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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kalavitha - 8 months old

My grand-daughter is 8 months old now. What makes her all the more adorable is her smile. She smiles all the time and is seldom moody except when she is hungry. It was wonderful having her the last 2 weeks with us when my daughter visited us. Now we are looking forward to seeing her again.

I suppose its a feeling that only grandparents will understand.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cranks & Pranks - continuation

Some of my class mates had contacted me after the last article and have fed me with new materials to be posted. To be able to fully appreciate the jest, it would be prudent to put yourself in the shoes of a 17 year old lad of the 70s and not to make comparison with the teenagers of today who are far different from what we were then. I also regret for not being able to consider reproducing some of the repartee that I received as I find that the presentation is better when spoken as compared to its print version where the impact is diminished and the effect lost. The following are some of the recollections.

1. Nazir was late to school one morning and the new mathematics teacher (her first day in school) had already started her class after introducing herself. He stood outside for a while, blocked from the teacher's view by the door and although he was making funny faces at us, we could see that he was nervously preparing himself on what excuse to give. After a while, he knocked on the door and the teacher nodded him in. He entered with a heavy limp, with his right hand stretching down to hold his knees for support and kicking his leg forward before initiating his next stride, appearing to require great effort to enable his movement. As he came in, he slurred as he wished the teacher ‘good morning’ to make it look like he was really handicapped. The teacher believed his stance, took pity on him and guided him in to his chair without asking any questions on his lateness. We were all very tickled by his antics but nevertheless controlled bursting out. It was only a day later that the teacher realized she had been taken in when she saw him in the field…….. playing football.

2. Cikgu Bakar, the BM teacher was asking questions one by one, starting from the left row, front to back, then the next row etc. When it came to Singh’s turn, instead of answering the question, he said ‘pass’. The Cikgu, tickled by what he heard, just said “Singh, ini bukan Scrabble, Singh.

3. Cikgu Bakar had asked the class to come up with a simpulan bahasa each that started with the word ‘batu’. I was seated somewhere in the middle of the class and when it came to my turn, I couldn’t think of any more of it that started with ‘batu’. So I said ‘Batu Pahat’. When the Cikgu said there was no such simpulan bahasa, I continued……..’Batu Ferringhi?……. bolih kah Cikgu?’, appearing ignorant. “Sudah! Duduk!” he said.

4. Then there was another incident in class when the Literature teacher got irritated with my constant distractions as I was chatting away with Imbaraj while the class was in session. Instead of reprimanding me, she looked at the mild mannered Imbaraj and advised “Imbaraj I know you are a nice guy. You should stop mixing with Aravindan. He is a bad influence on you. It won’t do you any good if you continue with him. It might even affect your performance in the exam”. Like a humble and innocent victim of circumstances, he nodded his head in agreement. Later the same day, as we were making our way to the canteen during recess, we saw the same teacher coming our way from another class. We quickly embraced ourselves in a hug and continued walking, to show that we were actually thick friends and nothing could break us. We could see her looking down and controlling her laughter and heading to the staff room. We later learnt from other teachers that she was laughing in the staff room for a long time while relating to them about the incident.
5. One day after school, Imbaraj and I were on our way to BM town to have ice-kacang. On our way to the shop, we had to pass Singh’s house who we knew very well was still in school attending the Historical Society meeting in which he was the secretary. He lived with his parents on the upper portion of a double storey shop-house. When we called for him from the bottom of the stairs, his father peered down and answered “Dia pigi skohlah!” Hearing this, we said “Tada uncle! Dia tada mari pun. Kita datang terus dari sekolah! Dia tada mari ini hari”. Seeing the father in a confused state of mind, we went off to have our ice-kacang. We were laughing along the way because we knew that his father had believed us as we were still in school uniform.
The next morning as usual we had all gathered at the school assembly point and I was as usual busy chatting with Imbaraj when we saw Singh coming. We pretended we didn’t know anything and went about talking to ourselves. He came near and kept staring at us without saying a word. He was quite sure that it must have been the 2 of us as his father, who had never met us before, had described that 2 Indian boys had come by that afternoon ‘looking’ for him. Singh was certain that we were the only friends he had who were capable of pulling off such nonsense. But we kept our cool and pretended through the whole day. Later towards the end of school, he became convinced that it was probably not us and started relating to us about the incident and how his father had scolded and slapped him for skipping school. It was then that we couldn’t control ourselves anymore and burst out laughing! He became so angry that he chased us round the school and didn’t talk to us for 2 days after that.

