Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Jodoh Story in Kuala Lumpur (part 1)

Jodoh had a lot on her hands in Kuala Lumpur. 2 days before yesterday, 25 couples tied the knot all around KL – Brickfields, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Bangsar, Damansara. It was a Saturday. The following day, weddings again were bountiful. There were altogether 36 weddings all around Kuala Lumpur – 14 in Setiawangsa, 2 in Bangsar, 12 in Kepong, 8 in Ampang. And that was exclusive of the 20 weddings in Ampang, Selangor.

But come Monday, jodoh productivity rapidly declined – save for one case i.e. the case of Dr Ganesh, a resident at Hospital Kuala Lumpur. Long time bachelor Dr Ganesh, 44 years old, finally decided to settle down and finally pop the question. The juicy bit – it wasn’t to his long time girlfriend Swari, the nurse in Ob/Gyn but instead to pharmacist Poovan who worked at a pharmacy in Jalan Ipoh. It was a blow to Swari but everybody in the hospital knew Swari and Ganesh were a bad match simply because nobody liked Ganesh and everybody loved Swari. But they could only talk on corners and only Jodoh took action to rectify the situation. No doubt Dr Ganesh was a great surgeon but he was a bit pompous and speak wonders about himself to anybody who would listen. And Swari was a great listener. She was the kind so selfless that she would listen to anybody’s woes. Jodoh had to step in and worked its magic. Swari would be devastated but Jodoh knew that Swari would be better off without Ganesh. Way better.

But Jodoh had a more challenging project. It was the kind of project that entailed childhood friendship that bloomed into the kind of love that only death could do them part. It was a project between Zahra and Amir.

At one glance, the union between Amir and Zahra would seem impossible and downright absurd. They were different in many ways. Zahra was from Pontian, a small town in Johor that was named after Malay vampires (Pontianak) and Amir was a KL boy or to be more detail, Amir was a TTDI boy.

For the non-KL dwellers, when a person identifies himself as a TTDI boy, a certain image conjures up in their mind. The TTDI boy/gal was the quintessential product of the Federal Territory. The TTDI boy/gal was the symbol of modern Kuala Lumpur.

TTDI was short for Taman Tun Dr Ismail, an upper middle class residential area, couched between Bandar Utama, Damansara Utama, and Mutiara Damansara, which was developed in the suburbs of Petaling Jaya, Selangor. The residential area was first open in 1974 by developing arm UDA with the noble intention of becoming a residential melting pot where “Malaysians of various races are brought together … with plenty of opportunities for neighbourly interaction,… their children grow up together, and mix freely in schools and on the playing fields, they will think of themselves and of each other as Malaysians rather than Malays, Chinese or Indians"

And when it opened, other than the nice houses and the intellectual sounding roads, many raced to be a part of that dream. Amir’s parents were one of those many.

A TTDI boy or gal by definition would be somebody whose family moved to TTDI was born or raised there. She/he may not necessarily school in the nearby schools. In the 1980s, some parents chose to send their children’s to non-coed school in KL such as: - St John’s, La Salle or Victoria Institute if they were boys and if they were girls, they 'd be sent to to either Convent Bukit Nenas, Bukit Bintang Girls School etc.

Whatever schools they went to, the TTDI child had a certain air about them. Somehow you would get an impression that a TTDI offspring were raised without any dysfunction. The same way the Taman Tun Dr Ismail was planned and the same manner in which the streets were arranged - was the same way the families in TTDI functioned Without chaos and dysfunction.

The TTDI offspring fared well in academics, generally knowledgeable, physically better looking because of the access of better foods in KL, and culturally sensitive due to the racial mixture. They had full backing from their parents in whatever they did; financially and emotionally. And best of all, they could talk to their parents and discuss about everything. Yes, everything.

It was a new phenomenon in Malaysia. Nobody ‘talks’ to their parents, then. That’s what made these TTDI kids so stable and Stepfordlike.

Amir’s parents were not originally from KL. Amir’s father, Karim was from Dungun, Terengganu. He had a very old school upbringing. His father, Haji Yusof, yielded a rattan whip and if he didn’t do well in studies, the whip would land on his rear. No discussion. Haji Yusof delivered his affection via whip. If no whip was swung, he was please.

After passing his O’Levels, Karim accepted the government’s scholarship and read Electrical Engineering at the Technical College (Universiti Technology Malaysia) located at Jalan Weld (aka Jalan Raja Chulan now). He graduated his diploma with flying colours and the government offered him a scholarship to do his degree in Sussex, United Kingdom.

