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Friday, November 19, 2010

Chaudhary & I

Chaudhary & I go a long way back. I had just been transferred to Seremban then while working for Rothmans in 1979. Didn’t know anyone there except for my classmate Raymond with whom I stayed for the first 3 months or so. I later moved in with my working colleagues who were renting a house in Jalan Templer.
I used to patronize The Pearls, an up-market restaurant along Birch Street that was run by one Mr. Arjunan. My then new love interest was also working upstairs next door so it was sort of a convenient meeting place for us after work. I would spend hours on end chatting away, downing my favourite beer till its time to call it a day, usually in one of the private rooms in the restaurant that Mr. Arjunan had.
It was on one of those days that I met Chaudhary otherwise known as Roton to his family. (I especially liked the name Chaudhary as it reminded me of the Sivaji starrer of the 70’s where the hero excels in his role as a policeman). He worked in the estates in nearby Pedas town and was a football referee, often refereeing the game for the Indian Association team players in the town padang just opposite Pearls Restaurant. I was having my usual pint when we struck up a conversation. Upon learning that I was an out-of-towner, he was more than nice towards me. We soon developed a close friendship………. and I got to know his family too when he invited me to his parent’s house in Bahau one day. I have spent so much time with him in his estate bungalow that it was more like my second home. His sister (Lolo) also stayed with him so sometimes when I am rushing back to work the next morning, I would drop her off at her work-place in Senawang that was along the way. He even gave me a spare key which meant that I could access his house during the times when he and his sister weren’t there.
After I left Seremban in the early 80’s, we still kept in touch. I would visit him once or twice and learnt that he had grown career-wise, having left his Pedas job to take up a posting in another estate in Labu, closer to town. He was married by then to someone from India with whom he was communicating back in the 70’s while I was still in Seremban.
We lost touch for a while after that until about 25 years later when I somehow managed to get his phone number through another one of our common friends. Made contact with him and visited him a couple of years back. He had bought a beautiful house in Seremban 2 with a large garden and had a gardener to tender to his plants when I dropped in……reminding me of his estate life back then.
We spoke for quite a while catching up on old stories. He mentioned that he was retired and was looking forward to taking up an offer from Sabah or Sarawak (can’t quite remember). After having lunch, I left promising that we’d meet again. I later invited him for my daughter’s wedding but it was unfortunate that he couldn’t attend. From then on, I would always tell myself that I should visit him when I get a chance to drop by at Seremban but somehow never got down to fulfilling that wish. Spoke to him over the phone though……the last being about 6 months back.
As such it was a real shocker to see his photograph in the obituary section of the papers on 22nd November 2010! I called up his sister and was told that he had had a massive heart attack the previous evening and had passed away.
It is so sad that unlike in a race, life does not offer a finish-line. It just ends…..and so abruptly at that……! Thus ends another chapter in my life leaving behind only fond memories.
Rest in peace Roton. God bless you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Early Years - part 2

