Thursday, February 25, 2016

Once upon a time there lived my father…

A deep blue sky kissing down a long range of mountains along a runway has never been in my bothering thoughts of Malaysia. The refreshing first glimpse of Kota Kinabalu airport and its tranquility put me at ease to find the paths tread by my father long ago.

All I had with me was his last postal and a death certificate issued from Kota Marudu, a very remote place in Kota Belud, Sabah, East Malaysia.

I could not find a single excited face at the airport; no big queue unlike in Dubai or India; and whoever looked busy was using the airport Wifi service. Finally I got the immigration officer to share my reason for visiting Sabah, and her eyes widened when I said I lived in the country until 6. But I could not give a clear reply when she asked me whether I am in search of my roots.

On the way to the hotel, with a heavy heart, I tried to visualise the place, where my father had made big prospects; and where I lived with parents ‘once upon a time’; the room where I locked up my sister by mistake when my mother went for her bath and how people tried to break the window of the room to get us out of the room and the place where my father chosen as his eternal abode, some 31 years ago.

I am one of his unlucky children who had to know more about own father from others after his untimely death in 1985. My childhood memories about him looked very pale compared to what other people, including domestic helps, had to say.

Whoever asked me what I remember about Malaysia before I started my soul searching journey, I had only two things to say — The smell of the final flight I took to return to my home in India, a beverage, the taste of which I haven't experienced later and a fruit I loved to eat always, the name of which, I could never recollect. I also shared with them what I heard from mother that air hostesses used to give shake hands to the passengers.

Even though I was caught in flood of thoughts, there was an inner peace as if there was someone guiding me: Looking back it seemed from the day the visa application was moved in Dubai, the world around us seemed helping us to complete our dream journey. In Malaysia, I felt it immensely, wherever I went, help poured from all quarters, without even asking for it. People behaved as natural as the nature there.

Not knowing even a single Malay word, my first day was devoted to Papar, on the way to Kota Belud as my faint memory said father suffered a fatal heart attack somewhere there, besides, that I lived there. I had a photograph of me sitting in a bus station, which not even have any hint about the place. Our driver-cum-guide could not identify the place and according to him, the bus has already become a museum piece.

When he stopped on the way at a local market, a nostalgic feeling gripped me and I started taking pictures, which ended in driver asking me to pose for my personal souvenir. Later I came to know that the place happened to be where I lived with my parents and where my father ran a shop before moving to Kota Belud. 

The day was a bit adventurous as the trip ended in Kumpong Kaiduan, an untouched valley of thick green forest and river flowing down the bumpy roads, with no human beings at sight until we reached the small community down the curvy roads. Though the trip was unfruitful, I left the place with a heart full of rustic calm and baby-like innocence, thanks to the villagers.

Next day, another big experience was waiting me at the Kota Belud Post Office. Anxiety soared as I stepped into the post office with thoughts thumping my hearts like what would happen if the post number is non-existing, what should be the next step. But bureaucracy is not the same everywhere.

The postmaster general, a lady, in no time asked a postman who was
handling the area, to check the address. To my surprise, he said the post box number is functional and they took the pain to draw a map to lead us to the place. Reaching there, tears of joy filled my eyes, when the person who has been handling my father’s post box number for years, approached me voluntarily and asked about my identity.

He took me to our father's shop and house, which stood the test of time and also made the arrangements to visit his grave. All the childhood stories about father like sending sacks of sugar and other foodstuff to home at a time when India was going through severe food crisis and how he influenced the lives of people around him unveiled before me in full description. I wondered why our mother never boasted his generosity to her children.

The person who accompanied us to the grave next day was none other than our father’s aide, who used to accompany him to his plantation in Kota Marudu. Much to the surprise, the grave was in good condition, with his name written on it. I lost my breath for a moment. What came out from me was a big SORRY and several questions which he could never answer. But I felt he had been waiting there for all these years for his children to come and be by his side, at least for a time.

Life was never the same when he left us forever to heavenly abode and life will never be the same even after knowing him after three decades.

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