Monday, 26 February 2007

History in a suitcase

Lately, I have been travelling up and down the country and there were times when I can’t even remember what day it was, which part of Britain I was in or more importantly what I was there for! So before I forget what I am going to write for this entry, I had better take my daily dose of Ginkgo Biloba and get on with it.

The problem with my memory at the moment is that I am so overloaded with information and no amount of Ginkgo or fish diet can help me now. I am trying to pack in fifty odd years of history in a memory that is in need of an upgrade. Therefore I marveled and am in awe of the people I have been meeting with over the last few weeks. They are much, much older than me, but they must have had a very rich fish diet to have retained such wonderful memory. Their minds are still fresh with memories of yesteryears. They remember dates, names of roads, buildings and people!

Take this English lady I met a fortnight ago. Who would believe that in a remote village somewhere in the south coast of Britain, there lives a fine old lady who could tell you you what transpired during the election campaigns in Malaya, what happened during the late Tun Abdul Razak’s arrival from China, or what was communicated during her tete-e-tete with the Queen during her visit to Malaysia. Who built what and when...and who said what about it!..and even in what manner it was spoken!

And all the while, I sat at her feet, with the fire crackling and burning in her fireplace to keep us warm in her not so little cottage in the village. I had taken the earliest train possible to see her and it was when night had fallen in the southern skies that I returned to London, my mind spilling with information, my battery badly in need of a recharge.

This lady, who went to Malaya in 1953 and stayed on being an active socialite and an even more active figure in the political scene, has a lot to tell. With the 50th anniversary of the independence day coming, her memory is set to active mode once again, recalling all those events leading right up to the moment when she stood on the steps of the pavilion at the padang to watch the Union Jack being lowered. And even beyond.

To help her jolt her memory is a suitcase of letters, cards and documents from past prime ministers, former politicians from both side of the bench, famous names who visited and made her acquaintance, letterheads and postmarks from prestigious addresses, black and white photographs fraying at the edges capturing moments never to be repeated. Even envelopes, those familiar brown envelopes with URUSAN SERI PADUKA BAGINDA written across it! These are lovingly kept in plastic sleeves.

When I arrived at her house, I was met with a very cheerful Selamat datang and Apa khabar. Even after giving up her Malaysian citizenship, and coming back to live in her country of origin, she never lost touch with things Malaysian. If I am brave enough to admit, she is even more clued up with developments in Malaysia now. And now she is ready to tell her story.

Once in a while, she'd ask"Do you know Zaharah...." and I didn't know.

“Here’s my life story,” she said pointing to her suitcase full of letters and documents and pictures. All we need to do now is piece them together. I now have with me four tapes and three video tapes to look through.

Two days ago, I found myself in Liverpool. Liverpool has been a huge source of information to quench my thirst in knowledge on Malay sailors. Admittedly, there’s not many left. Many died since my last visit two years ago. During my recent visit, I was informed that a few Pak Cik sailors are not well. And Pak Cik Ngah Musa is in hospital recuperating from an operation. Even if I had five minutes, I must visit Pak cik Musa.

Two years ago, when I visited Liverpool, Pak Cik Karim was already dying in hospital. I visited him and managed to record his message to his relatives in Singapore and Australia. They didn't know he was dying. And indeed he died a week later.

From the hospital, I went to see Pak Cik Arshad, dear Pak Cik Arshad who, in spite of his Parkinson’s Disease had kept me company in the Kesatuan clubhouse when I was there. later during his last few years, he lived in a nursing home. He still remembered me as the one who put him on TV. He decorated his small but comfortable room with all things from Malaysia. Two small Malaysian flags stood on his cupboard alongside photographs of his parents. Pak Cik Arshad also died sometime after that. Pak Cik Majid, whose life I also documented on TV which then reunited him with his family, also passed away after that. The same story with Pak Cik Bakar, who baked me a cake to eat during my long train journey home to London. So, I really wanted to see Pak Cik Musa.

I met Pak Cik Musa perhaps in the nineties when I did a feature about the Malay sailor settlement there. And I have written many articles about them too. Since then many people and media have approached them too. Anyway, Pak Cik Musa is relatively young compared to the rest.