6. During the first term exam, Singh got only 9 1/2 marks for maths. As usual on our way for ice kacang after school, Imbaraj and I stopped at a wooden shed just before the railway station (a route taken by most students to school) and, using a chalk, wrote in block letters the following:

BM High School Mid Term Results
Mokhtiar Singh - Form 5A
Mathematics - 9 1/2 marks over 100.

Singh takes another route to school and back home everyday, over the railway tracks and doesn't pass this shed. So he had not seen the writings. But most of the other students had seen the message. The next morning as Singh, Imbaraj and I were chatting at the assembly point waiting for the bell to ring, one by one the students approached him asking about his maths results. Initially he didn't feel something was wrong. But as more and more of them came asking and making fun in the process, he asked us "How all these buggers know eh?" We answered in tandem "How we know Singh? You think we got time to tell all of them ah? We got no other work ah?" Only after about 2 days did someone tell him about it and he went with a wet cloth to rub it off. We had a good laugh. He, of course was not amused.

These incidences are recollected to jog the memory of the 5 remaining living members of JACHFRINS to the manifestation of the camaraderie and commonality that existed between us in the past…… in the hope that it may inspire a reunion sometime, while still alive, to capture those lovely moments again. Jalil, Imbaraj and I are still in touch and we have also reestablished contact with Nazir who is in Penang. Singh has settled down in NZ and returns regularly to visit his folks. I have lost touch with Radzi since school days. As for the C-H-F in the acronym…..Chan, Hari and Farid……we have lost them forever under various circumstances. May their soul rest in peace…… least in the other world!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cranks & Pranks

This is a recollection of my childhood pranks and experience.

In the year 1972, our informal group The JACHFRINS comprising the 9 members had not been formed yet. The reason for this was because in Form 4, we were all fragmented, scattered in three different classes although we were all in the Arts Stream. And for some strange reason, all of us hated ‘art’ as a subject. None of us could draw or paint or do anything that would remotely qualify us as an ‘artist’. (We all knew each other well though as we were quite active in various activities representing either the school or our individual ‘houses’). Whenever time permitted, we used to share our frustrations about this subject. We realized at some point that there was something common in us that helped forge this rapport in the relationship. During such moments when we met, we would also invariably share the pranks that we played in each of our class and end up having a hearty laugh. Once we recalled the day when the Art teacher had asked the class to draw a visual image of the hand in whatever pose we could imagine. I ended up colouring my full palm and imprinting the impression onto the art paper before submitting it. If you think that was bad, Imbaraj’s work was a master-piece...........he submitted a drawing of a clenched fist with the thumb in between the index and middle fingers. It was just our way of expressing our distaste for the subject. But of course the teacher didn’t take it kindly. He put us both through detention class that Saturday. But the rest of the class found it funny and that was what mattered to us then. We could laugh at others’ faults as well as our own.

So imagine our surprise when the following year, all 9 of us ended up in the same class….. From 5A. It was through sheer coincidence that owing to our reasonably good command of the English Language, we had all decided to drop art as a subject and had opted to do English Literature instead; hence we ended up being grouped together. It was fun from then on. As I said in my blog on Life’s Realities (posted on 23-06-09), by using the first letter from our names, we became known as The JACHFRINS. Or to be more precise, that’s what WE called ourselves. No one else did because apart from the 9 of us, no one else knew. (One of my classmates Nazir who is himself a Cikgu now and who blogs under had written an excellent piece about this comradeship in his 24/9/08 post titled 5A BMHS 1973). I had been instrumental in coining the acronym having nothing better to do one silent night when I was supposed to be studying but had been reminiscing about the day’s events at home after everyone had slept. My parents liked it when I stayed awake at night with a book in front of me. The longer I stayed awake, the more they appreciated the ‘hard-work’ I was putting in. Little did they know that on most nights, I had no control of my hyperactive straying mind that indulged in these wasteful (but joyous) pursuits. The following are some of my recollections from my student days.

