It was the CNY holidays in 1980 and I had planned an outing with Imbaraj and Shareen, my new friend. Shareen came into my life in the first week that I got transferred to Seremban when I was attached to Rothmans. She was introduced to me by another friend whom I had also just befriended. They worked in United Oriental Assurance that was located just above Pearls Restaurant along Birch Road that I used to frequent for my regular pints. I remember we hit it off from our first meeting and soon after she had asked if I could chaperone her to her office dinner that weekend in KL to which I readily agreed. We became close friends from then on. It was unfortunate that I had to make it clear that there were to be no strings attached in the relationship as I was already committed to my girlfriend from Ipoh then (now my wife). It was a perfect arrangement for us as being a Punjabi, it would have been difficult to make any headway although in retrospect, I realise I later went on to be well received by her family as well. She was an interesting character and being a good conversationalist, she made an excellent companion to me since I socialized on most evenings. Petite and pretty, she could get along well with all my friends and would often join me during my drinking sprees, soon becoming my drinking partner as well. Although she drank and smoked, she always carried herself with grace and etiquette. The Bhais in town would always stare whenever they saw us together but I couldn’t care less for them and was never at anytime intimidated.
Back to the main story, my boss had other plans. He insisted that the non-Chinese staff had to continue working to help service outlets as stocks were expected to be depleted during the long CNY holidays that fell just before a weekend. I was fuming when I heard this as I had already made plans to go on a holiday. Back then, I was a bit rebellious and kind of anti-management most of the time, especially when certain decisions didn’t favour me. Realising the hopelessness of the situation, I went about working around it for a solution and eventually got one of my distributor’s Malay salesman to cancel his leave and stand in for me to do my tidings during the shut-down. With that, Imbaraj, Shareen and I went off to Cameron Highlands for a 2 night 3 day trip.
Leaving Seremban early on the 1st day, we reached Camerons by lunch and checked into the Rose Garden Hotel. It was a decent 3 star hotel where I had often stayed when I was based at Ipoh previously. Most of the time that we stayed there was spent either chatting, playing tennis, swimming in a small waterfall deep inside the jungle or just drinking away in the room while playing cards. The weather was extremely cold then unlike how it is these days. It was fun….just the 3 of us. After having a good time, we left Camerons on the 3rd day making our way down the winding road to Tapah from where instead of heading back South, we decided to drive to Ipoh to visit my future in-laws who lived there. It had been some time since I last met them and I was eager to see my girl-friend anyway, even if only for a while. The traffic from the opposite direction was heavy with the holiday crowd returning after the long CNY break. I had hardly travelled about 1 km after turning towards Ipoh from the junction of the Camerons road when I noticed what looked like my boss’ car on the opposite direction heading back towards KL. By the time I got a closer look, it was too late! It was indeed my Area Manager who recognized me at once as we were driving branded cars then with mine having the Rothmans insignia all over. At that exact moment, my heart sank as I was supposed to be working on that day back in Seremban. Pretending that everything was normal, I just waved at him nonchalantly and continued my journey. But deep within me, I knew the trouble I had got into! On the way to Ipoh we stopped by at Malim Nawar to pick up Regu, another relative of mine. Regu was related to me after my sister married into his family. I was about 12 when I first met him and since we fell within the same age bracket, we became good friends.
My in-laws were of course happy to see us; and so was my girlfriend. After spending about an hour or so, we bid them farewell and adjourned to a nearby pub for our regular shots. Half way through our session, we realized that Regu had been competing with Shareen with the beers little realizing that she actually drank like a goldfish and could still hold her drinks! But it was a little too late when we realized it….Regu was already on the brink of intoxication!. It was about 11pm then and our plans was to drive back the same night as I had to return to work the next day, since my boss had already seen me earlier in the day. Imbaraj and Shareen however were still on leave though. Not knowing what to do, we decided that we will send Regu back to Malim Nawar on our way back. These were the days when we didn’t have the Plus highway and had to make do with the old trunk road.
Upon reaching his house, we noticed that everyone had already slept. Regu was by now completely knocked out! Assessing the situation, I carried him and put him over my shoulders and knocked on the door. I felt a lot of guilt doing this but I had no choice at that moment as I had to return back. His brother opened the door expressing shock and outrage seeing him in a drunken stupor. I carried him inside and placed him on the couch, apologetically explaining that he had had a bit too much to drink………. and hurriedly left the place.
I drove all the way reaching Seremban at about 3 or 4am, sleeping only for the next 3 hours or so after that before getting up to report to work. At about 10am that morning, a warning letter from my boss came through the telex machine for "dereliction of duties".
Since then, Imbaraj and I continued to keep in touch but Regu migrated to New Zealand sometime in the early 80s from where I later learnt that he moved to Australia where he has since settled down. I received a call from him last week saying that he was down in Malaysia visiting his folks. We re-lived some of the moments that we spent together in our younger days promising to meet up sometime soon. I am excited and looking forward to seeing him again after all these years.... I wonder what has changed....!
As for Shareen, after I got married in 1981, she went on to continue her tertiary education and soon after, settled down with one of her college heart-throb. She is now a full fledged lawyer and lives with her husband and son in Subang Jaya…….but that was in 1998 when I last bumped into her. Our paths have not crossed after that meeting and I have lost all forms of contact with this dear friend of mine.