by R Punithamathi K Rajagopal.
photo by Krishnan Sinniah
HARI RAYA AT NORHAYATI’S
I was 8. Visited my classmate Norhayati for Hari Raya. The place was filled with so many Chins’ and Angs’ and Sams’ and Marys’ and Muthus’ much like Nasi Kandar. Hari Raya means food. Ketupat and satay plentiful. I grabbed a stick of satay and before I could take a bite, my friend’s mum quickly pulled the satay away from me, “This is beef satay. You cannot have this. I’m so sorry sayang (dear)”.
She grabbed a tissue. Wiped off the sauce and got me to sit. Very kindly she gave me a plate full of chicken satay and told Norhayati to care for me.
ONE PLATTER FOR ALL
I was 9. Jalan Campbell was a Minangkabau village then. I visited my classmate Zainab almost every week. I often joined them for lunch. A huge aluminum tray with all kinds of dishes was placed in the middle. I sat among the family of 5 around the tray. They prayed while I sat in silence. Bapak (Zainab’s father) would often nudge me to start. We ate from the same platter. Afterwards, Zainab and I went out to play with all the kids who lived there. Mak Ngah made sure I had sweet black tea or coffee sometimes with her kueh-mueh (snacks) before I head for home. “Bye aunty. Bye uncle. See you next week”. There was fun and joy and freedom.
TORTOISE INTO THE POT
When I was 8 years old, just like running off to the Minangkabau village, I would frequently head to Mr Chan’s family. I did that till I turned 10 and realised people ate tortoises too!!!
Mr Chan’s family lived in a shop lot in Jalan Ampang. I could run up to their house upstairs and take a peek at their tortoises. Two or three big fellows in their bathroom. I later learnt they reared it for their dinner table. One day, there were no tortoises in the bathroom. Sometimes they hid behind the big earthen bath-tub but that day I couldn’t find them. I remember crying and asking, “Aunty, where are the tortoises?” She wore a big smile and said, “Ready to cook lah. Big tortoise already. Good meat. You can also eat here. Wait lah”. I couldn’t stop crying. Aunty Ming handed out a keropok (cracker) and said, “Ok ok lah. No more crying. Next week Uncle will bring more tortoise”. Uncle Chan and Aunty Ming were nice but they ate tortoises. Oh gosh!
THE NIGHT ALIVE
It was around the time I was 9-10 years old. The city jumped alive with music, lights and food. Chinese, Malay and Indian food lined the streets. Teh tarik, roti canai, nasi lemak and kway teow goreng, were signature Malaysian dishes attracting throngs of people.
Amidst the hustle and bustle, stall vendors had their crying babies to tend to. Anyone could rock their babies and stop to chat with their children who were often struggling to get their homework done. Aunty Chee would plead, “Go lah. Go and help her. Her English weak lah”.
Aunty Chee will never fail to put out a plate of kuaci (melon seeds) for us to munch. I disliked the red slippery seeds and quietly sneaked out to the nasi lemak stall.
As I passed by them all, it was always “Bye uncle. Bye Aunty” They were all my uncles and aunties.
BREAKFAST AT CIKGU ROSNAH’S
From standard 6 to form 1, we had to undergo intensive cross country and big walk training. PE time wasn’t sufficient.
Cikgu Rosnah gathered us all (Siew Chin, Chia, Kamariah, Saras and me), “Children. We have 2 events to win this year, criss-country and big walk. Punitha and Siew Chin, you are both in these two events. We don’t have enough time. I suggest all of you come to my house every Saturday. Have your breakfast with me and then we can start training from here. Don’t forget, we must beat the Convent and BBGS girls. You must carry the St Mary’s flag”.
She was so kind and caring. Her motivation pushed us to win that year.
THE BOYS’ CINEMA TREAT
In my thirties, I often went to the cinemas to catch my favourite Hollywood movies.
It was during the school holidays. I was lining up to buy my ticket. Samad and Mamat, both 8 or 9 year olds, exchanged words of concern.
“We don’t have enough money for snacks. We can only buy 2 tickets. Mat, check your pocket. Maybe you will find a coin or two”. “No lah!” sulked Mamat.
So cute to watch them figure out their holiday time at the cinema. I gave them a treat. Told them to enjoy their holiday and in return, they rewarded me with a broad smile and an unbelievable look and said, “It’s ok Aunty. Never mind. Never mind. No thank you Aunty ”. The “no thank you” had a lot to say. I pressed a few ringgit into Samad’s palm.
“Thank you Aunty. Thank you very much Aunty”.
This Aunty had come to their rescue.
Training staff on soft skills was my forte. I was in Port Dickson. Done with the day. Took a stroll along the beach and the rain came. I rushed off to a nearby tea-stall.
“Adik,” (a polite way to address a young person) called out an old man sitting in a corner sipping black tea.
“Come and join me. It’s raining and we can’t go anywhere. We can chit chat”. I had a nice long chat with Pakcik Imran.
Married to a man who enjoys trekking, encouraged me to often join him. Trekking in my early forties was certainly a slow push. We trekked the Titiwangsa range. A part of the trek involved leaping from one ledge of a cliff to another. To jump over was a challenge but on the other side of the ledge were some young teenagers.
They encouraged me, “Aunty. No worries. Just jump and hang on to the rope. We are here. We will help you”.
Yeah! I made the jump. Aunty did it. What a feeling.
The world is so beautiful. My holidays were all very exciting, colourful and rich but the desire to come home to my own country was super great all the time.
My father came to Malaya when he was a young man. When he turned 60, I took him to India to visit his relatives. After 3 weeks he said, “I want to go home. Nothing like our country”. Arrived at the Subang airport and the immigration officer greeted, “Welcome home uncle”.
ENGLISH MANGLISH TANGLISH CHINGLISH
The uncles and aunties are still there. Maybe an addition of “hi bro”. A twist of English and Manglish, Tanglish and Chinglish is still shared in every coffee shop and restaurants.
THE GIVING CULTURE
We can still enjoy the company of all Malaysians. COVID 19 brought us all together. So much of charitable work generated everyday. No one goes hungry. There is food everywhere. Care and compassion is the culture I was born into and I’m proud to be a Malaysian.
I turned 64 with my country. The young give me hope. They stand out loud and clear. Their voice will be the voice for all Malaysians. Even then, the uncles and aunties will continue to weave into the life of every Malaysian. Malaysia, my beautiful country. Selamat Hari Malaysia.
About the Author – Punitha is the director/principal of Able Learners Malaysia that guides and grooms 6-16 year old children. She has been a facilitator and trainer for over 30 years successfully conducting a variety of training programs both locally and internationally. Her areas of specialization are in self-improvement, learning competencies and interpersonal communication skills. She sings old Tamil songs which brings great happiness to her, and uses songs to motivate others. She has great hope in the young for she sees them as hope given to her.