Don’t think any Malaysians from my generation had not been to an Indian barber in the neighborhood.
My first experience of going to a barber was back in the old neighborhood where the barber was actually the neighbor who lived in the same row of houses as us. Being a good friend of my dad, he often cut our hair as short as possible even though we tried our best to get him to cut in the latest styles.
(No Deepavali is ever complete without the crunchy murukus – I am sure everyone agrees on that. Photo taken on Deepavali last year)
Certainly Deepavali was not like how it used to be back those days, some how some things have changed, don’t you think so? Perhaps it is because we have grown up and life has gotten slightly more complicated or perhaps large family gathering getting out of fashion these days, I don’t know.
Back then, the tasks for Deepavali celebrations actually starts couple days (sometimes weeks) before the actual date. Two things happen before we celebrate Deepavali – the making of Deepavali cookies (the usual “culprits” are there – achi-muruku, muruku, butter biscuits, etc) and shopping for new clothes. The making of Deepavali cookies was done on a “gotong-royong” basis with a number of neighbors (or my aunties if we had gone to my grandma’s house couple days earlier) and all the kids pitching in. All share the cost of purchasing the raw materials and the hard work of mixing the flour, the ghee, the sugar, the eggs and finally the cooking. As kids however, it was not hard work but rather it was a fun thing to do especially when my Mom passes some of the work to press the murukku to us and we try to outdo each other with the best shape that we can do without breaking the pressing (although excitement runs out fast and we all soon will get bored to help out).
Shopping for new clothes however had to wait until the last minute when my Dad gets his pay (sometimes with some extra festive pay from his Boss). If the pay is good (provided my Dad did not take too many medical leave for the month), we can look forward to more than 1 pair of new clothes but if it is not, we were more than happy to have just one new T-shirt (and all others recycled from previous years). No matter what, our parents made sure we had something new to wear on Deepavali although they often do not buy new clothes for themselves. We would then rush to the one place we can expect to buy new clothes dirt cheap – Petaling Street (back then, we did not have pasar-malam or hypermarkets near our place)
The night before Deepavali
This is far more important than the morning of Deepavali itself – for one reason only – the prayers to my late grandfather and my youngest uncle (both from my mother’s side) who had passed away when I was still small. We usually do a quick prayers for my grandfather and grandmother (from my father side) couple of hours before we take the bus all the way to Serdang (change bus half way in Puduraya) and to my grandma’s house where my grandma and my aunties had already prepared for the prayers – the hall has been half cleaned, the chicken & the glorious dishes have been cooked and the altar has been readied.
We would arrive at my Grandma’s house hungry and tired but very excited. We would place our new clothes at the altar and head for a quick shower (my grandma would insist on it). Then the prayers starts with all at the front of the altar and taking turn to do our own prayers asking for blessing and hope for a better year ahead. Once that is done, we would have our dinner and it will be one of the best dinners we will have for the year with chicken, mutton, prawns and more. But that is not the end of the activities for the day – the house would still be in a mess so after dinner, we will start with even more cleaning and decorating of the house. Whilst the ladies get themselves busy with the usual cleaning, changing of the curtains & sofa cover and making more murukus & preparing for breakfast in the kitchen, one of my aunties would started “drafting” kolam using chalk at the main entrance (she kept a scrap book full of various designs). Once done, I would be assigned to paint the kolam with white paint as my cousins would be busy with other cleaning tasks.
It would be quite late before we go to our beds. Even so, as we are sound asleep, my aunties, my mom and my grandma would be still be awake, doing last minute cleaning and cooking. We have no idea what time they actually go to sleep but one thing we are sure of – they are first to be up before us next morning.
The morning on Deepavali
We would be fast asleep when we would be “rudely” awakened early in the morning. No thanks to the late bedtime the night before (or early morning), we would be struggling to even open our eyes. My mom on the other hand would be the next person standing by our bed and making sure we march off to the bathroom for our morning shower. And she expects us to do it without further delays as we need to do the morning prayers before breakfast can be served and they need to serve breakfast early for my uncles and my Dad. So there was no excuse for late prayers (it some how changed a couple of years later where we were allowed to wake up late). Perhaps due to my Mom’s persistence or the prayers songs in the background, we would somehow forced ourselves off the bed and stand up but with our eyes still closed. My grandma would come over and rub the oil on our head and leave us alone to catch up on bit more sleep whilst waiting for the bathroom to be free (being at the grandma’s house means the kids gets VVIP treatment – hot water all readied by the time we are ready for our morning bath).
