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 in...it 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.