Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Love for Johore Bahru knows no bounds

Jay Bee my home
why do i feel so alone
when i visit
something does not fit.
What has happened to the soul of my town
Why is my face contorted into a perpectual frown
Where are the familiar faces and shops of wong ah fook
All of you stop and take a look.

i was born in Jalan Dhoby
long before it was a city
then it was home
now its an empty dome.

where are safiah, awang, mat, mariam and the others
where are sau siah, her parents and her brothers
where is the lady who sold us cow’s milk by the tumblers
where did all the familiar people scatter

oh how well i can feel what azly rahman feels in his heart
how intensely lonely i feel as from a once-safe Jay Bee we depart
But when night falls and my thoughts return to my childhood
That is when i see my jay bee – for time – for me - still it stood!

prasanna krishnan

The Malays The Chinese The Indians and I

The Indians

Part 1 - The Wedding of Kunjunnie

Today is Saturday, 10th September 2011. I chose this title more than a week ago and waited for something momentous to take place, so that it would give me the right substance and impetus, to translate into words my thoughts and thereby justify my chosen title. I had no idea what it would be but I had the conviction that such an event would occur. Today, something momentous did take place - the wedding of my former student, Captain Shashi Kunjunnie Narayanan of the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces.

Let me tell you how my journey with Kunjunnie started in December 1994 when the new academic year started for Malaysian students. Now why did the school year start in December, you may well ask? Well each Minister for Education in my country, whether he is an educationist or not, most often he has never been an educationist, feels a compulsive urge to mark his place in the history of our country with a brand new change. The Minister responsible for this change felt that having a long break in December reflected our strong servile bond to our colonial masters and their celebratory festival, Christmas. So school holidays were changed and we were told that it was for the sake of the monsoon rains!!! and the public examinations!!!

Silly sheep that we were and are, we followed and follow, instructions from one minister after another without question. Today that minister is a villain and has a strong bond of  support from the very same people whose celebration of Christmas caused the change in our holidays. The year he was thrown out of office, we got back our December holidays once again. That my friends is called change.

My journey with Kunjunnie started in December 1994 when I reported for duty in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kampung Pasir Putih in Ipoh. I had come from Sabah. I was an English Language teacher. Kunjunnie was in Form 2. By the time he reached Form 4 I was his teacher. He was a quiet, hardworking, polite boy who joined one of the Uniformed Units of the school, did all his work and was well liked by his teachers and friends. Due to some narrow-minded teachers' excitement caused by Malay students taking part in an English concert, my friend and co-teacher Dena had her share of problems and I received a letter telling me that I was transferred out to Batu Gajah with almost immediate effect, and the signatory to that letter was the husband of my principal, who happened to be a person of some position in the Education Office. Talk about coincidences.

Over the years, I met Kunjunnie and his brother Giri in the Gunung Cherong temple on Fridays quite infrequently. Then some weeks ago, I received a call from him, telling me about his coming marriage and that he would like to come over and invite me for his wedding. A week later, he came to my house with his father. That visit was the start of one lesson about life which I was never able to learn properly from my mother. Today I graduated. And with my graduation, I know I am a part of the Malays, a part of the Chinese, a part of the Indians and I am a vital part of who they are as well.

His father Mr Narayanan, an unassuming man, soft spoken, leader of a family, quiet at first, more vocal later, began to interact with me and share his views.

"Is this a love marriage? I asked with a smile.
"No, no. It's an arranged marriage. We are very traditional,"  he said. His son smiled and I felt suitably chastised. The boy added, "Teacher, my parents chose the girl and I know that they will choose the right person for me."
"His job was to study and get a good job and salary first," the father explained. "Otherwise, their minds will be on other things and not their future. We will help them make right choices when the time is right," he nodded, looking at me for approval. I indicated with my shaking, nodding head that I absolutely agreed with him.

How often had I heard that from my parents more than forty years ago. They were not speaking for effect. They were speaking a belief which they tried to instill into their children from a young age. Roles and responsibilities, choices and priorities. I had beliefs but no conviction. I had convictions and beliefs but no one listened and followed. Therefore I had no more convictions. They planned. I had no plans. Ad hoc, ad hoc, ad hoc became my shallow mantra.

"Kunjunnie, I know you are in the army. What exactly is your job?"
"I am a Captain. I am in Putrajaya," he answered.
"What made you join the army?"
"I was a member of the Cadet Corps, you remember?" he asked for clarification. I nodded my head, "And I always wanted to join the army, so I applied and when I got it, Teacher, I was really very happy."
"Didn't you want to do anything else?" I kept probing.

"Mrs Chandra, my son joined the army after he graduated from University Technology Malaysia in Johore. I told him that he had to go to University first and he did well." I then remembered Dena telling me that Kunjunnie was the top student of his batch. I looked at the beaming face of the proud father who continued, "He took a PTPTN loan and studied and now he is paying back his loan."
"Well done Kunjunnie," and I meant it. I am truly happy with every achievement of each of my students.
"I always listen to my father. He has always takes me the right way."

The conversation moved away from Kunjunnie to things in general and that meant, am I a Malayalee, did I speak Malayalam, my house did not reflect my ethnicity. The English conversation shifted to a Malayalam one and soon everyone was convinced that each of us was a genuine item. It came back to marriage.

