The following video is from a public-speaking community project in Johor Bahru. It involves the Speakers Club, a group of mainly elderly Chinese living in and around Taman Pelangi, and the Kangkar Pulai Speakers, a group of Tamil housewives in Kangkar Pulai, a JB suburb. Club members create and deliver brief speeches on topics they are interested in. This is followed by a feedback session where members of the audience comment on what they liked about the speech and how it could be improved. The aim of this not-for-profit project is to help members learn how to express themselves effectively in public.
Madam Valaiammal Karmegam, a housewife who migrated from India to Malaysia, talks about the love shown by her father and her anguish when he died amid neglect by his family.
My name is Valaiammal. I have three children. I was born and raised in India. Now I live here.
I have three elder brothers, a younger sister and a younger brother who are all married and settled in India.
Now I’m going to talk about my dad.
We spend 10 months in our mother’s womb – we call it the temple where we once lived. But when we are born, the person who holds us close to his chest and brings us up is our dad.
My father’s name is Karmegam. He would be 96 years old if he were alive. He died at the age of 86.
He was an affectionate person. He earned a name as a good man in our town. He trusted people and tended to get deceived. He would not speak ill of anyone.
He did a lot for our family. People compare a father to a tree’s tap root or a wheel’s linchpin. Or even the body’s spine.
We should care for our fathers in their last days. We should fulfil their wishes. Their role is equal to that of a mother.
Those born in the middle or lower class sweat dops of blood and work hard for their family. They will carry their child on their shoulders. They want him or her to do better than them. They will let their child walk ahead so they can admire from behind. “See how he walks!” they will say. But when their children grow up, they won’t turn to look at their father behind them.
We should not hurt our father’s feelings. There’s only one difference between God and father. You can’t see God but you can see your father.
Many are unaware of this divinity. I know this well about my dad. When I was studying and stayed up at night to prepare for exams, he wouldn’t go to bed. He would make coffee for me and stay awake as well. He did this during all my exams.
It was the same during my university days. He would come with me. I would be studying upstairs, he would be stretched out on the ground, under the tree.
It hurt me to see him outside like this. He would bring food along and when my class was over, he would urge me to eat.
He called me “Thatha”. He would not say “Valaiammal” – it was always “Thatha”.
If I was in low spirits, he would encourage me. “Why are you like this?” he would say. “You are a girl. Be brave.”
And it wasn’t just with me. My younger brother, younger sister – he looked after all of them with affection. He held them in high esteem. He did not leave them wanting. He nurtured them and helped them mature.
He would leave for work at 6am and return only at 10pm. He was an asthmatic. But he did not take even a day’s leave. “I must earn, I must provide for my family” – this was his motive. He didn’t have anything for himself, he did not save any money – he was a self-sacrificing saint.
During Ponggal and Deepavalli, he would give us treats but would not take anything for himself. So I would say to him: “Take some for yourself, dad.” That’s how father brought us up.
When he was 78, he had a fall while walking to a shop and fractured his leg. When he realised that he had to depend on those he had been supporting, he was broken.
I could not help him. My brothers deserted him. That hurt him.
Finally, they phoned me. I ran to see him. His eyes were closed. “Dad, dad” I cried. “Attha, attha,” he said. I could not understand him. His words were unintelligible.
As I fed him a little milk – he died before my eyes. That memory is embedded in my heart and mind and keeps recurring.
After I moved to Malaysia, I missed my father. At that time, I could not afford to travel to visit him.
I’ll say one thing. When my father was with us, that’s when we should have looked after him. After his death, the ceremonies, feeding people at temples – all that has no merit!
When he is alive, he is a sacred being for us. We should respect him like that. We should be affectionate towards him. We should look after him till the end.
So many of them languish in homes for the destitute or wander by the roadside. When I see that, my heart aches. It happened in my family. To my father.
Now I’m looking after my mother. I’m keeping her happy.
I beg all of you, please don’t abandon people when they get old. They should be with us. We should look after them till their last days, and then send them to God.
They will forgive us, they will accept us and we will get their blessings.
The anguish I experienced over my father – don’t let that happen to you.
I’ve understood one thing. People like Abdul Kalam, the late Indian president, and Mahathma Gandhi are called fathers of the nation. In every family, the father is also the nation’s father. We should not forget them. Every year, we should revere them. They are the gods that we can see. Never forget these gods.
When we were small, they fed us. How many children ask their parents whether they have eaten? “You are old, just remain in your corner,” they seem to think. If we want to be happy, let us care for aged parents.
Only then will we experience significance in this world. It is said, “There is no mantra more powerful than your father’s word.” Rama, the God-king, for example, obeyed his father by going into exile in the forest.
We are ordinary human beings. Why do we respect our fathers? That god labours for us till his last days. We should look after them. That is our duty. Then we will realize the significance of why we were born. Otherwise, we are nothing – a zero.
I miss my father. I am in anguish because I could not travel to visit him. My siblings abandoned him.
I’m looking after my mother. She is now in her village. I pray to God for her well-being. I’m doing whatever I can do to help her.
Do you know what I wish for? I must bring my mother here to Malaysia. I must let her stay here for a while and then send her home. I have that desire. God must grant me that wish.
I’ll say one thing. Don’t forget our mothers and fathers. Think of them as your pair of eyes. Then we will get their blessings and our lives will be good as well.
They say there is nothing in the world greater than a father’s love. They say no relationship exceeds that which we have with our father.
There is even a song on this theme. Let me read it to you.
“There is no temple greater than our mother;
No mantra more powerful than our father’s word;
Even if you have other relationships,
the limit of compassion is seen only in the love that parents show.
There is no love like a father’s love,
No relationship like the one we have with our father.
When we are born, it is our father who lifts us up with his hands. He holds us close to his heart. Can we step on such a heart? I’ll finish with this. My salutations to all.
Speech by Valaiammal Karmegam (7 mins 56 sec)
(Presented at Kangkar Pulai Speakers club on 23 April 2021)