One day during our mathematics class, the teacher was covering the subject on navigation. As he recited the question, we were told to plot on our exercise book the route taken by an airplane from point A to point B, then to point C. We were later to discuss the mechanics on how we had arrived at our answers. Although I don’t remember the exact question, it went something like this:-

“An airplane leaves point A and flies 315 nautical miles in the direction of N15 degrees 18 minutes East to point B”.

I was ok with maths so I went about plotting the route and as I did so, from the corner of my ears, I could hear a faint voice going “oooooonnnnnnnnnnn”. I quickly finished plotting, turned and saw that Jalil, who was seated one row in front to my right, was busy charting something while at the same time making that offensive sound. Imbaraj, who was seated beside him struck a serious pose with folded arms, staring blankly in front, not doing anything. He had apparently forgotten his exercise book but we later learnt that Singh had taken and hidden it to sabotage him.

The teacher then continued. “From point B, the plane turns and flies 296 nautical miles in the direction S74 degrees 42 minutes East towards point C. The question is……. how far and in what direction should the plane fly to return to the airport?”

As soon as the question was over, Jalil resumed his histrionics and again went “ooooooonnnnnnnnn”. I could roughly make out that it sounded like the whirl of an airplane engine and smiled to myself. I found it funny having to attempt a question on navigation with the sound of aircraft engine in the background. Unfortunately, the teacher had heard the sound too!

Before I could finish my plotting, he had quickly walked up unnoticed to where Jalil was seated who was still focused on what he was doing. When Imbaraj discretely nudged to alert him, he looked up shyly, very much embarrassed by the whole episode. The teacher peered into his exercise book and gave him a long hard stare. From where I was seated, I could see the teacher’s expression turning from disappointment to utter disgust. Without saying a word, he slowly turned his attention to Imbaraj who was seated beside Jalil, with his arms still folded, appearing to look as cool as ever, and asked “And Imbaraj, what do you think you are doing?”

Without an iota of hesitation, “I am waiting for him to finish, sir”, was his reply! The teacher heaved a sigh, shook his head in disbelief and returned to the front to continue with the lessons.

After the teacher had left, we gathered around to find out what actually happened. What we found was truly hilarious. Following the teacher’s recital of the question, Jalil, who had a poor comprehension of the subject, had not been able to follow a word of what the teacher was saying. To appear busy, he had drawn a small aeroplane with the letter ‘A’ beside it. Then he drew dotted lines to indicate the path of travel. The sound we heard was supposed to denote that the plane was flying towards point B. At the end of the route, he had drawn another small plane with the letter ‘B’. It was during the plane’s continued journey to point ‘C that the teacher had interrupted him because we could only see a diagram of a half-completed plane. We all had a good laugh.

Then another incident I remember was during our Bahasa Malaysia class where the Cikgu was explaining to us the words PM and MP. He said that the direct translation of Prime Minister (PM) was actually Menteri Perdana which would make him an “MP” and as such unsuitable since the letters MP already stood for a Member of Parliament. There was therefore a dire need to retain the letters PM as an identity for the Prime Minister in its Malay translation, hence the words Perdana Menteri. We were all half asleep during this uninteresting explanation. Politics were the least of our concern. We were more into fun and games. Although uninterested, we pretended to be listening intently and even asked some related questions, just to make it look like we were paying attention.

Seeing this, the Cikgu continued with the subject. He then asked if anyone knew what the Malay translation was for Deputy Prime Minister. We were in the English medium then and there had been some students in the other classes who had been ignorant, being poor in the Malay language. I obviously knew what the answer was and immediately put up my hand. When he failed to take notice of my persistent screams of “Cikgu! Cikgu! Cikgu!” but was instead still looking around to pick on someone else, I quickly stood up on my chair to gain his attention, still screaming “Cikgu! Cikgu! Cikgu!”

He was probably a bit irritated by my overzealous action and reluctantly allowed me to answer. I knew what the answer was but just to add some humour to the otherwise mundane session, looked at him straight into his eyes and said “Naib Johan Perdana Menteri, Cikgu”.

