Saturday, February 9, 2008

Drawing A Salary At NST

After I crashed and burned with my HSC exams in 1976, I decided to pursue my A levels and read law (hahahah). This was of course after my wish to become an artist was turned down by my parents. So I signed up for a course at Stamford College in PJ. I was there hardly two months when I applied for and got a job as a cadet reporter with The New Straits Times.
It was here that I met journalism greats - Pak Dahari and Pak Samad. I also worked under Philip Matthews, P.C. Shivadas, Rejal Arbee and many others including Rudy Beltran and Patrick Teoh.
My colleagues include Sheila Natarajan, Lam Seng Fatt, William D' Cruz, K. Vijayan, Tony Francis, John Fernandez, Fifi Lim, Saw Teck Meng, Wan A. Hulaimie, Kee Thuan Chye and Lee Boon Siew. I'm sure most of you would find the above names familiar, at the least.
Other acquaintances during my stint as a journalist there include Marina Mahathir, Rehman Rashid, Zainon Ahmad, K. Nadeswaran, Leeps (Lee Pan Seng), Unny Krishnan and Mohamed Nor Khaled (more popularly known as Lat and now a Dato').
As most cadet reporters are required to do, I began life covering the courts - usually under the eye of one Hanim Melan (who is also Mrs John Fernandez). Covering courts has its ups and downs - depending on the cases you covered. Unfortunately for me I was not allowed to cover the big cases.
I remember attending shorthand classes in NST Training center - taught by a lady named Putri. She taught us this unique shorthand called Teeline used by journalists world over. I still use it today when taking notes. (see sample of teeline below). The spelling system of teeline is basically similar to the ones used by sms texters all over the world.
After the stint in courts, the next stop was at the Crime Desk - under the legendary Rudy Beltran. John F was his assistant and K. Vijayan the senior crime reporter. Even Lat, during his days as a reporter had to 'suffer' under the Beltran's tutelage. Rudy was as tough as a boss can be - sometimes more like the typical newsroom character much like those you see in B Grade American movies where the Boss is always seen shouting and screaming most times at his underlings.
But under that tough exterior lies a musician - an accomplished pianist actually. In fact, after he retired, I heard he taught piano.
Now, my salary was miserable (what can I expect with an MCE qualification). It was in the region of six hundred or so a month. I made some more through overtime and working extra shifts. At that time, however, I haven't honed my writing skills to the extent where I could make loads of money writing for supplements like the others.
So I waited and waited. (Within a few years, I succeeded and would actually have my own weekly columns). Luck was also on my side - I befriended Lat - already a famous cartoonist. I admired his work and told him I was a cartoonist too - having published some works in my mom's women's magazine 'JUWITA' (a magazine which ran for about a year). I also appeared live on TV as a cartoonist on one RTM Panorama episode. Lat immediately put in a good word for me and without much hassle, I soon had a cartoon strip appearing in The Sunday Times - a strip named Some People ( a name coined by the editor - Nadarajah). I used a pen name - Didi.
Below are some more of the cartoons that appeared (including a couple - under the name Dood - that appeared in Juwita) in The New Sunday Times in 76=77, (You can click on the cartoons to get a sharper image).
Below is a cartoon I did at that time, as a nod to Lat, who gave me the opportunity to draw for NST. I will post some more of my old cartoons here from time to time.

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