In my experience as a teacher, despite 40 years of affectionate attachment between AsH and her former students from Jurong Secondary School; "Miss Hamid" is still their term of reference for me. With an age gap of 17/18 years between us, they are not old enough to consider me as a "kakak" and not young enough to regard me as a "Mak Ngah". (My youngest niece is in her mid-twenties.) But beneath it all, the bond of respect for their teacher is upheld by the nomenclature "Miss Hamid".
After all, I had a problem in changing the designation of Mr Buchanan to Iain when we got hitched up. But now after years of matrimony, 'hey you' is good and sweet enough!
So "Miss Hamid" I shall be for the rest of my days. The spouse is an "Uncle" or just "Iain" to the girls while the boys simply call him "Iain". Mr Buchanan is out of the question.
Last weekend (23-25 September), I left 'hey you' at home with a large pan of chicken curry for dinner/lunch and sultana and orange cake for snacks and tea, while I gallivanted down to Singapore. Despite his wish, he could not accompany me to visit the "Kids"in Singapore for reasons known only to the Singapore authorities. Who are we to ask and to know why?
On Friday, from Changi Airport, Jai deposited me at a Malay "kedai makan" at Kandahar Street...
|From the "kedai makan".
|The Congregation leaving the Masjid.
|The old and new.
As I sat at the "kedai", observing the buildings ...
|The wooden 'extension' at the top of the kedai, a defiant two-fingers at progress and regulations!
...... and the people in this neighbourhood' , a poignant feeling welled up in me - this is the world of my childhood and teenage and adult years!
|On each payday, Abah would buy us a treat of nasi briani or roti murtabak from Islamic Restaurant or Victory Restaurant at North Bridge Road. NB. The man in the picture is guiding his friend who was reversing his car. Nothing dastardly intended.
I will never be able to feel this way about Ampang Road, Leboh Masjid India, or Chow Kit. Though the backlanes were not as spanking clean as today....
.... they are still the backlanes of my past when I visited my friends at Race Course Lane. But I much prefer the muck and clutter of backlanes gone by.
The food may cost more today but the menu and aroma of the food remains the same; especially the omelette or telur dadar. No eating establishment in KL can imitate or beat that rich juicy mixture of eggs, onions, chilis and daun sop (Chinese parsley). So I asked myself "How could I leave all this, the hallowed space of my growing-up years? Or maybe to put it another way, "What happened to this space to make me leave?" - to move from my mother's tanah air to my father's? Culturally, ethnographically, geographically, historically - they should be one.
Talking about food, Jai excelled himself in not only giving us the hospitality of his abode for the get-together but he also supplied the provisions, the facilities, the transport and manpower for a truly supercalifragilisticaspialidocious meal, not just once, but for two nights running.
|Pickle, Salad, Chapatti, Rice and Dhal - genuine Punjab cuisine.
|As the matriarch at the gathering, AsH became the official food taster with Jai giving an indulgent smile on the left and Lely and Ummu pretending to ignore AsH's privilege.
|Clockwise: Kumar (chapatti chef), Malkit (dhal and chicken curry chef), Manjeet (unofficial chef) - all from Punjab. Thank you boys - we really appreciate your culinary skills. More please!!???
|A chapatti toast to the chef. Lely (in red) and Irene in the foreground are now smiling because they had a tiny morsel of my victuals.
|The dinner (rojak mamak) before the gourmet Punjabi meal. From L to R: Ash, Jai, Lely, Irene and Veera.
|A smiling Veera - after picking up tips on the art of making chapati from Kumar.
Great food, great company, lively conversation with old and new friends - which went on until one in the morning.
But my greatest pleasure, which will last me to the end of my days was to see Irene laughing and enjoying the time we were sharing. Next week she will begin her regime of chemotherapy, the first of sixteen. All the joy we have had this weekend will have to suffice, to hold Irene - and the people who love her - together. My whole being aches for her. Her courage and her determined effort to keep on being brave and philosophical is heartrending and yet so inspiring. I know she is doing this for the sake of her friends and less for herself. She keeps her coming hell under wraps, keeping it for herself to confront.
I have known this sweet and gentle woman since she was fifteen and shared some of her ups and downs. "What to do, Miss Hamid?" has always been her plaintive acknowledgement when life becomes a bit raw. But this time dear girl, you have us all rooting for you, caring and looking out for you for as long as you need and want to. You are not alone.
I do feel like taking a swipe at fate and the gods that that did this to you and Lely.
You are Invictus Irene, always remember that.