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Monday, February 28, 2011

Farewell Ashok!

And so it was that in mid December 2010, my brother Ashok had a stroke while at home. He had called me to say that his hands were numb and I had asked him to rush to the hospital which he did. He was quickly attended to at the hospital in SP where he remained for the next 2 days until his discharge.
Back at home he was quietly recovering…or so I was told. Little did I realize that he had not cut down on his favourite food and continued reaching out for high cholesterol stuff….. he especially loved nasi kandar and they serve good nasi kandar at SP.
He had often asked to see me and I assured him that I will be coming over during CNY in early February to spend a few days with him. But it was never meant to happen…..
On 25th February 2011 I decided to rush down when his daughter called the night before to say that he had taken ill again. Just as I was passing Tapah, I received word that he had breathed his last! I had least expected it so it came as a shock to me. My sister from Klang, my wife and daughter Priyanka were also with me when the call came through!
Endured the rest of the journey before finally reaching his house at about 7.00pm by which time they had brought back his body from the hospital. It was sad to see his family grieving beside the coffin. A feeling of guilt and sorrow seized me when I approached him to pay my last respects. Had I only known that the end was so near, I would have made the trip much earlier. Afterall, 58 is too young an age to go. But it was so sudden that none of us had expected.
The funeral was held the next day on 26-2-11 and was attended by the rest of my remaining siblings as well as a host of other relatives. We have not disclosed anything to my mum who is old and frail, for fear that the news might have a tragic effect on her. She still does not know that my brother has left us all. With his demise, I remain as the only surviving son having lost my eldest brother much earlier. I have of course three sisters who are hale and hearty!
Till we meet again wherever you are, may your soul rest in peace Ashok!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

BM High School Reunion Dinner 2011

(From L to R : Teck Aun, Boon Kheng,Kalai, his wife, Zuriah, Imbaraj, Radzi, Aravind & Jalil)

I had never attended any reunion dinners of my alma-mater, the famous BM High School. I know that the BMHS Alumni Club has been having this annual do at some posh hotel in KL ever since I left school in 1973 but it never interested me previously although on some occasions, the guest of honour had been ex-PM Abdullah Badawi (an old boy himself). I remember my classmate Jalil inviting me about 6 or 7 years ago to attend one when it was held at Sunway but I turned it down politely although I knew my other classmate Farid (the ‘F’ from JACHFRINS fame and now demised) would also be attending and I had not met him in a long time. Somehow the idea of celebrating a school function away from the school didn’t quite appeal to me.
So when Jalil called to inform me that this year’s function was being held at the school grounds in BM itself for the very first time. I was elated! I quickly spread the word around my other classmates whom I was in touch with and managed to gather the numbers for a table of 10. Nazir declined the invitation saying he had some other engagement on the same day. I called up Boon Kheng (who was in China at the time) who quickly reserved 2 seats, the other for Teck Aun. Imbaraj wanted in but Seck Hock, a successful lawyer in KL turned down for some reason. Imbaraj managed to contact Radzi who also agreed to join in.
So on the day of the function, off we went, all excited about being able to meet some old friends and teachers who we had not met since we left school 38 years ago. Imbaraj picked me up at about 10 in the morning from the Rawang Rest Area that I can actually access via a back route from my house in Rawang without having to hit the highway. I packed enough beers in my bag for the 3 hours or so journey. Once we passed Tapah, we started on the beers that had been chilled in a cooler bag that Imbaraj had brought along. We recalled so many incidents from the past as we took a slow drive, finally reaching BM at about 2 in the afternoon. After checking into Summit Hotel, we decided to go for a walkabout around town to get a feel of the place that we had traversed in during our younger days. Most of the shops were still around but some new buildings have sprung up. And the roads have been made one-way to ease the congestion. Found a nice cozy corner in an old chinaman stall and continued having a couple of beers more before we advanced to Ali Nasi Kandar nearby that had been in existence since our school days and which Imbaraj vouches to sell THE best Nasi Kandar in the country! After a sumptuous meal of chicken, with a dash of karuvadu curry and sotong, we retired to our room for a much needed short nap. We couldn’t have slept for more than an hour when Boon Kheng called to inquire our whereabouts. It was about 5 then and he wanted us to join him for some beers nearby. We quickly washed up and went to meet up with him. I had been in touch with him often especially during my Kulim days since he too lived there but Imbaraj was meeting him after 38 years. We had some more beers with him and Teck Aun over much fun and laughter before finally adjourning to the school for the reunion. Met up with Jalil at the school hall where he was having some light snack with his wife Zuriah (an ex-student herself from High School). Abdullah Badawi came with Jeanne a while later as the band started to belt out some old numbers. Interestingly the band was made up of school teachers from nearby schools.
We reminisced of our bygone days as we walked through the school corridor, stopping by at the very classroom that we studied in, taking a snap inside it at the very spot where we had been seated. Nothing much had changed except that the chairs that were either made of metal or wooden then had been replaced with plastic ones now.
We looked out hoping to be able to meet up with some of our old teachers but were disappointed when none of them had turned up. They must have retired obviously but efforts must have been made to invite them for the function which naturally isn’t complete without them around. I have since pointed this out to the organizer who promised to address the issue in the next event that will be held on 20-1-2012 (as Abdullah Badawi had insisted in his speech that all future reunions must be held at the school grounds).
When it was close to about 11, we decided to leave as Boon Kheng had invited us to Kulim Club where we went on to continue with our session until the wee hours of the morning. Returning to the hotel at about 3, we slept through the morning, waking up in time for lunch at Ali’s again before embarking on the arduous journey back home.
Thank you guys…….for the wonderful memories.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The 4 from JACHFRINS

