Sunday, October 15, 2006

Story of his life


We knew him as Pak Kassim. Most of the village called him Pak Majid. His real name was Idris Yusof.

When we interviewed this 86-year old for Apa Khabar Orang Kampung, I found his story one of the most compelling accounts in the whole village.

As a young man he had been part of the British reserve army; then he joined the dreaded Kempetai (the Japanese military police) and was jailed for this after WWII; and then he joined the communists. He was part of the 10th Regiment's 'Long March' into South Thailand in the mid-1950s. He would not see his native Malaya/Malaysia again for 5 decades.

He told us that no one had asked him to tell his life-story before.

And so he talked.

For 3 hours.

And nothing was boring.

His pithy, poignant account, laced with occasional sarcasm and a touch of braggadocio, and punctuated by his raspy smoker's laugh, actually form the backbone of Apa Khabar Orang Kampung... although we do of course hear from other folks as well. I decided this structure early on, even before we started editing. He also spoke on guerrilla food, propaganda, Malaysia's development, Islam, the sultans, his own family...

Three weeks after the interview, on 18 September, he passed away peacefully. I only found out about it this month. So all the while, we were actually editing the story of a man who is no longer with us. Unlike Rashid Maidin, he was not a top leader, so the news didn't get any coverage.

Even in the regiment he was a somewhat controversial presence due to his previous links to not only the British but the Japanese.This position as minority-within-minority probably contributed to his more individual take on things; he didn't just recite slogans; his unorthodox, contradictory journey gave him an almost iconoclastic bearing.

We remarked that he seemed quite healthy even though he had complained of various ailments. He certainly did not falter or complain of fatigue when talking to us. Now I know why. He was, quite literally, telling the story of his life.

The documentary will be dedicated to his memory.

12 Comments:

Blogger kinteru said...

hi amir,
how did the talk go?

1:57 am  
Blogger Amir said...

it went well. standing room only! (but then again it's a small store lah).

details will be posted soon-ish on the silverfish website: www.silverfishbooks.com/ .

6:03 am  
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12:58 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

apologies to Allen Ginsberg

12:59 pm  
Blogger JoE said...

i love 'the last communist', and i've asked a friend from malaysia to get me '6hort dvd'. can't wait to see the sequel. hope it gets screened in singapore!

10:24 pm  
Blogger Amir said...

Thanks! There's a better chance of an uncut Singapore screening than a Malaysian one :-/

10:51 pm  
Anonymous siew eng said...

i guess having told you his story and trusting that it will be heard by many others through your doc, he could rest in peace at last. this is so sad.

martin, i liked your piece. make it an a cappella rap?

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