“Kepala Otak Hang!” he retorted and made me stand on the chair for the rest of the session. The rest of the class roared in laughter.

These are but some of the many episodes that had taken place in my life. I shall reproduce more of such in later posts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Life in MAS - part 2

After some time, I kind of accepted life in KL. Being young I liked the fast pace unlike the conditions back home. About 3 months later, it was Deepavali festival. I made sure that I bought something for everyone at home, a lighter for Dad who smoked and some clothing material for my sisters and Mum. Did the shopping along Foch Avenue and Petaling Street (in case you are wondering where in the world is Foch Avenue, it is the stretch between Pudu Raya and the Klang Bus Station). This trip back would also be my first experience on an airplane. With a 75% rebate, the ticket cost only RM18 one way. I took the KL – Butterworth flight on a Boeing 707 that landed in Butterworth and not in Penang as Penang Airport had not been designed to cater for large aircrafts then. Since the Australian Air Force base in Butterworth had a longer runway, all large aircrafts were diverted there. It was also convenient for me as it was only about 5 km to my house. There were another 2 workmates travelling with me who actually saved me the embarrassment on the checking-in and boarding procedures that I was ignorant of. As the engines revved up and the plane took off, I was pushed tightly back into my seat by the sheer force that was exerted by the speed. I had not anticipated this and naturally became quite nervous. It was only after it stabilized and started cruising that my breath returned. I immediately lighted up a cigarette to ease the tension and reduce the anxiety (we were allowed to smoke during flights then).

There were no pomp and fanfare when I arrived in Butterworth airbase. It was not like in the movies where you had people waiting to receive you regardless of your age. No one in my family had a car. None of my friends were even working then. So after disembarking I quietly walked up to the main road beside and took a bus back. My parents were looking forward and were very happy to see me as this was my first trip back since I started work. I spent many hours in the next couple of days excitedly relating my experiences to my family. To live in KL was a big thing those days. People look up to you. You are supposed to be the ‘happening’ guy. In later years I had seen such scenes in P.Ramli movies. Lat had also depicted similar scenes a couple of times in his comics. I suppose everyone who leaves his kampong to work in KL would have a similar story to tell.

Back at the office, one day when my boss wanted to go back to his home country for his annual 1 month holiday, he casually asked me if I would mind staying at his place during his absence. I was delighted at the idea. I had always been fascinated with big houses and wanted to experience what it would be like to live life in a bungalow, even if it was only for a while. I had been to his fully air-conditioned house once before in Section 7 PJ, behind the Civic Centre for a function. On the evening after he left, I went over to his place straight from work. An Alsatian sniffed me at the gate before the maid came to let me in. I found that it was luxury living, at least to me it appeared so. It had five rooms with 4 bathrooms, two of them with long bath and equipped with hot water shower. The large hall was tastefully decorated. I later found out that MAS rented these houses fully furnished for their expatriate staff. So the furniture and fittings came with the house, none of it was his own. The maid had her own room at the back behind the kitchen. For the next 4 weeks, I didn’t have to worry about contemplating where to go for dinner as my boss had already instructed the maid to prepare something for me everyday. I also saved on laundry as she would wash and iron all my clothes.

Those were the days when I could stay in solitude and enjoy every moment of it. (I don’t seem to be able to do it nowadays for longer than a day or two without feeling depressed). Although I was alone then all by myself, I didn’t feel lonely at all. During weekends, some friends would drop by for a chat. Otherwise I was alone. There was a car in the house at my disposal but since I didn’t have a driving license then, it was of no use to me. At night I’d often doze off listening to some of his Hindi melodies on his long-play. He had a good collection of the vinyl. I still remember enjoying the hot baths especially in the evenings when I’d fill up the long bath and sit in it for hours. And allow my mind to drift off, dreaming about nothing and everything. It was a make-belief scenario ……not real. I knew I didn’t belong here and certainly was living on borrowed standards, so to speak. But I didn’t care. I savoured every moment of it. At least, it presented me with a first hand inside look into the live of rich people and gave me an idea of their lifestyle. I didn’t feel deprived at any point in time, just that my time probably had not arrived to indulge in such worldly comfort or bask in such glory.

