Wednesday September 26, 2012
A lodger who shared a family’s simple home for three years catches up with them on a special day.
AUG 31 was memorable for me. Not only was it the country’s 55th Merdeka day, it was a lso when I caught up with my long-lost friends after 50 years.
I had the good fortune to live with this family in the 60s while doing my teacher training in Malacca. Initially, my friend Iswary and I had stayed with my sister in Batu Berendam.
But barely two months later, my brother-in-law was transferred to Kuala Lumpur, so we had to go room-hunting.
One day, my brother-in-law took us to “view” a room at Ayer Leleh Road, after warning us that it was a kampung house.
When we arrived, I was horrified to see a well by its side and asked him if we were expected to use well water to bathe.
He reassured us that we didn’t have to and ushered us in to meet the lady of the house, a Chinese married to a Punjabi.
She totally disarmed us with her charm and before we knew it we had agreed to rent a room in her house, well and all.
We moved in on March 10, 1960, and so began our relationship with “Aunty” and her family. For a paltry sum, we not only got food, lodging and laundry services but also lots of TLC. It might have been a kampung house, but to us it was a palace where we were treated like princesses.
During our training, we had to stay up late quite often, to prepare teaching aids. Without fail, Aunty would have hot coffee for us an d she’d stay up to keep us company. She would always say, “Saya mau anak saya juga menjadi cikgu sama lu.” (I want my children to be teachers too, like you.)
During teaching p ractice, I had to conduct a Science lesson for which I desperately needed a rabbit. I did not know where to get one and decided to go with a poor alternative – a picture.
My beloved Aunty went searching high and low and managed to get a rabbit for me the next morning.
That’s the kind of person she was! Once a week, I would call home, for my parents’ peace of mind. There was no phone in her house, so I had to walk to town to use the public phone. Six of Aunty’s children would accompany me, talking and laughing along the way. After my call, I would belanja them Malaysian “ice-cream” and we would walk back, each sucking on a “tube”.
When I went back to Segamat during breaks, Aunty would send two of her sons, either Pajan and Pola, or Mindo and Gane, as bodyguards. It wasn’t the done thing back then, a girl travelling alone by taxi. Before long, my parents and siblings got to know Malacca Aunty (as they called her) and her family quite well.
Soon, we qualified as teachers and had to part company with that wonderful family in December 1962. I can still picture Aunty and her children standing by the roadside, tears running down their cheeks, bidding us farewell.
How did the reunion come about ? My younger sister in Malacca came to know one of Aunty’s daughters, Usha, and mentioned how much I wanted to see them again. Usha then said she was having a hous e-warming on Merdeka day and her siblings would all be there. So, my sister and I got invited to the gathering.
Aug 31 dawned bright and clear. I was happy for the nation – yes – but I was more excited about the reunion that evening. I also started worrying as the day progressed. Will they find me horribly old after 50 years? What if we had all changed and couldn’t click any more? What if there were awkward silences?
When we arrived, Usha came out to hug and greet us. Then one by one, her siblings came out. There was much hugging and shrieking amidst cries of, “Loges, you still look the same!”
Of course my beloved Uncle and Aunty had passed on. I was disappointed that two of my former “bodyguards”, Pa jan and Pola, couldn’t make it as I had been looking forward to meeting them.
As we ate, the siblings introduced the babies of the family, as well as their spouses and children . Inevitably, we went down memory lane and recalled the fun we had together and our escapades, some of which got us in hot water.
I remember one incident. It wa s Piaro’s 16th birthday and we had organised a party for her with loud music and dancing. Uncle used to work in Bahau and only came home once a month. When he returned, the conservative neighbours reported to him about the party and both Iswary and I were summoned to the sitting room.
We stared at the floor as he said, “Lu dua cikgu boleh duduk sini, tapi saya tak suka itu joget-joget semua.” (Both of you teachers can stay here, but I don’t like all the dancing.) That was the end of the dance parties.
“Loges, do you remember our Rajah Velai?” Jo reminded me of the term we’d coined for shoplifting. How could I not.
Whenever we got our trainee allowance, we would go shopping at Bunga Raya, taking a paper bag along.
We would buy some things and when the shopkeepers were not looking, we would stuff a few extra things into our paper bag. At the cloth shop, we would throw in the scissors and then look “innocently” around as the poor man searched for them. And we would laugh all the way home.
At home, we’d share the loot with everyone. Aunty would remark, “Beli banyak barang,” (bought a lot of things) and we would laugh and say, “Rajah Velai, Aunty!”
When she learned the truth, she was horrified. She scolded me: “Loges, kalau lu kena tangkap, keluar dalam surat khabar ‘Cikgu menjadi pencuri’, malu saja!”
(Loges, if you get caught and the news comes out in the papers, ‘Teacher be comes thief’, it would be shameful.)
We were shameless!
As we said our good byes, from the lounge to the porch, to the gate and finally the road , we made plans to meet for high tea in Kuala Lumpur.
Aug 31 was really special as we reflected the true spirit of Merdeka – people of one nation sharing a bond that transcends ethnicity and has withstood the test of time.
> Old is gold, and bold. So, let us hear what you have to say, about whatever excites you, makes you happy, sad or concerned. E-mail your views to email@example.com. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and telephone number.