My Johor Stories on Astro Awani


What has former classmates in Johor Baru’s St Joseph’s School and the Johor Elections have to do with My Johor Stories?  Very little or a great deal??


With Sharaad Kuttan at Sedap Corner, Johor Baru

Well, it all started when Producer and Host at Astro Awani, Sharaad Kuttan, was heading to Johor to cover the Johor Elections. While he was here, he was also keen to do separate pieces on social and environmental issues as well as on culture and heritage.


To do this, Sharaad reached out to his former classmate* in St Joseph’s School who connected him to Edey Suresh, the right person to speak to in his capacity as Johor State Director of the UN Global Compact Network for Malaysia and Brunei.


Recording the interview with Edey Suresh

When Edey understood what Sharaad planned to do in Johor as host of two popular English talk shows, Consider This and Let’s Talk with Sharaad Kuttan, he put on his thinking cap to consider who else should be featured in these shows.


I was deeply humbled when Edey told me (later!) that the first person he thought of was me, the Johor Storyteller and Bestselling Author of My Johor Stories.


On his way to Johor Baru, Sharaad and his crew made various stops to meet with politicians who were campaigning in their constituencies in Johor while Edey helped to arrange for us to meet with Sharaad for a preliminary chat that evening.


Recording the interview with Manohar Johnson

Besides yours truly, Edey had also roped in Manohar Johnson, the Johor Partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers in Johor Baru, to join him in the interviews with Sharaad.


It was wise to have a meet-up prior to recording the interviews the next morning because an informal chat would break the proverbial ice between the host and his interviewees like me – who is no fan of going in front of the camera.


That evening, Edey, who probably sensed that I might suffer a bout of cold feet (not because it was raining cats and dogs!) sent a reminder in a brief WhatsApp message, “See you at 8.30pm.”


I was getting wired up with the microphone

I smiled when I replied in jest, “In the words of the late great Michael Jackson, “I’ll be there!”


Just five minutes ahead of the appointed time, I met Edey at the entrance of Sedap Corner, the flagship store located at Jalan Abdul Samad, where we had arranged the meeting with Sharaad.


Edey happened to arrive at the same time and as we spotted the distinctive profile of Sharaad seated at a table, Edey mentioned that it was his first time meeting him too.


Thanks Sharaad, for making the
recording session go so smoothly

I learnt that Sharaad was born in Johor Baru, had his higher education in Singapore and then settled in the Klang Valley. So this visit to Johor was like a homecoming because he said that he recognized the familiar sites close to Jalan Abdul Samad.


As he introduced himself, I started to get a picture of him as a schoolboy who went to St Joseph’s School, the all-boys school that my brother and cousins also attended, located walking distance from our grandfather’s house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.


He told us about his mother, who was a teacher and after her retirement, she wrote her memoirs set to a backdrop of Johor Baru in a bygone era.


This struck a familiar chord because it was reminiscent of the writing style of Han SuYin, the medical doctor and author, whom I featured in my story under Memories in my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


It was fun to share My Johor Stories...

When Sharaad said that his grandmother’s house was at Jalan Dapat, I joined the dots and figured that he should be related to my former classmate in the Johor Baru Convent because I used to hang out in that house too. And I was right because it turned out that he was her cousin.


It was ages ago but it set Sharaad thinking about his cousin who is now based in the UK, and our mutual friend who used to live nearby at Jalan Abdul Samad. While we were separated by distance, I assured him that we were still in touch by WhatsApp chat. And this was how we discovered a common connection from way back when…


With the ice clearly broken between us, the focus turned to the two gentlemen, Edey and Manohar Johnson, better known as Mano.


Over a bite to eat, Sharaad listened with interest as we discussed social and development issues in Johor.


He then concluded that these two would be interviewed separately in two segments for the Consider This show while, My Johor Stories and me would be featured in the Let’s Talk show.


Meanwhile, the good people at Suasana Suites Johor Baru had graciously agreed to host Astro Awani for the recording of interviews in the comfort of a suite on Level 33.


The next morning, when I met Sharaad in the suite, I filled him in on the history about the site where Suasana Suites – linked to Zenith Lifestyle Centre and the Amari Hotel Johor Baru – were located at Jalan Trus.


When I told him that we were standing on the former site of two landmark movie theatres, the Rex and Lido, that used to provide movie entertainment to Johor Baru folks, it triggered off his own memories of the heydays of cinema here.


In fact, the spot we were at on Jalan Trus was part of Johor Baru’s Street of Harmony that spanned from Jalan Gertak Merah and Jalan Gereja, where two churches were located close to St Joseph’s School, through Jalan Trus where the Sikh Guduwara, Hindu and Chinese temples were located, all the way to the Mosque at Jalan Duke. 


These precious heritage stories are documented as, Escape to the Movies, and Johor Baru’s Street of Harmony in My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


It was my pleasure to present an autographed
copy of my 2017 Bestseller to Sharaad

By this time, Edey and Mano had arrived and the crew got busy setting up the camera, looking at angles and lighting, attaching microphones and making sound-checks.


As discussed, Sharaad would start with recording his interview with Edey and this would be followed by his interview with Mano.


Just like a true professional, Sharaad made us – interviewees – feel at ease as the recording got underway.


While the recording of the interviews with Edey and Mano was happening in the sitting room, I stayed silently inside the bedroom with the door wide open so that I could listen to what was going on outside.


With the floor to ceiling curtains open, I enjoyed a panoramic view of the city skyline and made good use of the time to collect my thoughts and readied myself to speak in a spontaneous yet coherent way. No, Sharaad did not provide a list of questions or a checklist but only gave a guide, with three main points that I should cover.


As soon as his interview recording was done, Mano left to attend a meeting while Edey stayed to watch the recording of Sharaad’s interview with me, and I deeply appreciate his moral support and help to capture some photo mementoes of this exciting experience.


For the recording of my interview, the crew and Sharaad agreed to change the camera angle and added the coffee-table with the carpet below so that my books could be neatly displayed.


What I shared in the interview recording
triggered off fond memories for Sharaad too

Out of habit, I had my pen and notebook on hand and Sharaad graciously let me leave my notebook on the table, discreetly concealed behind my propped-up books.


Edey and I were amused by how we were so used to holding our pen and notebook because we were the ones who often interviewed others and took notes, but this time, it was the other way around – we were being interviewed, instead.


Guided by his questions, I responded and all too soon, the interview recording was done in just one take. And it was a wrap!


While Edey and Mano’s interviews were featured in Consider This, a show aired on Astro Awani on Wednesday, March 9, Sharaad will let me know as soon as he knows when our interview will be scheduled to air.


The Let’s Talk with Sharaad Kuttan show usually airs on Saturday nights but as next Saturday, March 12, was polling day in Johor, his talk show would be deferred because Astro Awani would be bringing live reports from the polls.


One for the album: Mano, Edey and I with 
Sharaad Kuttan at our recording session

The show that features My Johor Stories and me, would now join a queue to be aired later. As we anticipate the coming date, I remain ever grateful for the privilege to share My Johor Stories with viewers nationwide.


*Later Edey and Sharaad told me about how they got connected through Sharaad’s former classmate in St Joseph’s School.


I thought it was rather uncanny because I (too!) met him several years ago when I covered their school reunion event – one that Sharaad did not attend – and published this piece in a cover and centerspread story in Johor Streets, a pull-out section of The New Straits Times.


Note: My Johor Stories series of books are available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online from mphonline.

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