Eventually, when word got out that I provided this free stay-in ‘social’ service, I had other expatriates requesting me to 'take care' of their property (as they called it) while they were away. And help I certainly did. For me it was a win-win situation. I didn’t have to pay rental during the months when I was ‘away’ and I was surprised that my landlord didn’t mind it, or so I thought. (I found out much later that my room-mate had been paying my portion of the rental on my behalf). And my meals and laundry were taken care of. I also got to live and sleep in style on hotel standards. At least two of the few other houses that I was asked to ‘live-in’ came with their own swimming pool! Being a non swimmer, I would just wade around a little on weekends while my friends who dropped by enjoyed their cool dip. On some nights when I go into my melancholic moods, I would start playing the piano as if I knew how to. Music from pianos are always soothing to the ears especially when played in quiet settings. There were no one around to tell me I was doing it all wrong. And the Indonesian maid appeared impressed anyway. I was especially fascinated with one of the houses that I stayed had a concealed built-in bed in the hall. I used to just pull down the bed every night while watching TV with the air-cond. running and sleep off with the TV still on (these were the days when remote control gadgets were not available). In the mornings when I awoke, I only had to push back the bed and it would snug right back to form part of the wall. I continued with this ‘service’ for the duration of my 3 ½ years of working life in MAS.

After the 1st year of service, I became eligible for a free flight to any destination that the airline flew to. This benefit was transferable to my parents as I was single then. I persuaded my Dad to make a trip back to Kerala to visit his folks whom he had not seen for some 40 years. He had however maintained contact with them through the regular exchange of letters. As the days drew nearer for his flight, he became more and more excited. It showed on his face. Although he was to be away for only a short period, I distinctly remember Mum becoming worried that he might not want to return after seeing his folks there, now that he had already retired and we the children had all grown up so he didn’t have any more commitments to continue living in Malaysia. But all that turned out to be a fallacy when Dad returned after about 3 months, thoroughly enjoying himself and feeling completely ‘rejuvenated’ after his ‘reunion’. Thereafter he went on another two more trips while I was still at MAS. From the stories he told, I realized that I had close first cousins and relatives back in India whom I had not heard of until then and have indeed never met.

It will be nice if I can make a trip down with Dad but at 98, he has become too weak and will not be able to endure the travel. I therefore intend to meet them up on my own sometime soon and hope that Dad lives on to hear the stories I have to tell.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Footprints in the sand

One night
A man had a dream.
He dreamt he was walking
Along the beach with the Lord.

Across the sky flashed
Scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed
Two sets of footprints in the sand;
One belonging to him
And the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life
Flashed before him,
He looked back
At the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times
Along the path of his life
There was only one set of footprints
He also noticed that it happened
At the very lowest
And saddest times of his life.

This really bothered him
And he questioned the Lord about it.

“Lord you said that
Once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during
The most troublesome times
of my life,
There is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when
I needed you most, you would leave me.”

The Lord replied:

“My son, my precious child
I love you
And I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
When you see only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

(Carolyn Joyce Carty)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Life in MAS - part 1

After all the euphoria of having landed an airline job had waned off, I finally reported to the HR office in MAS located in the UMBC building in KL. After the orientation, they arranged for a company van to send me to Subang Airport where I was to be based. I was attached to the Quality Control Section in the Engineering Dept. I had not expected to see this many foreigners in the company. In fact I noticed that about 90% of the engineers were expatriates. I was to later find out that MAS had just been formed about 6 or 7 years earlier after their breakaway from Malaysia Singapore Airways (MSA) and local aeronautical engineers were not available to that extent to run an airline, hence the retention of all the qualified foreigners. My immediate boss (Mr. John Kurian) was an Indian engineer from Kerala who came to work in Malaysia after having served in Beirut. He in turn reported to Mr. Bax, an Australian who was the QC Superintendant. On my first day at work, I was impressed by the way they treated me, they were very personable and took away the feeling of unease in me. One of the first things that Mr. Bax did was to personally show me where the restrooms were located on our way to meet Mr. Gordon, the QC Manager, an American. (This was the time when Quality Assurance standards were not in the picture yet. We were still in the age of Quality Control).