"Is your son married?"
"Teacher, you know so many people. Why don't you arrange something for him?"
"I don't think he will listen."
"Teacher, but he knows you will do it carefully and won't do the wrong thing," he said with genuine surprise at my answer. "He will listen, he is your son."
"People are different, he is different. I am sure he will find someone really nice."
"I know, today people are modern," Kunjunnie conceded.
"Yes," I said in a neutral tone, "people are far too modern".

"But I'm sure you want marriage to be old-fashioned so that it's happy and lasts forever," said the father. I nodded my head.

"Everybody is modern, their dressing, their music, their clothes and what they eat. But some things we as parents must make sure remain steady, like being polite to parents and elders, taking family life as sacred and marriage as unbreakable," he said with a shake of his head and an iron-clad conviction staring me straight in the face before turning to face his son.  I remembered my parents. They stuck it out through good and bad times. I remembered all the older people who have passed on, marriage was a contract. You don't break a contract.

The father and son then got up and when I rose, they moved towards me and placed a tray on my hand. On the tray was the wedding invitation card. "Mrs Chandra, I want you to bless my son and his life," said the father with so much of respect and trust in me. I took the card and held it against my chest.
"Kunjunnie, you are a good son. Surely goodness will follow you the rest of your life," and I realised that was misquoting Psalm 23. I told them to wait and went to the pantry and got the huge bar of Cadbury's Milk Chocolate, which I had purchased in Changi, for the tray that I returned to the couple.

I promised them that I would be present for the dinner on the 10th of September. I would not be able to make it for the wedding on the 2nd in Seremban. I asked the father how many children he has. He has 5 children.
"How many children do you have? he asked me.
"One!" they both exclaimed in unison.
"Yes," and I realised that my smile was a little sad.
"I had to put five children through university. They are good children," the man acknowledged.

"Are you working now?" I asked.
"I retired about four and a half years ago," he informed me. I was overjoyed.
"I am sixty one years old. You must be my age!" I exclaimed.  He smiled and nodded.
"Where were you working?"
"XXX, technician. Now I work in some company and I go in only for a few hours a week and they pay me more than what I earned with the government. My children don't want me to work but I am very happy doing what I am doing." I remembered my gruelling hours and the pittance I earn for the long hours I put in. The job that you do and the amount that you earn does not raise good children, nor fill your home with piety, nor fill your heart with joy.

"Teacher, you live alone here. Don't you feel lonely?"
"I work long hours. When I come home, I take a bath, say my prayers, talk to my dogs and maid, read the papers, write, read a book and it's time to sleep I guess," I offered as a timetable of my life.
"What about visiting your friends and relatives? My mother couldn't come because she was visiting some relatives with some guests," he explained.

"I don't visit anyone in their home," but I did not tell him that in this miserable town, nobody invites you to their home. They hop, skip and jump to your place each time you invite them. Well to be fair, Nithya always invites me to her place and so does Mrs Ignatius. "And I am not from Ipoh. I have no relatives in Ipoh," I explained.

"Teacher, you must come to my house and visit us," he invited, poor lonely me.
"That will be lovely," I replied and realised that my answer was a response taught to me as the correct way to reply to an invitation. But was it an honest answer from the heart and not the lip?  I began to see that I was a part of that boy and his father and their family and their values, when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties. Which turn at which cross-roads led me to no-man's land? A feeling of intense loneliness and longing for a way of life which had once belonged to me and of which I was once a part, filled me with pain and tears.

The father left me with the words in Malayalam, "Take care of your son's life. That is our duty as parents." He was not patronising me. It is just that after more than 35 years of living away from my parents' house, I had forgotten how my parents spoke to us and constantly reminded us of our duties to others.

The Indians -Part 2

The Wedding of Mr Appukuttan Nair

All of us in our house met Mr Appukuttan Nair somewhere in 1958, when I was eight years old and my younger sister Sheela was five. I want to take you to our house and introduce you to our neighbours before you meet Mr Appukuttan Nair.

We left Jalan Lumba Kuda Lama in mid-1958 and moved into a run-down Malay Kamupung style house. Dad had booked a new house and we needed to save all the money that we could. The rental was RM40 and when it was shared between the two families it was most affordable.  There was no tarred road leading to the house. Cars stopped in Jalan Storey and people walked along a sandy path to reach the houses. On either side of the path were trees and shrubs and it was like no-man's land. Our house was the first house on the left.

There was a tall coconut tree and an equally tall durian tree. There were three steps going down into the sandy patch in front of our old wooden house with tall windowns and brick stilts. Our house was separated from our neighbour's house by a bamboo fence and there was a small natural gate in the middle that allowed access to each other's house.

A large extended Malay family lived in the house next to ours. There were so many very interesting characters in that house. Our two-year stay in that neighbourhood cannot be emulated ever again, because people like them and those who occupied our house belonged to only that period of Malayan history.

The Lady of the house was fair skinned and plump, always with a smile and a very majestic demeanour. From our kitchen window we had a good view of their kitchen. There was a huge table in the kitchen. Ladies sat on the table and did all the cutting and cleaning of vegetables. They took a nap on the table in the afternoon after lunch. They sat around the table in the evening to share their evening meal. Not sure what happened to the table at night, once the windows were shut for the day.

There was another lady, light brown-skinned and very slim who did much of the work like washing the clothes, sweeping the garden, cleaning the house and she sewed beautiful dresses. She was full of smiles every time she met us.

