merajuk antara dia dengan Busunya?

Yang tidak pulang-pulang ke kampung sejak sepuluh tahun dulu ialah dirinya. Yang cuba memujuk ialah Busunya. Namun, yang keras hati juga bukan orang lain - dirinya jua!

“Tanah nikan tanah adat, Angah. Memanglah turun pado anak perempuan. Kok tak ado anak sendiri, macam Busu ni ha, turun pado anak buah. Kau tu tak ado adik beradik perempuan. Jadi, tanah ni mesti turun pado Kak Long Halimah, sepupu kau yo!”

Angah mendengus. Sampai hati Busu, fikirnya. Dia yang penat-penat mengerjakan tanah itu. Dia yang susup-sasap mengekor Busu keluar masuk belukar di tanah itu. Sudahnya apabila pejam mata Busu kelak, tanah itu bakal diwarisi sepupu yang tidak pernah sekali pun menitik peluhnya di situ.

Hati mana yang boleh menerima kenyataan itu. Hatinya hancur apabila Busu mengumumkan yang tanah adat tidak boleh diturunkan kepada waris lelaki, walaupun kehendak itu suka sama suka.

“Ini tak adil. Busu tak adil! Adat ni lagi tak adil. Adat yang menguntungkan orang perempuan sahaja!”

Kala itu Busu cuba membalas, tetapi Angah enggan mendengarnya.

“Angah, memanglah tanah adat orang perempuan yang punya, tapi orang lelaki boleh guna. Nama busu atau Limah, sepupu kau tu dibubuh atas geran, tak jadi hal pun. Adat tak melarang kauambil faedahnya. Usahlah sempitkan akal tu!” Ketika pak long pula menerangkan, semuanya seperti angin lalu.

Nostalgia silam

MALAM itu Angah tidak dapat memicingkan mata. Kata-kata daripada anaknya, Busu dan pak long semuanya berbaur. Ada gerak rasa yang tidak mengamankan jiwa. Angah mengilas pandangan pada arloji hitam yang berlengkar di pergelangan tangannya.

Pukul 3.30 pagi!

Sudah lebih tiga jam dia resah di pembaringan setelah dia dan isteri bertadarus sebelum tidur. Sejam lagi mereka akan bersahur. Angah enggan melayan matanya, dia terus melangkah keluar.

Ada cahaya yang mencuri keluar dari kamar anaknya. Kamar yang tidak berkunci itu diketuk dan apabila tiada jawapan, Angah terus membukanya. Anaknya sudah terlena di atas katil. Mejanya berselerak. Lampu bilik dan komputer ribanya tidak dimatikan. Buku-buku sekolahnya beberapa buah terbuka. Angah hanya menggeleng.

Akibat tidak disentuh untuk sekian lama, perisian screensaver menjadi aktif. Gambar-gambar keluarga menjadi pilihan gadis kecil itu untuk menghiasi layar komputer ribanya secara bertukar ganti. Lama Angah merenung gambar-gambar itu, termasuklah beberapa keping gambar lama yang telah diimbas.

Sekeping gambar Angah dan Busu muncul. Gambar itu diambil pada hari pernikahannya. Busu merangkul Angah dari sisi. Bahu Angah seolah-olah tenggelam dalam pangkal lengan Busu yang gempal. Akrab sekali!

Sebak mengepung perasaan. Menitis air mata Angah pada ketika itu juga. Apalah ertinya sekeping tanah berbanding nostalgianya bersama-sama Busu. Dia cuba menyentuh gambar Busu pada skrin, tetapi gerakan tubuhnya menggoyangkan meja, lalu tetikus yang amat sensitif itu pun tergerak sama.

Angah terkejut apabila gambar dia dan Busu tiba-tiba hilang. Dia bagai baru dikejutkan. Komputer itu kembali menayangkan program yang masih lagi dihidupkan sebelum screensaver aktif.