Breakfast was simple – hot thosai with spicy chicken curry but that is the beauty of it. Simple but heavenly delicious and there is no end of hot thosai served on our plates. We were made sure that we had a very hearty breakfast before we don the new Deepavali clothes – all waiting for us at the altar from last night.
The rest of the day on Deepavali
The activities for the rest of the day on Deepavali are usually divided into 2. First, to entertain my uncle’s guests who will visit him without fail every year – kids had to make sure that the drinks (soft drinks and beers) are replenished on time. And my uncle usually have 10 – 15 guests coming in all at the same time, so imagine the chaos the living hall would be. And they usually come for lunch, so my aunties, my Mom and my grandma would be very busy as well in the kitchen. We kids need not be around all the time – our “services” is usually needed at the start of this activity. Once done, we would be busy with the second activity for the day – playing (and more importantly experimenting) with firecrackers. We usually start playing the usual way of playing firecrackers but boredom would soon get better of us. We would “open” up the firecrackers and use the powder to blow up things at the garden including ants colony (ya, we were Ants Bully too once)
Soon after lunch and after my uncle’s guests had left, it would be time for other guests to come over. It is also time for the ladies in the house to get a break from all that cleaning and cooking. It was also time to watch the Deepavali special on the television (another round would at night – still remember Dunhill Blockbuster those days?). It is also time for us kids to visit the neighbors. No afternoon nap on the first day of Deepavali – it is either watching TV or munching up the murukus or playing firecrackers.
The night on Deepavali
Another round of good delicious food to be savored on Deepavali night as we would get another stream of guests at night – mostly from aunties’ side. We would soon get busy watching another “blockbuster” movie (the same movie that we had seen on pirated VCDs but just clearer version this time around). But soon, we would get bored again and it was time for another experiment with the firecrackers. However, we had to do that at the side of the house, away from the front where my Dad and my uncles are having their drinking session and their long chat. It is one of the rare moments when you can get everyone at one place and enjoying themselves. One or two experiment gone wrong from the side of the house (it usually do but without anyone getting hurt) would be enough the disrupt the drinking session at the front and sends one of my uncles to come over to check and see what the kids are doing – a quick reminder on safety and we are let off to continue. By now, the tiredness for past 2 days of preparation and waking up in the morning would have started to settle in. Nonetheless, it would be late before we go off to sleep, waking very late the next day. Things are so different these days.
And before we go off on holidays and get high on murukus & beers, I leave you with this quotable quote (good one, Durai) to ponder through during the holidays:-
“PM even announced that the cut in sugar subsidy would actually help to improve our sex life; which is important because the government needs to fuck us all the time”
(Long before mountain bikes, you still remember the BMX madness in the 1990s? I think there should be a rule that all kids should be able to ride a bicycle at least one point of the childhood life. Image source: http://bicyclensw.org.au)
It was great to be back home – I missed my kids the most (the Big Boss had a tough time going to school knowing that I was coming back in the afternoon) and my car the next (haha, don’t worry, my wife understands me). And whilst I was away, my son have been busy – very busy indeed. I am not sure what prompted him but he has been checking out bicycles at the hypermarkets. He did that some months ago but he was not pressing for a purchase back then.
When he was small, we bought for him a 3-wheeler but he soon got bored with it. We decided to hold back from buying another bicycle until he has grown up to ride a proper bicycle and not another 3 wheeler (that is for babies, he once remarked). Lately he has been bringing up the subject on bicycles again – he got to know some of his classmates come to school on bicycle and that seemed to captivate him. He too has been toying on the idea of able to go to school on a bicycle – he said we can save on school bus fees but I think he knows that will not fly with us. There are too many junctions and heavy traffic between the house and the school for us to risk him with a bicycle (unless the school was next door to the house, of course). And we have seen him looking in envy at the kids with bicycle at the playground. The writing is on the wall for us to get him a bicycle – we just have been delaying this until we see him outperforming his “peers” in school (and from we saw and heard so far, he seems to be on the right track). My wife told me that he has even identified the exact bicycle that he wanted me to buy once I am back.
And speaking about bicycles, do you still remember your very first bicycle?