The Man of house was also brown-skinned, heavily built, not very tall, hair always neatly combed, bespectacled and in white shirt and dark pants when going to work and in a sarong and singlet after work. He did not smile or talk but always nodded his head when he met us and we in turn bowed and smiled most reverentially.

The oldest child was Mat, a very serious looking young boy of about 15. He was very polite and hardly spoke but he was not at all unfriendly. His younger sister was the beauty of the house, Safiah. She was friendly, very courteous and came across as a very caring and helpful girl. She was about 12 when we moved in.

Then there was Awang, the terrror of the neighbourhood. He was naughty, really very naughty. He laughed loudly, ran around very noisily and climbed trees and loved to irritate our dogs. He would call us names and disappear. The toilet was outside the house, an outhouse under the trees and the system was the bucket system. Whenever we had to use the toilet, he would make all kinds of noises and make us most uncomfortable and irritated. Most times, we had no idea what he was saying as he spoke in Malay and had a slang that was very different from the Malay that we learned in school. He was about nine or ten, very tanned and sturdy, the kind who never fell ill.

Then there was little Faridah who was about six. She was slim, very light skinned with shoulder length hair and who played with us. I do not remember the others in that large house.

The people of our house were also quite varied. My father worked with the British Army in Singapore. He was Malayalam educated in India and English educated in Malaya. His outstanding features were his silent nature and the Straits Times. My mother was Malayalam educated, could speak some English, could understand English quite well but never spoke the language. My older brother was in Standard 4 in Temenggong Abdul Rahman School, I was in Standard 2 in Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, my younger sister was five and not schooling, and Sobha was about two. My 26 year old mum was pregnant with Harish when we moved in there.

The other family that shared that house was a Malayali family, like us. The man was also Mr Krishnan, and he worked for the British Army but was based in Johore Bahru. His wife Ratnamma had been my mother's classmate in India. She was taller than my mother but hardly understood any English. Their oldest child was Prabha who was Sheela's age, Devadas who was four and horrendously rude and naughty and the baby Mohana Das who was about one.

There were two bedrooms. We occupied the first room, the other family the second room. We shared all the other facilities in the house. Staying together was very trying for all of us.

Before my brother and I reached school going age, Dad had registered us at the Public School which was near Jalan Lumba Kuda. Now we were in Bukit Chagar and there was no school for Sheela to prepare her for the Convent. After much debate, Uncle Krishnan and Mr C P Thomas who was also with the British Army in Johore Bahru found a tuition teacher for Sheela and Prabha. We waited with much anticipation for the arrival of the teacher.

One evening at about half past five, there was some excitement in our house. The two ladies, my mother and Aunty Ratnamma prepared something for tea and we children hung around for the guest. He came with Uncle Krishnan and Mr Thomas. He was slim, tall and wore a long sleeved light coloured shirt and slim fitting pants. He had wavy hair, parted in the middle and combed away from his forehead. His skin was brown, more like nescafe with milk.

We children gathered in the sandy garden in front. The three men walked down the three steps, and went to the steps that led to the house. He gave all of us a sweeping glance and a smile that swept our faces, the garden, the fence and ended on the steps leading to the front door. We became part of his entourage as he entered the door. Mum and Aunty Ratnamma stood near the door and gave endless smiles to no one in particular. There were a few rattan chairs in the hall. He was invited to sit on one and Mr Thomas sat on the other. Uncle Krishnan went to his room and his wife followed him. My father, who worked in Singapore had not returned.

"This is Mr Appukuttan Nair. He is from Quilon district," Mr Thomas said, as he went on to name the exact locality. All eyes were trained on Mr A and he graced us with another smile. "He is very good in English and has taught many children to read and write," Mr Thomas continued in the wake of another smile. Our eyes went to Sheela, who was then a very timid child who was easily frightened. Prabha was a tougher person and she stared at Mr A. Sheela, slowly crept to my mother and held on to her sarong as it dawned on her that she was  going to play an instrumental part in Mr A's association with our families.
 The Chinese

The earliest memories I have of the Chinese date back to early 1954 when we lived in a house owned by a Chinese family I never met. My parents rented two rooms on the second floor of the old link house in Jalan Lumba Kuda, in Johore Bahru.

The front door of the house was always open and there was a big brass urn with joss sticks burning. The floor was cement and it was a dimly lit room. Every time I entered the house I would look at the urn and the joss sticks and the smell and smoke from the joss sticks permeated the entire house. The dark staircase was at the front end of the room. It was a wooden staircase and we had to climb some twenty steps before coming to a landing. We would then make a 180 degree turn to the right and walk past closed doors on the left then come to another staircase, a 90 degree turn and climb another twenty steps to reach another landing. Turn right and the first two doors on the left, was our home. The second door opened a room that was our bedroom, our dining room, prayer room and living room.

Our home, that room had a huge bed that was placed on the right side of the room. On the left was a simple table and some stools. Facing the door was a wooden window, that gave us our view to the outside world. My brother was five going on six then, I was three going on four and my younger sister was about six months old. My mother was about 22 years old and my Dad about 33 years old. The room was very bare except for some curtains that my mother put up.

We woke up early, when Dad went to work. My mum would then dress up my brother and he would walk with the son of another tenant to the Public School. My sister would sleep and I would spend hours at the window. Someone from Purushothaman's shop would send a tiffin carrier with lunch for us.

