THE last time I saw Pak Ikhsan Sulaiman was in March last year. We met up at the Clerkenwell County Court in east London to hear the case of the Malay Clubhouse. Then, we proceeded to his house, a few minutes drive away, where some remaining members of the Malay Club gathered to discuss the future of the organisation, which no longer have a base after their meeting place in Cricketfield Road, was handed back to the owners after a long legal wrangle.
Pak Ikhsan, the last president of the Kelab Melayu London, discussed in earnest his concerns about the future of the members and because of his ill health and old age, he was keen to hand over the baton to the younger generation.
Late last year, he went back to Malaysia to settle some family business, never to return. News of his passing in his hometown of Alor Star on Feb 6, was received a few days ago.
Pak Ikhsan, or Pak San, 81, as he was known, was one of the pioneers and movers of the Kelab Melayu London since the late sixties.
Over the years, since my interest in the Malay Club was sown, meetings with Pak San and his friends at either the clubhouse or Pak Mat Abu’s house, were always filled with interesting stories of their travels, adventures and misadventures. Their journeys to this side of the world were never as conventional as a 13-hour direct flight; theirs were more for adventures along the way that shaped and coloured their experience and outlook on life.
There were backpackers and hitchhikers and sailors.
“I studied at the Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur, but I was influenced by people I met who worked on Merchant Navy ships, who sailed around the world. I was very interested but didn’t know how to go about it,” recalled Pak San during one of the many interviews that I did with him.
He took the other option to see the world by taking trains as well as sailed on ships to get to London, where he made his home.
That was in 1962. Pak San, who came from a rather well-to-do family, had had his training in mechanical engineering and had some work experience at Tronoh Mines in Batu Gajah before he ventured out. It was with those skills that he found job as a telecommunication technician. Job was relatively easy to find in those days, but when everything went digital, he was made a computer technician with a bank.
According to his nephew, Darwis Mohamed Jamil, who later came to London to study and was with him in the early seventies, his uncle worked some years in the Middle East; with the King Saud Hospital in Riyadh and as Sales Engineer with Arbuthnot Latham in Bahrain. That was for about four years from 1978 to 1982.
“He returned to Kuala Lumpur in the early 80s to join his brother in construction business. But, that did not work well and he returned to London and became an IT consultant with one of the local council until retirement,” added Darwis.
“The intention to come to London had always been to study,” said Pak San, but he readily admitted that it was easier said than done. Working in the day time and going to study in the evening wasn’t very exciting, he said, especially when some of his friends worked in night clubs in central London. There was just no basis for comparison where excitement and fun was concerned for the young and hot blooded.
“ Many of my friends met their partners or wives working at the club, but I met Maurine at Regent’s Mosque, where there was also the cultural centre. I went there to know more about Arabic and so did Maurine, with the intention to work in the Middle East. It was there that we became friends and later got married,” said Pak San remembering his wife Maureen, who died in 2013.
It was in the late sixties that the Association of the Malay community in London began to take shape. Also, around at that time, apart from sailors, backpackers and hitchhikers were students. One member was the late intellectual Kassim Ahmad, who drafted the constitution for the association which he called the Persatuan Masyarakat Pekerja Melayu UK (PMPMUK).
“I thought that reeked of something socialist and suggested that we changed it to The Association of the Malay Community. I was first secretary. That was in 1969. And when we acquired the building at 100 Cricketfield Road thanks to Isa Ali who was then a builder and decorator, we made it our centre.”
To register as a community centre, it had to fulfill certain requirements set by the local council. Thus they had language classes for the members, helped members with special needs, especially those in their old age and the most important was to have religious classes.
The club had evolved from its very true sense of the word of being a clubhouse to one that became a meeting place to get to know each other, and religion and culture. Many speakers and friends of the club came. But after 46 years, it had to be returned to the owners.
Pak San was visibly relieved. From the initial rent of £10 a week to the current market rate of £850 a week, it became a burden. It was cheaper to hand it back. Pak San was earnest in handing the running of the association, sans a base, to the younger members.
“In school, he was the life wire. Never serious in anything, neither a worry in the world, a clown and a joker,” said Abdul Hamid Hassan as a tribute to his old time friend.
Pak San has left along with other members of the Malay Club such as Pak Man Tokyo, Pak Mid Carpenter, Ustaz Jaiz taking with him so much more stories that I would like to hear and document.
Last night, my room was filled with their laughters and banters once again, as I listened back to their conversations; some serious, most were funny bordering on naughty. Thank you for the wonderful stories, Pak San!