As this was my first real job, it took me a while settling down. My job was to transfer the data from worksheets of flight engineers onto small cards that were to be displayed on a rack after the problems have been categorized into their related fields for the QC engineers to troubleshoot. Not a difficult job. Later, it was made even easier when the boss kept encouraging me to put aside the work that I was doing and go for short walks around the other departments to take your mind off the monotony of the job and feel reenergized again in the process. I have worked in many other companies since then but I have never come across anyone else telling me anything similar.

My cousin put me up at his place in 3rd mile Ipoh Road which was actually quite a distance to my workplace. I had to wake up very early for work since I had to take 2 buses to reach the airport. I shared the room with Mike, a burly Eurasian in his early 40s formerly from the British Army. I found him good company. He would soon become my alarm clock nudging me up from my sleep each morning.

He was a regular drinker who, having travelled far & wide, had lots and lots of stories to tell and since I was a good listener, he developed an instant liking for me and would take me along wherever he went. I enjoyed his company too. When one day he suggested that he wanted to take me to a pub during the weekend, I agreed, pretending that I knew what he was referring to. I had never been to a pub before and surely didn’t know what it was. From where I had come, we only had a couple of coffee houses and a snack bar that I used to pass by, never having the opportunity to patronize any of them. That weekend he took me to The Barn, a fun pub in University Gardens, PJ. And Boy! Was I impressed…? I loved the soft music that was playing and more, the western décor. I was only 19 then but the setting made me feel ‘adult’ like as he introduced me to his friends. I saw people enjoying themselves, laughing, dancing, playing snooker at one end, darts at the other. They were all having such a good time. I sat at the bar with my beer, preferring the conversations with the Indian waitresses. I was beginning to love the ‘bright lights’. I have only seen such scenes in movies and this was my first experience which was truly exhilarating. As this joint was located quite close to the airport, I was later to come back to this place a few more times after work on my own for a couple of drafts and a piece of the excitement before heading home.

One night Mike didn’t return home. I waited up till midnight before I went to bed but he didn’t show up. The following morning my biological rhythm woke me up. I didn’t have a watch and there was no clock in the house so I didn’t know what time it was and Mike was not in. My cousin was asleep in his room. Thinking that I was late, I quickly got up, freshened up and rushed out to catch the 6.00am bus. When I reached the bus-stop, I noticed that Madras Café (now Madras Restaurant at the 3rd mile) had not even opened yet. They were usually open when I arrived at that time to wait for the bus. Then after a long while, as they pulled up their shutters, I peeked into the shop and from the clock hanging on the wall inside, I saw that it was 6.00am. It was then that I realized I must have reached the place around 5 plus!

As days passed I soon found a place with some friends in Sg. Way new village as it was closer to my workplace. It was rather noisy and densely populated with the houses built close to each other so much so that you could probably put your hand out through your window and adjust the volume in your neighbour’s radio. It was that close. It was a three room house so we occupied two to each room, all MAS staff. It was a nice place otherwise especially as we had friends to talk to and pass the time. The main tenant had introduced house rules where each of us was supposed to take turns on Sundays to clean the drains outside. Being the last in my family, I had never done such chores before. My sisters would usually do all such work. So on the days when it was my turn, I would pretend that I had overtime and leave the house early and come back in the evening after going for a movie or visiting some friends, just to avoid house work. One day the main tenant, an Apprentice Aircraft Engineer confronted me and took me to task. I snapped at him by saying that if he was not used to staying in an unclean environment, he should probably find another place. He was not happy with me from then on but as the rest of the tenants overlooked such small faults in me and accepted me as one of them, there was nothing much he could do. The incident was soon forgotten and I was exempted from doing house work from then on but I had to pay RM10 extra towards my rental. We became a close knit family once again.

