Two months before our LCE (that’s Lower Certificate Of Education, equivalent to PMR – Penilaian Menengah Rendah today) exams, my grandpa died from a heart failure (if I’m not mistaken). In his death certificate though, the cause of death was written as ‘because of old age’. I was 16, a little ‘kampung’ (village) boy and I knew nothing better. He was 63; quite young by today’s standard.
I was actually raised by my grand-parents when I was 2 and my kid sister was about 1 year old. My mum were divorced from my dad (this is according to Muslim law where the man could divorce the wife but not the other way round) somewhere around late 1960 or early 1961. Both of them would get married later and I would have brothers and sisters from both side of my family. In fact I have 8 of them not including my only sister from the same parents. Both my mum and dad were happy with their lives then and I was happy to stay with my grand-parents and that was that.
After our LCE, I was sent to Sekolah Menengah Teknik (Technical Institute) way down (or was it up?) in Kuantan, Pahang in 1975. Kuantan is about 150 miles or 241 kilometers away from my grand-parents’ house. I would have to leave my grandma behind and my sister would later move to stay with my mum to continue with her schooling. Luckily my grandma would have some relatives come over and stay with her; sometimes for months at a stretch – so she would not be all alone. Later she would marry her old boyfriend when the guy’s wife was dead – an amazing story considering their age. Whoever says that love is not timeless? It was, and it still is, I believe.
It was at this school that my life would entirely change. Before this, I was never far away from my beloved home since I was small; and I was well protected by my grand-parents and by all of my childhood friends. I was one of the smallest built in my group; and my friends would take the initiative and responsibility to protect me from bullies and adversaries alike; and in return I would help them with their studies.
Then – here I was; in a hostel far away from my beloved home. But some of my schoolmates were there too. So it was not that bad after all; except that they would not be able to protect me from our seniors, as they were ‘freshies’ (freshmen) themselves.
Somehow, I was spared by that so called ragging. It was customary and trendy at that time to rag ‘freshies’; I was spared because I could sing and the seniors would have some jolly good times teasing me and asking me to sing my heart out.
Later the same year I would win a talent-time contest for our school; singing Billy Don’t Be A Hero by Paper Lace and Hey Ho by Paul McCartney and the Wings, two tunes that were very popular at that time. I was thus befriended by a lot of seniors who seemed to value their presence with a new ‘star’. Of course the ‘freshies’ themselves would be pleased to be seen hanging out with me.
I would then fall in love with guitar playing. But there was a problem; I did not have one, and I could not afford one.
In the hostel, we were given double-deckers in a long corridored room. I’ve got a bed under a guy (forgive me – I’ve have forgotten his name; but he hailed from Kelantan, an east-coast state bordering Thailand) who happened to have a guitar. He loved his guitar and would play every day and night until the lights were out. He was good, but I’ve intended to be better – but the guitar is his.
Nonetheless, as the story goes – he would lend me his guitar, but only after the lights were out (about 11.45 pm if I would remember correctly).
It was heaven for me though. I would borrow the guitar, borrowed a chord chart and progression book from another guy and off I would go to pick, pluck and strum under the streetlights across the road from my hostel, not too far away. I would play for a couple of hours and I would sleep late but extremely satisfied. Of course, sometimes I would be chased by our Hostel Master; and I would disappear into the shadows of our school buildings, crawling stealthy back into my bed and would pretend to be deeply asleep. I was not caught; not even once. I was a lucky guy, perhaps.
During that ‘freshie’ year, I was one of the boys who have had secured a scholarship from our Terengganu State Government. It was not much, but it was meant to help us poor people with our studies. But I would save some portion of the scholarship; not for books and study accessories (I was taking Building Construction course then), but for what else other than a brand new made in China Kapok guitar.
There I was – strumming my brand new guitar whenever I would have had the time; every single day and night. Of course I was not alone. There were a few close friends who were into music as well.
We would later play together; an acoustic little band with Kapok guitars as our main musical instruments with a few plastic pails arranged together as a drum set – hit with much gusto by a friend with some wooden rulers.
Of course I was the lead singer. It was meant to be.