(Back row from Left to Right: Jalil, Sargu, Imbaraj, Aravind, Akbar, Hari. Front row from Left to Right : Zuriah, Catherine, Muna,Ismail's gf, Amitha, Mala.
Pls click on picture for enlarged version).
The year was 1975 and I was working as a Trainee HA in Kedah. I had known Ismail, a mamak teacher for a couple of months by then. One day he dropped by and in the midst of our conversation, he mentioned that he had a contact through whom it would be possible to book the Raj Bhagwan bungalow located up in Penang Hill belonging to the philanthropist Mr. Arumugam Pillai. On learning of this, I immediately told him to go ahead and make the application while I swung into action in organizing my friends and classmates who were to join me. These were the days when we didn’t have mobile phones or e-mails so I couldn’t get in touch with many of the JACHFRINS boys except those who were in regular contact then.
On the day of the trip, Jalil came with his childhood heart-throb Zuriah (they have since married and now have a happy family), Hari brought Mala who he was mentoring as her athletic coach, the flamboyant Imbaraj brought not only Catherine, the lass from the Batu Ferringhi trip but also another one of his girlfriend Amita, Akbar showed up, so did Muna; and then there were the rest of us namely Sargu, Singh and I. Ismail of course brought along his girlfriend. It was to be a 3 days / 2 nights trip. We gathered in BM and made our way to Air Itam from where we had to catch the funicular train to Penang Hill. Some of us had been up the hill on numerous occasions; in fact we had even hiked up a couple of times. The scene as the train lazily drags itself up the steep slope is spectacular……simply breathtaking. The tracks are built on deep ravines but should any cable snap for any reason whatsoever, they have a safety latch that is immediately triggered that would prevent the tram from rolling down. The air gets steadily cooler as you gradually climb higher, finally reaching the top station after about 30 minutes or so. From there we asked around and took a short walk to the magnificent bungalow, situated on a small hillock with wide acres of greens dotted with rows of flower plants that is unique to the highlands. It really looked majestic!
Upon reaching the front door, we were told by the gardener that the caretaker had gone out for a while and was expected back at any time. Hearing this, I thought I will just scout around the nearby places and got Mala, with whom I had already become close during the journey from BM, to follow me. It was just a short walk and when we reached a small park, we sat down and engaged in a lengthy conversation. I cannot remember what we spoke about but I suppose it must have been interesting as we lost track of time and only returned to the bungalow after close to an hour. Hari who was instrumental in getting her parents approval to allow her to come was naturally displeased with me. In fact he was so upset that he punched and broke the cupboard in one of the rooms. I later learnt that Sargu and Singh were the ones who had provoked him by planting unsavory thoughts into him while we were away. Any doubt as to who was Mala’s preferred candidate was soon settled when she outwardly displayed her allegiance and affection towards me thereby ending all ambiguity. Hari, though disappointed, relented in good faith.
Later in the evening Singh and Sargu had run through Hari’s bag and found a condom in it. Hari had come prepared for such eventualities in case he got lucky with someone, little realizing his limitations in that area of expertise. Singh filled up the condom with water until it formed the shape of a large brinjal and put it back in his bag. Later as we were discussing something else, Singh asked him what he will do if he succeeded with one of the girls. He proudly claimed that he had come prepared for such developments and immediately went to his bag to show the condom that he had brought along. Unzipping the bag, he put his hand in but being unable to find it, he started to take out the clothing one by one and put them outside including the bloated condom without realizing what it was……still searching in the bag! We all burst out laughing!
We had a party that night on the first floor. I remember the lights were switched off to create and encourage a romantic feeling………. only to be switched on again……and again…… to catch the smoochers off-guard! I remember Imbaraj kept coming back to me because one of the girls was trying to get fresh with him and he didn’t know the art of kissing. I articulated to him with hand gestures……I think. That night after the party while the rest of the group occupied the many rooms upstairs, Imbaraj and I decided to sleep in the large hall downstairs with 2 of the girls for company. We used the extreme cold as an excuse to huddle together. Except for the glow from the heated up coils of the electric radiator, everything else was pitch dark, opening up new horizons of opportunity for us to explore (pun intended). We were young…naïve….curious…..at an experimental stage of life. And being such, it felt nice ‘falling’ in love, being able to call someone your ‘own’. And to be able to improve on your otherwise underutilized sense……the sense of touch. Being in love is not just a feeling….its a state of being…..there is a difference between just ‘feeling’ the feeling and being actively involved in the dimension. It’s a fantastic feeling.
As fatigue engulfed us midway through this rare ‘mystical’ night, we decided that it was time to call it a day when out of the blues….with no prior warning, we heard footsteps of someone walking down…..slowly, step by step….stopping right at our door. We cuddled up tightly together, quite certain that everyone else were asleep. There was something spooky about the whole thing and I was beginning to sweat in that cold night with my imagination playing havoc. But I couldn’t outwardly display such emotions…not tonight with a damsel in tow. I probably would have screamed if the door had opened but fortunately it did not. We found out the next morning that no one had walked down the stairs at that hour. There was no reason to. A creepy feeling overwhelmed us……!
The next morning understandably we woke up late and were all having our breakfast when the caretaker came running to break the news of the impending and untimely arrival of the owner Mr. Arumugam Pillai who was headed to the bungalow for an unscheduled weekend retreat. It broke our hearts but we rejoiced at the wonderful time that we had during the relatively short space of time…..and still cherish those moments to this day.