HOW many of us would compile our life’s journey into a book that we can reminisce about in later years? How many would take the trouble to pen down word for word until a full manuscript is ready for publication?
Some people do, but most don’t. Those who do are historians in their own way, never mind if the narration is personal. Such a book would give readers an insight into the person’s life, most of which would not have been known except to family members and close buddies.
I was given one such book more than a year ago, but never did get to enjoy it until recently. The book details some of the more interesting aspects of the life of Johan Jaaffar, now Tan Sri, a retiree and a man of leisure.
Almost every Sunday, without fail, Johan would have breakfast at a mamak stall in Masjid India with ex-colleagues mostly from Utusan Malaysia. Sometimes, personalities from the performing arts would join for nasi lemak, capati, roti canai, teh tarik, kopi O and half-boiled eggs.
Such camaraderie is not uncommon, of course, but to keep the weekly breakfast sessions going call for discipline, effort and a strong bond. It is not the food so much, but the exchange of stories, gossip and jokes that kepT them together for years.
I won’t be surprised if Johan comes out with another book on the Sunday sessions. Johan has a habit of keeping records, a fact that we should all emulate. He told me once that he keeps all his office diairies.
Secretaries maintain a daily diary where appointments and meetings are recorded. At the end of every year, Johan would take the diary home and keep them for record. I’ve not met anyone else who does this.
Once on an overseas assignment, I shared a room with Johan. He was then the editor-in-chief of Utusan Malaysia. Shortage of rooms compelled us to share a room. He carried a big book with him. As it turned out, it was a book which he used to record his thoughts every day, much like a diary — makes book writing a bit easier right?
Many of us keep a personal diary but most give up after a while.
The book Johan gave me is titled Jejak Seni. Covering almost 350 pages, the book chronicles his personal involvement in the performing arts and his formative years as a child, university student and a theatre activist.
In his opening chapter, Johan wrote: “Inilah perjalanan seni saya…daripada menjadi penarik tirai kumpulan Bangsawan Bintang Timur Opera sewaktu kanak-kanak hinggalah menjadi pengerusi syarikat media yang terbesar di negara ini.” (This is the journey of my life in the arts…from that of a curtain raiser in the group Bangsawan Bintang Timur Opera as a child to that of the chairman of the country’s biggest media organisation.)
Lest you think that Johan was bragging about his achievements, let me say that this is not his intention. He went through a tough childhood in Johor. In his words: “Sungai Balang was the centre of my universe.” Sungai Balang is a small village in Muar.
His father was a rubber tapper in the morning and a barber in the evening. Johan did a part-time job when a theatre group came to perform in his village.
He was captivated by drama and theatre. The biggest influence on Johan’s theatre career was perhaps Rahman B., real name A. Rahman Bakar. Together with his siblings — Rahim B. and Rohani B. — the three of them were legendary Bangsawan performers.
The three of them performed in Kampung Sungai Balang Besar for many months in the late 1964. Johan wrote in an article: “The site was next to my house. I was in Primary Five at that time and was the only boy in the vicinity to run errands for the actors and stage hands.”
His love for the theatre grew and became deeper from that period onwards. In the book, he recalled the day when he made his English teacher proudly shed a tear with his stage performance of Shakespeare’s soliloquy from Hamlet.
As a journalist, my discovery via the book that Johan had childhood connectivity with Balai Berita was a revelation. As a University of Malaya student (the first child in his village to have entered university), Johan did some part-time work at the newly completed headquarters of the New Straits Times Press.
He was already doing part-time work at a motorcycle shop in Jalan Bangsar when he was asked if he would like to earn extra money by working at NSTP. He did, unknowing that he would one day sit at the top of that office as chairman of the board.
It’s like a fairy tale. Reading through the book, one could see clearly the resourcefulness with which Johan lives his life. The one-line blurb at the top front cover of the book says: “Dari pentas bangsawan ke Media Prima Bhd.” (From the opera stage to Media Prima Bhd.) Couldn’t be more apt, I think.
Ahmad A Talib is the chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia. He can be reached via email@example.com