He left Malaya in 1949 at the age of 18. Now he is 77 with an excellent memory of his days at sea. I expected to see a frail old man in his hospital bed. But what a wonderful surprise. He looked so well after the operation. We had only 15 minutes before closing time, but I managed to get so many precious quotes from him; about him meeting Tunku Abdul Rahman at his rally in Hyde Park during the months before the independence, about his adventures at sea after being sent off to the Korean War and many more. All these communicated in thick and strong Terengganu accent! to him, I was Jaroh! What a beautiful mind!

Pak Cik Musa is adamant that he will go back to his Terengganu when he is well. He wants to book his plot in a cemetery in Losong, for that is where he wants to be when his time is up.

That fifteen minute meeting is so precious to me. Pak Cik Musa has given me so much and I hope, I will meet him again.

With this massive overloading of information, please excuse me if I disappear for awhile. I need to recharge my battery and more importantly, I have loads of interviews that I need to transcribe

More on pak cik sailors:

Tribute to an old man and his sea
Goodbye Pak cik and Thanks for the memories


Thursday, 22 February 2007

The weird wide world of Kak Teh

I have been pronounced mad many times. Once, it was because I refused to join in the crowd and buy Royal Doultons and Queen Anne trays and accessories that people have gleaming on their dinning table. “You giler ke tak mau beli Queen Anne?”said the lady whose marketing tactics left a lot to be desired. For one last aggresive marketing push she bellowed; “Semua bini diplomat beli Queen Anne daripada I”. That did it – I refused to join in and be one. I will continue to serve in my Royal Plastic and Queen Takeaway containers. Thank you.

The second time was when at a very late age in life, I decided to do my MA – not just one pronouncement of my mental state – but a chorus of “You giler ke?” still ringing in my ears and these from people I call friends. And I still love them. And I better add this one for the glam factor. When a close friend invited Sharifah Aini to her house, I said "Shall we have a karaoke session then? " And guess what they said? Yes, you’ve guessed it.

Anyway, that’s just the mukadimmah to this week’s entry. So, officially I am mad. And now I am risking my reputation further by telling you six weird things about Kak Teh. I have been tagged by Ruby Ahmad but I begged her to let me delay the entry before I lose anymore readers on account of my mental state. So this is the rule:

RULES: People who are tagged should write a blog post of 6 weird things about them as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment that says 'you are tagged' in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

Weird factor 1: I am a creature of habit. The avatar that I use in this blog- the cheerful redhead – is one that I have been using since I started roaming cyberworld. It was given to me by a dear friend who thought that that avatar suits my personality – whatever that means. And I have since refused to change and continue to let people think that I am young, cheerful and a rehead!
Everytime I take the train, I will only buy coffee and two mushroom croissants, which I will only eat one. For train journeys, it has to be mushroom croissants. Just like Mak in those days, for train journeys, it was boiled eggs and nasi lemak and ayam goreng.

Another bad habit of mine is year after year, come Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Christmas and whatever, I will always buy a brand new pack of greeting cards. With good intentions too. Sometimes, these cards will remain on the shelves to gather dust or sometimes when I feel the urge, I’d write in the cards, put the address and stamps on the envelopes and post them in the drawer. It is the niat, you see. There’s proof of intention, and that’s what matters.

Weird factor 2: I do not know my left from my right thus my driving examiner failed me for the sake of the safety of other roadusers. How considerate. It has long been a standing joke among friends, foe and children that whenever I say turn left, just turn right. Once I was walking with my husband and when we reached a small junction, he said; here we turn right. And there we parted company.

Weird factor 3: I have a bad case of spoonerism. And this serious condition worsens in the company of certain likeminded friends and fellow sufferers such as ena samad and fati. How we understand each other – only God knows. And we have been friends for a long time. I was with Fati going to an assignment. We jumped into a taxi and I said – “Pak Cik, Jubang Saya Please”. I know it sounds crude but I can promise you I didn’t mean it.

During our goodnight session in the dorm, it’d go like this:

Ina: GoodniteMia.
Mia: Goodnite Riza.
Riza: Goodnite Fati
Fati: Goodnite Kak teh
Kak Teh: Goodni tinite.

And we’d all go to sleep with the understanding that I had said: Goodnight Tini.

And did you know that my favourite actor is Harifon Sord? And that I have a friend who used to work in Shongkong Hai Hai Bank? And my shoemaker friend is Chimmy Joo? How I get to be a broadcaster is also a mystery. During the height of the Salman Rushdie’s saga, I had to practice very hard and breathe in and out several times in case I said Rahman Shurdi. And the list goes on. I have written a letter of explanation about this matter to Ms Blarabella. So read here.