Sometime in early January this year, Imbaraj called me up and said that Mokhtiar Singh was down from Australia where he calls home these days. The last I met him was about 4 or 5 years ago when we had met up to visit an ailing Farid in Damansara Specialist (but that is another story and will be told another day). So this time around, we planned to meet up for dinner on 7th Jan. at Hokkaido Restaurant near Vistana Hotel. Jalil had recommended the place for its good food.
So on the day that we planned, Imbaraj and I met up at KTM Club in Brickfields where we were to wait for Singh to arrive. We had some drinks while waiting catching up on old stories. Jalil was to head straight to the restaurant as being muslim, he was naturally a teetotaler. After Singh arrived, we shot off in Imbaraj’s car. Not realizing that roads in Brickfields have been made one-way streets, we got caught up in a traffic snarl and had to make Jalil wait a while.
The food in Hokkaido was good. But the company of the 4 of us chatting away was even better. It was a wonderful session. We caught up on all the happenings since we last met… least the events that we could remember. It is heartening to note that the 4 of us from our secondary school JACHFRINS group fame are still in touch after 38 long years!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Evening In Dinty's

Seated from L to R: Meena, Thilaga, Agnes and Shyla (office staff)enjoying the songs after their lunch.

Rajini impersonator from India (perfect match if not for his size).

One day in the year 2002, I decided to organize a lunch function for my office staff who until then never had the pleasure of attending one as the Company didn’t believe in having annual dinners. Annual dinners create an avenue not only to be able to show our appreciation to the employees for a job well done, it also provides a platform for them to mix and mingle with the management staff in an informal backdrop. It is envisaged that such interaction will help foster relationship and comradeship. It helps build a positive work environment that would in turn improve productivity levels in the long run. This is something that most large conglomerates practice. But not this Company that I work in. My numerous attempts to enlighten them on the intangible rewards of having this kind of functions fell into deaf ears. It was then that I thought I will organize a small do for at least the office staff.
I used to patronize the Dinty’s Pub in Brickfields then that only opens at 6.00 in the evening. As the Manager was a good friend of mine, I proposed the idea of having a lunch function on one of the Saturdays. She was receptive to the idea and allowed me exclusive usage of the premises from 1.00pm onwards to 6.00pm. Food was catered from a nearby restaurant and beer was free flowing for the guys who paid RM50.00 each while the ladies paid just RM15.00. There was also a band in attendance to entertain us during the 3 hours or so of merry-making. To add to the festivity, the Pub owner had also negotiated with some impersonators from India to do a Rajini, Kamal & Chandrababu acts. We had some staffs rendering a number or two while I was the MC for the evening and also sang a couple of songs. Towards the tail end of the show, the crowd became so immersed and ecstatic that they took to the floor. It was revelry at its finest!
On the whole, it turned out to be a grand success with each staff thanking me for a really enjoyable evening. It was a fantastic event, well received by all of them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cheng & I

It was the year 1973 and I was doing my Form 5. My Dad had arranged for me to take tuition for Mathematics as I was kind of weak in the subject. For a while, I was attending and all was ok. Then I got bored and on certain days, I played truant.