I don’t recall when I started to ride a bicycle on 2 wheels (instead of a 3 wheeler) – probably at my grandma’s house where there always a couple of old big bicycles laying around for us kids to practice (still remember those with steel brakes?) and where no one says “no” to any kids. But what I can recall was that I was able to ride on 2 wheels by Standard 4. We did not have bicycles at home so any chance of riding them was at my grandma’s house. There was also the place where I ride my first racing bicycle although I was too small to ride comfortably (I kept thinking I was going to fall over) – the change of speed gears was fascinating though.
Then one day when I was in Standard 5 (or so), my neighbour (lovely family from Sarawak) came over and asked if they can take me and my siblings for Christmas Open House at one of their relatives’ house. And there is where I saw it for the first time – a BMX bicycle. It was small, agile and it simply looked great. I saw some kids riding it and since we were kind of “out of place” in the crowd, I was only able to see it from far or so I thought. When one of the aunties, after seeing me sitting down bored at the living room, remarked to one of the kids that they should “invite” me to play along, I got closer to it and was happy when they handed me the bicycle to take it for a round. I was in heaven when I took hold of the bicycle and took it for a spin. We took turn riding it and I managed to put in another few rounds in it. Santa must have understood my wish back then.
When I got back, I mentioned that to my Dad but he only kept silent – a BMX bicycle was a luxury item back then. In a time when we had to rely on public bus, trains and my uncle’s car to move around, a bicycle was the last thing we need to strain our expenses. But not all was lost when we shifted house to another apartment block and we had one of the friendliest neighbour – a Chinese family and soon, 2 of the teenagers in the family (they were pretty much older than me) became more like big brothers to me. And one of them had a BMX bicycle. I did not dare to ask the brother for his bicycle – if anything happens to it, I don’t want to put any strain my Dad to pay for the damages. But the brother noticed this one day and asked if I wanted to take it for a ride. At first, I politely declined but he insisted (and soon his father who was inside the house asked me not to be shy and go ahead to take the bicycle for a ride). I took it for a ride and it was very smooth – I hardly hear any noise from the bicycle chain & sprockets.
The brother had greased the chains too well and it shows in the ride. I just took it for a ride around the neighbourhood and was worried if I had took it for too long – my parents would disapprove of this. When I returned, the brother was inside the house and when I called him, he looked surprised. He expected me to take another few rounds and returned it only when I had enough. He mentioned this to me and told me that I can take the bicycle for a ride at any time – he was getting too big for the bicycle and he hardly use it (his Dad got him a motorcycle for his commute to school). And if no one was using it, it will only collect dust. And soon I was using it when I had to go to the shops (which was about 1.5 km away) to buy things for my Mom and at the same time, taking the BMX for a longer ride. Riding fast on a BMX was definitely better than walking to the shops.
Although I was happy to be able to ride a BMX whenever I need, I was still apprehensive and shy of asking my neighbour to use the bicycle. At end of the day, it was not my bicycle. Further since my younger brother was also hooked to the BMX, we were worried that we may be using too much of a something that we did not owe. And my Dad knew about it but he kept his silent. But when I got top marks for my final year exams, something happened. Not known to me, my Dad has been making plans to buy a BMX bicycle for us (well, it is actually for me but my brother got his chance on it too – when I allowed him).
So on one fine weekend, my Dad came back home early and said that I need to follow him to buy something. Thinking that he is asking my help to carry some of the house sundry items (as how he often do when he gets his monthly salary), I was all up and ready to go after he had taken his shower. We walked but in the wrong direction of the sundry shop – clearly we were going to buy something different. I kept quiet as we walked – my Dad did not give any clue of what he was intending to buy and why I need to follow him. Things got a lot clear when we reached the bicycle shop. We walked in and my Dad asked me to pick the colour (and the model) of the BMX bicycle and it will be all mine. It took me a moment to realise what was happening but then realised he was buying one for me (I later found out that my Dad had made arrangement with the bicycle shop owner to pay in instalments for the bicycle).
Finally I had my own BMX bicycle – it was maroon in colour and all shiny. And it remained in the “family” for the next few years until I started to lose interest on cycling and was more interested on motorcycling which was more high-powered and more expensive (where once again, I learned at my grandma’s house using my uncles’ bikes).
And now, it is my son’s turn to experience what I have gone through and I am very sure he is going to enjoy it.