Life at MAS was beautiful. This was the place where I nurtured my self esteem. You tend to feel proud and think highly of yourself from the treatment and respect you get from all those expatriates and staff. Their working style was different. They made you feel really important. You could even address them by their first names. It sort of takes away the formality and bonds the relationship. Many of them stayed around the SS3 area. This was the closest residential area to the airport then which had bungalows that they could rent. Subang Jaya was just being developed then. But people avoided staying in Subang Jaya classifying it as a high risk area as they complained that it was situated right under the flight path of aircrafts. You can see their fallacy now. From Sg. Way where I stayed which was just nearby to SS3, I would walk out to the main road and wait along the route that these expatriates took and they would gladly give me a lift to office. We often took a shortcut to reach the airport road where we would pass an estate and the children would wait to wave at us as we passed. Well…not at me actually. It was to wave at the Mat Sallehs behind the wheel who often just smiled and waved back at them……always! These were simple gestures that cost nothing but they meant so much to these children who would then run away into their houses having made their day. This estate that we used to pass through then is where Kelana Jaya now stands.
(…….the story continues in Part 2)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If It Is To Be, Its Up To Me

After responding to so many advertisements, one of them finally replied. I felt extremely elated when I got the letter from MAS. The interview had been scheduled just 2 days away and here I was stuck at the hospital where I worked as a Probationery HA, wondering how I was going to make it with so little money on me. I broke the news to my colleagues and I could see envy written on their faces. I knew that at least 2 of them in the group detested life in the estates and wanted to get away from it all but they had been pressured by their parents to stay put and complete the course. In 1975, industrialization had not started in a big way in Malaysia and jobs were scarce in other sectors. So people just hung on to whatever job that they could land. As for me, nothing was certain anyway. It was just an interview and I still had to land the job. With that I made my way to Chenderoh, off Kuala Kangsar where my eldest sister worked. I knew I could depend on her. Moreover my Dad had retired years ago and it would hardly be reasonable to trouble him for any money for the trip.

Chenderoh is a very scenic place with a beautiful man-made lake created by the State government’s construction of a dam to produce electricity through hydro power. Many a time I had spent my school holidays there. Serene, laid back….this is the perfect place for relaxation. It has a picturesque view of the rolling hills as the backdrop behind the pristine waters of the lake. It’s a self contained place with about 500 to 600 residents, all of them employees of Perak Hydro and their families. A lot of emphasis is given to landscaping with the lawn maintained to the standards of a golf course. The place is serviced by public transport only twice a day………one at 9 am and the other at 3pm from Kuala Kangsar.

I managed to catch the afternoon bus and reached Chenderoh by 4.00pm, a 35 km ride through winding roads that takes about an hour, the last 10 km of which is narrow as well. After negotiating with my sister for some money, I managed to hitch a ride out of the place from someone who happened to be leaving to town. It was sheer luck but I had to leave the same evening as the interview had been scheduled for the next morning. I then headed to Malim Nawar to get to another one of my relative's house that was next to a train station from where I could catch the night mail that usually arrived there in the wee hours of the morning.

The running around was indeed hectic and tiring but the thoughts of being able to work in an airline pushed me on. It was already nightfall when I reached the place. Back then, we seldom used the phone to announce of our impending arrival at anybody’s house. Not that it was against any culture, just that the trend had not 'caught up' as only those in the upper echelons of society could afford phones in their house. And we were not anywhere near that stratum yet. My Uncle and his family were of course surprised to see me and made me feel welcome. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, we spoke for a while and as it was already quite late, one by one they all hit the bed. I kept awake that night, afraid that I might sleep off and miss out on an opportunity that would change my lifestyle forever. I relished that thought and looked forward to the day when I no longer had to go back to live life in an estate. My cousin kept me company until it was time for me to leave. I bid him goodbye and walked over to the station to wait for the train which surprisingly, came on time.

This was my first trip to KL proper. Prior to this I had only passed through while travelling to JB. So I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know where the MAS office was located. After sneaking into the washroom at the Station Hotel located at the KL Railway Station (now known as The Heritage), I freshened up and changed into my formal wear. Found out from some taxi drivers waiting outside that the UMBC Building where the MAS office was housed was in fact just a short walk across the road. Managed a quick breakfast before heading for the much anticipated interview. Upon entering the office, I realized that I was not the only one or even one of the select few who had been shortlisted……. the room was teeming with at least another 50 others, all earnestly waiting to be called in. I didn’t feel intimidated. My self confidence was at an all time high. I kept psyching myself up and spurred on.