Weird factor 4: As if suffering from spoonerism is not enough, I have also been afflicted with something called malapropism. I take astroids for my hayfever, we drove the children in our MP3 while our children listened to music on their MPV. But this is not as bad as my husband, who declared openly in public that we used Durex plates for dinner. What he earnestly meant was Duralex. When he saw me turning red, he profusedly apologised and said that that was the reason we have so many children, we didn’t know which was which. And certainly not as bad as Jade Goody of Celebrity Big Brother who declared she was made an escape goat in the spat with Shilpa Shetty.

Weird factor 5: I have an ongoing war with new technology. I have had arguments with answering machines, ATM’s and even the defenceless photocopier at the office. I am what you might call technically challenged. Perhaps this is because I can’t read instructions or maps. Read here.

Weird factor 6: I cried when I watched Little House on the Prairies, Extreme MakeOvers, Miss Saigon (five times!) and even Lassie.

Now, do I have any readers left?

I hereby tag ena samad, mak andeh, firehorse, x matters, wonda and theta.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

A day at the CNY celebrations

Yesterday I felt all excited
about going out. True, I wasn’t all dressed up in a new floral frock that Ah Gek had made, but I was like 12 or thirteen and Margaret Chan again getting ready for my Chinese New year rounds. My sayang mama accompanied me before his silat class and we made our first stop at the Victoria &Albert Museum where Dato Jimmy Choo was given pride of place to exhibit his shoes and meet his fans to wish them a prosperous New Year. The crowd in front of the
V& A had gathered for the promised of a spectacular entrance of the lion dance but the troupe took their time. It was freezing cold outside. It was also very brief; a few kids screamed with fright but many warmed up to the ‘lion’. Taufiq noted that none of the members of the troupe was Chinese. In fact, he further noted that the one holding up the head was a singh, prompting him to say that it was a ‘singha dance’ which I thought was very funny. Good sense of humour that, my sayang mama.

We followed the lion as it pranced about amongst the precious exhibits of the V&A and what a din the drums made in the usually quiet and sober surroundings of the museum. We then ended up in the room with our famous shoe designer and family. Fans were already crowding around him wanting to take pictures with him but Kak Teh managed to get this from him to you:

Looking around the hall, I saw a game I used to play and it brought such sweet memories. The Chinese Chess. When I was living with Tok the year Mak left for Mekah, I befriended the daughters of the Chinese contractor who rented the house that Pak built for Mak just next to Tok’s house. Everyday, after school, I’d rush with my homework and join the two girls whose name I forgot, but who also taught me the song Pu Yau that I sang wholeheartedly in the bathroom. With the chores done for Tok, such as the tulang belud and hemming up the baju kurungs that she made for her clients, Kak Cik and I would go over to the house and sit outside and play Chinese Chess. I believe I was quite good at it but now I have even forgotten the moves or the characters. So I persuaded Mrs JC to show me how.

When ewok came with some friends, we made our way to Trafalgar Square joining throngs of other revellers to celebrate the start of Shanghai Week. We had of course missed the Shaolin monks but we were in time to see some Chinese Dance by an all English girls troupe, and a very talented violinist. And we saw a very foolish martial artiste break several bricks with his head and an even more foolish one demonstrating a very effective method of birth control by having someone hit his you know where with a very long rod! I swear to you, as it was also shown on the big screen, every male had their legs crossed at that time, while letting our a chorus of groans.

Having seen enough of sadistic acts, we made our way to Leicester Square and a much bigger crowd had gathered to watch a display of fireworks. We managed to get a dragon which became everyone's favourite accessory for the day.

The operatic song coming from the square just before the fireworks brought my memories back to the time when a dance troupe would play night after night just down the road.

Kak Cik and I would persuade Tok to let us go and see. The actors wore very heavy make-up with fierce looking faces and beards almost touching the floor. I never knew what the plays were all about, but I remember being very scared of the character with the long beard. Even on nights when we didn't go, we could hear the soulful rendition carried by the wind into our bedroom.

Alas the fireworks was a disappointment. They could have waited for the sky to become darker for it to be more effective. So, apart from the din and the shouts from the crowd, it looked more like a community effort to burn their rubbish in the square – with smoke rising to the sky. And so it was time to go. We took our dragons and made our way to Mawar for a bit of koayteow and roti canai.


