I remember - my convocation dress, or baju. Nothing extraordinary by way of fashion; it was an ordinary two-piece modern baju kurung. It is not unusual for girls to focus a lot of attention on their convocation dress months before the actual day; it being a very special day that marks her departure from student, and heralds her readiness and eagerness for the working world. So it was a big deal! Those among us who were more fashion-conscious, and had the resources, would have had the luxury of contemplating on its fabric and design. We had finished our final exams either in late January or February, depending on our course of study, and the Convocation Day was in early May. Definitely there was ample time to make preparations - to cause a splash or a stir, whatever the fancy. Especially for those who were sure that they would walk up the stage and not be upstaged.
In the couple of months preceding this momentous day, I was home with the family in Ipoh, doing very little besides relishing the freedom of not having to study anymore! In February of that year, I received an offer of a temporary job from the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in Kuala Lumpur. I was ecstatic; firstly because it came unsolicited; secondly, it would give me the long-awaited opportunity of earning some money instead of idling away the months. Alas, it was not to be. My father was against my taking up the offer. He felt that I should not be in a hurry to 'work' seeing that I would be working for the next few decades, and should therefore be content to simply take it easy while I could. I was disappointed, but he was not one to argue with.
Sensing my despondency, he then handed me a paper bag and said, "Make your convocation baju with this." Flabbergasted, I found in it several yards of material - in a colour that was not immediately identifiable, but could be said to closely resemble pale lilac. It would have been starkly plain if not for the heavily embroidered border running on both sides of its length. Up to that point, I had not even given my graduation day a thought because it was still at least two months away, and, if anything, I was more concerned about the results of my exams.
I did not have much money then; and certainly none to splurge on a new outfit for the convocation. That's not to say that I did not secretly wish for one. Much as I would love to have a new dress for the occasion, I was not going to impose on my already retired father and his small pension. So I relegated it to the realm of the trivial, and did not dwell on the matter after consoling myself that I could always fall back on one of my newer baju kurungs. So you can imagine my utter surprise to have the material in my hands when I least expected it. My father had returned from his pilgrimage in Mecca just the month before and he had bought the material there.
Come Convocation Day, I was in my new baju, although it was barely visible beneath the graduate's robe. The top had a high collar that was the fashion of the day, matched with a kain ketat. It was plain and simple, with no fussy details to boast of, but it was endued with a lot of meaning for me that was almost serendipitous. That my father had given thought to my need during his pilgrimage, and that he must have had some measure of confidence that I was going to make it was enough to make me proud. I stood tall that day; elated to be graduating from a university, and proud to be doing it in a dress made possible by my father. Did he even have an inkling that I was prouder still to have merited that much thought from him?