The Chinese who lived in that house are faceless and nameless to me now. They were neither friendly nor unfriendly. They minded their own business and we minded ours. Mum spoke only Malayalam and therefore conversation with them was almost nil. Sometimes Dad would go out in the evening and we would be in the room. Mum would then send my brother or me downstairs to tell the matriach who sat regally on a chair, with hair neatly arranged in a bun, that my dad was out and not to lock the door.

Mum's first Chinese friend that I remember was a Chinese tailor who lived on the ground floor. She had two sewing machines in the living room and a pile of pattern books and new dresses hanging on a line. Every month Mum would make a dress for me. I would spend  a long time going through the pattern books and choosing patterns. Mum would sit with me and go through the patterns. The lady would help us to choose. Sometimes when Mum found a pattern, the lady would offer to buy suitable material for the dresses. Once she sewed two beautiful dresses, one was pink and the other a light powder blue. The material was some kind of muslin.

We moved from there to 100 Jalan Lumba Kuda Lama. Our house was the first house. The next house was occupied by two families. The main tenant was an egg seller in the wet market. She lived there with her husband, two sons and a daughter. The girl was Sau Siah and the boys were Sau Meng and Sau Leng. We became close friends. The lady worked very hard from morning till sunset when she would come home with a few vegetables, a small fish and a small piece of pork which they cooked for dinner. Dinner was not later than six in the evening, when we were having our tea.

There was an old lady who would come and look after a few babies. I have no idea whose babies they were or who the old lady was. She would sit on a chair and proceed to feed the babies. My mum found their feeding habits just out of her world, but it was totally natural for them. The lady would pour a black sauce on the porridge, stir it until the whole concoction was a light brown. Then came the part that my mum could not watch. The lady would pick up a piece of meat and some rice and put the whole spoon into her own mouth and proceed to chew. Then she would put it back on the spoon and feed the babies.

One day Mum decided to tell Sau Siah's mother about it. She wanted her to know what was happening to the children's food. Sau Siah's mother laughed and said that that was the way to feed babies who could not chew properly and they would not get a burnt mouth. Mum decided that they were most certainly not like us at all.

In front of our house there was a large piece of land and at the furthest end stood a big house. The residents travelled by car and therefore we did not ever meet them. They had an annexe that housed their servants. In the annexe lived a fat, elderly Chinese woman who left early in the morning with a kandar stick across her shoulders. Hanging on the two ends of the kandar sticks were two big baskets. She would go waddling down Lumba Kuda Lama, in the direction of the railway station.

In the evenings, often after the sun had set, the old woman would return. She would stop on the five-foot path outside our house and sit on a small wooden stool. The two baskets would rest on the floor and she would place the kandar stick next to the baskets. Inside her basket were so many little little things wrapped in what appeared to be coloured waxed paper. After some time, Dad allowed us to accept some of the wrapped things. Mum would give her some shillings.

That was my introduction to Chinese dried stuff as we called them. There were dried olives wrapped in paper and rolled into a circle. We called them kana. Then there was the sour kana with salt on it. She would tell us to drink water with it and the water would taste sweet. Then one day, she forced my Mum to accept what looked like red crepe paper with sprinkled sugar. We had to chew on it and soon we all loved it. It was dried sotong with a hint of chilli and sugar. Mum would give her some water and then she would slowly get up, get her stick, hook the baskets and waddle off to the house in front. And we would go inside our house with the tidbits in our hands. Mum declared that they were very clever. Imagine making something edible out of orange peel!

To the right of that large house was another detached brick house. That house was occupied by a European couple. I thought they were the most loving people I had ever met. Every evening at about six, the lady would walk down the road in a beautiful gown. She would grace us with a smile if we managed to catch her eye. A short while later she would walk up the road holding the hand of her husband. They would be chatting and laughing. In the evenings, when we sat in our darkened five-foot path with the kana lady, I would look out for the couple in the porch. Often she would be sitting on his lap although there were two chairs on their patio.

One night there was a lot of laughter and that drew the attention of the people in my house and Sau Siah's house. Sau Siah's mother made a comment that I did not understand. As we watched, the man stood up, lifted the lady in his arms, kissed her as in the movies and entered the house and kicked the door shut. That brought forth a lot of comments from my five foot path.

Then one night, there was a Chinese lady at my door. She wanted to see my mother. She talked to my mother and she was crying. My mother told us children to go inside. That meant there was something going on which in turn meant we hung as close as our ears could hear. Much later the lady walked over the house where the loving coupled lived. Mum stayed outside with Sau Siah's mother for a long time and they were speaking in whispers. Nobody told us what had happened. The lady came to our house again a few times, at night and in tears.

One day about 45 years later when I was having lunch with my mother I asked her if such and incident had taken place or if I had imagined it. She had a story to tell. When the European man was away for a spell, the lady entertained other men in the house. One of the men was the husband of the lady who was crying. She had been in Sau Siah's house since afternoon and had seen her husband walk to the house and enter the house and close the door. She waited outside our house for him to leave that house. Mother declared that the Chinese were just like us, there was a lot of sadness in their lives as well.

Once a month, the neighbours would make some cakes and offer with joss sticks and other stuff by the roadside. We would go to the kitchen and watch as they beat the eggs and sugar to a frothy stiff concoction, stirred in flour and baked it in a brass vessel with burning coal underneath and on top. In the evening, we too would sit by the roadside as they revered long gone ancestors. Mum said that their offering was a bit different from ours. We offered in a room and shut the door but they offered in a public place for one and all to see. They were not very different from us, she declared.

