I remember when we were in primary school; at standard three or four – our class teacher would ask us about our ambition. It seemed that everyone wants to be an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a police personnel, an army officer or a ‘someone who is rich’. Nobody wants to be a politician, a sportsman, a sportswoman, an artiste, an entrepreneur or some other unheard-off professions.
Me? I wanted to be a Professor. So I would read and read and read. And I would write and write and write. And I would think and think and think. I was damn good at those things. I still am.
It used to be that these were the things that I would do routinely until I was about 16:
I would go to school joyously every single day (playing truant was never on my mind) and I would sit on the front row nearest to the teacher. I would listen very carefully and would never have to do much revision later on.
Back from school, I would do my homework first immediately after lunch. This would free me in the evening and later at night; there would be other things to do in life besides schooling.
Evening would come and I would play badminton, football (soccer) or table-tennis. If it was a dry and windy day, I would go into the vast paddy field and let fly my custom-made Wau Bulan (a type of kite with a reed that produces sound when it vibrates against the onrushing wind) and enjoyed the joyous atmosphere with some like-minded friends. Friends in those days were also neighbors and schoolmates. Of course we would have some friends from neighboring villages too.
We would learn to recite Al-Quran after Isyak prayer. There were almost 30 of us and each one of us were always trying to outdo each other; but we would never cross the line in our endeavor.
After dinner, it was ‘the TV’ at a local shop. During those time, not many household had a television set. So most of us would converge at a local shop and watch the television en masse. It was fun and it was damn entertaining. We would watch Mannix, Hawaii Five-O, The Wild Wild West, Mystery Movies where Rock Hudson and Peter Falk were our heroes, Run For Your Life and of course High Chapperal and The Virginian too. And I would never miss The Waltons and Peyton Place. And if there was Muhammad Ali on the TV – the whole village would come to a stand still.
Once a week, or sometimes once a fortnight – there would be a movie showing in a local cinema not a kilometer away from my home. I would remember Guns Of Navarone, Ben Hur, Jason and The Argonauts, The Magnificent Seven, The Mask Of Zorro, Sangam, An Evening In Paris, Love In Tokyo, Night In London, Ibu Mertuaku, Anakku Sazali, Patong Chendana and countless other movies of various genre and languages. To us (my friends and I), all the movies were good. We were never critical of any movie. We were there to enjoy ourselves, not to become critics. And enjoy we did – extremely.
At 10 pm or latest by 11 pm, I would go to bed; and would wake up the next day at about 5.45 am to get ready for school. Of course on weekends, we would stay very late but would still wake up quite early to go to a weekly market where we would just mingle with people who would converge to do some petty tradings at a designated center not too far away from my blessed home. The petty traders would come from surrounding villages; some as far as 10 to 15 kilometers away. We would spend some pocket money on iced sugarcane juice and a plate of nasi dagang, laksam or a bowl of boiled mee hoon hailam. There were us Malays, there were Chinese (some of their children are my school-mates and good friends), and there were Indians. We were 1Malaysia long before our politicians decided to use the catchphrase. Perhaps, the politicians were thinking that we would have forgotten our civility. Not me; because I was and still am blind to the race and color creed.
During school holidays, we would go on a trip with our bicycles and camped at any selected place that fancied us. We would be happy together, never quarreling and never looking down on anyone; for we were of the same flock. We were poor; but not too poor. Our elders were mostly farmers and petty traders. Some were a bit well off with their own business and shop-lots ; but they were humble and understanding. They would give us credit during monsoon and other hard times. We were happy as a community could ever be and perhaps should ever be.
Ali Sobree - Circa 1962
Then of course things would change. I would face a certain event that would change the course of my life, entirely.