So far, I have spoken about my dear mother, her struggle to bring me to this world and her devotion to my welfare. I have also spoken about how she dotted over me and she spent a lot of time and effort in the business of loving me unconditionally.
However, she wasn’t alone in her love for me. My father loved me too, and it would be wrong of me to give the impression that his love was missing in my life even in those early days of childhood. As I have said before, my memories of the past are faint and ever fading and I rely heavily on the stories I was told. Nevertheless, while I cant remember the details of events, I can remember a few flashes and the emotions I felt in those moments.
Emotions are the strings that reach into our past, making it impossible for us to forget the important moments we have lived through. When we remember an event, we first remember the emotions and feeling that we felt during that event and it is that emotion that bring forth our memories, causing us to live them again in the castle of our minds.
The oldest memory I have of my father is a powerful one, a memory linked with feelings so great and encompassing that it always causes my heart to flutter gently like the wings of an eagle. It is a memory filled with emotions of joy and happiness like I have sparsely felt in all my life. It is the memory of my first ‘Wayang Pacak’ and the first time I was celebrating the independence of my nation.
It was a dark gentle night with crickets performing their usual orchestra and the countless stars gracing the night. In the heavens, it was like every other night. The moon rose swiftly to take its position among the stars and the air grew soothingly cold tempting all and sundry to turn in for the night. However, there was an energy in my village, a sense of excitement. It seemed like the more night fell, the more excitement rose.
I was around the age of five then and even I knew that the night was different. Everyone in the village seemed to be preparing for something and it surely wasn’t sleep. And then just as the moon was beginning to shine in all its glory, my father carried me on his shoulders so that my legs dangled on both sides of his neck and we set off on a journey. We weren’t alone, the rest of our family, and in fact the whole village was with us.
We moved as one, a small group making our way through paddy farms and gravel paved roads. In time, we were on well-established gravel paths and found other people on the same journey as us. Our small group quickly grew into a large multitude so much so that when we arrived at our destination, we were a mighty crowd.
Our destination was the school playing ground, lit up by generator powered fluorescent lights. The lights were so bright that they casted the darkness of night away, keeping them at bay and forcing them to remain at the edges of the field. The bright bulbs attracted insects which swarmed beautifully around them just as people swarmed around me and my parents.
There was a hustle and bustle of activity on the playing field, a steady and loud buzz that seemed endless. The edges of the field, along the boundary of light and darkness, were lined with stalls of different sizes, selling a wide assortment of food, snacks and drinks. Folks haggled and bought, clearly preparing for a long and fun night.
At the head of the field was a massive screen which reflected a blank square of light cast upon it by a projector. Clearly the screen and projector had been set up to show something. However, I didn’t know what, and for a few minutes we all waited for the activities of the night to begin. We stood there in the middle of the buzz of buyers and flies until a finely dressed man walked up to the stage and stood before us. Behind him was the bright light reflecting from the screen, casting a beautiful glow that although was artificial, was quite surreal to my young eyes.
The man, as I was later to learn, was from the Malaysian Information Department. To be honest, as you might have predicted, I cant remember a single word that he said during his thirty minutes speech which to a young boy felt like an eternity. I can vaguely remember that his tone was quite strange, refined and alien. His clothes were also well tailored and ironed to a crisp and he seemed to be a man of great carriage. His speech was obviously about the independence of Malaysia, the importance of freedom and the need to rise against tyranny and communism. However, his many words were lost on me.
At the end of the officers speech, my father and everyone present chanted in unison, “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” The chant was so loud and synchronized that I felt goosebumps spring up across my arms as I could feel the pure joy and excitement in the air. The screen began to flicker as the sharply dressed official descended the stage.
While the speech had been wasted on me, the movie that followed was not. Folks settled down on the luscious grass of the field and raised their eyes to the screen as a movie of Wayang Pack began to play. It was quite interesting to see the motion picture. However, even a movie could only do so much to keep my sleep at bay. As a young boy, I was used to going to bed at a particular time. Therefore, an hour into the movie, I slept off on the laps of my mother. I could still ear the sound of the movie flowing into my ears even as I dreamt. But I was too tired to open my eyes to see the images.
The movie eventually ended and the crowd began to disperse. Once again, I rode my father’s shoulders. The journey back home was similar to the journey to the school. It was long, dark and quiet, with crickets constantly chirping and birds singing in their nests situated upon tall trees. One major difference between our walk to the school and from the school was that while going to the school, we started from a small group and grew into a large group, our journey back home started with a large group that began to thin gradually until only people from my village were walking with us. And when it became time for us to enter our compound our group consisted of just my family.
A rathe mundane thing, I know. But to the mind of a child, innocent with eyes still full of wonder, it was somewhat interesting to note. That night as I slept, I dreamt of the images I had seen on the screen. To me, it was all one big adventure. However, as I grew older it became much more. It became the first step my parents took in imprinting the importance of celebrating the independence of my country, it was the first step in building the national pride I feel today.
The events of that night and my healthy national pride is responsible for my unwavering belief of the importance of the MERDEKA stories in the teaching of young children. How are the next generation to take pride in their nation, if they know nothing of their history, who they were, what had been done and the great men and women who fought valiantly with flesh and spirit, to gain the independence they so readily enjoy.
That night was the beginning of my national awakening. It sparked a tiny flame within me which over the years has grown into a raging fire of patriotism. While that beautiful night marks the oldest event I can remember of my father, complete with activities and scenes, it isn’t in anyway the oldest memory I have of him.
I have many memories of my father that predate that blissful night. However, they are fragmented pieces of an unsolvable puzzle, like pictures of a scrapbook made by a kid. The images flash in my head from time to time. Images of him working on his little patch of land, bent over as he tended to his vegetables, sweet potatoes, banana and yam, images of him sharpening his tools in the evening in preparation for the next day, and images of him seated in front of the house as he watched the moonlight.
Watching the moonlight was the only time he took a break. Every other time he was always busy. A careful and organized man by all accounts, he made it is duty to ensure that everything was as it should be. His tools were always well maintained and stored in a neatly and orderly man. Every element of the house was also under his care, from the roofs to the window, he was always busy with repairs.
I have very few memories of my father from my early childhood. Unfortunately, I have no physical picture of him. I can still remember what he looked like but only faintly. And as the years roll by, my memory of his face fades thinner. I could barely describe him perfectly to my kids. And oh, how I dread the day I forget his face completely. Some days, I struggle to conjure the image of his face and those days almost bring me to tears. For in those moments do I feel like he is completely dead. For we are alive as long as we are remembered by those who love us. The moment we are forgotten by all, is the moment we are completely gone from this world.