My Love for Johore Bahru knows no bounds

I am My Father's Daughter and Proud to be so

On the 13th of October 1931 Kunju Krishnan, the second son of Padmanabhan and Meenakshi was born in Nyarakkal House in Mayyanad. Mayyanad is in Kollam District. Kunju Krishnan is my father.


Mayyanad Railway Station which has not changed much

"Mayyanad is a beautiful village situated in Kollam district of Kerala and is about 10 kilometers south of Kollam city. Mayyanad can be reached by frequent buses from Kollam and Kottiyam and by local train from Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. Mayyanad is situated on the banks of the Paravur lake. Mayyanad's costal line along the Arabian sea is famous for its fishing. This village is the birth place of well known personalities like C V Kunjuraman, C Kesavan and K Sukumaran.

Mayyanad village is made up of several localities including Mayyanad, Vellamanal, Koottikkada, Kakkottumoola, Pullichara, Umayanelloor, Mukkom, Thattamala, etc. The sole spoken (and written) language is Malayalam."

The land of the coconut palms and calm waters

My paternal grandfather had his own business of which I know hardly any details. He had suffered monetary loss and went to Ceylon for a number of years. During those years, my grandmother Meenakshi and her three sons moved in with her very wealthy brother and his family. Her sister-in-law who had three sons and a young daughter, was a High School Teacher. My grandmother kept house for her brother and his family and they all lived as one family. My father from a very young age, formed a very close bond with his first cousins, and they were like brothers and sister in every way.

My father's aunt, was married off to Neelakandan, a wealthy man from Paravur, in the late thirties. Neelakandan, my maternal grandfather's older brother had made his wealth in Malaya in the 1920s and 1930s. When my father's aunt left Mayyanad for Singapore, she took along my father as a companion. My father was nine years old.

All of them settled in 15 Jalan Dhoby, Johore Bahru. My father was enrolled at the Union School, in JB. My grand-uncle and grand-aunty lived the life of the wealthy with their cars and drivers. My father did not have a happy life at all in that house without a mother or anyone who really cared for him. Years later, I heard the sorrow of his mother at having allowed her young son to leave home and go so very far away. Not too long ago, when my Dad came to stay with me, just before his 90th birthday, I asked him why his aunt had brought him to Malaya. His reply, "They wanted a servant."

I formed a very close attachment to my taciturn, hot-tempered, unfriendly and lonely father from the time I was born.  He came from a family of boys. My mother was the only girl in her family. After my older brother, when I came along, I think everyone was happy that there was a little girl around the place. I guess it was an accident of birth that brought me much joy. My father was as different from the males in my mother's family as an angsana tree would be to a raintree and yet both were big, strong, offered shade and stood in a class of their own.

Picture 720
Angsana tree in bloom

Leaves and flowers of the angsana tree

A raintree

The flower and leaves (and a bee) of the rain tree

My earliest memories of my father

I remember a doll that he bought for me when I was about three years old. Everyone in the house fussed over the doll that first day, except  my dad. I was very happy to get the doll and I felt that my father was the only other person who was as happy as I was with the doll. That doll could cry. Everyone exclaimed what a clever doll she was and how lucky I was to get her. But I knew that my father created that joy for me and in my joy he found his joy and we were a part of an unsaid bond.

King Kong a Caucasian and Dara Singh from Punjab, were well known wrestlers at that time. And any time they had a match the tickets would be sold out. I knew that there was some excitement going on in that house. A sixth sense told me that I was not part of the programme and so I kept very close to my mother and my father. I remember father carrying me and telling me that I was going out with Prakash, my youngest uncle, and that we were going to be doing some really exciting things.

Down the memory lane with Dara Singh Click here to add this article to My Clips

By Screen Weekly, December 19, 2007 - 08:57 IST

"Champ on the rampage'Dara overthrew the notorious European wrestler King Kong to become the Indian champion in 1954. Post this fight, the humiliated King Kong beat a retreat to Singapore. Dara, on the other hand, was a champ on a rampage. He remained undefeated in Europe and lifted the Commonwealth title in Canada in 1959. Time was ripe for the invincible Dara now for the World title."

In the evening, my mother dressed me up and Prakash my youngest uncle took me out. He could not have been more than fourteen years old at that time. 15 Jalan Dhoby was in the middle of Johore Bahru town. We walked down Jalan Pahang and reached the sea front along Jalan Ibrahim. We walked slowly and he told me stories. There was never a quiet moment with my uncles. They constantly talked to us.  I remember asking him about my parents and where they were. I do not recall his answer. We stood by the seaside and threw stones at the water. We picked up leaves and flowers.

After what seemed to be a long time, I told him I was tired. I really wanted to go home and make sure my parents had not left me behind. He told me that he was going to take me to eat something that I had never eaten before. That it was cold, colourful, very delicious, would make my tongue and lips red and that it was not ice-cream. That was my first taste of 'ice-kachang'. It was magic.

A bowl of ice-kachang
We crossed the road from the sea-side to the shop houses and entered E H'ng cold storage which sold the best ice-kachang in JB town. My uncle ordered two bowls. I remember just looking at it and wanting to touch it with my hands. At home we ate all our food with our fingers. He told me that I had to use a spoon and a straw and not my fingers.

