Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The 2 people who made the most impact in my life. The people whom i call wapa and uma. What do i remember about my father? For most of my life, he was a stern sometimes unapproachable father figure. But he was generous to a fault. I remember the time one of his ex-workers came to the house to ask for some money. We only had RM 10 in the house and my father told my mother to give it to him. My mother, being the dutiful wife, just gave it to him. After giving the last RM 10 ringgit in the house, we now were penniless. But one thing we were never short on was love. My father never told anyone of us that he loved us but we felt it and we felt it strongly. Does the sun need to say it is warm? I think the word "love" is sometimes overestimated. He just called my mother "hoi" and sometimes, "kathija" which is a far cry from the words of endearment, like darling and sayang etc that we are used to seeing in movies. Love is built brick by brick on the foundations of sacrifice, of giving selflessly, on qualities of patience, and determination. How do i know this? My father and mother ate dinner only after the children had eaten. They ate the left-overs. My father was very particular that we, the children, should eat properly. He didn't need to tell me that he loved me. I saw it everyday of my life when i ate food.

Now what about my mother? While my father was the brains in the family, my mother was the heart. She was the fighter. She was barely 5 foot 1. What she lacked in height she made up in fighting spirit. She married my father when she was barely 16 years old. She left India and came to then Malaya to marry a man she hardly knew and who was about 20 years her senior. My father was then about 35 years old. While i learnt from my father the habit of thinking through things, from my mother i learnt about working hard and not giving up even when the odds are stacked against you. I miss them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ella says

So many gods, so many creeds, so many paths that wind and wind, while just the art of being kind is all the sad world needs.. - Ella W. Wilcox

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roots - the Marikar connection - 1

Yesterday i received the updated geneology of my maternal side of the family. The geneology is hosted at the following url: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~lkawgw/gen251.html

We come from a family group called the Marikars who have moorish ancestry. Our particular line comes from Ceylon and Morocco. Here's an excerpt of our family history describing my great-grandfather, TCH Marikar (my grandmother, Safar Marikar was the youngest child of TCH Marikar).
TCH Marikar
Herewith a short sketch of our esteemed, illustrious and colourful grandfather. Adventurous and romantic, perhaps, would describe him better.

He was born in Kandy, Ceylon in 1852. He belonged to an aristocratic family of ancestral landlords. In a family of eight, he was the second son of Thambi Cannu Marikar. He took his initials from his father’s name and was known as T.C.H.Marikar.
TCH's First Wife
He was a sportsman and an athlete, his favourite game being football. Once while he was playing, the ball went into the school ground next door. It was when he went to pick it up that he met his future wife who was a teacher there. * She was a padre’s daughter. They got married with much opposition from the powerful Marikars and the Christian community. Her married name was Ayesha. She was said to be of attractive features, gentle, soft-spoken and very intelligent. She was well versed in the Bible and in the Quran. She bore him six children.

Trade and the spirit of adventure brought appa (T.C.H.) to India. With his business acumen, he successfully built up his trade between India and Ceylon. He came to South India and established himself in the then States of Travancore and Cochin (Kerala) and parts of Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu). Travelling between India and Ceylon could not have been easy sailing in the eighties. He owned 26 dhows and did regular trips. In Travancore, he was attracted to Mundakayam and Peermadu. Perhaps, it was the scenic beauty and climate of these places and their similarity to Ceylon that attracted him.
TCH's Second Wife
He started his business in Kottayam where he had a supermarket of sorts. He used to go to the mosque on horseback and that is when he fell in love with the Syrian Christian lady, who was renowned for her beauty and specially her long & flowing tresses. She used to watch him from the threshold of her house. One day, he carried her away on his horse. This lady, Kunjamma, was already married and had a child too, but nothing prevented the progress and fulfillment of their great romance. They married to the utter dismay, anger and embarrassment of the Syrian Christian, ‘Chowkaparambil family’, to which she belonged. Kunjamma’s married name became Mariambi. They stayed in Kottayam for some time and later settled down in Rich Grove estate in Mundakkayam.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Project 2 - My Daughter's Tadika - Prelude

I remember my father's entrepreneurial spirit. He was a building contractor. He made a lot of money in his lifetime and he lost a lot of money too. We went thru the financial ups and downs. So much so, i guess all his children were initially afraid to venture into business. At some time or other, most of my siblings ventured into some business or other. But you can't really venture into business unless you are in it full time. We found that out the hard way. We lost a lot of money for that lesson. Many years ago, when i had failed my HSC exam for the second time ( i was busy trying to run a greeting card business while studying) , my father pulled me aside and said, "follow me, i will teach you the building business". But i was stubborn and refused his offer because i felt i could not or should not run from a defeat. I sat for and passed the HSC exam the following year because i really worked on it. But sometimes i wonder, if i had taken my father's advice, would my life have been different? for the better or worse?