After a long wait of over 2 hours, I was finally called in. There were 3 of them in the interview board. They just asked simple questions perhaps acknowledging that I was a freshie in the employment market and it would be pointless asking me anything more. It was for a junior administrative position anyway. At the end of the half hour session, when I left the room, a feeling of elation engulfed me. At the back of my mind, I somehow knew that I would be selected. I could sense it from their expression. But until I receive the appointment letter, I also knew that nothing was certain. These thoughts kept playing havoc on my mind during the more than 7 hours that I had to spend waiting in the Railway Station for the night mail train that was due to leave only at 8.00pm. I couldn’t venture out anywhere far from the station for 2 reasons. Firstly I didn’t know where to go and I was afraid that I might not be able to find my way back. And secondly, I didn’t have the money to spend on anything more. I had just enough to pay for the ticket for the trip back……..or so I thought! After a long ‘nap’ on one of the benches in the station, I woke up in the evening to the noise of people walking up and down and realized that a queue was quickly forming. I joined the back of the queue and started digging into my pockets to prepare the correct change for the ticket. Upon nearing the counters, what greeted me from the fare table on display shook me up! It turned out that the fare was RM11.80 and I had only RM10.80 with me…... a dollar short! I didn’t know what to do next. I was young, a green horn without much exposure, just about starting out on my own in life and already all kinds of unthinkable obstacles were being placed in my path. O! God! Where art thou?

But being the ever self confident person that I was, I didn’t waver. Nor was I discouraged. I knew that if it is to be, it was up to me. There were no one else to whom I could turn to. I was alone……. and I had to find the answers……by myself. I moved out of the queue and looked around and noticed a guy sitting all by himself, possibly about my age, engrossed with the papers, probably waiting for the train too. At first I hesitated but what choice did I have? “Its better to try and get a no for an answer than never to have tried at all” I thought to myself as I summoned enough courage to approach him. I related to him about how I had come for the interview and about my predicament of ending up with RM1 less for the trip back. I even offered my identity card as collateral if that is what would take to convince him of my sincerity, promising him that I would return the dollar as soon as I reached home. (A dollar was big money back then. A packet of Dunhill 20s cost only 65 cents. So you work out the rest). He obliged but not before accepting my identity card. After I had bought my ticket, we sat down together again where I got the opportunity to improve on our acquaintance. He introduced himself as Ravi Menon from Ipoh and was on his way back after visiting some friends in KL. Having just left school like me, he was also looking for a job. After a while, I managed to get his telephone number and address before we went our separate ways when the train arrived as he held a second class ticket while I was happy to have ‘scraped’ through into 3rd class. With an empty stomach, and a wallet to match, I could hardly sleep a wink during the entire journey. But it was not only the rumblings in my stomach that kept me awake that night. It was also the excitement of landing an airline job and the many features that came with it, the most attractive being the annual free travel to any destination where they flew to and the chance of a 75% rebate on domestic travel at any other time. And of course, the salary which was about three times more than what I was being paid as a Trainee HA.

Once I reached home the next morning, I broke the news to my parents and siblings. They were all very excited as well especially my Dad who, having originated from India to work in Malaya (then) in 1935, had not been able to go back even once due to financial constraints and commitments. Whatever he earned had been just sufficient to feed and fend for the six of us. His inability to afford a trip back must have been especially painful when during his absence, his mum had passed away. I knew from the many letters that we received from the folks in India that her dying wish was to see him just one more time. Unfortunately fate would have it otherwise. So now upon hearing of the benefits that came with the job, I could see that he was extremely happy. The radiance reflected on his face said it all. It was an expression that we seldom got to see.

I went back to the estate the next day and endured the next one week dwelling in hope and uncertainly at the same time. During that time I mailed back the RM1 to the good samaritan who reciprocated with the return of my identity card, apologizing in the process for having stooped to such levels for a pittance. For me, it was noble of him to have helped me, a total stranger and that was all that mattered. Everything else was secondary.

My long wait finally ended after about a week. Sure enough, when I saw the thick envelope with a MAS logo on it, I knew at once that I had been successful. After the excitement had subdued, it was time to face my colleagues at the hospital to say goodbye. They had by now kind of accepted the inevitable reality of my separation. Although on one hand I felt a tinge of sadness leaving them……deserting them midway as they preferred to describe it, I knew it was in my long term interest that I moved on to greener pastures.