The shaved ice stood like an iceberg above the bowl and it was drenched in pink and red, favourite colours of young children, especially girls, some milk and a dash of cocoa. In the middle there was sweet boiled red beans (kachang). He showed me how to eat it by scooping out bits of coloured ice onto the spoon and allowing it to melt in the mouth. I  forgot my parents in the joy of eating shaved ice, sugar and colourful beans.

It was almost dark by the time we returned to my grandfather's house. My parents and my brother were not there. I decided to cry but my uncle told me that after such a day and especially after ice-kachang children were not allowed to cry.  Mum and Dad came back soon after and Dad carried me when I went up to him and raised my arms.  He asked me about my day. I did not know it was ice-kachang that I had eaten. I only knew it was ice, colourful, sweet and you use a spoon and a straw to eat it. Mum was all excited about Dara Singh from India and King Kong, so perhaps she forgot that I was the only one who had not gone to watch the match.

December 1953 my younger sister Sheela was born. My father took my brother and me together with my grandparents by taxi to the hospital. He left us in the extensive gardens outside the Johore Bahru General Hospital while he went inside to visit my mother. Even as I played with little stones, fruits from the trees that had fallen on the ground, interesting leaves and twigs, I kept a lookout for my Dad. I saw him coming with a bag in his hands. His most outstanding feature was his silent nature.

He came and held out his hand and I put out mine to hold his. My grandfather held my brother's hand. I asked him what was in the bag and he showed me my mother's sari that had been rolled into a ball. He spoke very briefly with my grandparents. My father disliked them and the feeling I believe was totally mutual and therefore there was very little conversation between them.

The Johore Bahru General Hospital

I was about four when my parents moved out of my grandparents' house and rented two rooms on the second floor of a house owned by a Chinese I had never seen. There were two Indian families living in that house. One was our family and the other the family of Kunju Kannan Master.

Quite often after work, my Dad would come and take us to the town which was not far away. Mum, Dad, my older brother, my baby sister Sheela and I would visit my grandparents. The going was fun. It was the coming back that was difficult for me and my father, I am sure. We would walk up the road in front of Cathay cinema. The roads used to be dark and there would be incessant screeching of crickets and cicadas.

On the rigth, circled is Cathay Cinema in JB in the fifties

Quiet, aloof, hot-tempered and frightening as he was, my father had a very kind and considerate heart. He was totally honest and straightforward. When he made a decision, it was always based on his beliefs and he was absolutely consistent. There was never an ocassion when something was allowed on one day and not allowed on another according to his moods.

His kindness to me I remember with gratitude.  I was ill for a long while when I was eight, and one day when my father came home after work, and found out that I was not getting any better, he realised that I had to be taken to the hospital. All along I had been going to a private clinic.

We lived in a Malay kampung area and there was no access road to the front of our house. Father carried me all the way to the main road, in the late evening and got me to the hospital. Mind you, I was eight and I must have been heavy to carry all the way. I was warded. He stayed with me till I was settled before going back home.

Every day he would visit me and bring me some fruit or sweet. Then one day he bought me my first story book. It was, "The Little Red Fire Engine'.

I held the book in my hand, I was too ill to get up or read. He looked disappointed. Then the ayamah came wheeling a trolley down the middle of the ward, ringing an ice-cream bell. On the trolley were all sorts of things for sale, from toys, to food, drinks and books. When she parked the trolley in the middle of the ward, a small crowd gathered around filling the ward with excitement as children threw tantrums to get what they wanted, parents began reprimanding children, buyers started haggling and others just commented and examined the products.   My father turned to me and asked me if I wanted anything from the trolley.

I told him that I wanted the ball of coloured plastic thread that was popular at that time for making artificial flowers and animals. My mother told me that I would not be able to do anything with it. My father walked up to the trolley and got me a ball of red string.

I was given penincillin jabs which were making my skin sore and red. The jabs were very painful. I received four jabs a day. By the second day, I would start to scream and cry when the nurse approached my bed with the syringe. Once when the nurse came my father was walking towards me, I screamed and told him to tell her to stop, my father came towards me and then made a U-turn and disappeared. Later I heard him tell my mother, that my pain was too much for him. My grand-aunt Nurse Devaki, soon stopped the jabs.

Years later my younger sister Sobha cut her foot on a toy. Father took her to the hospital and when they were stitching the cut, my dad fainted!!!  I have always felt the need to be close to him. His loneliness touched a chord in my lonely heart. I have felt that he was a very lonely man. My mum had her entire family literally eating out of her hand. She had very good family support. My dad was alone. I do not feel that he favoured me over the others. But, I do know that I always tried to avoid getting into trouble or arousing his hot temper.

My father is like clockwork. There was such order in our house as we were growing up. Getting up late was unheard of. Everyone got up early when father was at home. Mum was more flexible. She would have a lie-in after father left for work and we would all lie around and read or just doze off.

When we were not at school, in the morning, we had to all go into the kitchen and help my mum. The jobs included, scraping coconut, grinding some stuff using the grinding stone, peeling onions, potatoes, garlic, ginger, slicing, washing and wiping. Mum would do the cooking. We had to lay the table, clear the table, wash our own plates and put them away, although there was a maid in the house.

In the evening, everyone had to have a bath before 4.30. The house had to be swept and the beds made and we had to be out in the garden. Father would come home between 5.00 and 5.10, never earlier and never later in all the years that he went to work. He entered a neat house, with clean children. He would hand over the newspapers and either my brother or I would get to read it first.

