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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Void I Feel

(This is an interesting piece of document that I retrieved from Dad's belongings. Its a copy of a testimonial to him from a Visiting Medical Officer that he held on dearly to. Click on the image to get a magnified view and you will see that it was dated 1948. Also notice the 2 digit telephone numbers then. We have gone into 7 digits now. 8 digits in KL).

In a few days time, it will be Diwali again. Unlike previous years, we will not be celebrating this time around due to Dad’s demise. But I will surely be returning to Kulim with my family to be with my mum and sister who live there.

Dad had been a strict man all his life. I still remember we had to be seen with books in front of us by 7.00 each evening if you don’t want to earn his wrath. We will be happily playing and running about in the house until just before 7 when Dad would return. Our house in the estate was located on a small hillock and it was quite a distance from the nearest quarters. Dad had a habit of clearing his throat in a peculiar manner every time he nears the house perhaps to ward off spirits as the area was secluded. We could hear him from the distance as being isolated the place becomes extremely quiet especially in the evenings. And when we do, we would all run helter-skelter, grab our school books and practically jump to our specific studying spot. Some of us used the dining table to study. Some of us sat down in the hall. It didn’t matter if we were panting or sweating. Dad wouldn’t take notice. Till his end, Dad didn’t realize that his cough was what gave away his otherwise stealthy return. Mum wouldn’t tell either.

Dad was so strict when it came to studies. He was steadfast in his belief that only a proper education can take you anywhere. I don’t remember a day when I felt unwell or skipped school when in the estates……didn’t dare to. We had to wake up at 5 to catch the 6 o’clock bus. The journey through meandering gravel roads usually took about an hour. It was always late lunch for me as the bus reaches back after school only by about 3 pm each day, having to wait to pick up a couple of convent girls who finish only at 2. I used to go through severe hunger pangs initially but eventually got used to it. Dad was also particular about the grades that we got. I usually made good grades in my early years so much so that I was selected to go through Express Class where I completed Standard 3 and Standard 4 in the same year. So when I was 10 years old, I was already in Standard 5. It didn’t work out well for me after that as I had difficulty coping with my studies from then on until I was in Form 3. My grades fell badly and Dad wasn’t happy at all. But what could I do? It was the system that failed me and back in the estate, there were no tuition classes that I could attend. Dad didn’t realize that I was an average kid. And average kids made do with 60 or 70 marks. But he wanted high marks in all the subjects that I took. And Art was my worst subject. I used to get about 9 or 10 marks only. I just couldn’t draw. If you made a man stand in front of me and ask me to sketch him, I would probably end up producing an image of a cow! I was that bad. But Dad wouldn’t have any of it. Low grade was not an option. So I did the next best thing. I created my own report card to please Dad. I had 2 sets then, one was the official one given by the school that contained my actual results and another was my own creation. The one from the school, I signed myself and fortunately my teachers never suspected anything amiss till the end. To my Dad, I showed the duplicate one that contained only high marks in all the subjects. Dad would be satisfied only with 90 marks and above. Even 89 was not acceptable to him So I showed all the subjects as having obtained above 90. And he was happy. I never felt guilty doing this and don’t look at it as cheating….it was win-win for both of us anyway ……….anything to make him happy. And that is the reason why when my own kids bring in their report cards these days, I scrutinize them thoroughly. I don’t want my genes in them to make them adventurous in this area.

My brother Ashok had a habit of collecting pictures of film-stars that he would paste in an exercise book and write a caption underneath the pictures. That was his hobby. His favorite actor then used to be MGR. And he was not alone in such pursuits. I knew that many of my cousins and his friends were followers of the movie icon too. The patriotism that they displayed transcends all logic. Theirs was a passion by itself. I still remember when MGR was shot in the neck by another actor M.R. Radha back in the 60s due to some political difference, many of them couldn’t bring themselves to accept it….some wouldn’t even eat until he regained consciousness a day or two later. Such was their reverence towards their idol. Coming back to my brother, he would cut out his idol’s pictures from any available source, usually from magazines and newspapers. One morning Dad went to town and bought back the Sunday Tamil newspapers and had left it in the hall while he went to bathe. A while later after lunch, relaxing on his easy-chair, he opened the spreadsheet wanting to catch up on the news when he found a gaping hole in the centre-spread; they had featured some scenes from an MGR movie and my brother had cut them out without realizing that Dad hadn’t read the papers yet. Dad was furious seeing this! The rest of us had a good laugh seeing Dad chasing him around the house!

My maternal Grandmother reared cows. Each of her herd had a name. I remember her calling out their names during feeding time…..Letchumy…Radha and the likes of it that I cannot recall now. I used to cycle to the estate quarters where she lived to collect yogurt during weekends. Meals were never complete without them and I used to savor the taste especially when Mum made chicken curry. I still enjoy the habit of mixing rice with yogurt to this day.

And talking of that, when Mum gives word that it’s going to be chicken curry for lunch, my brothers and I will be tasked with catching one. We had a large chicken coop in our sprawling compound where Dad reared chicken… one time even turkeys. It was not easy catching chicken because of their sheer speed. After mum identifies which one to catch, we will carefully ‘guide’ it out from the coop. Then we will chase it from all directions until it tires out. Then holding it by its neck, we will proudly give it to mum to cook. Dad would do the cleaning.

Estate bungalows those days were built without being restricted by perimeter fencing. This meant that we could run and play as far as we wanted to. The estate maintained the lawn to golf course standards. The nearest house was about 500 meters away so we had a large area to call our own. We had all sorts of matured fruit trees in our compound. My favorite was the cashew nut tree. We would pluck the fruits when they are ripe enough and throw the seeds into a fire like how Dad taught us to. Once it’s burnt, we would prise open the seed to get to the cashew nut inside it. The taste was simply tantalizing but it was never possible to satisfy our craving palates as we got only about 4 or 5 fruits at any one time much unlike rambutans that ripen as a bunch. Today’s children are so lucky as roasted cashew nuts are so easily available in the markets.

This trip back I am hoping that my other siblings would also be able to join me. I know I will feel the vacuum without Dad. We will have to make do with Mum and pretend that all is well….at least for her sake. Life has to go on.


Anonymous said...

Is it Void or Guilt?

Yes, life has to go on! You are quite a storyteller and long winded too. That piece of 1948 document is priceless. Well, your Dad is watching you now and he knows all the mischief that you did behind his back including the report cards. Pray hard that he forgives you. Tell me how did you manage to fake the report card? (You were bad in arts to design one).

Suresh Nair

aravind said...

No Suresh. Surely not guilt! I was his blue eyed boy till the end.
And by create, I meant the data contained within. Not the design. Then we could get it off the shelf in the school itself. No restrictions whatsoever. I dont know if they have controls in place now.

Simple complicated Cathy said...

All your story makes me wonder if u were really in Kulim or in India :)

Nice memories i'm sure and hope this weekend brings you close and reflections with your siblings.....

And uncle, i can't help it if others beat me at commenting first :) he he he.