Teech Airil sez – This experimental unpublished short story was from way back in 1998 when i was still a second year degree student at the University of Warwick. It is about an old Malay man who lives in an Malay kampung (village) and his crusade against modern life and urbanisation. The story centres around him as he tries to defend his values against the newer values of a modern society in his developing country (Malaysia in mind, of course). The story is built on several themes like age, religion, change and human values. The title of this story is ‘My Kampung’ or My Village.
“Let them come, I’ll kill them with this parang. I opened up this land while you were still unborn. My two hands brought the trees to their knees. Now you, you my own son, want to destroy all that I have built?”
“But ayah, I know… But things change and…”
“And you don’t know nothing… One more word from you and this parang… Get out… Go!”
“I’ll go ayah but I will come back again”
“Fine. Come. Do it. But I’ll never agree, never!” the old man heads for his room, parang in his hand, anger in his heart.
“Please mak… Please persuade him to change his mind, please…” the young man pleads.
“I’ll talk to him, but you know your father. He’s a stubborn man… I’ll see what I can do…”
The old man looks out of the window. He does not care to savour the beauty of the night, the world doesn’t interest him. Fifty years earlier he came and made this nothing into something. Twenty years old he was, brave and proud and everything in between. All to him was a challenge. This village was a challenge.
“Abang, it’s past midnight bang. Get some rest. Tomorrow we have to tend to the orchard. Jit Wah will be here to pick up the fruits. Well, I’m off to bed now. Your medicine is on the table. Remember to switch off the lights before you come to bed.” With that silence fell upon the old house.
“If only things are still the same,” he said to himself. “I worked so hard. With my two bare hands. Now they’re all against me. My wife. My son. Everyone. I’m not leaving, I want to die here”.
“But ayah, this highway will bring change, good things. Modern life is not a sin.”
“What does he know? I’ve lived longer than him,” the old man remembers. Besides what is modern life but cars, smoke, noise and people compared to simple kampung life.
He can’t remember how many times he had visited the city. Thrice or was it less? Well, it was too much. He suffocated and was gasping for air. People here, people there, no one cares about anything. Things are different in his village. Everyone knows if anyone was sick, they were like one big family. Yes. One big, happy family.
“Abang, bang, it’s already dawn. Fetch some water from the well. I’m off to the surau now to pray,” and the figure of his wife slowly dissolved into the darkness of dawn. “Yes, city folks forget God too. Too busy with work and money to remember God. Kampung folks still remember the higher power.”
It’s high noon and the sun is shining bright. The old man is resting in his small hut in the middle of his orchard. He built it with his two hands. Two honks and half a minute later the old pickup truck of his friend was in front of the hut.
“Salam, Tok Mat. Hot day isn’t it?” Jit Wah wiped his face with his trusted handkerchief, tied to his neck like a cowboy.
“I’ve seen worse. Why are you late my friend?” asked the old man in a friendly manner in an angry tone.
“Haiyahhh! It’s the road. They are digging holes in it. They said that pretty soon it’ll be closed. The government wants to start work quickly,” explained Jit Wah. “So, have you agreed to sell your land?”
“Never! I’ll never move an inch from this land. I opened this land with my two hands fifty years ago. Now they just want to take it like that?” his face was as red as the sun.
“But they pay good money Tok Mat. A lot of money. And your son is willing to take you to the city. I hear life is good there. Electricity, clean water, you can just sit down and…”
“And wait my turn? Never Jit Wah, I want to die here,” he looks at the truckload of bananas and mangoes. “How much you reckon they’ll fetch?”
“Hundred, hundred fifty, not more than two. And that’s less twenty five for the truck,” Jit Wah smiles.
“Yes, yes. Twenty five for the truck. I know, twenty five for your truck,” the old man returns his friend’s smile.
“Nowadays things aren’t cheap anymore Tok Mat! Fuel, food, everything’s gone up. Everyone’s making good money, so prices go up. If not, everyone will get rich” Jit Wah laughs. “Ah, I hear the azan Tok Mat. Time for you to pray. See you in two week’s time”.
