Last Thursday, my wife apologised for "the hurried and poor dinner" which she had made. I was surprised by how genuine her apology was; of her being really sorry for preparing a meal that comprised `only’ of high-grade rice, omelette, ikan bilis (anchovies) with onion and chillies, budu and tempoyak, and pickled olives. She obviously hasn’t fully fathomed the situations I had been in and the deprivations suffered over the years before I moved to Batang Kali in May 2010. Poor dinner? It would have been regarded as “deluxe, high-end meal” in some of the places I’ve been at!
No matter how many times I insisted that I’m definitely okay with that and other similarly simple meals (like rice and sardine, and nothing else), she probably felt bad about it. On Saturday, she prepared what she regarded as `proper’: lamb chops, fries, vegetables and dressing, and bruschetta. I’ve never even heard of the last one (top right in image below), hillbilly that I am!
Sometimes, I do feel a bit uncomfortable when I am served a meal like this, which has become quite often (by my very low standards) due to the various invitations by her relatives and the number of restaurants nearby which we often end up at. Not to mention my wife’s own cooking, of course.
Maybe it’s due to the inferiority deep inside me, or maybe there is some guilt too of having survived and living to tell the tale while many others didn’t or haven’t. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when hunger and uncertainty were part of the normal, everyday aspects of life. Those were times when I didn’t quite know when or what my next ‘real’ meal was going to be. There were quite a number of days when I survived solely on cream crackers, a few teaspoonful of honey, plain water… and that’s just about it.
During those times, and especially at night, I would often crave for nothing more than a piece or two of plain roti canai. Things like lamb chops, lamb stew, steak, spaghetti, pasta and meatballs were not even within the scope of my imagination, for these were "of another world" entirely, not even worth thinking about. There wasn’t anything that I could do about it; not when I didn’t have any kind of transportation to take me anywhere. And that’s assuming I had money to buy the roti canai in the first place.
But at least it was better than being in the lockups and prison. I’ve heard of people saying “It should be okay because the inmates there are provided with food”, which is a really stupid thing to say. Only those who have been inside these places could really understand the kind of hunger and craving suffered by the inmates. While it’s true that no one had starved to death, in those places, you are often in a state of inadequacy, a certain feeling of "nowhere near enough". Even after a meal, you’d still feel hungry…and you wait and wait for the next one to arrive – the miserable highlights in a dreary existence.
One of the things that I remember about the lockups – besides the stench, the hard and dirty floor which you sit and lie on, and the inability to ever really sleep – is the hunger. The food was never enough. The worst was at night – dinner, often rice with a bit of fish, was handed out in packets at 6 PM. By 8 PM, you were already hungry. It would be somewhat tolerable were you able to sleep it off. But you can’t – not in an extremely uncomfortable place like that. Finally, after a very long wait and with your stomach aching from the hunger pangs, breakfast finally arrives at 7.30 AM the following morning: two karipap (the cheapest kind with tapioca inside) and diluted tea. Then it was another long wait for lunch. Tea? There’s no such thing.
However, if you were privileged enough, you would have significantly better food in a police lockup. It doesn’t take too much to be privileged – if you have money and could smuggle it inside the lockup cell, then you will be able to have access to more and better food by bribing the corrupted policemen on duty to get them for you. Not all are corrupted, of course, but there should be more than a few everywhere who would oblige. During my stay at the lockup in Pasir Mas in 2005, there was one drug pusher who managed to bring in a wad of RM50 notes. Every night, a policeman would open his cell and bring him out, purportedly “to sweep the area”. Everyone knew what it was all about, of course – that was the time when he would stuff himself with whatever the policeman had brought in. But it wasn’t cheap – two pieces of roti canai which cost RM2 outside would be RM50 in the lockup…
Food Court at Tesco Mutiara Damansara with various types of food – I was here last week with my wife and my thoughts would inevitably go back to those days when I was deprived of access to a seemingly `ordinary’ place like this…
Over the years when I was alone, I had grown to accept the situation I was in. Not having enough food or with just the bare minimum was regarded as “normal” and I didn’t think too much about it. During my final months in Pasir Mas, I was suffering from various ailments and lost significant weight. And yet, despite everything, I didn’t do anything about it. What was I to do? If things had worked out differently, I would likely have reached the point of no return in 2010. But God obviously Had other plans for me, from my getting to know my present wife, Dr. Aniza and making the move to Batang Kali in May that year. And she, of all people, would know of how bad my physical state then was. Fortunately, through her care and attention, the situation was reversed – all it took was proper and regular food, plus old-fashioned supplements that included honey, olive oil and apple cider, which I still take every day.
Nothing much in this particular post. But it’s something that I need to write, if only to remind myself that things were never this good and to be grateful for what I now have. Had it not been for the Grace of Allah, we would have passed by each other like ships in the night, unaware of the other’s existence. And I would wonder what things would be now for me, if I were still alive that is. Batang Kali, Kepong and now Kota Damansara – these have been the land of plenty for me, and it’s all thanks to my dear wife.
[Wanted to write more but this post has become a bit too long. Nothing much actually – about just another ordinary, common day in Kota Damansara.]