There’s one thing that’s almost certain if you are addicted to a hard drug like heroin and morphine – you’ll go places. Unfortunately, these aren’t destinations and venues that you’ll ever go to voluntarily… hospitals, police lockups, drug rehabilitation centres, prisons. Or the graveyard.
In a two-year spell from 1977, I was involved in four arrests, handcuffed twice and had seen the insides of the first four. And I was yet to turn 19. God knows how much I had disappointed and embarrassed my father, who was a much-respected figure in the community and who had high hopes of me.
By the way, the title is from a rousing film based on a true story about injustice. There’s a soundtrack by U2’s Bono of the same title which you could hear over and over (the lyrics are here): In the name of reason, In the name of hope, In the name of religion, In the name of dope… This film has Daniel Day-Lewis, who is one of my favourite actors along with Robert De Niro and Kevin Spacey.
My propensity to add some film, song or story – sometimes it might not have much to do with the post; sometimes it does. It’s my way of easing into events that might result in remorse, regret and possible hurt, as reflections of these distant events sometimes do. This is the continuation of the post on Merdeka Day of Heroin Monkey on Your Back. It dates back to when I was a teenager, addicted to heroin, and confused. This, I hope, will be part of the process to look back at the past, to see things as they were… and then leave them. Only then could I move on to live in the Now, and not to continue carrying the burdens of the past.
My father – One of the things that I’m grateful for is in realising how wrong I had been over the decades, and the opportunity to let him know this. There was a period in my life that is now remembered mostly for the sense of hopelessness and torment when I was estranged with almost everybody. I had hurt my father’s feelings so much that he refused to have anything to do with me anymore from late 1999 onwards.
And I, in my addiction to morphine then, simply didn’t have the strength of character to overcome false pride, anger and resentment to unconditionally admit and acknowledge my wrongs and humbly seek forgiveness. Instead, I would focus on “their fault” to magnify his `insensitiveness and lack of understanding’, and grossly minimise or shrug off my misconducts and wrongdoings. But God’s Mercy, granted through the changing of situations and circumstances following the court-ordered stay in Gambang from 31st Oct 2005 to 18 Dec 2006, provided me with opportunities to set things right.
I was/am a father too, and during my time at Gambang, I would reflect and compare between my father and me. In all honesty and sincerity, I had achieved only 5%, at the most, of what my father had done in bringing up his children – me and my two sisters. He had been hardworking, responsible and selfless throughout his life – there was always his help when it comes to anything related to education and all the basic requirements of life. And with me, I obtained everything I had asked for. But I did not keep my end of the bargain.
Only at Gambang did I discover the power of honesty and humility; which brought clarity of thought and vision to acknowledge this – and more. It’s something that I had publicly told my friends and my counsellor. And most importantly to my father… that he would know that I, at last, see and acknowledge this. This arrogance in me – it had held me back and was the major factor to many of the pains and hardships that I had suffered from the time I was first addicted.
Education: This was supreme to my father – it was his most cherished wish that all three of us study hard, get excellent (not `good’) grades, enter foreign universities and be admitted to the exclusive and prestigious professions that would command high income and respect in society – doctor, engineer, accountant, architect, lawyer. Or a lecturer, at least. In my case, as the only son, there was an added hope – that I, after becoming a lawyer, would enter politics (Umno, of course)… and “appear on television”.
He was a religious teacher, but he knew that he would “have been a lot better” career-wise had my grandfather sent him to an English school like his cousins were. It was his ambition to achieve the best. He studied hard at the religious school (Maahad and Maktab Mahmud) where opportunities were few and far; aiming to be one of the top three nationwide who would be sent overseas to Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He was number five.
This must have thoroughly disappointed him, to just miss out. And he saw his younger cousins in English school all going overseas and returning to take up cushy positions as managers… He was determined that his children would go to English schools, and he would do his best to ensure that money would not be an obstacle.
My grandfather (Tok Wan, as grandfathers are called in the north) was the mukim’s (hamlet’s) Imam, and he was well-known and much respected in the Kubang Pasu district in Kedah. He had wanted this tradition to continue with me – the son of the elder son – that I would be a religious scholar (By the way, it was no coincidence that my IC name was of a medieval Persian Imam).
But my father was firm in imposing his right – I was to go to an English school. I had rebelled and there was resentment, for I had wanted to stay in the village. That would have meant attending the Malay-Medium Sekolah Kebangsaan Binjai. Instead, we lived at my mother’s house in Alor Star. I later learned that it was a source of friction between my father and grandfather (who died when I was in Standard One in 1967). My father was in a dilemma for he was a respectful and obedient son. In fact, he had wavered once, and I was elated to hear I might be staying at the kampung… only to be bitterly disappointed later on. Over the years, I thank God my father had decided on the English school and didn’t yield to my tantrums.
Things would have been a lot different had I just continued to study and not been involved with drugs. His hopes were all achievable, and my sisters did enter universities overseas to become a doctor and accountant respectively. It was me who was the underachiever, despite the resources available and the potential. Over the years, he would repeat this to my sisters – who both agreed – and to his grandchildren… my own children and nephews and nieces: “Academically, it was your brother/father/uncle who was the best. If only…”
If only I had chosen otherwise.
In Lower Six, I simply could not concentrate on my studies due to the addiction. Every morning, it was the same routine of missing classes as I loitered at the canteen with a few junior students who were also addicted. It was a new experience; of knowing what “addiction to heroin” was. There was the lethargy, with the goosebumps, sneezings and yawns, with the body aching and getting worse all the time. So, by hook or by crook, we had to pool RM5 (with RM1 for fuel) at least to obtain a sachet of heroin. This was the routine and it was unsustainable…
My parents knew that something was wrong; and they even suspected what it was. Some idiot had told them – a close relative a bit older than I was. He had heard from others that I was addicted. One day he became sore at me for not lending him my motorcycle. Actually I had done so a few times, but on the last occasion, he only returned it towards dusk after saying it was “only for a while”.
So on that morning, when he woke me up very early asking for the key – in a manner as if he had a right to the motorcycle – I told him off. A few days later, my parents asked me about “what someone had told them”. I denied it of course, and told them that relative had done so out of jealousy and spite (which was true actually). I had confronted him about this – of why he did it. He insisted it was “to help me”, which was met with harsh words and obscenities. He was older, better built than my skinny frame, but he knew better than to antagonise me further by retaliating.
Then one night, towards the last quarter of 1977, I went out at night to find some stuff. It was at the junction of the wet market and Jalan Seberang Perak – there was a night market that day, which resulted in a lot of people. A pusher saw me, and when we were making the exchange, suddenly muttered obscenities and ran. Someone darted past and collared him, while another held my hand… which was grasping a sachet of heroin. He showed me a badge which had a crest and said “Polis”… “Give it to me…” My throat went dry.
All around, people had gathered to watch; fascinated to see “a crime scene in front of their eyes”. We were handcuffed and taken to the district police station nearby – just 500 metres away. A check on the pusher showed he had five other sachets inside a cigarette box. The detectives took him to a room for questioning. Then they turned to me – I had caught glimpses of people inside the lockup previously, and had heard of how dirty and uncomfortable it was. I silently cursed `my mistake of not being cautious enough’, which had led to this. I knew I was in big trouble.