Monday, 20 May 2013

Universiti Sains Malaysia

Every time I hear of 'Universiti Sains Malaysia' (USM), I smile ... Why? I smile because many things happened in the past and these fond memories linger on long after some loved ones have passed on.

You see, I had been visiting my grandfather in Penang ever since I was born, or he came to see me, with the hope of adopting me. He never could because my mother never let go of me. My grandfather was frustrated and therefore came to see me instead or have me sent to Penang so he could check on my growth and living. I lived on.

My grandfather retired 6 months before I was born. He purposedly retired so he could be free to receive me when I was born and therefore possess me - he never did. He must have been so heartbroken. I found out so much later when I was studying and then working ...

I had a doting grandfather, who left me nothing but a gold pendant that had a letter F, studded with lapis lazuli. He gave me the pendant when I was already talking and running, I was probably 5, before I went to school. At 54, I still have the pendant and remember that moment he placed the pendant in my hand and asked "Faridah suka tak?" Of course I said "Suka" and possessed that beautiful pendant till today.

That was how I got drawn to my grandfather. I visited him every weekend, almost without fail. My parents would drive me there from our Alor Star home, and head back at night, enjoying freshly boiled jagung in our Renault. The Renault was great except that it was too small to fit 6 kids in the back seat.

When my grandfather started working on the plans to develop Minden Heights from its native jungle conditions, I went to visit him at the site of his present house. He lived there since before he developed the housing area. I was there studying the blueprint with him in the dining space in front of his bedroom. Just him and me. Nobody bothered us. We had tea and delicacies and laughed and discussed and talked .... till it was time to roll the papers and have lunch or dinner.

While spending my holiday at my grandfather's house, I would always hear of a special name "Datuk Jenaton". Who was he? He owned the very land that USM and my grandfather's house occupied. The entire hillock was his land, gifted by the Sultan of Kedah for fighting the Siamese invaders who attacked Kedah. Why did the Siamese attack Kedah? I don't know - you can try and read Kedah history.

USM was built in 1969. Minden Heights was built in 1971. I remember my father tried to apply to USM for work but he never got accepted. I saw him when he got very frustrated when USM refused to accept him. I remember he was so unhappy. I felt sad because he was such an intelligent man (or I wouldn't be a professor today). Then he went to UK to study. It was really strange because my father could understand Chinese script (or he wouldn't have attended Chinese classes in Bayan Lepas). He knew English but I feel he was not as good at English as my mother who grew up speaking English and taught English all her life. He could have just opted to study in China or Hong Kong but he chose to go to UK. Of course he never completed his studies in the UK, which also makes me smile ... (or he would be a professor just like me).

So every time USM is mentioned, I would smile because it brings back memories of that time I had spent with my lovely grandfather and my father.

My father who taught me languages (Dutch and Malay), how to write my name and how to kow-tow when passing in front of old people, and never say "I can't" when I haven't even tried. Even though he had no university degrees, he could do mathematics, physics and electronics anytime - no problem. He lived an honest life as a Muslim - no rasuah, no bodek, no black magic, nothing! Just him and Allah SWT. A hermit, he taught me never to ask for anything but to try and work hard for something.
My doting grandfather who taught me life is a many splendid things. To enjoy while life is still within me. Never to overspend and be thrifty when I can. He taught me how to be a millionaire when all he meant was every penny is worth keeping. He's standing in his garden at his residence in Minden Heights, Jalan 7. His swing still stands today. He must be in his early 80s in this pic. I wrote about his life in my book, Biography of the Early Malay Doctors 1900-1957 Malaya and Singapore. You can Google that title and buy it online.