“There you are! Lunch is ready abang. I have to go to Milah’s house. Her granddaughter is getting married next week. She’s planning a big kenduri. The boy is a rich doctor from the city! I’ll be back before dark,” and the figure of his wife disappears between the swaying leaves of the trees.
The old man did not walk straight into his house. He walks around the yard, admiring the precious hibiscus plants that marked his land. He planted them the day he finished his house. He built the house with wood and nails that he bought from Jit Wah. A few of his neighbours helped. Most of the time he built his house alone.
It is a proud wooden house with a large kitchen and four bedrooms. He wanted many children. His wife bore him only one. Luckily it was a boy. He wanted a son so much. He wanted his son to help him in the orchard and take care of his wife when he’s gone. His son had other plans.
“I don’t want to live and die in this kampung, ayah. I want to live in the city, I want to work with the government to improve life in places like this,” in his son’s eyes were tears that won’t fall.
“Improve? There’s nothing to improve in this kampung. I know, I built this kampung,” his voice was full of pride.
“But what about things like electricity, clean water, telephone…?” his son tried to convince him.
“Ah, I don’t need them. Your mother don’t need them. People in this kampung don’t need them. Fifty years we lived here, we never needed them. We can make do.”
“Assalamualaikum Tok Mat!”
The loud voice brought the old man back to this world. “Mualaikumsalam! Who is it?”
“It’s me, Ami. Can I come in?”
“Oh Ami, come in. I wasn’t expecting any visitors. Come in, I’ll open up the windows, it’s really hot today,” the old man shook his visitor’s hand and showed him inside.
“Yes Ami, any news for me?” the old man sat beside his visitor.
“I’m here to invite you to the surau tonight. After prayers, two government officers will explain about the highway project and why the government wants to take our land. That’s what I heard,” the visitor explained.
“Did they say why of all the lands available, they wanted ours?” the old man looked straight into his visitor’s eyes.
“Well, you can ask them tonight. Everyone wants you to be there since you are like our leader. And you really seem determined not to move and… We just hope that you’ll be there, I have to go now, Assalamualaikum!”
“Mualaikumsalam. I’ll think about it ,” the old man showed his visitor out and locked the door. Walking slowly towards the window, he is in deep thought.
The cool breeze was a quiet welcome on a hot afternoon such as this. In the horizon he could see children walking home gallantly from the school house. The school was his idea and his friends and him built it for their children.
A bit nearer is Milah’s house. The widow is like a sister to him and his wife. He could see the wives of the village sitting under the big guava tree like wives usually do. No doubt talking about the coming kenduri.
Nearer still, he could see the hibiscus that he planted, the well that he dug, the house that he built, him. He takes a deep breath of satisfaction.
“So what’s the fuss about? Lets get is over with, I’ve got other plans.” said the old man.
“Well Tok Mat, everyone, we’re here to explain the situation to all of you”, said an officer. “This has been for years, a government reserve land. For the past fifty years you’ve all lived in this kampung only with the kind permission of the rulers,” he added.
“So, the government has every right to take back this land. You’ll all be paid a generous sum of money as compensation. In two week’s time, work on the highway will commence. If only the original settlers had applied for permanent title deeds… well it’s too late now Tok!” said the other with a forced smile.
The old man looked at his two old hands.
parang – (noun) a weapon resembling a cutlass
ayah – (pronoun) father
mak – (p) mother
abang, bang – (p) literally ‘brother’, here a term of endearment used by wives to refer to their husbands
kampung – (n) village
surau – (n) a smaller version of a mosque
Tok – (p) contraction of Datok, literally grandfather, here used to refer to an older man to show respect
azan – (n) the Moslem public call for prayers
kenduri – (n) feast
assalamualaikum – Arabian greeting meaning ‘Peace be upon you’ said to a fellow Moslem
mualaikumsalam – Arabian greeting to answer the above