Anyway, sometime in 2000, after reading "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki, i became convinced that i had been going down a path that will not and cannot make me rich (legally). I was moving from job to job, and each one was paying higher than the last but then, I saw for the first time how deluded and complacent we had become in our middle-class thinking. I was carrying bigger and bigger buckets thinking i was doing better. My life was going down the path of a highly paid slave. I had forgotten to dream. So i started with a dream i had for most of my life -- of runing a kindergarten. My first-born, Farah, has the profile of being a entreprenuer so I am opening up the path for her. It will now depend on her to make a go of this business. So far, it looks good.

ps. the picture above of nemo is a mural in the kindergarten

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Project 1 - My Shah Alam Garden

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

Omar Khayyam

First, i need to create that place with a bough. Got lots of bread. Can't drink wine but tea will do. Books? Nooo Problem. And can teach the wife to sing.... eventually. or hum or whistle (you know how to whistle don't you? You just purse you lips and blow - Bogart & Bacall in "To Have and To Have Not") . I am taking heart that paradise wasn't created in a day. You just need to be optimistic.

We need these quiet spaces in our lives amidst the hurry-burry of life. To see fish swim, the sound of water, the sight of plants and flowers, the smell of earth and to bring all these elements together into harmony. Got a picture of this in my head. But now i need to take it out and make it a reality. Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My House in Klang

My first house. Like all things that come first, it occupies a place in your heart because ... it was there first. Like your first day in school, your first love ..... This was the house that 5 of my 6 children were born in. There is a history in this house. The fire in the house, the cobra near the sliding door, the attempted break-in, the instances my children fell down and required stitches to their wounds .... you know what i mean. What i remember most of this house was the big round dining table where we all could sit together as a family and eat and talk. We now have a rectangle dining table which i think is a mistake. King Arthur got it right. For fellowship, nothing beats a round table. When i look back, i think living here at this house was like living in a kampung. We didn't have many neighbours - there were 2 other houses on this road and one was a kindergarten and the other was hardly occupied by the owner. So the children grew up relying on their siblings for companionship and fun. I think also as parents we were also very protective. After the boy Soon Sheng disappeared one day after school, parents across the Klang Valley became paranoid. Incidentally, Soon Sheng went to my son's school in Taman Rashna and they were both in Standard Two when he disappeared one drizzly Friday evening. So the wife took on the brunt of ferrying the children to school, their taekwando classes etc. We finally decided to move out of the house because i wanted a smaller house in Shah Alam.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Quote

"If you don't like something change it, if you can't change it, change the way you think about it." Mary Engelbreit

Friday, October 31, 2008

The House that Akbar's Wapa Built

My father built two houses in his native village in Edava, Kerala. The village is situated very close to the sea and in fact you can see the sea from the house. This is how the story goes. Our ancestral home is called Maramblavuum (in India, you are identified by your house name rather than a surname). It seems there was a family quarrel and my grandfather, Kassim "Srang" moved out of the house and went to stay in the house called Chekavaluam (which incidentally my father purchased for grandfather (Upapa). Sometime in 1952-53, my father and Hussein Kochapa built two identical houses - one on the ancestral plot and the other on Chekavaluam. The houses are still there when i visited them in 2005. The house in Chekavaluam has since been upgraded by my cousin, Shafie "macha". Unfortunately, the house in Maramblavuum has been neglected.

