Her wrinkled bony fingers trembled as she rummaged her faded purse looking for coins to pay for the sundries lain on the freshly varnished counter top. Momentarily, she raised her care worn face towards me, casting a forlorn look as she sighed her despair into the silence. Then, she eyed the hovering shopkeeper meekly, her deep sunken eyes brimming with the litany of unvoiced suffering . In a kindly tone, he uttered “ makcik , kurang dua linggit liga puluh sen lah”. I fished out some redbacks from my waist-pouch and requested that the shopkeeper tote up the cost of her meager provisions of 5 Kg rice, some dried fish, sardines and a can of condensed milk. Shovelling the tattered, discoloured notes and coins she had placed on the counter back into her trembling palms, I murmured “ takpe saya bayar untuk barang itu semua”. Then, I helped her slowly into my car as a shop assistant scurried to the boot with the provisions in hand. Driving back to her village, eight kilometres out of Bagan Serai, I cajoled her into pouring out her woes. Her toothless gums mouthed that she was almost 70. Her husband was bed ridden with diabetes and the children..well.. they had flown into the distance. The one child of three who could be depended upon to squirrel her some RM 200 per month was now unemployed in Penang (retrenched) while the other two girls were all at sea in their own predicaments.. trying to make ends meet in these trying times. So she gets by with the RM 150.00 from the Jabatan Kebajikan and the scraps of compassion that her neighbours manage to throw in her direction cuddled as they are in the loving arms of poverty…..
I made a mental note of where she lived and promised to drop by later with more goodies and some medication courtesy of my informal persatuan.
A Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan ala Shahnon Ahmad? Nah! Such scenes are real and happening in the boondocks of Malaysia far removed from gated communities and privileged lifestyles of Bukit Tunku, Bangsar, or the rarefied atmosphere of Mont Kiara. And of course, light years away from Damansara Heights, the rich fishermen’s Wharf, the serene hills of Segambut or the palatial palaces of Putrajaya. After all who are we but the salt of the earth to be gawked at by the hoi polloi in search of rusticity ala Rembrandt and Constable. And aren’t we the poster boys and gals of a thriving democracy to be feted by nattily dressed politykos who will serenade us with songs of hope as they gallivant through our huts with our infants in their arms and the ubiquitous cameras flashing us blind in the once in five years love fest called democracy?
Welcome to the real Malaysia, circa 2008, 2 months after the mother of all hikes and about a year into the basic necessities’ bull run in the price charts and tags dotting the trading floors of the local hypermarkets, supermarkets, wet markets not to mention the stock markets of the world. And amidst all these bull stampedes, compassion and humanity are quashed and trodden and each man to his own. Ironic but true, it is the poor who will band together to help out one another in the daily struggle of life and death. For that is what is happening in rural and forgotten Malaysia. Indeed, I am proud to say that people have indeed been united by the silent suffering in their midst and doing charitable deeds where possible. From the parched paddy lands of Bagan Serai, Gunung Semanggol, Parit Buntar and Krian to the palm oil swathes that surround the abjectly poor estate denizens of Titi Karangan, Merbau Pulas and outskirts of Kulim, small bands of citizens are toiling amidst insurmountable odds to bring some succour to the impoverished and the aged. Nay.. no promises of a new Malaysia here neither of a welfare state nor of oft promised but rarely delivered Kebajikan stipends. Just simple acts to alleviate the pain of the needy…. A lift to town and back to save them precious ringgit and sens, free tuition for the kids, donations of clothes and other stuff, payments for sundries etcetra.. nothing much but something is better than nothing. In our little hamlet, we are mulling over a plan to extend micro-credit assistance if possible for start up of small businesses during Ramadhan.
No, I am not writing this to solicit help or to show off.. far from it. Only that, as the politaikos battle it out with their phalanx of lawyers, cyberthugs, strategists, think tanks, acolytes and what not for that heady nectar called power, the poor are having private battles of their own…for survival. Singe that into your conscience as the affairs of the state hangs in abeyance while you war for glory, you whorelords! For your endless skirmishes have brought nothing but untold suffering to the voiceless masses sequestered away from your view in the unlit estates and kampongs of Malaysia!.