Although there were 3 of us from the same school living together in the house (in different classes), somehow I felt alienated when it came to matters of the school. And it was not the studies that I’m talking about. It was about what to do and what not to do. There were many occasions when I had gone to school with a bag-load of books only to discover that I needn’t have to as it was ‘prize giving day’…. Or it was ‘exhibition day’ or ‘school concert’. Until today I still wonder how the information didn’t flow to me or was it because I was a dreamer. I remember going to year 2 in 1965 in the morning only to be told that I had to come back in the afternoon as they had placed me in ‘express class’. I didn’t have any inkling on what it was all about but went along anyway. Unlike other kids my age, I didn’t have anyone to chaperone me to school or seek clarification from the teachers. My folks were far, far away in a God forsaken estate, working hard to put food on the table for 6 kids. With my Dad’s meager income as Hospital Attendant cum Dispenser and my Mum as a Ward Maid cum midwife, it must have been financially tight to cater to my needs too since I was living away from home and I am sure they had to pay something for my board and lodging. But they never once complained. My orthodox parents always gave priority to education at any cost.
I went on to spend another 3 years in Butterworth with my uncle’s family before finally being transferred back to a school in Kulim after my Standard 5 in 1967 having gone through Standard 3 and 4 in the same year in 1966. Doing 2 standards in one year might have been a novel idea catering for bright kids but it didn’t quite work out for me as I struggled through Standard 5 as the express class syllabus of year 3 and 4 didn’t quite cover many of the subjects leaving me sort of lost and confused the following year. But after Standard 6, I was ok though. In later years, I would return to this place where I spent my early school years namely to my Uncle’s house at No. 88 Kampung Bengali many a time to relive fond memories of my childhood.
Back in the estates after that, I was enrolled at St. Patrick’s primary during the last quarter of my Standard 5. It was a missionary school and I found it strange having to address the Principal as ‘Brother’. Once again I didn’t expect this as my brothers who had studied in the same school hadn’t mentioned about it before……or maybe they had but it hadn’t quite register in my mind since as a kid, I was always preoccupied and drowned in my own thoughts (we know it as ‘day dreaming’ now). And there were a lot of Christian boys in my class too. There were Raymond, Ruban James, Andrew, Victor, Peter S, Albons and a few more who I cannot recall. From this list, only Raymond and I went on to foster a close relationship…… (He has been mentioned in many of my other stories). Although he has since settled down in Norway, we still keep in touch.
After the December holidays, I prepared to start my Standard 6 and as usual found a seat beside Raymond until an hour or so later when the Principal appeared in the class, said something to the class teacher (Mr. Chinniah) and soon led me away to his office where he informed me that he had not received the green light as yet from the Ministry on whether I could go to Standard 6 as being younger by a year, I was under-aged to be in Standard 6. Disheartened and disappointed, I was sent back to Standard 5 again where I remained for another month until I was cleared by the Ministry to continue in year 6. Wow! What a relief that was!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My early years - part 1

The year 1964 was the only year when all 6 of us (siblings) were still in school, with me starting in Standard 1 and my eldest sister completing her Form 5. There were no English schools at the estate where my parents lived; the nearest one was about 20 miles away through laterite roads in Kulim, so my Dad had put us all up at my Aunty’s place in Butterworth to get through our education. Like all orthodox families, Dad was steadfast in his belief that a good education was the only key to success.
After my sister finished her Form 5, it was felt that we should all return to live in the estate as we were big enough to endure the 35 km travel to school. The estate provided 2 school buses leaving each morning catering to the needs of the more than70 students studying in the town. It meant that we had to wake up by 5 each morning to catch the 6 o’clock for the journey that would usually take about an hour. There were not many vehicles on the roads then to compete for space, so the travel was hassle-free except that the white uniforms turned beige by the time we reached school. But I didn’t have to go through all these then……not for the next 3 years at least. The reason was that my folks felt that waking up early to make the arduous journey to school would be too much for me to bear at that age. Moreover I was one of those selected to go through “express” class….meaning, I get to complete the next 4 years of classes in 3 years. And schools in Kulim didn’t practice the express class system then.
So in 1965 when the rest of my siblings moved back to study in Kulim, I had to stay back to continue my education in Butterworth. They put me up at one of my uncle’s place where there were a host of other school going kids too with whom I soon bonded and blended in to become one of their own, travelling back to the estates only during school holidays. Initially I felt lonely….. extremely lonely, especially each time I came back after the holidays. There had been moments when I’d just bury my face in the pillow and cry my heart out. Although I was surrounded by so many of my relatives here, it was never the same. I missed my mum especially.
So it was here in Butterworth where I grew up the next 3 years until I completed my Standard 5 in 1967. My uncle was a tailor. He starts early usually by 8 or 9am and I have only seen him working through the day without any real breaks in between, often rushing to complete his orders. I remember doing errands for him once or twice, running over to the shops nearby to get him his favourite ‘rough-rider’ cigarettes……..not much of a smoker though as he only smoked about 4 or 5 sticks a day. Such was his discipline. I remember him as a mild mannered person and had never ever seen him admonishing his kids in any way…not once! Disciplining was the forte of my aunt (his wife).
There were many of us in the same age group including the neighbourhood boys. Vidya, being the last son, was naturally the blue-eyed boy in the family. He seldom joined us in our activities preferring to stay back with the family. The other cousin Ravi (often referred to as Big Ravi as we both shared the same name) was the head of our pack. Together we engaged in all kinds of games….kite, tops, marbles, police & thief, rounders etc……games that have almost disappeared from this part of the world now. Many of the neighbours were muslim boys. But back then friendship was not built along racial or religious preference. We were just harmless young kids who happened to get along well with no such inhibitions whatsoever. There were the bad guys in the group too (Gabriel and his Donald) who fortunately, we avoided mixing with after being advised not to by the elders. Later in life, Gabriel & Donald went on to become wanted criminals in the country. I didn’t keep track of what happened to them after that but with no news of them in the tabloids these past 20 or 30 years, they must have met their Maker, like everyone else like them.
The girls in the house treated me well……Chandrika, Subathra, Sumathi and their cousins Thangam and Uma (or Parija as she was called). They had a large room upstairs for themselves while the boys slept in the other smaller room. The blue-eyed boy, of course, slept with his parents. I went on to spend the next 3 years here during which time I missed home dearly but seldom spoke of it to anyone. I missed being with my siblings who I got to see only during school breaks.
(….to be continued)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hem Raj's graduation