Anaknya sedang mengarang e-mel kepada seseorang. Namun, e-mel itu masih lagi belum dikirimkan.

Elizabeth yang jauh di Gloucestershire,

Kau pernah bertanya tentang sejenis makanan yang dimasak di dalam buluh. Kami namakan lemang. Melemang ada falsafahnya kepada orang Melayu. Pulutnya adalah kejeleketan antara ahli keluarga. Pedas rendang boleh menguji ketahanan si pemakan, tetapi tanpa rasa pedas seolah-olah hilang nikmat hidup!

Lemak santan dapat melunakkan suasana tegang antara pulut. Ibarat orang yang lebih tua mencurah alir nasihat yang santun kepada anak muda yang berdarah panas. Bahkan kayu api yang membakar juga ada cerita di sebaliknya. Kalau mahu api marak menyala, kayunya mesti disilang-silangkan. Ibarat ahli keluarga bertingkah pendapat lalu dapat memarakkan lagi kemesraan antara keluarga.

Aku mahu bercerita tentang daun pisang yang berkorban supaya isi lemang tidak bercampur dengan dinding buluh yang bersembilu. Aku mahu juga bercerita tentang falsafah buluh yang hidup muafakat serumpun. Itulah kami yang mencintai adat dan budaya.

Sayangnya, aku hanya dapat bercerita tanpa mengalaminya sendiri.

E-mel itu terhenti di situ. Angah terkedu.

Ada yang belum langsai dalam penceritaan anaknya itu. Anaknya dapat mengutip falsafah yang dia sendiri tidak terpandang. Dia membaca kembali baris-baris awal e-mel itu.

“Pulutnya adalah kejeleketan antara ahli keluarga.”

Hatinya terusik. Ya, dia tidak dapat menipu diri sendiri. Cintanya kepada kampung halaman masih menyala di jiwa. Kasih sayangnya kepada Busu mana mungkin terpadam kerana di dalam adat, seorang ibu saudara itu tarafnya seperti ibu sendiri.

Rindunya membuak kembali kepada Busu seperti santan yang menggelegak di dalam buluh. Busu seperti buluh-buluh lemang itu. Layu apabila dibakar, tetapi tetap mempertahankan isinya. Busu penjaga adat seperti juga Limah dan waris-waris wanita yang lain di dalam sukunya.

Selepas sahur nanti Angah mahu membawa keluarganya pulang. Setelah usianya menghampiri setengah abad, dia faham erti melemang kini. Lemang bukan sekadar untuk dimakan. Di dalam lemang ada ukhwah. Dia jadi rindu untuk melemang walaupun sebatang cuma!

Info: Penulis

NISAH Haron, pengarang kelahiran Seremban ini, memilih menjadi pengarang sepenuh masa selepas menceburkan diri dalam bidang guaman bermula 1998 hingga 2006 adalah lulusan Sarjana Muda dan Sarjana Undang-undang di Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

Beliau mencipta nama dalam dunia penulisan kreatif dengan menyelongkar genre fantasi sehingga cerpennya seperti Atlantis, Duniaku Duniamu, Annyss Sophilea dan Anugerah Amariss memenangi Hadiah Sastera Siswa Bank Rakyat bermula 1991 hingga 1993.

Sejak itu, beliau merangkul sejumlah hadiah sastera termasuk Hadiah Utusan-Public Bank 1996, Sayembara Cerpen Esso-Gapena Ke-10, Hadiah Sastera Perdana Malaysia (HSPM) 1996/1997

dan terbaru cerpennya, Aset Istiqamah, meraih tempat pertama Hadiah Sastera Berunsur Islam Ke-12 (2009).

Pengarang yang menyertai Minggu Penulis Remaja (MPR) pada 1993, turut mewakili negara ini sebagai peserta Bengkel Majlis Sastera Asia Tenggara (Mastera): Esei di Palembang, Indonesia pada 2004.


Sumber: Berita Harian Online, 26 September 2009 (Sabtu)

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