(The grand daddy of all radio and even entertainment devices – the one that ruled long before we had satellite TV and one good source for news)
I was watching TV a couple nights ago when my wife asked me to “update” her MP3 files in her thumb drive. She heard her favorite song on my car MP3 player and she wanted the same for her car. My son interjected and asked for a specific song from one of the latest Tamil movies. I was kind of speechless – it is kind of interesting how we have moved from radio station only to cassette to CDs to MP3 files these days.
Do you still remember the good old days when you had none of this and you had the good old radio (and that too with a handful of channels available)? I still remember the old radio in one of my relative’s house and I still remember that it was still working and I still remember that there was no cassette player in that old radio.
(Not the same model that we had in my grandma’s house but something similar – it is a premium player. Just imagine 2 huge speakers sticking to this player and you get the idea)
The radio in my grandma’s house was a bit more sophisticated. It only had one cassette player which also came with a radio receiver and something new called “Dolby NR” and it had several dials for bass, treble and balance. For some kids like us, it was akin to driving a space ship. It had huge speakers and for long, it is only used when my uncles were around – it looked too complicated at first but soon we get to know how to work the player, we often use it to listen to music or the news on the radio.
And when we know that it can also record music from the radio, we hunted for old cassettes which were lying in the store-room and inside some of the drawers. We did not know back then but we did override a good number of ever-green and classical Tamil songs. It something we regret of doing now but back then, we did not have cash to buy new empty cassettes and seeing all that cassettes collecting dust in the storeroom and lockers, we decided to reuse them to record songs from the radio. Thankfully, none of it belonged to my uncles’ favorite collection, otherwise we would have been skinned alive.
Back then, we did not have THR Raaga or 20 plus radio stations but we had Radio FM Stereo (in addition to the sole Tamil radio channel) and in particular, it’s “Pilihan Bersama” radio program (still remember it?). It was my favorite because you get the best songs here and in FM stereo too (a rather new piece of technology back then). I recall recording the songs on the same cassettes several times over several nights – not all songs were played in complete and marking initial “BRC” on the cover to mark those cassettes that I have recorded.
(Portable, low powered and often found in many of the kitchens – providing music and news for the ladies of the house. Low tech and cheap simple speaker – it is hardly the loud music machine one would expect it to be)
That is when I am at grandma’s house. Back at home we only had a small cheap radio transistor which came with one cassette player (which we did not use much because we did not enough cassettes and also because the recordings was bad) and with one speaker. But since we listened to the radio more, the cassette player was rarely used. That radio stayed with us for a couple of years until one day it simply went broke.
(The almost exact model that my Dad bought for the house with just a small difference – this model seems to have a couple extra buttons and this time we had a real high tech machine with 2 cassette decks, removable speakers, separate bass booster, equalizers and digital radio station search. It would have been perfect if my Dad had bought the one that came with CD player as well but it was OK – this model was more than enough for us)
It was time for another radio and by now, CD players were making the headlines and I knew that I had convinced my Dad to buy one with a CD player if he decides to replace the broken radio with a newer one. I was away when my Dad went with my brother to buy a new radio so it was not a big surprise when they came back with a model that did not come with any CD player. Damn! That was my initial reaction – I guess our first encounter with a CD player had to wait for now (CDs back then were too expensive anyway). But the new radio – a Panasonic came with 2 cassette players (which meant I can copy cassette from another with ease), equalizers, a whole load of automation and good 4 speakers. We really handled the radio with great care – it was new and we knew that my Dad paid for it in installments and with a hole in his pockets.
(Sony brand Walkmans was expensive but we always had cheaper alternatives and Aiwa brand was one of them and you can get from a range of the cheapest of all with simple mechanism, low tech and all the way to expensive high tech models. You won’t find Aiwa brand these days, it almost went bankrupt and was acquired by Sony in 2002)
In between, we were introduced to something called Walkman – at first, by borrowing from well-to-do relatives and later, by collecting money to buy one our own, I bought one – my first portable radio many years later. It was an Aiwa brand and it was good and was helpful when I was doing my studies at home. My brother found a broken radio, took out it from the shell, found an old speaker and managed to get it work and we often hear it late at night – in particular Casey Kasem’s American’s Top 40 and another (I can’t recall the name) where the DJ reads listeners’ problems and then provide the relevant advises.
