It was in the mid 70s when my late abah took me to meet this silver haired handsome gentleman at his office cum petrol kiosk in Jalan Besar Kuantan.
I have no idea why abah wanted me to meet this man. Abah being a retired British army who fought the communist with the Malaysian army in the 60s asked me not to question his orders.
Being so kecik I cycled with him to this petrol kiosk. In reminiscence of the episode I always laughed at myself as I can’t even sit on the bicycle as if I did I could not reached the paddle to cycle.
Traffic was very kind those days as you can actually count how many cars passed by you. Cars were driven by division 1 government servants or rich businessmen. So cycling on the roads of Kuantan was a breeze.
I was dressed well I thought. A grey seluar pendek and shirt tailored by my dear mak who I thought was a pro in making shirt and dresses as I observed many women would come to ask her made them baju kurung or kebaya when Eid ul Fitr is within sight. She actually went to learn tailoring with her friends while in Clementi in Singapore where the British army barracks were located. Mak is also very good in cooking and baking. Mak was always busy during Ramadhan.
My abah and I reached Tan Sri Lim Ah Lek’s office around 9 a.m. Abah told me to address him as Yang Berhormat. I don’t know what that was those days. We were ushered to a cozy corner by his courteous secretary and offered us some drinks. I was lost as I don’t have a clue what was going on. Abah did not brief me as all he said to me was be courteous and belajar rajin-rajin. He said to me that he had even met the Menteri Besar and other high profile Malays but only this guy is willing to help. I was getting more confused with that statement but I nodded obediently.
About five minutes later the secretary came and ushered us to Tan Sri’s (he was not yet a Tan Sri or a Dato’ at that time, I am not so sure) office. He greeted us with a smile and gave me a very warm handshake. He offered us to sit on his cozy sofa.
“Terima kasih Yang Berhormat” I offered my gratitude.
He laughed at me and asked me to address him as uncle Lim.
The meeting was a brief one as he was talking to my abah whom I saw thanking him over and over again as if he was given a new lease of life. I also saw abah handed to him some papers which I thought were purchase receipts but he said that is not necessary for him to do so. As they both conversed in English I could only understand a few words.
We left the office and went straight back home. Abah said nothing to me except that he is going to work and told me not to merayap. It was the third term school holidays and I already have plans with the neighborhood kids to look for ikan laga. I was always accused of being a menace to my friends as I am good at planning looming activities like mandi sungai, tangkap ikan laga in lubuks, buli budak kecik, ambek jambu kat rumah orang and all that jazz. Being the ring leader I always sat pretty on our tree house or will observe them from far. But when we were chased I will be the last one to lari or I will always be the one who will beg for pardon of our mischiefs. I became very famous and many pak cik and mak cik tagged me as budak setan.
I always came home and get canned from my mak. My brother who was the homely type will always tell me padan muka.
Coming back to uncle Lim’s story, I am taking this opportunity to offer my highest gratitude to him rescuing me from becoming a hantu. I was not that mischievous actually. All I did was helping the boys who have no idea on how to make things happened. When they got caught I was the one who come to their rescue.
Uncle Lim answers my mak and abah prayers to provide financial assistance for me to go to a boarding school. Mak and abah cannot afford to accommodate the offer I got as they have 5 other kids going to school. I overheard mak was crying one day and asked abah to sell her mesin jahit. I told mak the next day that she doesn’t have to do that as I thought I don’t have to have a boarding school education. Mak gets very agitated with me and I got the scolding from her. A few days after that, I got a telegram from my school asking me to come to school as there was an offer by MRSM. That left me with even the slightest chance to say no to boarding school. Anyhow I opted for the government boarding school as the fees were cheaper and I could get scholarship.
Uncle Lim helped a lot. Abah updated uncle Lim of my progress. Every year without me noticing it uncle Lim funded all my school needs. I tried not to make it a habit for abah to keep going to him by telling him I already have everything. On school holidays I will offer myself as a ball picker at a tennis club near my home. In the evenings I went to help pok cik nelayan to clean their fishing vessel and I will be rewarded with lots of fish. I am not the homely type. Mak said that I am like a kuda belang.
Uncle Lim seems to keep on helping me even after abah told him that we were okay financially when my sisters started to work. I wasn’t that very smart in my secondary school days as I was a playful lot. For me getting 50% in Add Maths is like getting a distinction which my brother laughed at me as he said 99% in Add Maths is a gross failure for him.
Uncle Lim is adamant that he helped me all the way. After all he said what he offered was only a meager sum. I thought otherwise and felt very indebted to him. I wanted to meet him again but he became very busy with politics as well as in business. I composed a few letters to him but short of posting them. But I was very happy to see him doing very well in politics and he became a minister.
I composed an open letter to praise his good deeds and offer my support to him when he was facing a crisis within his party. I sent it to a local daily but unfortunately the letter was not published.
As he retires from politics and I gets very busy trying to improve myself educationally and career wise, at the back of my mind was that my achievements are dedicated to mak, abah (al fatehah), Uncle Lim, my brother and sisters as well as my beloved family.
With the helped of the almighty uncle Lim was the chosen one to bring me out of obscurity. I have never erased him from my mind. And I will try to emulate his conduct whenever I can.
Tan Sri Lim Ah Lek. You may not be reading this. But if you happen to do so I am dedicating this one for you.
May you be in the pink of health. May you be blessed with happiness and wealth.