But let’s not venture into the details of Karim’s educational voyage, as this is the story of Amir – not his father. Now, unlike Amir, Karim’s love story was pretty straightforward. Whilst waiting for the bus to return home, he met his wife, Kalsom who was also waiting for the same bus. Kalsom worked as a telephone operator for the nation’s telecommunications company. She had the blackest and waviest hair and he was immediately enchanted. He approached her and the rest was history. Karim did not go to the United Kingdom alone.

Upon their return, with 2 children in tow, Amir being the youngest at that time, they stayed in Kuala Lumpur’s jewel, Kampung Baru before moving to TTDI.

On the other hand, Zahra was born in the small town Pontian, Johor. She was the first child of 4 siblings. Her mother was a clerk at the Land office in Pontian.

Zahra’s father Zainal, was an out of work bum who loved watching TV whilst picking the hardened and callous skin of his toes. Zainal fared from a well to do family that owned many lands in Pontian. When Zainal’s father was alive, he would cultivate the land with pineapple, cocoa and coffee and they would survive from their produce. His wife, Zainal’s mother spoilt all her sons and out of love, never allowed Zainal and his brothers to work and help their father and they never learn the art of hardship. Zainal married Fatimah because his mother considered Fatimah the prettiest girl in Pontian at that time and she wanted good looking grandchildren. Fatimah had just finished her ‘O’ levels and just landed a job as a teacher. She was told to quit and though hesitant, she did so as she assumed that Zainal was rich.

After Zahra’s birth, her grandfather died. And amazingly, so did all the pineapple, cocoa and coffee. None of his sons had the knowhow how to managed the fields and Fatimah knew that Zainal was a loser.

To survive, Zainal and her brothers sold pieces of their land, bit by bit until they were none. Zainal was lazy and did not have the feel to work. He was developing himself into a bona fide bum. Money was becoming scarce, the screaming matches were getting more frequent but yet, her parents continued procreating until Zahra had 4 younger siblings.

But Fatimah had a strong spirit, brains and 5 children to support, so Fatimah took up a job as a clerk at the land office and that’s where she worked to support her children. Her father continued to come and go, as he likes. And truth be told, Zahra preferred if he wasn’t around. All he did was to argue with her mother from dawn to dusk – disturbing Zahra and her siblings. Worst, he refused to divorce his wife and threatened to physically hurt her and the children if she left him. Everybody knew that they were merely empty threats which wouldn’t amount to anything. But Fatimah never took action against her husband and remained married to him. Zahra realized that her mother loved her father too much to leave him and was subconsciously enjoying all the fighting and make up sessions. And as twisted as it was, that was what drove Zahra and her siblings to do well in their studies. Zahra wanted out and couldn’t wait to leave one day.

That was also a part of Jodoh’s plan because if Zahra did not do well in her SPM, she wouldn’t be able to get the scholarship to study abroad and she wouldn’t be able to go to Kuala Lumpur to do her A-Levels and meet Amir.

Hence, it was critical that Zahra went to Kuala Lumpur.

Jodoh had made many arrangements prior for Zahra to meet Amir but they all failed.Misrebly.

The overriding destiny instruction to Jodoh was that Zahra and Amir were to meet in Kuala Lumpur and to be married in Kuala Lumpur. The details of their love story should have be as the following: - Pen pals when they were 11 years old, then their friendship would bloom into love by the time they were 18 and they were later to be married to one another by 29.

But none of these details transpired. None.

Now they were both already in their mid 30s and they were still not married to one another. Nor fully acquainted.

It wasn’t that, Jodoh had been sloppy. But sometimes, things don’t go as plan. Plans executed. Effort was exerted. Results however were disappointing.

For example, the first time that Jodoh arranged that they would cross paths was in the early 1980s when Zahra went on a school trip to Muzium Negara located at Jalan Duta in Kuala Lumpur. Had the plan gone right, Amir would bump into Zara whilst both of them were observing the museum display on the Sultanate of Malacca. They would notice one another, strike a conversation, exchange addresses and became penpals. But instead, Amir’s youngest brother had a bad stomach that day and puked on the floor in the museum, forcing his father to usher his family out of the museum to prevent chaos. Zahra reached the display right after the incident but the putrid smell repelled Zahra and her friends to even approach the grand display.

