Wednesday, 27 May 2009

She’s gotta have it


CATATAN HATI NIK NUR MADIHAH by Nik Nur Madihah with Ummu Hani Abu Hassan (Hijjaz Records Publishing, 2009, 126 pages)

Nik Nur Madihah binti Nik Mohd Kamal of Kelantan achieved national fame when she became the first student to score 20 As in her SPM. So naturally I wanted to find out what a huge nerd she is. (Yes, I’m terribly jealous, not that you can tell.) 

We can already guess how hard she studied, but what immedately strikes us is how poor her family was. The only time her mother laid hands on her was when she’d spent RM1 on snacks, an unseemly luxury. Her father, a fisherman, brought home less than RM500 a month, and would get even less if the weather wasn’t kind. 

Madihah decided early on to fast every Monday and Thursday; it helped her to save a few sen and also emulated what the holy prophet did. It was a good decision: academic brilliance is, as she soon finds out, right next to godliness. 

In this short memoir (she’s only 18, what did you expect?), she speaks of her life and dreams.  Although their dress sense could not be more dissimilar, she reminded me a bit of Xandria Ooi, whose book we discussed earlier. They are both goal-oriented young women who spend lots of time honouring their parents. 

The more demure of the two, however, displays no discernible sense of humour. Can a teenager really be so serious? There are no references at all to playing, having a laugh with friends, or to cute Kelantan boys. (It’s probably not a coincidence that the only subject in which she scored an A2, rather than A1, was Biology). 

She was of course a model student, although not a ‘model’ in the Xandria Ooi sense. Times have obviously changed: back in my day, someone who always sat in the front row and asked questions every five minutes (as one of her teachers says) would be just asking to get beaten up at recess. But no, everyone seems to love her, because they see her as a chance for their school to once again get in the news, like when her senior got 18As. 

Similarly, a student with the creepy habit of going to the staff room every day just to ask if her teachers are doing all right (which is what she did) might get called all sorts of names, none of them particularly godly. But hey, they probably do these things differently in all-girl religious schools. (Five out of her 20 subjects are related to Islam or the Arab language.)

She’s driven and disciplined, sure, but was there a price to pay? She’d never left Kelantan until after SPM, because her father didn’t want her exposed to ‘pengaruh tidak sihat’ (unhealthy influences).  He also had this habit of surreptitiously following her after school to make sure she wasn’t heading to tempat tak elok (improper places): charming! And one of the tips she gives to become successful in life is ‘selalu bersenyum sesama Muslim’  (always smile to fellow Muslims).  So if she meets you and scowls, it’s nothing personal: it’s probably your religion.

She seems to exist in an entirely Islamist enclave and doesn’t seem to have met a single non-Muslim. (Even this book was sponsored by a nasyid group: nasyid seems to be the only music she digs). By analogy, I can imagine children in vernacular schools going through a similar parallel existence. Without having to resort to the 1Malaysia slogan, is this really what we want the next generation to become? 

If Madihah didn’t exst, we would have invented her. She’s the logical product of not only our record-breaking desires and emphasis on paper qualifications but something even darker: our increasing communitarianism, in which each self-righteous group keeps requiring new heroes. Until we break out of these bad habits, we will remain dumb no matter what the Exam Board tells us.

(Malay Mail, 27 May)

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

"And one of the tips she gives to become successful in life is ‘selalu bersenyum sesama Muslim’ (always smile to fellow Muslims). So if she meets you and scowls, it’s nothing personal: it’s probably your religion."

....nobody talk about scowls here. it just stae that she smile to fellow muslims. Nobody mention about scowls others here. ...

Vaijanthi said...

20 A's! My God...it's almost as if these government exams are becoming meaningless these days. Every other kid is scoring a string of perfect A's.

Best part is there aren't enough spots in universities for them all, so I wonder what the point is sometimes.

pakmet said...

