26 April 1998
If you grew up in Ireland, the story about the great Potato Famine caused
by the cruel and greedy English landlords and imperialists would have been dinned
into you. However, when I was growing up in rural Kelantan, my parents instilled
in me that there were plenty of things to be learned from the English.
My parents -I do not believe - knew the difference between the English, Irish, Scot,
Welsh or British. Of course, they knew who were the Germans, Dutch and French - the
Dutch of the East Indies (now Indonesia) and the French of Indo China (now Vietnam,
Cambodia and Laos). Frankly they would not have known the difference between the
English, Dutch, German or French languages! To them all those people were all "orang
putih" (pale face).
They were actually correct to call the white administrators in Kelantan British because
they were the people of United Kingdom or British. They, I am sure, did not know
that Churchill, a distant relative of Winston Churchill, the British advisor of Kelantan
in the early fifties, was an English man while his predecessor, M.C.Sheppard, who
was the British advisor of Negeri Sembilan, was Irish.
Sheppard was the British advisor of Kelantan in 1950.
My father had a British passport because we did
not have our own passport until independence and if my memory does not fail me, he
was described in the passport as a British subject in a British protectorate. Whatever.
I definitely recall that the passport was blue in colour with the British emblem
embossed on it. My father also had an account with the British owned Mercantile bank
and not with the Overseas Chinese Bank. Then, only these two banks operated in Kota
He was as I said in a previous article, definitely not an Anglophile, as we understand
it, although he was not averse to the British except for colonizing us.
Before attending formal schooling in 1947, the days in Kampung Bandar inn Kok Lanas-Pulai
Chondong did not pass by quietly. There were walks, swimming in the Kelantan River,
excursions in the rubber plantations, (sawah), and bushes, top-spinning, stalking
birds, simple games and the compulsory Koran lessons.
I was very much the integral part of the village make-up, and have carved a niche
in the fabric of the local society which I was to represent in Parliament for two
terms in my thirties and forties.
As far as I know, Kelantan never had a famine. If there were one I was never told
about it either by my grandparents or parents. No doubt there were many poor people.
However I do not believe anyone had to retrieve or ate discarted food. There was
enough rice, maize, vegetables, sweet potatoes, tapioca, papaya, fish and ayam kampung
and many other food stuffs. If they went to bed hungry every night they could not
say it was the fault of the Sultan, the British or the Chinese and Indian shopkeepers.
In my village there was enough food for every one and more importantly enough love
and Kampung Bandar, even during the Japanese occupation, did not suffer much hardship;
the land was fertile, the villagers hardworking and united. No excess of food but
they did have a balanced diet and what more could they want?
My father had many Chinese friends because he was a licensed rubber dealer and many
of them would come to my house for lunch but never I recall, for dinner. We had a
round marble top dining table with six chairs. Unless we had visitors, we normally
ate Malays style. The Chinese visitors would be provided with forks and spoons (no
knives, much less fish knives).
Talking about fish knives...not many restaurants in New York, unless they are really
upscale, give diners fish knives unlike in Europe. Even in Malaysia, most restaurants
would provide diners with appropriate knives - fish and butter knives.
As for the food, inspite of fresh fish, chicken, other meats and, at times, game
served, there would always be the inevitable ikan sardin - canned sardines, chicken
brand from England which we could buy in Kota Baru and Kok Lanas.
I would occasionally be invited to join the towkays for the meal. The sardines would
be deep-fried or served as it was with raw, sliced onions and chilies The sardines
were either in tomato sauce or in vegetable oil crammed into little cans or sizable