From the Land of the Rising Sun, a fitting recognition of Iskandar’s contribution to the world of pottery. Congratulations. Two nights ago he received the Order of the Rising Sun Gold Rays with Rosette by the Japanese Ambassador to Singapore.
Although the potter lives practically a stone’s throw from my sister’s place in Kembangan where my father also lives and I know his younger brother, Rahim, we never met until I joined a 12 day tour of Iran organized by friends from campus days.
It was on the long dusty bus ride from Tehran to Kermanshah that I finally came face to face with the potter in the flesh – Iskandar Jalil, small-built, short, wiry and tanned, but warm and down-to-earth.
Early next morning I saw him standing by the bus, dressed in a thin cotton T-shirt, track pants, sneakers, while others were holding tight to their jackets, as the cold spring winds swirled around us.
‘’Doesn’t he feel the cold?’’ I casually asked his wife, Saleha. She replied: ‘’He is always like that, quite immune to the cold.’’ I told myself that this potter might have been an Eskimo in his previous life.
A few days later, while touring the ruins of Persepolis – once the capital of the mighty Persian Empire – I noticed the care that he took taking shots from his small but upmarket Sony digital camera, often giving instructions to Saleha on how to pose or how to take shots of him.
I asked him on his photography and he let me view images from his camera; I would see the touch of professionalism reflected in the tightness of the composition and the attention given to perspective. In Malay, you say: ‘’ada standard lah.’’ (high standard )
Next, I noticed he always had a tightly packed haversack on his back from which he often drew out a big, thick, black dairy-like notebook, to write. I was curious and on one occasion peeped over his shoulder; in big bold letters he was writing down the name of the place in addition to sketching the entrance. They took up almost the entire page.
I told myself these are signs of ‘’a big heart and a bold spirit.’’
On the second last day as the bus was taking us back to Tehran from Isfahan, except for the potter, the rest of us were slumped against our seat, a little weary and possibly a little home-sick.
Iskandar, born in 1940 and could be considered as our ‘’abang ’’ (elder brother) was going round tirelessly from seat to seat with his big black notebook.
Finally, he came to me and handing over his book, said: ‘’Ismail, can I have your name, address, e-mail and phone numbers.’’
He was the only one in our party who did it.
Toward the end of Iran tour, I told Saleha that I had heard much talk about their newly renovated home. The result was an open invitation for tea.
After much procrastination, I finally asked Jailani who was also on the tour to arrange. He too needed a little prodding, before he rang up and that was how he and I, and his wife, Aminahton, ended up being graciously treated to a tour of the house.
All I could remember is the minimalist-style, hardly any furniture except for basic wooden stuff and lots of artefacts from his travels and pots, big and small, in varying patterns, scattered all over.
When it was time to say good-bye, the potter took out two small bowls from the cupboard – one dark black, the other light tan – and placed them on the table before us. He then took one in each hand, raised it to eye level and then threw them on the floor with some force.
They landed with a loud thud, rolled a little and then remained still, intact. He picked them up and placed them on the table and asked us to examine the bowls.
We were stunned, speechless. Incredible, there was not even a whiff of a hairline crack. ‘’They are almost unbreakable – a matter of heating technique,’’ he said.
Added the potter: ‘’Take one each. Decide who wants what.’’
I gestured to Jailani and he slowly reached out for the light one. I was happy to take the dark one. So unexpected, so generous, and I felt a little overwhelmed.
Today, the bowl is prominently displayed in my study, perched securely on the topmost shelf above my writing table, flanked by a Sufi book and a Qigong book.
Note: This is an extract from a longer piece, titled – My friend, Iskandar the great potter – that I wrote in 2011 and posted on my now defunct Nohardfeelings blog at WordPress..
Source: Ismail Kassim