One fine day, we got a call from our uncle – he said he had something for us and will be dropping by to pass it to us. It was a radio but there was a built-in CD player. Apparently his friend was moving out and decided to pass his radio to my uncle. My uncle who already had a radio on his own decided to pass it to us. We were excited and immediately hooked up the radio and tested the CD player (the funny thing was we tried to do that at first without any CDs – it was dumb of us). So, after inspecting the player for some time, we decided that we need to have a CD to test and see if it is working or not. We then decided to ride to Brickfields to the many of music shops to go and buy a CD. At the shop, we realised that we are buying our own first CD – a minor history in the making – we were finally moving from cassettes to CDs – from analogue to digital. Out of the many hundred CDs in the music shop, we hunted for the one CD that we want to buy and bring back to test the player.
(I kind of miss them especially the premium TDK brand where the magnetic strip is in bluish in color. The non premium ones was brownish in color and often reproduced low quality sound)
We found a CD that contains the evergreen from the 70s – it was not cheap (it cost RM15) but thankfully we brought enough to buy it. We bought the CD and eagerly rushed back home to play the CD on the new player. It started to play but it was not long before it went dead. A couple more experiments, cleaning of the lenses and even shifting the player to a different place but nothing worked. The player was busted and we had an expensive CD without a player to play it on. Sadly we went back to cassettes but were determined to buy a good CD player when time permits. That time came, in several years later when I started to work and slowly had enough to buy a proper player – Aiwa that had 3 CD decks and can even play VCDs. It was not long before we had mp3 files to share – at first to be burned into CD as audio file and then later without any conversion to be played on mp3 player or car player or laptops by simply sticking a thumb drive on the USD port.
One thing we did not have in our “arsenal” all these year is a record player but I did encounter it only once and that too during a wedding. Someone had brought in the record player but did not have the right records but not for long. Someone dashed to his house and came back with a record which has a picture of a bald head on its cover.
Still remember the very first shoes that you wore to school?
Early this year, my wife and I went for shopping…for school shoes for the Big Boss. We had bought new uniform, bag, socks and shoes several weeks earlier but we had to buy another pair as the shoes “mysteriously” gets dirty within a day. As I walked past several racks of shoes, I was looking at the various “models” of shoes on display. One stood out – Bata – the one that most, if not all Malaysians would know from the early stage of their life. That brought back the memory when I was small and had to content with my own school shoes.
(The shoe box was a thing to see – the shoe’s features was akin to a car’s specs back then. Badminton Master 2000 – Image source: http://mohdfitri.blogspot.com/)
Our first preference when it comes to school shoes has always been Bata. There were no Bata shops nearby, the “nearest” would be the one near the Old Market (an ordinary shoe shop that also sold Bata brand shoes) and there is another shop in Brickfields – either way, we had to take the bus to the shop. In the early years, we did not opt for any specific Bata brands as long as it was one of the cheapest around (in those days even though it was cheap but it was very durable as well).
Then one day we saw an advertisement from Bata showing a new line of shoes – Badminton Master 2000. Back then, we never knew why they used 2000 but we gathered that it was a shoe of the future. And somehow we always thought that if we wear the shoe, we can run faster, jump higher and be active longer – ya, we saw the advertisement on TV. How silly we were!
(Simple and well made Fung Keong shoes. The only problem with these shoes was that there was more area to do the washing and whitening – Image source: http://boonchert.blogspot.com/)
As I was growing up and getting to know the rock culture of the 1980s – 1990s, my preference of shoe was changing as well.
Bata seemed to be made for well dressed, polite and good mannered school boys. Not for me – and wearing “well made for basket ball”, “not suited to run”, the heavier shoe seemed to be fashion of the day for any young rockers. Its high placed pad seemed ideal for cycling too. It was cheap and durable and despite the name, it had a long history to back it up (Fung Keong shoes have been made locally since 1939) – it was good brand indeed.
After sometime dwelling with the “rebel without cause” Fung Keong shoes, I was back to a more tamed designed shoe. Bata was alright but there was another “player” in the market back then – Pallas. There was Aliph too but they were more famous for their sports shoes. But more often, it was Bata.
Whilst we liked the shopping for new shoes especially when there are new designs out there, there is one thing we truly dislike when it comes to school shoes – washing and whitening them. And we had hard times back then. We had to wash all our shoes on the weekends and me sometimes doing extra, washing my younger siblings’ shoes as well. A situation my son is not facing at the moment, although we are trying to get him used to do the whitening of his shoes himself.