My silat adventures (Part 2)
OCT 12 — My silat classes began in, of all places, an office room. A spacious one but still an office room. I would only attend training at the gelanggang once the Tok Guru was ready to accept me.
My friend told me that I had to do the opening and closing sequences the first thing in the morning, and the last at night. And, from now on, I’d have to shake her hands in such a way that only the group would know, and I’d have to kiss her hand. She was now my pemimpin.
“Even before Subuh prayers?” I asked.
“Yes. And you’re to recite Al Fatihah and Surah Al Ikhlas three times before you begin the pembuka and penutup.”
I was to ape her movements as she performed the opening and closing rituals, and when I performed silat, I was not to wear my spectacles. I was to rely on my senses.
This was interesting, I mused, as my eyesight was rather bad, and anything a foot away from me was a blur. My attempts at aping silat in the beginning were rather clumsy – I kept banging into everything.
“Can I wear my glasses and look at you while you’re doing all this?”
“No, you can’t.”
Apart from practising the sequences at home, I also had to bathe, after every silat class, using seven limes. Initially, I found it refreshing. After a week of bathing everyday with limes, I complained.
“Ah. My hair and scalp are getting really dry from the limes. Do I have to do this every day?”
I decided to stop complaining. Maybe, all these were tests to see if I could make it. I had seen this all before in Pendekar Bujang Lapok. “Dugaan”, P. Ramlee and his band of silat warriors said whenever they faced a challenge. My Achilles’ heel was vanity.
I was also to greet my pemimpin and superiors with a kiss on the hand. I was never comfortable with the ritual — I only kissed my parents’ and my older relatives’ hands when I greeted them with a salam. But could this also be an exercise in ego?
I learned, too, that limes had gender.
“Ni, nampak tak punat ni?”
“Hah, tu [kemaluan] dia. Limau ni ada jantan, betina. If ada punat, it’s male. If takde punat, it’s female.”
I looked at the limes with greater interest. That particular one did have a big punat.
“What’s this kawalan you always talk about?” I asked.
Ah, she said. They were the guardians of the universe. They took care of everything, and each silat practitioner had one. A female guardian would be assigned to a female silat practitioner, and a male to a male silat master.
Hers was an old woman who was her best friend. And when they appeared, they came in many forms, to warn them of doom, black magic, or some misfortune. They also helped the person with great wealth.
My friend had more than her share of financial troubles, but found her life changing for the better when silat and her guardian became her flesh and blood.
I was stumped. I didn’t like the idea of anything spirit-like controlling my life, and that I’d have to refer to it for anything I did. I preferred the way I had been doing things my whole life: Talking to God directly. I make bargains with God a lot. I didn’t like spooks, in real life or in films.
I thought to myself, if I was ever assigned a kawalan, it was to stay far away from me.
“The kawalan is the best friend ever. You won’t want any other,” my friend said.
I frowned. I like my best friends to be human, or a feline. This (silat) was going to be a lot of work for me.
How do I write all this down? So many things have happened. The trip to Memali that had two odd incidents. My visits to the gelanggang. The “obstacle” course I was put through, to be… reborn. I don’t even know where to begin.
Perhaps I could, by telling you about the people I met at the gelanggang. I would like to think I am an open person, that I am willing enough to meet people halfway. One does not work in the media for over 18 years, and behave like a hermit or a snob.
Still, working in this industry does develop one’s sense of self. I do not think media professionals are suspicious of everyone, but we do have a highly developed sense of character. Of course, we are not correct all the time.
Another thing about being in the media is that one tends to dissect the person and place them into demographics. Each person is a statistic. This does not make for great dates, but that is what we do: We profile people.
What struck me when I first met my soon-to-be silat colleagues was this thought: I didn’t think I’d be friends with these people outside of the gelanggang. Most of them were pleasant enough, but there was just something about them I could not place. Perhaps one was the lack of eye contact.
The second was that even though it was multi-racial, a good number of them were Indian, young and from working to working-middle class backgrounds. Basic local college education, worked in technical or administrative professions.
There was nothing wrong with that: One’s class shouldn’t have anything to do with anything and everything at all in an ideal world. However, they were a far cry from the Bangsar Indian professional.
Actually, they were also not like Guna the taxi driver I befriended and was now part of my research and travels. So was this me being overly analytical? Was I guilty of profiling cynically?
I could tell you some of the funny bits, which I had written in a very private Facebook note that was only read by my incredulous close friends.
There was that first time I had to throw the limes in running water. I had spent the weekend at my parents’. Where on earth would I find a river, even though they lived in a semi urban setting? But there was a huge drain outside of the house.
Now if I had just thrown the limes, they would not float in the water. They had to be “carried away” by running water. So I jumped down to do what I had to do, and found out that I could not get out.
I hopped and jumped and scrabbled in the drain. I panicked — what if the neighbours saw me stuck in the drain? Whenever I get myself in a pickle, I have all sorts of epiphanies, which came to me one after the other, as I tried to get out.
I tucked in my sarong around my waist, clambered out of the drain somehow, and to my great embarrassment, saw my grandmother, who was holding her tasbih in the garden, staring at me.
Because I was always tired from practising silat — and I didn’t know how to tell my friends what I got up to, and that I was not to tell anyone anyway — I began standing my friends up.
A make-up artist friend gave me an earful, when I stood him up. I once amazed the apartment security guard when I came back at three in the morning, drenched in sweat and rice flour.
Perhaps, I can tell you of the following next: what happened in Memali when I visited there for research; the exorcism of saka; attending silat sessions at the gelanggang, and the search for three types of waters, and mud.
And then, maybe much later, I can tell you of broken friendships and the friends who had participated in the healing, and were progressively ill after “treatment”.
And how old friends, like The Cowboy who appeared in my first book, and Cikgu — proper silat exponents who came to my rescue, in utter disbelief.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.