It was during one of those days when I had skipped tuition that I met Cheng at the Butterworth beach at about 7.30 in the evening. This was the beginning of my smoking days and I had gone by the beach area where it was dark and lonely with only courting couples in their cars for company. Cheng was there too. His father runs a sundry shop near my house and I had seen him quite often whenever I went over to buy something but we never got to strike a conversation as he was always busy in the shop. So when I met him tonight, he greeted me as I formally introduced myself. He was doing his Form 5 too but in Penang Island while I was on the mainland. I got to know him a fair bit more but what sealed the relationship was when I noticed that he smoked too. That made 2 of us. While I was just learning the ropes, so to speak, I noticed that he was seasoned. From then on, we met up often and went on to become close buddies. Every time he had some errands to run, he would always pick me up as my house was situated in his “drive path”. In fact during my sister’s wedding that year, he volunteered to drive and came with his family car and spent the entire time with us. The difference in ethnicity didn’t divide us. Far from it, in fact it was not a factor at all in the 70s. Together we joined the Bahai centre and used to attend prayer sessions. And those days, I would always claim that I was a Christian. I don’t know why but I never said that I was a Hindu. It was probably because I had so many Christian friends then…Raymond…. Andrew….. Victor ….. Ruban…..and many more. In fact, I had a Christian name too. I used to call myself John. That was until my sister pointed out one day that we had had a dog named ‘John’ in the house when I was a kid. Then I dropped it and changed my name to Steven for a while.

In this Bahai group, we would sometimes visit fellow Bahais in neighbouring towns. I remember those days when I mentioned that I was a Christian to anyone, their first reaction would be “ Ohhh…….so which church do you go to? And my standard answer had always been “There’s one near my school”. It was only much later that I learnt that the answer should have been either “Roman Catholic” or “Protestant” or one of those! Until today when I think of it, I feel stupid! Wonder what would have run through their minds!

Cheng featured prominently in my life then. He loved Hindi movies and Hindi songs. There had been many occasions when we went for movies together. In fact, I went for Bombay to Goa, my first Amitabh movie with him. His performance was impressive to say the least. Throughout the movie I was wondering who this new hero was as until then it had been Rajesh Khanna who was creating the waves. We now know how all that changed after Amitabh entered the movie scene.

Once he showed me a book titled ‘Hindi in 30 days’ that he was reading. I’m not sure if he made any gains by reading it but later in life after I had started working in KL, he went to Rajasthan in India to pursue a course in Agriculture.

I last met him in 1985 when he returned to Butterworth for a short break. He was working as a Planter in some plantation in Sabah then. We spent quite some time together to the extent that once when I went to visit him, I heard his mum telling him in Hokkien not to follow me out if I asked him to, while in the next breath, greeting me in Malay. I marveled at the level of hypocrisy that some people have but in retrospect, it was perhaps the family had wanted to spend more time with him and I happen to be depriving them of it. It was during this time that technology gradually advanced many fold……unnoticed (to me at least)! I realized one day a few months ago that the world has actually shrunk and distance was not a barrier anymore in communication. With that in mind, my wife and I made a trip to the old sundry shop in Butterworth where Cheng’s parents lived with the hope that I can revive the channels of communications with him. I was pleasantly surprised when his brother, mum and his dad could still recognize me as they welcomed me by my home name (Ravi). They were extremely delighted to see me. After a short tete-a-tete, I got Cheng’s phone number in Sabah and left, assuring them that I will drop in again.

I spoke to Cheng last night and he was indeed surprised to hear my voice. We spoke a lot of our present as well as our old times. I realize that a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since we last met but it is never too late to revive the relationship. He had been a part of my life at a certain point in time and it had been impactful. I could very nearly “sniff” his love and sincerity when he started enquiring of my family. He has promised to visit his parents during the next Chinese New Year. I am looking forward to catching up with this dear friend of mine whom I have not seen for 24 years!

(the above was written a month back to the present!)

And so it was on the 2nd day of CNY that I took a slow drive to his house in the kampong in Butterworth to meet up with him. I had learnt from his wife that morning that Cheng was indeed back home. He was pleasantly surprised to meet me and my wife. We spoke at length of events past and present. A strange sense of nostalgia crept by as we recalled some friends but had difficulty putting a face to those names. Time had taken a toll on our memory. He hadn’t changed a bit….being his usual congenial self and ever so courteous, factors that had played a crucial part in bringing us close during those early years. His parents were also pleased to see me and were in fact surprised that I had taken the trouble to keep in touch.

He said that he had turned down a promotion as it meant that he was to have been transferred to the interiors of Sabah. He has thus retired from the estates and was now running a food-stall in Sandakan where he has made base. His 3 bright kids are all government sponsored and 2 of them are pursuing medicine. His anxiety showed through when he spoke of Egypt where one of his daughters were and was due to be evacuated anytime even as we spoke. This time around, he had come alone, leaving his wife and kids back in Sabah but he assured however that we will meet again the next time when he comes sometime in June this year with his whole family.