The second time, Zahra and Amir cross paths was only 8 years later in college. Both had won scholarships to study abroad and were sent by sponsors to a college in an obscure and new industrial area in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.

Zahra was sent to this college by her mother and her siblings. Her father, who did not know of his daughter’s success, was nowhere to be found and hence, they went without him in his old Toyota. It was bad enough that the car did not have air-conditioning and that they had to stop the car every half an hour due to the car’s over-heating, but what made the trip worst, was Zahra’s mother sermon about the importance of self respect and chastity. How she could speak for 5 hours non-stop was beyond Zahra. If only her mother realized that the point on chastity which was repeated 1001 times, was already drilled into Zahra’s mind by the first time, thanks to the graphic nature and creative but embarrassing play of words, that would have made her stop.

However, the talk on chastity wasn’t as bad like the part that they got lost. After the straight but long drive on the Johor Bahru – KL highway, they finally arrived in the Federal Territory. When they passed TUDM’s airport at Jalan Sungai Besi, Zahra’s sibling cheered. The old military airport was a landmark that they were in KL.

But then, they got lost.

The old Toyota somehow took a wrong turn somewhere and instead of going on Jalan Chan Sau Lin, they somehow managed to get on Jalan Loke Yew instead and thereafter a number of other winding roads which got Zahra and her mother ultimately intimidated with the scale of Kuala Lumpur. It was 100 times bigger than Pontian and it was the first time her mother drove into Kuala Lumpur. Whilst Zahra and her mother scream to one another about the directions, it was only then when the younger siblings began acting out. Yup. Not during the smooth trip on the highway, not when they stopped at the R&R’s to rest or the gas stations to refill. It just had to be when they all were lost and confuse. One wanted to pee, one wanted to vomit, one was crying , another was hungry. This ultimately drove Zahra crazy but her mother was determine to get to this Cheras area. Albeit the winding roads.

So, the old Toyota sedan shimmied passed Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka on Jalan Hang Tuah, then the Old Railway station, the blue National Mosque, Dayabumi, Dataran Merdeka and suddenly, they were on Jalan Parliament. Zahra furiously scoured the maps for directions and they took a flyover and ended on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, the famous Globe Silk Store, the  Colloseum restarant and after making so many rights and left, they ended on Jalan Pahang and later Jalan Ipoh and later, Kepong. More fights ensued between Zahra and her mother but good sense made them ask a pump attendant at the Petronas Station and finally made their way to Cheras and finally to Zahra’s college.

On the other hand, Amir was sent by both his parents. Amir was sent off with a wonderful celebration lunch (lasagna and laksa all made from scratch by his mother). The whole family laughed over lunch and Amir was excused from washing dishes as he had to pack. Then he had a peaceful trip in his father air-conditioned and noise proof Mercedes. And even though college was only 30 minutes away, Amir slept like a baby in the car. Regardless the distance, upon arrival at his new college,  his mother wept over their departure and passed him the keys to her trusted Proton Saga.

“Amir, this is so you can come home anytime for my cooking. Anytime tau? Jangan lupa semayang... Jangan lupa Mama..”  Then she wept... 

Amir consoled her mother but, in Amir’s mind, the car was the key to a new phase in Amir’s life. Amir was about to embark on ‘a some kind of wonderful’.

As Amir's mind played out 'the some kind of wonderful', scored with the  sound of Amir’s mother wept incessantly, in the background about 8 metres away from Amir's family was Zahra’s family. Zahra was tending to the overheated Toyota and fanning the carburetor. As much as she hated her family, she was sad to send her mother and siblings away. Of course, none of them showed their true feelings. Her family wasnt the type.

Amir and Zahra did not realize each other’s existence this time being bogged down with family and all but, it was okay as they would cross paths a few hundred times after this, as they were in the same college. 

The first time they actually realized each other’s existence was during orientation at the Badminton Stadium in Cheras . Amir was one of the spectators of the women’s volleyball game between his class and Zahra’s class. But Amir wasn’t really watching the game but what he was really doing was aiming his focus on one of Zahra’s classmate, the long legged, sweet Nina. Amir stood near the referee for a frontal view of Nina. Nina was a terrible player but Amir didn’t care. She was hot. As he was admiring Nina’s awkward and uninterested pose in the volleyball court, Nina abruptly turned her head to him. But her face turned into panic and at that moment, she shouted..


And that was when Amir first noticed Zahra, when she did her legendary move that would be the talk of many years to come....

(To be continued…)