By Malkeet Singh
Sometimes, I wonder how one’s life can be changed so dramatically by the environment you’re in. In 1974, on the very day I received my HSC results, my dad passed away and I had no choice but to discontinue my plans for tertiary education and start working. Fortunately, I was able to land a job as a wages clerk with Malayan Cement Limited (MCL) in my home town of Rawang. Prior, to his untimely demise, my father worked in the same cement plant after leaving his teaching job.
Fortunately, the desk at which I was sitting and working from was very often visited by the many Malayalee executives who would come to collect their salaries as well mail from Kerala. There were engineers, accountants, production managers and chemists. A mini Kerala convention used to happen every other day and I was like a sponge absorbing their work ethics and ambitious goals. I learnt a key word – adjust. They were very fond of using it in their daily conversations. For example, what is the moisture content in shale? Saar, it’s x%. Adjust it. Adjust it. We nick named the Works Manager as KA. Short form for King Adjuster. The word – adjust – transformed my life as I, too, started adjusting to meet the various obstacles and challenges I would face in the years to come. (Of course, I also knew what KAC stood for. The Kairali Arts Club.)
I was then earning a mere RM175 topped by another RM30 being the cost of living allowance (COLA). With that salary, we were on the verge of poverty and barely surviving. I used to clock some overtime claims every month and that was of some help during my 2 year working tenure from 1974 till 1976.
One individual, Vijayan Kuttan, a chemical engineer, was so instrumental in convincing me to make a major sacrifice and go on to further my studies. I still recall in early 1976 I received an offer to do a degree course in Mass Communications at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang. I knew nothing of Mass Communications then and was terrified to leave my job and family to pursue my studies. I was not keen at all and was hiding the letter of offer.
Word got around amongst the Malayalee staff that I had secured a place to further my studies. I was bombarded daily right from the Works Manager, E.U. Kidav; Assistant Works Manager, Mathew Chacko; Chemical Engineer, V. Kuttan’ Production Executive, A.J. Stellus and many others to do the right thing. The right thing was to drop everything and move on to the University. I pleaded in vain to let me stay so as to ensure my family survives but the pressure was so enormous, I finally took the best gamble in my life and made that fateful journey to Penang in May 1976 by train.(Thank God, the kind Malayalee community made sure that my younger brother, Sarjeet, secured a job to help the family in the meantime.)
Mr. E.U. Kidav reminded me of an old Malayalee saying that banana trees in a cluster yield very poor quality fruits. In the same vein, to help my family, I must break lose and move on further away to help them. I must learn to adjust.
At the University during my orientation by virtue of being an easily identifiable turbaned Sikh I was subject to two weeks of maximum ragging from my seniors. Somehow, I survived and made it through the orientation. The rest was a breeze as my two years of working hardship and the Malayalee managed environment provided me with more than sufficient acumen and determination to excel in my studies. It was a piece of cake.
I did extremely well in my studies and scored excellent grades and could have been a candidate to pursue Phd. Little did I know, there was a far greater plan awaiting me in my working life. An opportunity to work with higher flyers and two Prime Ministers. This time, the Malay community would craft and shape my future.
I thank God for guiding me and owe to the many humble and kind men and women for shaping my future.
Yes, I do get rewarded to hug a Malayalee girl once a year on her birthday on February 14. She’s married with two lovely boys and a wonderful husband.
Long live Kerala. God’s own country. Time to visit the Backwaters when the Phoenix next rises. – ASIA SAMACHAR (12 Mac 2015)
Malkeet Singh runs a Kuala Lumpur-based advertising agency. Lately, he has started unleashing his thoughts via Facebook page. This article is adopted from one of his recent postings, originally entitled ‘If not for the Malayalee community, I would still be wages clerk in Malayan Cement, Rawang’.
FROM THE SAME AUTHOR:
EDITOR’S PICK: I believe in miracles – MALKEET (Asia Samachar, 23 Feb 2015)