Finally, Hem Raj has graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The challenges of life will begin from now on for him. But I'm sure he will be able to endure them all in his stride.

Congratulations Hem Raj!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The have it her way!

She is nearly a year and a half now and has learnt to walk and 'baby'talk. Her teeth makes her cute when she smiles....and she smiles most of the time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lesson in History

(Click on image for enlarged view)
This is an extract of part of Lord Macaulay's address to the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835 that I received in my mail recently. It bears an interesting observation of the Indians in India then. Note the proposal to replace the education system to break the Indians forever and to make them feel inferior, thereby losing their self-esteem and in the process allow themselves to be dominated. How conniving and cunning!
(search for Lord Macaulay in the web for more)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cutie Pie

This picture was taken during Thaipusam this year in Butterworth. We were all in a restaurant having lunch when we placed my grand-daughter Kalavitha in the baby’s chair. What you see of her is she screaming her head out that she wants to come out of it. Holding her is my last daughter Priyanka, named so as she was born in the same year that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. His daughter is also named Priyanka.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thaipusam at the Sunset Bistro

It was a reunion of sorts during the last Thaipusam holidays. My nephew had booked the Flamingo suites in Penang and we decided to make it into a small family get-together of sorts. Took leave on Friday and started on the journey from Rawang at about 10.30 in the morning. Traffic wasn’t heavy and I made it to Kulim by mid afternoon where I picked up my mum, sister and my brother. I decided to cross over to Penang by ferry as it had been a long time since I travelled this way, always preferring to take the bridge. We got a place on the upper deck of the vehicular ferry. The ride was really nice and brought back old memories when we lived in Butterworth and it was the only way to cross over…….way back in the 80s….
We reached the hotel close to 6 in the evening and were assigned to our rooms. It was a tastefully furnished 3 room suite with 2 balconies along the beach in Tanjung Bungah overlooking the sea. Unfortunately, the sun sets over the hills at Balik Pulau, the other side of the island, so we had to make do with just the sight of darkening of the skies as the sun called it a day.
Later that night, my nephews and I together with Ragu (from Australia) then adjourned to the bistro on the first floor where we started on the beers. It was nice and cozy with a full view of the pool. My brother joined in too. After a full session, Ragu and I took a drive to Gurney Drive and met up with Imbaraj, Sargu, Murali and their families who were spending the holidays in Penang too. After chatting for close to an hour and downing a few more within the same space of time, we moved on to Penang Road to meet up another one of my second cousins Vasu who had been waiting there for a while. He wasn’t alone though….introducing us to a Ms. Banu who was with him. She provided the needed companionship without commitment this evening. The night ended close to 2 am. Its rare for me to hit the bed at such unearthly hours……… but what the hell? Its not often that I get to let my hair down.
