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The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Rum Tobacco and Lucky Strikes

For the past few days, I've been cleaning out my house, getting ready to move on : closure in a physical sense. We've accumulated some serious junk in the past ten or eleven years living in that house, seperating the valuable from the useless is such a tedious process. It also doesn't help that so many small things remind me of some big adventure, and everytime I come across these beacons of memories, I will stop, caress them in my hands and reminisce.

I have a hard time going through drawers. I found the hideous orange watch my husband and kids gave for my birthday. I found an old to-do list, that was apparently written before a New York trip : immediately after "research bond market interest in power companies" was "buy enema", with exclamation marks and double underscore. I found lonely earrings, packets of stuff that could be mistaken for vape-mat but are not vape-mat, foreign money, heartfelt thank you notes, small envelopes of medicine, old payslips, obgyn appointment cards for each pregnancy, hastily written addresses and telephone numbers.

And then, tucked within a lace mirror case I bought in Brugges, I found this picture :

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It must have been taken in the early seventies, and I'm sad to see it marred by tear and dog-ear. That's me, the girl with the frown. The lanky man with me is my grandfather, I call him Bah, even though my father calls him that, too. I've always thought Bah had more than a passing resemblance to James Coburn.

Bah was my favourite grandparent. Alas, he was also the first one to go.

As I grow older, I search for things that remind me of Bah. For example, Old Malay songs, because he used to play them on his violin. A vivid memory was a melayu asli jamming session at our house, Bah played the violin, accompanied by some members of Kombo RTM Pantai Timur, while Pok Itam, the guy who owned a stall nearby, crooned old favourites. We didn't have to attend PPAG concerts to learn about traditional music -- we get to hear them, live, weekened evenings in our living room.

I also remembered the first time I ate chili corn carne -- cowboy food, he told me. It was late in the evening and Bah roused a friend in Batu Rakit to fire up his restaurant kitchen to make him some. Because my grandmother (the eponymous Mokciknab) absolutely did not eat meat, I remembered eating it surreptitiously, and my grandfather had a grin and glint in his eyes as he ladled each spoon. My grandmother's nagging about him was always about food. Once a fisherman friend gave him a large ikan parang as a gift, and ikan parang were his favourite, but it was then dusk, and my grandmother had already prepared dinner. I remember having to be the one meekly handing over the fish to my grandmother, who immediately launched into a tirade. My grandfather, he would never complain -- he only had that grin and that glint in his eye.

He had a gold tooth. He had a glint in his smile, too. Oh, he was always smiling. And his extraordinary grey eyes would be smiling, too.

I always hoped one of my children would inherit his grey eyes, but no one did. I hoped they would inherit his musical gift, or his fine penmanship, or his skills with the rifle, or his talents at bandminton, but none has displayed any such hint. Exasperated, I made my husband smoke a pipe, so that I could smell the same rum tobacco on his shirt.

But I found, no one could replace Bah. Gentlemen just aren't bred that way anymore.


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