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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.


Anonymous said...


You are a great story teller indeed. Interesting details which most people would have forgotten or are you taking the liberty of spicing it up.

Suresh Nair

aravind said...

Tk u Suresh. As mentioned in my preamble, these are all memories......footprints on the sand. Stories are told as it happened with no dramatisation.

Anonymous said...

You make the reader join the journey of memory lane with you.

Love Prema

Anonymous said...

Uncle Aravind,

I'm going to carry my laptop to Bali with me instead of a book because I've got short stories with you blog :)

Great write up.....

Bouncy Cat