Wednesday, 10 April 2013

If It Is War ... What Will Our Food Be ...?

During the Japanese war in Malaya, Malayan families had little food to live on. Fresh food items had to come from nearby villages. Many war survivors tell me stories which I still find hard to believe, even today. I will share some of the stories with you ...

Chicken and eggs
In Penang, Dr Kamil Ariff's family obtained fresh livestock and vegetables came from farms in Balik Pulau.

On the mainland, the late Tan Sri Dr Abdul Majid bin Ismail (Coco Majid) narrated his war stories about where he got fresh chickens. He had to take the train from Kuala Lumpur and go up north to Alor Star, to get chickens for selling at Pasar Chow Kit. But the trip was too taxing, both on him and the chickens he tried to bring back. Most of his chickens died in the hot train and on the long trip (without food and water for the chickens). He survived but many of his chickens died, leaving him very little to earn cash. He then made money from selling dried salted fish (ikan sepat masin) and kerosene (minyak gas), which sold very well during the war.

My mother narrated the war story in Malacca, about my grandmother and her last son, her 14th child - Pak Salleh. My grandmother had her last child and last a son, Pak Salleh, in 1944. There was no milk during the war and my grandmother didn't have breastmilk for her new baby. Pak Salleh was brought up on tea! Imagine giving tea to a baby! Pak Salleh grew up to become a strong man indeed and worked very hard as an audit at the Malayan Railway in Kuala Lumpur; I was still a college student when Pak Salleh was working. Somehow, I noticed he aged too fast, faster than my father who was the 7th child. I kept on observing Pak Salleh as I grew up. Every time I saw him he had more white hair and a more stressful face. I also went up to ask him if he was ok. Of course, the jovial Pak Salleh always smilingly replied, "Alhamdulillah, I'm fine, I'm fine! ..." Somehow, there seems to be this worry tone in his voice even though he was seemingly happy. I worry. I often wondered whether tea would actually ruin a baby's life and result in an old man's face. I judged them to be linked - babies given tea will result in a stressful life as an adult, giving a stressful and older face, like my Pak Salleh. But sometimes I ask myself, "Is it just the tea given to babies that cause men to get old face fast?" I don't know and it is hard to tell or define or do a good study. I can only record the effect of that war even though I was born after the war and never experienced living during a war. I don't want to have to live through any war. Pak Salleh's face is enough to instill fear in me.