Friday, 16 February 2007

Love in the Autumn Years II

It was 14th February 2007 and I was in the grand surroundings of a stately home somewhere in the outskirts of London tucked away among clusters of quaint English villages along the M25. It is a grand imposing building built in 1883 and had survived the war. It's beautifully decorated walls have been witnesses to so many interesting happenings but that day I left with one story that made my day.
We were in the opulent surrounding of a room specially built for Queen Victoria. The ceiling, I was told, was painted with real gold paint. It has an Oriental feel because Queen Victoria liked it but sadly never visited it. But that day in that room I met a couple with a precious story to share with me.
For all of his seventy odd years or so, he was still the perfect officer and a gentleman. She was slightly built, dressed in a suit befitting an officer's wife. Her Oriental genes saw to it that she didn't look her age although she admitted she is a few years older than him.
They met while he was serving out there in Malaya and the nineteen year old lad from Berkshire fell hopelessly in love with the Chinese lass serving him from behind the counter. A whirlwind romance in turbulent times but they decided to get married in England. She packed her belongings, said farewell to her only aunt and boarded the ship bound for the London Docks.
There must have been many anxious moments as the ship sailed in sometimes turbulent waters matching her anxiety; the prospect of a new life in a foreign land, the thoughts of meeting her in-laws-to-be for the first time and all sorts of other 'what ifs' that intruded her thoughts during the long lonely nights in her cabin. During the day, it wasn't too bad as there were many other Chinese passengers she had befriended during the voyage.
He, in the meantime, had flown back to await the arrival of his bride-to- be from the East.
As she stepped out on to the gangway after the ship had docked, an officer in a bluish uniform rushed forward and swept her off her feet and began kissing her, ignoring her protests. Her Chinese companions too had protested, hitting him and telling him that that wasn't the 'done' thing! When he finally put her down, she breathlessly asked him who he was, as she didn't recognise him at all in this new surroundings.
The plans to get married didn't go as smoothly as the voyage; there was still much resistance from in-laws who didn't think marriage to a foreigner from out there would last.
"Today, on Valentine's Day," he said as he toasted his drink to his smiling wife, "we have proved them wrong. We are still married after more than 50 years and we have grand children. And she is still as lovely as ever," at which point I shamelessly let out a loud sob!
Last night, we were back at our weekly tazkirah and I was feeling a tad melancholic. Most of the surau mates are oldies like us; familiar faces at terawikhs, tahlils and religious discussions. There were many new comers and many young faces; students who wouldn’t miss the weekly gathering to hear the wise words of our young ustaz.
Last night, I felt almost like an invisible observer watching the goings on in that small room. I watched a friend chatting with my husband. And suddenly his head tilted a little to the direction of a familiar cheerful voice. His wife had entered the room, having arrived early from her work place to join us. During the previous weeks, this being winter, she could only make it to the gathering when we were done with our Isya prayers, and she was only in time to gently guide her husband up the stairs and across the road to their car. She has been his trusted pair of eyes during these last few years since his eyesight began to deteriorate. She edits his writings for he is a fervent and prolific writer. And that made me think, how much more we depend on each other during these autumn years. How much more we feel the need to be each other’s eyes and ears, to share more than just the odd pair of reading glasses .
So, we can only offer our syukur to Allah for blessing us with our companions. Some, like one other surau mateI have known all my life here, managed only a few years together before her husband was taken away after a sudden illness. Her picture of her young self in kebaya and kain ketat remains on her shelf next to one of her and her beloved. She accompanied him here as he needed to finish his studies. But his illness took him away. To this day, she could not face the reality of leaving the land where he is buried. Going home for good, would be like abandoning him. So, to this day she devotedly tends to his grave, pulling out the weeds and making sure it is clean. She once spoke to me about returning home for good, but I doubt it. Her love for the one who left her some twenty odd years ago, is still intact and strong. She will stay on to be with him.
Two weeks ago, she told me, she didn't even have the chance to reply him, when he uttered his final 'I love you' .

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Love in the Autumn Years

It was a cool autumn morning and the sun was shining through the almost bare trees lining the winding street leading to the hospital. The couple walked silently, arms linked, both entertaining thoughts about the season, with its golden yellow leaves and almost bare branches- a season so rich in colour, yet so near the end of the year.

They reached the hospital and found their way to the breast scan unit. The woman was a bit hesitant, but he gave her a gentle push and the same reassuring look as he had been giving all these years. She registered while he sat with his Guardian among other middle aged women waiting their turn for the breast scan. He was the thorn among the withering roses and yet felt quite comfortable being there, as he had been numerous times before at pre-natal classes, baby scans, baby births – everywhere, holding her hand and giving moral support, and just being there.

