Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Book Launch And Two Hours In A Small Town

The first time I'm in Kuala Kubu Bharu and it's for a book launch.

The late Sudirman once sang, "When in Kuala Kubu (Bharu), write
your name on the stone". Don't think there's space.

These days I don't share too much about long trips before the day I set out, lest I jinx them. Especially to places I haven't been to before. Even so, I missed several turn-offs while leaving KL and couldn't find the venue upon reaching the town, until a random turn put me on Jalan Syed Mashor, where the Galeri Sejarah KKB was.

The scene at the back of the building looked festive, with banners, crowds, and a stage (really just a mic with a stand). A canopy sheltered the spot where books were sold. There was even a mobile book truck, peddling familiar titles from Fixi and Maple Comics, among others.

I thought I was late, until a voice called people to gather around for the speeches.

Lyrical writer, master orator, passionate eco-warrior and, we
are told, a one-man model of energy efficiency.

Among the VIPs were Dato' Seri Ir. Dr Zaini Ujang, Secretary General of the Malaysian Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water; Datin Paduka Dr Dahlia Rosly, former Director General of the Federal Department of Town and Country Planning; YB Lee Kee Hiong, State Assemblyperson for Kuala Kubu Bharu; and Termizi Yaacob and Ridzuan Idris of Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu (the Kuala Kubu Historical Society).

Jahabar Sadiq, former CEO and editor of the now-defunct online news portal The Malaysian Insider was also there, along with Aizuddin Danian, who I knew from my early blogging days. Aizuddin is also the photographer who took Rehman's author portraits.

During her speech, Datin Paduka Dr Dahlia let slip the fact that the next day, 24 October, was Rehman's birthday, so he was invited to the front so that the assembled can sing "Happy Birthday" to him.

Now you know where and when to send presents.

Although born in Taiping, the writer and former journalist seems to have been adopted by Kuala Kubu Bharu and has become a favourite son. On this Sunday, he reciprocated with Small Town, an homage to the place where he wrote his other two books, A Malaysian Journey and Peninsula.

Celebrating the launch of the book and the author's upcoming birthday.

Some of the contents of Small Town came from those two books, and also includes some artwork from artists from the town. Most of the artists were present when Rehman handed out copies of the book and what he said was their pay, in large brown envelopes.

Rehman also dedicated Small Town to the history, natural beauty and people of Kuala Kubu Bharu. In his sonorous baritone, he also shared some titbits about the town, the first planned township in Malaya. "I thought the first planned township was Taiping, but no." He spoke mostly in Malay, with a bit of English, though I think the crowd was at least bilingual.

Commonly abbreviated as KKB, it is the principal town of the district of Hulu Selangor. During the Selangor Civil War in the 1800s, Raja Mahdi forted up there. Local lore claims that the original town was destroyed in a flood after the British district officer, Sir Cecil Ranking, allegedly shot a white crocodile locals claimed was a river guardian.

The front of Galeri Sejarah KKB, where the book was launched

These days, folks at KKB are putting their town forward as a historical and pristine eco-friendly destination, and it seems Rehman is in the vanguard of this movement. Since ditching his Astro feed, the old guy's taken up cycling, rolling all over the area alone or with his buddies. G*d help you if he spots you littering or leaving your car's engine running as it idles.

Eventually, came the round of thank-yous to the VIPs, guests, those who collaborated with him on the book ... everyone. He also pitched other books being sold during the event, also related to Kuala Kubu Bharu. One of these, Golden Raub, which Rehman wished he had read when writing his paean to the town, is about the opening of Raub's gold mines.

The book was written by Victor Bibby, a descendant of British-born Australian engineer William Bibby, who opened those mines (some information can be found here). I think Bibby was at the launch, though I wasn't sure if it was him.

I did not come all this way to return empty-handed

Rehman seemed happy that others besides himself are digging up these nuggets of history and writing about them, before they are gone forever. He also thanked the weather for being nice, albeit hot. Even if it had rained, he said that "the water's pristine, you can shower with it."

Mindful of my less-than-robust gut, I only had two pastries. I was more thirsty than hungry, and the sun was relentless. Though I did spend some time in the shade, I was soon worn out.

Of course I had to pick up Small Town, right? Priced at RM39.90, copies were going at a discounted rate during the launch. Proceeds from the book sales would go to Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu (PESKUBU) or the Kuala Kubu Historical Society. If that fact hadn't slipped my mind as exhaustion and the heat took over, I'd have bought two.

One more look at Galeri Sejarah KKB, along Jalan Syed Mashor,
before heading home

I almost didn't make it that day.

I had gone to bed depressed, woke up dejected and wanted to stay at home first. However, I did tell several others I'd be going, even if it was merely a distraction from my blues.

Though I had left an hour late than I'd planned, I made it on time for the speeches.

In his speech at the event, Termizi Yaacob compared history to a tree, with its branches and leaves, growing, branches spreading outwards from a single point. Later, as Rehman spoke, a leaf fell onto my arm and stayed there.

I was then reminded of an artist's "life goal" to catch a falling leaf "fresh" from a tree, and thought how similar it was to chasing dreams. With how leaves tend to fall, however, you could run yourself ragged in pursuit of that one leaf. That's okay if you're young and buzzing with energy.

A souvenir (the leaf, not the book) from my solo out-of-town venture

When you get older, you'd learn how to do it better: stay near a tree that's shedding leaves and keep an eye on the nearest ones. Don't run after them as they fall. Or, if you're feeling lucky, just stand beneath said tree and wait for a few leaves to fall on you. Some leaves, like certain things, aren't worth the chase.

Travelling sixty-plus kilometres to catch a leaf sounds extreme but at times, you have to go that far, maybe farther, when you've been under the same tree for a long time. A taste of unfamiliar air is good, too.

(I needed the distance because I haven't been writing much, either. The muse didn't just warrant a kick in the ass but a couple of hours in Christian Grey's "Red Room of Pain".)

I'll be keeping the leaf for a while to remind me of my day in this "small town" and, when one's mind, heart and feet itch for the new, to just go for it, even if the chances of catching it are slim.

"So you went to KKB," a friend WhatsApped me later that night. "I thought you went off on a random drive to nowhere."

To me, one who seldom ventures outside his tiny comfortable urban bubble, Kuala Kubu Bharu was "nowhere".

Now, it's "somewhere".


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