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'What if Hang Jebat never stood up to the sultan?'

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MALAYSIANS KINI The year was 1961.

It was four years since Tunku Abdul Rahman bellowed 'Merdeka!', but 12-year-old Zurinah Hassan could use more freedom herself.

Amid the rice fields on the Kedah-Perlis border village of Tikam Batu, the precocious girl found herself bored at home.

“Back then, we had no entertainment like how it is today. I was not free to play around like boys.

“Boredom led me to listen to the radio, and stories of bangsawan (noblemen) and poems were played on air,” she said.

Named the first female National Laureate in October, the mother of five has come far from those listless afternoons when she ached to escape the drudgery of the slow-ticking clock.

Yet looking back five decades, she believes it was those dull days that she credits for setting her on this illustrious path.

With the bangsawan tales as her gateway out of the cloistered confines of her home, Zurinah tried her hand at the subtle art of Malay play on words.

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