Although I slept late, I was up early the next morning….in time for breakfast at the hotel anyway. My son and son-in-law were seen playing snooker outside the lobby area while Mohanan and I quietly planned to sneak out for some nice beer. The mid afternoon sun was blazing down by then and what better way to cool down than a couple of nice cool ice-cold Danish delight by the sea. We adjourned to the sunset bistro off Tanjung Bungah town. It’s actually a very private joint away from the bustling tourist spots nearby and has a cozy long bar just along the edge of the beach where we perched ourselves for the next few hours. The huge trees provided natural protection from the sun’s rays with its large canopy of leaves leaving just enough opening for us to take in the lovely sight of the beachfront with seemingly energized waves of the incoming tide rushing in as if in a race among them only to dissipate as they swept across the shore…..and recede to pick up the pieces for another round of unending action. A while later, Alicia dropped in to provide the much needed relief support with her partner tagging along, having parked his recently purchased Beamer at the distance but within view. It was a wonderful respite from the everyday routine and a much needed one too. To understand the feeling, you have to close your eyes and take away all thoughts of everything from your mind……….blanko it! You become completely free then ……….free from life’s daily demands, chores, the obligations, compulsion……from everything. It lasts only for the moment and you are aware of it but it’s a beautiful feeling……….. even if only for the moment.
Thaipusam in Penang is a must-see event. I know because I have been there so many times, especially when we lived in Butterworth. It is much better than Batu Caves where the crowd is contained just below the Temple. In Penang, it takes a carnival atmosphere of sorts with the crowd milling around “all over Georgetown” so to speak. I make it a point to advise all and sundry that they must make it a point to visit Penang during Thaipusam to experience the difference.
..............unfortunately, this time around……….I didn’t make it to the temple……..!

Friday, January 22, 2010

......long overdue!

This is long overdue. My sincere apologies……..
Yes…it has been a while since I posted anything…..excuses aplenty of course. For one, I have been tasked with neutralizing a situation in my plant where a group of disgruntled workers are in the process of establishing a union. It has befallen on me to use my influence to talk them out of it, an arduous task that I have undertaken as a project. Whether I succeed in my attempts or not, only time will tell. But from the looks of it, it appears they are not making much headway, not without the support from a vast majority of them….or so it seems.
And to add to this added workload, my key assistant has gone on his annual pilgrimage to India… Swammi Ayappan. So that means that since the birth of the new year, I have had to oversee everything here in office, something that this star player would usually take care of.
Then they have given me a new PC….which is good considering that I have been using the old one for such a long time……since 2001 when I joined, I think. But the trouble with this new PC is that there are so many new features in it. And the e-mail screen comes with so many other options in it that I don’t feel comfortable using it anymore. Or maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to it which surely I will…over time. But for now, I don’t feel comfortable…not yet. And that’s also one of the reasons that had kept me away from writing. …..honest! You see, I have been reluctantly pushed to live life in this age of I.T……something that I didn’t have to in the first 40 years of my life. But that’s the order of things these days, so what’s my alternative? It has become a matter of survival…..or becoming irrelevant and ‘obsolete’! What a choice really?
Anyway there have been a lot of things happening around me that I will have to write about. For one, I made contact with my old friend Praba from the hospital days who is now in Sabah and who will be down sometime early next month…….I have also made contact with some cousins of mine from India with whom I have started communicating in the hope that we can built a foundation first before we get to meet, that has been planned for mid-year. On the local front, this year is also the year when my remaining old classmates plan to have a reunion. It’s in the pipeline but we are sure it will materialize. To make the event all the more exciting, we want to meet up in Penang and pay a visit to our alma-mater in BM…..just for old time’s sake.
Thank you for joining me. I will be up and running in due course. Until then please bear with me especially Mr. Suresh Nair and Tok Jack.