This happens to many ancestral homes because no one is willing to spend money on a property which is not theirs. There was a family staying in the ancestral home when i visited in 2005. The interesting thing about the houses is that the wooden ceiling is still good after so many years. Got a picture of the ceiling. When i got there, there are our relatives who still talk about my father who passed away in 1985 - some 20+ years. They talk and remember my father with affection. Imagine for more than 50 years, families have lived and grew up in the houses that my father built. When i visited my mother's village, some of them remember me from my visit nearly 27 years ago. They remember me for the physical fights that happened. The difference in how we are remembered did not escape me and i am humbled by that thought.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My India Trip in 2005

They say, You really know a person when you go on a journey. After nearly 20 years of marriage, the wife and i went on on a trip abroad TOGETHER. In case if you are wondering

whether we were like the frogs under the coconut shell, let me dispel that notion. We both had travelled abroad but separately. Why India? The last time I was in India was in 1979 for about one and a half years. It was a life-changing experience for me then. There is a story there but i will keep it for another day. This time it was to get the wife to see the Indian side of my family. The entire trip to India took about 12 days.

During that time, we travelled through 3 of the southernmost states in India, namely, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala. We started our journey in Madras and ended our journey in Madras. We did all of our travels by land (bus, train, auto-rickshaw, taxi). I wanted to see India close up. Some scary moments, like the time we got into the train in Bangalore and had to stand all the way to our destination, Mysore - almost 5 hours. Since we were in the 3rd class, some of our fellow travellers (some really ruffian types) started drinking and then started eyeing the wife. Thankfully, i was not called on to defend the wife's honour. I hate the sight of blood - especially my own. I enjoyed the trip immensely. You don't really know how comfortable we become until we travel to a strange land. We had to walk... everywhere. No car. Unknown places where you have to go up to strangers and ask for directions. Starting conversations and making friends with virtual strangers.When was the last time i did that at home?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The House That Akbar Built - After

Ahh... now the house is ready. After nearly a year of renovating. The wife is happy as a clam..... for a couple of days at least. Got an sms message from her (thanking me for the house) which i am keeping to remind her in case she forgets. (remember the strategic memory loss?). I am learning, I am learning. I not stupid, just slow. Now since the house was ready, the next item on our agenda was moving our furniture from the Klang house to Shah Alam house. And let me tell you, i did it myself ... err, with a bit of help from the mice (6 of them) who are going to live in the house that Akbar built. Borrowed my brother's pick up truck and carted the stuff during weekends. That's when i really, really realised that i don't have much furniture. So the children were sleeping on mattresses on the floor for a couple of months before I caved in .... again. Parental love overcame financial prudence. So we went to IKEA to buy furniture. (PARENTAL WARNING: Proceed with real caution with children in IKEA who haven't really understood the concept of "no interest plans" and the seductive powers of an IKEA credit card. It is going to take about 2 years to stabilize the house before we can call it really comfortable. And me? I still smiling.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The House That Akbar Built - Before

Buying this house also had a story. One day, my good friend Ravi called and said he bought his second house. That got me thinking. Hey, it's a good idea to buy a second house too. (Ravi - thanks). So the house hunting started with the wife and me. What i liked, she didn't. But let me tell you something about my wife. I have great faith in her intuition. But putting aside the intuition bit, it can become frustrating sometimes when she can't explain why she doesn't like a particular house. Anyway, we come to this house in Shah Alam, the older part of section 8 and it is one of the few housing areas where the road is in a horse-shoe (with a small playground in the center). The great thing about houses in a horse-shoe is that when you open your back door, you don't see your neighbour's back door. (i think my behind looks great but that does not necessarily mean i like to see my neighbour's behind, heex3). The house was not good looking but you could see that the owner had renovated it in stages. I saw potential in the house and lo behold, my wife also liked the house. Looking back at the all the other houses which we viewed, i think we pretty much made the right decision. Sometimes, i wonder why i born so smart.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The House That Akbar Built - Building Phase

My house in Shah Alam. It started when the wife said, "i never have anything nice. At least let me have a nice house". My wife, like most women, has a strategic short term memory. (you know lah, today nice house, tomorrow nice car ... ) I didn't want to renovate the house which was in a pretty bad condition. You know the usual -- bathrooms that leak, electrical wires running all over the walls etc etc. Hey, money does not grow on trees, I said.

I caved in after 3 days .... Self-preservation became more important than financial prudence.

Anyway it wasn't a decision i regretted. After renovating the house, the cost of materials have gone up like some 30%. (hey guys, it pays to listen to your wife). Now i smiling all the way to the bank.

Fire and Ice - Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.