Then we would water the plants and play with the skipping rope or sit on the stone seats near the gate and chat with our neighbourhood friends. When the call came for Azan at half past six, we would go in, wash our feet, light the lamp at the altar and say our prayers. Then all of us would take out books and sit round the dining table and do our homework, or study. This was our daily routine, except on Saturdays.

Dinner was served quite late by Chinese standards. After dinner we would walk around outside for a while and then it was back to the table. Bed time was between nine thirty and ten.

Hard times and books. By the time I was in Form Six, times were difficult. Many of the Indians who were attached to the British Army, like my Dad, had opted to go to UK. My mother did not want to go because of her parents, especially my grandmother. Dad always gave in to my mother's wishes at the end of the day. I believe he had to take pay cuts, the British Army was pulling out and my Form Six books were expensive.

My father rarely went out to have a good time with his friends, he rarely bought things for himself, he never asked for any special food. He just set impossibly high standards.

Most of the time, I did not ask him for books. I managed to borrow most of my books. Then one day, I had to buy the history book - History of Western Europe, 16th century. I came home and told my mother, who told my father, who told me to write the name of the book for him.

He told us that he would be home by 6.30. He used to car pool with Mr Titus who lived a few doors away from our house. He took a bus from his work place to Bras Basah Road, got my book for $36 and reached home by 6.30. That book is still with me, the book he bought for me in 1969.

The Form Six Entrance Examination Results are out. There was only one school in the whole state of Johore that offered Form 6 and only 44 places are offered to Arts Stream students. Some forty four thousand students vied for a place in that school. I wanted to go to that school from the time I was five when my uncle took me there for a concert. From the time I was in Standard 4 I was determined to go to that school. Every year a few girls from the Convent would be admitted and they would come back to visit the Convent in their new uniform. This was a motivating ritual for me.

The Entrance Examination was held in May. The results were out in October. It was the May O Level Examination run by Cambridge. I studied really hard for the examination and prayed equally hard. Sister Helen, our Scripture teacher gave us a picture of St Jude with a prayer at the back. All of us memorised the prayer and prayed hard to him as well as to all the Gods we were familiar with.

I left school by 2 0'clock and the results were not out. I came home, had my lunch and lay on my bed reading a book. My parents did not put much pressure on me about that examination and they were not expecting anything since everyone acknowledged it to be a tough examination. My younger sister Sheela came home at about half past three, all excited and smiling. She told me that the results had been posted on the notice board and she had checked, my name was there. I asked her so many times if she was sure. We had no telephone in our house and I could not check with anyone. She told me that Saroja Meyappan had also passed.

I told my mother and waited for my father to come home. He walked in and mother told him that I had passed. He hardly smiled those days and he looked happy I thought.  I knew he was happy when he told me that I needed to get my new uniform ready. Most of us were poor those days. I made contact with my Chinese friends and found that those who had passed were going to sew their own skirts, and one of them had got the paper pattern. She gave me a copy. My father took me to Golden City and we bought the dark, jungle green material for me to make two skirts. My mother helped me to cut the material and I sewed two skirts and waited for the new year to arrive.

The Senior Cambridge Examination results are out in March.  I was in Form Six and if I did not do well in the Senior Cambridge Examination, I would have to leave Form Six. Once again, I was home when Haridas came to tell me that the results are out and that I had got a Grade 1 with a number of distinctions. It was almost five and mother told me to wait for father. Father walked in and mother told him in all seriousness, "Baby failed her exam."

"She failed!" he said and looked dead as he walked into his room. Mother ran after him and laughingly told him that I got a Grade 1. He wanted to see the results but they were still in school. He drove me to school and when I entered the car he asked to see the results. I gave it to him and he had such a happy look that it was worth all the hours I had put in.

The next day he came home with a form and told me that his boss had given it to him, when he told him that I had done well in the examination. It was a form for a scholarship. I dutifully filled up the form and within a few months I was the recipient of "Her Britanic Majesty's Ministry of Defence Scholarship" which had a monetary value of a certain amount to cover my Form Six studies. I realised then that it was my Dad who made it possible for me to reach for the stars - it was his character, his steadfastness, his absolute reliability, his devotion to his family and the strict rules that he put in place. He set parameters for us.

to be continued

Too many parents need help - But - Where is the help? Where is the Honour? Where is Integrity?

These true short stories started for me when I entered the teaching profession and moved from school to school. The same stories started for the protagonists, long before they had started for me. 

Now why am I writing this at this time of the day?

I am a Johorean through and through and my first loyalty is to my Johore, of that I have no doubts at all and I owe no apology to anyone. I owe thanks to my grandfather and to my father who instilled in me, a profound love for my state. My home is Johore and in Johore. I thank the Almighty for that blessing.

Why am I writing this now? What influenced me? Three men.
Dato Jaafar
Dato Onn
Dato Hussein
A Legacy of Honour
A book that brought tears to my eyes - after my doctor had told me that my eyes are not capable of producing tears and I need to apply artificial tears regularly! That my reader, is the extent of my love for this land and the illustrious sons this land called Johore has produced.

Story 1

I was the Afternoon Supervisor of a secondary school in Batu Gajah, Perak. It was a rural school and the students came from a socio-economic background that was very challenging not just for the students but also for the parents and most certainly for the teachers who wanted to give their charges a break in life. Everyone was caught up in a whirlpool of poverty, lethargy, greed for material goods, lack of money and an indifference to education.