Like autumn, their life together has been rich enough to make a beautiful picture. They had gone through spring and its head spinning, heart fluttering moments. Summer came as the children made their appearances and now it is autumn. But unlike autumn the season, the autumn of their life together will not repeat itself after winter. But it can be framed and treasured.

The gold plated pendant that she received on Valentine’s Day 1978 was perhaps the first and the last Valentine’s Day gift she had ever received. And she had long forgotten how to sulk as the day came and went without a register of recognition of the day’s significance in his eyes. To him, it is not important. And now to her it is not important too.

What is important is the companionship, the togetherness even if unspoken.

What matters are those times; when he woke up two or three times during the night to read and check on her attempts at feature writing, when he travelled miles to bring their first born to wherever she was for the baby to be breastfed, when he bought her not flowers but books to read and enrich her mind, when he made her leg of lamb and roast potatos at the end of her long day at work.

What is important is that wait; at the platform, at the book shop, at the cafe. Fifteen minutes, half an hour, one hour – with the knowledge that the other will turn up.

What is unforgettable is the picture of him reading books on pregnancy, on PMT, on migrane and poring over recipes to make keropok when she craved for keropok while heavy with child, and tying her shoe laces as she was too big to bend down and do it herself.

What is also precious is that reminder to take vitamins early in the morning, the gentle tug at midnight with a glass of water and vitamins that he feeds her. What is more precious is the ‘Bismillahirahmanirrahim’ that he utters as she swallows the vitamins and goes back to sleep. Similarly precious is the “Tawakkal tuAllah’ from him that accompanies her daily as she sets out for work.

Last night, at the usual place by the fountain, she waited for half an hour. After all these years, she knew he’d turn up. After all these years, she was aware that he was lost among the bookshelves of Waterstones. But she waited. And yes, did he turn up. No more tantrums and sulks of those spring years or fiery anger of summer. This autumn stage of our life has become so predictable; as predictable as the leaves falling, as predictable as winter being around the corner. With that realisation, I think love in the autumn of our life is not too bad at all – even without the flowers and the chocolates.

So, without much fuss, today she says thank you and let us make the most of this autumn years in our life.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

And Jackson Makes Five

The place was The Dorchester. The company was awesome. The Mr Fix-it was a genious.

He was just what you’d expect him to be. And more. It is not likely that I’ll meet a more soft spoken person than Jermaine Jackson of the Jacksons Five, lately of Celebrity Big Brother – he with the big heart and noble mission to help the needy children of the world.

It is very seldom that my children are impressed with the assignments that I do. But on that particular afternoon, the youngest cancelled his appointment, the second took half day off work and the third left uni after lunch time.

Jermaine or Muhammad Abdul Aziz looked very smart when he walked to our table. But he also looked very tired, especially after the rounds of meetings and interviews.

“Yes, I don’t mind going back to Big Brother house again,” he said jokingly when I remarked that the house must have been the only place where he must have had the most rest, away from fans and journalists. Even when we were talking, there were people who walked up to shake hands with him.

Yes, there was hardly time to rest after the big hoo haa in CBB where Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty was subjected to the most appalling treatment by some of the housemates. And it was Jermaine’s calming effect that shone through during moments when Shilpa nearly broke down.
In my book, he is the real winner.

Since he embraced Islam in the late eighties, Jermaine admitted to finding such peace and calmness in himself that inevitably radiate to people around him.

“I’ve become a better son, a better brother, a better father and a better husband,” he said.

“God had blessed our family with this talent and it is just right that we should use our talent to give back to society – especially those in need,” he said, referring to his charity, Earthcare International Foundation. He spoke about the children of Africa whom he hopes will benefit from his charity work. He spoke about the environment and his concern about the human abuse of the world that Allah had created.

So, it will be in Dubai next year that he and his brothers will get together for an event to celebrate achievements by individuals who had done so much for humanity. But for now there’s plenty of work to be done to bring awareness and get people to come together and “erase scars of disease, famine, poverty and conflict from the landscape and soul of Africa and developing countries.”

And all too soon, it was goodbye and thank you for your time, Mr Jackson. As for the children who were fuming because I had sent them away during the interview, they were more than pacified when Mrs Jackson, Haleema, stopped and chatted to them.