Aslmlkm amir,

you made quite a point here. Imean before madihah, there was nur amalina, who got 17As (or was it 18? who's keeping count anyway) and she just disappeared. It's a good thing that they're trying to limit the number of subjects now, as these kids have more in them than just studying 24/7. anyway, i've been an avid reader of your blog for a long time now. Just want to say thank you for the inspiration.:-)

p/s: May I put a link to your blog in mine? thank you amir.

Amir Muhammad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amir Muhammad said...

Pakmet: Sure thing!

Vaijanthi: It kinda reminds me of how little girls were bending over backwards (literally) to become gymnasts in the Eastern Bloc; they were trained from birth! Many of them dreamed of escaping to America, though; I wonder what our own girls dream about ...

I normally don't respond to Anonymous comments, but something tells me that the one above was sincerely meant; and the point is taken. It's unfortunate that my paragraph may have sounded a bit too personal. But 'inspirational' books have a way of irritating me! So my belated apologies to Madihah too if she took offence to those words. (I know she can read this, because she got A1 for English). I wish her well, really!

So, even though I do not know the religion of the commentator, I would like to offer a smile. Senyum itu sedekah :-)

Rita said...

Hahaha Amir! I love this wicked review! Tergolek-golek pecah perut!

"There are no references at all to playing, having a laugh with friends, or to cute Kelantan boys. (It’s probably not a coincidence that the only subject in which she scored an A2, rather than A1, was Biology). "

"He also had this habit of surreptitiously following her after school to make sure she wasn’t heading to tempat tak elok (improper places): charming!"

Ko memang tak serik2 kan! The piece is so good cos it's so politically wrong!

vovin said...

thank god i don't get 20A

pakbelalang said...

In the Iranian classic "Children of Heaven", the protagonist needed to win 3rd place in a running competition to get shoes for her sister.

How difficult would it be to get the 3rd highest number of A's for SPM, I wonder? She mustn't get 1st, because that means an overseas uni education. Not 2nd neither, because that's an admission to a top local uni outside of Kelantan. Well, 3rd's about right, say RM 20k, which would really mean a lot to her family.

Speaking of which, what monetary quantum would be sufficient to induce you to write, direct, and/or produce such a film, notwithstanding your self-declared moratorium?

Anonymous said...

Amir, hilarious! Did you get A's when you were in school? Nanti orang cakap u jelus.

alhariesz said...

I'd say....

1) She ACHIEVED! Hopefully she won't be having those bad dreams saying "I wish I could have done better!"...while end up being a cleaning lady....

2) She's well aware that what's done in this world will be accountable in the hereafter...so whether she had time to 'layan' those cute Kelantanese boys or not, well she certainly done right for her next upcoming ETERNAL life.... Our world is sooo TEMPORARY... I'd rather my children be like her than seeing them on YOUTUBE doing hanky-panky...

3) An obedient child. What more can u ask compared to our children nowadays who inclined more towards asking their parents for Nike, PSP, iPhone, VAIO & stuff...yet don't even treat their parents right....and worse, don't even pass SPM...

So, I'd say...U GO GIRL!

p/s: don't take this comment personally, just pure mindpour...

Syaf said...

I don't even have SPM! Hahaha....

Ok lah, I did my education in the International School.

She'll be somebody in the future with her 20A... she'll save Malaysia! She'll be a Dato' or sth....

Haih....

nmz_7890 said...

heh
what a result with 20A's.
i love reading your view about this. tersenyum-senyum .:)

n may i link ur blog to mine?erm,actually i already did it.hee
thanks.

GUiKP said...

That's very sweet of you to associate etak with snacks. You like the snacks?

Amir Muhammad said...

Never had it. She, and other Kelantanese, call it etok. In Japan it's apparently known as シジミ.

GUiKP said...

You're a bankable writer with gimlet eyes. yes, she calls the snacks etOk. For the suitably inclined, go here to find out more about the delicacy:

http://mohdzawi.blogspot.com/2008/02/food-of-kelantan-part-2.html

Crankster said...

I wish people could appreciate the average jane. She's the one who gets her share of As, Bs and Cs while oogling boys during tuition class.

She's the one who could probably think for herself and would make a great colleague to work with and chill out after.