I shall call the boy Mat. He was thirteen years old and he did not have a good attendance record in school, he hardly did his work, fought most of the time with other students, was brought to my office several times a week. His language was disrespectful, his body size was tiny, his attitude was one of bravado, he was loud and thoroughly hateful. But he was a child, he was my student, he still came to school. That must mean something to me.

Then one day my sister visited me and spent the day in my office. I brought the boy to the office and left him with her. She had a story to tell me that evening.

He was one of 11 children in his family. His parents fought violently most days and often drew blood. The children would get hurt. Mat's job was to cook lunch before going to school at noon. He would really like to have some peace. My sister is a psychologist and she works in Adelaide.

I got the boy talking over the next few weeks, without much success. He was polite, mischievous and at the end of the day, a child.

Then one day I saw the cut on his hand. That cut left a scar on his hand and in my conscience. I took him to the Batu Gajah District Hospital for dressing and informed the Hospital Assistant that I suspected some form of abuse. The HA told him that I suspected abuse and asked him if it was true. The boy denied it and I had not wanted the HA to speak as he had done. Who in this world can speak correctly to anyone?

After the dressing on the way back, he told me he was a bit hungry and thirsty, since he had missed his break in school. I stopped at the local KFC because being a Muslim boy, I was not sure where else to go, to buy halal food for him.

We walked to the counter and we were the only customers there. He just stood and kept looking at the displayed pictures and prices. I needed to get back to school.

"Mat, get a burger. It is faster, you can eat in school, and we have to go back," I said. But he did not appear to have heard anything. Then I took a good look at his face. He was in heaven, such joy, such happiness, such contentment in those two eyes!

"Mat, you can order anything you like," I said. He did not hear me. Then the lady at the counter butted in, to help me. "Adik, do you want a lunch plate or a dinner plate?" He looked at her and pointed to the three piece plate combo that came with a drink.

As he plucked the first piece of chicken and put inside his mouth, I asked him, "Do you come here often?"
"Yes, Pn Siva," he replied.
"What is your favourite?" I got a blank look.
"What do you order, when you come here?" He looked at me and replied, "Nothing. I come here and look at the pictures, smell the chicken, and then go back. Today is the first time."

I told him to take his time.  He ate his dinner plate and I sipped a cup of water. After more than 30 minutes later, he asked me, "Pn Siva, can I take this home?" There were a few wilted chips, a piece of chicken and half a cup of Pepsi. He looked really tall as he walked to the counter, got a KFC plastic bag, packed his remainder food and walked out to the car with me. He was the envy of his class that evening but I am not sure what happened to his food package at home, for he is one of 11 children.

"Mat, what do you cook for lunch?" I asked as we drove back to school.
"Fried fish and rice."
"No gravy?"
"How many pieces of fish do you fry?"
"3 or 4."
"How many people eat the fish?"
"13 people." And all the time he was clutching his bag of remnant KFC.

"Mat, how did you cut your hand?"
"Father threw plate at Mother. Plate broke and she threw it back, it hit my hand."

In school, he thanked me and ran off to his classroom with his package.  He was still brought to my office, but ... I had changed.

Why do people talk about special rights of the Malays?
Where are the rights of this child?
To feel safe.
To be able to taste what is so often brought to your home as KFC adverts?
We are obsessed with talking about corruption not in tens, hundreds, thousands, millions but billions, letting many get away with it, arresting some and making a big sandiwara out of it to show that we have integrity.

Integrity where art thou when children and parents need you?

Story 2

to be continued

From two rooms in Jalan Lumba Kuda to No. 100 Jalan Lumba Kuda Lama, Johore Bahru

When I was about five, we moved out of the room that was our home and into a proper house with a living room, a kitchen, our own bathroom and toilet and two bedrooms. A row of new houses had been buit in Jalan Lumba Kuda Lama. We rented the first house and we were the first occupants of the new house.

The second house was occupied by three Chinese families. It was here that I made my first friends. 16 year old Sau Siah and her two younger brothers Sau Meng and Sau Leng became our friends. Their parents were the main tenants of the second house. I know that we paid a rental of $100 a month, which was a lot of money. So, we too were looking for someone to rent the second room from us.

Sau Siah's house and our house were on the same level. After that you went down two steps and the next one was a kind of warehouse for Sime Darby. You went down another two steps and there was an outlet that made that dark, hard coconut sweet, that was cylindrical in shape and wrapped in colourful celophane paper. The last shop made and sold balloons. So there were only two real houses in that row.

Sau Sia and her brothers attended Foon Yew Chinese School. They wore white uniforms with silver buttons. Their mother, whose name we never found out, sold eggs in the main market. Her husband was a very skinny man and my mother called him Ellan, meaning skin and bones.

Every two weeks, on a dark night and on a full moon, they offered prayers and food to the dead and flowers too. When it was cake making time to offer to the departed, my hands would be there too, beating the eggs. We would sit and watch them. They would then place fruits and water on red altars.

My brother and I have sat by the roadside after dusk and watched as they placed the cakes by the roadside, lighted the joss sticks and burned paper houses and money for their ancestors. Somehow it made being dead a less lonely state. Although my parents allowed us to eat Chinese and Malay cakes, they never allowed us to eat any of the cooked food that was sent to us. Mother would receive the food with a smile and when no one was around, would pack it and dispose of it.