And yes, here’s a message from Mr Jackson:

Sunday, 4 February 2007

A painting incomplete

Like an unfinished painting, my life lacks the details and finishing touches that make it complete. During the last few months, I have met people who have helped to paint in the details, people who were there during certain important and historic moments; moments when I was too young to remember or moments when I have been away. And I have been away for a long time.

So they came into my life and added a dash of colour here, a stroke of detail there and now a picture is emerging. Not quite complete, but there’s something there.

“You know dear, “ said the voice at the other end of the line yesterday, “ I stood on the verandah, overlooking the padang and watched the union flag come down while the Malayan flag go up,” she said, recalling that historic moment 50 years ago. Even at 82, she could remember every glorious moment of that handover.

She was very much the socialite rubbing shoulders along the corridors of power in those days and was very active in the Malaya she grew to love and still remembers with affection. In her small room down south, she surrounds herself with documents, some very, very important and old pictures of the young emerging Malaya, tasting her first few years of independence.

“But my memories are all kelam kabut,” said this very English lady punctuating her very English English with her very Malay Malay. “Sometimes”, she added, “it comes out like bangsawan,” and we both roared out with laughter down the line, this Malay Mak Cik and this very fine English lady.

She said she didn't think her recollection would interest me, not realising that I was frantically jotting down everything she narrated; about her first meeting with Tunku at the railway station, about David Marshall accompanying the Tunku to meet Chin Peng in Baling, about Ong Yoke Lin’s order for serai to make satay for the Merdeka celebration at the UN. If she’d have me as her tenant for a week, I’d pack right now and leave my loved ones to fend for themselves.

Indeed, there were many, many people, British ex-servicemen especially, whom I met over the last few months, who said they could recall their tour of duty in Malaya, during the days before the Independence, during the emergency and the konfrantasi, as if it was yesterday.

“I remember the day it was announced and because we were away from the capital, we decided to play football against the officers, and we gave them quite a beating,” said one, adding hesitantly that they had one too many stengah's that day.

“Oh I was there and I was wearing the songkok and I stood to attention, feeling very proud indeed,” chipped in another.

“How can I forget Malaya for that was where I met my wife. She was the daughter of a planter,” said one officer who went on to write a novel about the romance between a young officer and a local beauty.

And indeed, one introduced me to his daughter, a product of the romance with a Chinese local beauty.

And yet another said he helped build a school for the Orang Asli and taught them English. He also spoke of the unfriendly forest and the even more unfriendly and hostile communists, especially the ones he came face to face with when he and his men stormed a house.

The last group of ex-servicemen I met was in Ipswich last week and some came with old photographs of their life in the jungle, one had a photograph of the baby he helped to deliver. They all came to the town hall, some with walking sticks, some in wheelchairs. For some, their widows and children came holding up pictures tracking down people who were in the same regiments or units as their husbands or fathers. But all of them came with memories of Malaya. Even the dog handler.

The dog handler started his journey from here to Germany to fetch what was known as wardogs...all 14 of them and with another handler, spent 5 weeks on the ship bound for Malaya. Needless to say, by the end of the voyage, they became very close to the dogs which were trained to sniff and kill.

At a conference I attended some months ago, a scholar showed me the scribblings of a survivor of the death railway, his jottings as the Japanese prisoner of war and many more. At a reunion of Japanese POW’s at the Imperial War Museum some years ago, I jotted down some interesting stories too and shared with them their harrowing moments.

Over the last few weeks too, I had been spending time with a very special lady. She left for Malaysia in 1958 and has been there ever since. We talked and talked from morning till night, and once continued our conversation as we walked linking arms along King Street, she in her red beret and I in my pink tudung. A strange pair to the onlookers of SW London as we walked and talked, had our coffee at Starbuck and talked some more but we had so much in common that everything else was oblivious to the pair of us

To a certain extent her life is a mirror reflection of mine. She chatted about the year she arrived soon after independence, about the sixties and seventies and about the years that I missed while being away. And I talked about Britain under Margaret Thatcher and the day she left number 10 in tears, about being at the gates of Buckingham palace when the tragic story of Diana broke, about being at those places which were bombed by the extremists, about being there to celebrate London as Olympic city and many more moments that she had missed.

Anyway, she and the rest and many more have contributed so much to fill in the blanks and added their personal touches. And I will continue in my quest to meet many more people who will add more dashes of colour to this painting of mine.