1. Escaping the sh_tholes for a place in the Sun
Adjacent table at KV the other day a couple of Indian lads chatting over lunch, fattie with a girly voice and his opposite number bearing a questionable SPUNK tee. Pair was planning an attendance at a comedy film that evening it seemed; considering the merits of the different Indian eateries roundabout and their offerings and conferring on immigration procedures. PR here was, what? Seven years?… No, ten…. Ah, ten. You are here how long?… Nine, but not putting in the application just yet because….
Escaping Sh-tholes and joining the rush to our side with clean streets and water, clean air, orderliness, amenity, plentiful comedy, and other entertainments from which to choose.
This afternoon on the bus returning from Feidu an Indian father was starting in early with his little three-year-old: Not “Can I. Should I press the button….”
With tuition fees prohibitive, the so-called better schools difficult to access, PSLE torture in Grade 5 that determined the educational route and the course of life, the man was right to jump in at every opportunity to give his little fellow a fighting half-chance.
Cousin V. a few months ago at Vivo City, a container ship skipper, father of three boys and striving manfully for them, told his aim was to help the lads attain a place in the jungle somewhere above the common ruck. With the Renault he had recently bought the older pair to share, V. explained, they would be able to screw any…. girl—to use more acceptable language for English readers—of their choice along the Montenegrin coast. In his own day there had been precious little of that luck for V., and, memorably, once the poor boy had been played out by a pretty Serb whose family sought good time holidays on the water’s edge at discount rates. Earlier years V. had also attempted immigration for the sake of the kids, but had missed his chance.
2. Daughters of the Indentured Class
The KV auntie sometimes forgets to get herself her cup of buttermilk. Such care taken over her platter measuring out the portions of rice, the vegetables, sambal and sauces. Unlike some of the big eaters, on Auntie’s plate there was always a good deal of green showing on the banana leaf. (At meal’s end—always rapidly concluded in order not to detain her relief at the register—the leaf has been picked entirely clean and not a morsel remaining.) Sometimes dishing up for herself in back in the kitchen Auntie forgets to stop at the fridge in the corner opposite the sweets counter for her beverage. Each afternoon the cup is taken back to the register as during the meal none is consumed; therefore not forefront preoccupation at the time of preparing her platter. Despite the great care over her in-take Auntie cannot shed the kilograms. “Still fat.” A battle. With the omission of the drink the old grannie, the ancient here who goes back to Mr. Komala Vilas himself, the founder of the restaurant, finds her opportunity. Here she is sneaking a look around the corner from the kitchen. Ah-ha! Righto! Road open for the dear old sweet to pounce. Cup of buttermilk filled to the brim delivered to auntie’s elbow. Here you are. Here you are now…. Gosh. Oh golly. Aunt unfailingly caught by surprise. (Of late worries over her daughter’s long-drawn-out relationship falling short of marriage preying on Auntie’s mind. An Australian lad had been long on the scene, she and her husband introduced, dinners taken and still nothing….) Dearie, dearie me. Auntie ashamed. A woman old enough to be her mother. (Almost.) Delightful kind soul, loved by one and all. Small hunch carried by Grannie on her shoulders. A featherweight. Permed blue rinse learned from the former masters it must have been. (Colourful blouses just like those favoured by dear Babi.) Auntie blushing, overcome with shame. Nothing she can do. Being served hand and foot, an undeserving thing like herself, by this angel sprite. More abashment still to follow this afternoon in fact; further colour to be raised on Auntie’s dark skin. A splutter too that almost brought a tear. One could not read the impasse immediately. Auntie was picking at nothing on her leaf. Lost in thought was it? With a quick rinse under the faucet, this leaf could be safely served up to the next customer directly, not a problem. Picking. Grannie hovering behind Aunt’s chair. Picking; hovering. Grannie whispering as she commonly does, bending and whispering. Off she went finally did she? Auntie seemed to be trying to track her behind. No, in fact the sly old thing has rounded on the other side, stretched her arm and now was tugging at the platter. Lord almighty above! A tear might indeed have issued from our Aunt. This afternoon not only was she to have her drink delivered to her as if she were a princess, and by her own born mother risen from the darkness: now, in addition, she would have her plate collected and carted back to the kitchen by the same. Unendurable shame.
3. Food Adventure (Fennel)
An Indian of some description wants to tell you he doesn’t know fennel when he sees it. Get off the grass Mr. Billy! You’re kidding…. Bends close over the table, squinting. Never seen nor heard. The new waiter knew the Tamil word, not the English. Useless for Billy. New chap is moonlighting for some extra cash; nights works as a welding inspector. (Chennai; Billy of Ceylonese extraction; second and third generation respectively, which explains.) Seeds brought up from lunch at KV lasted the 15 minute walk and plenty left over. Uninspiring crowd; business shirts and skirts predominating as usual. Two pair of shapely legs, sleek fleshy femurs and tibias; but an old Dweeb art patron-tourist between needing a shot across his bows in order to collect the offering. Not worth the candle; might wanna talk. Talk art maybe and then Sentosa and the Night Safari. Shortly after at the bill man produced his discount card from the gallery next door. Sorry sir. Over $30. Manager Billy disappointing with finest consolatory smile. Oh!… Better luck next time, bud. Finally, ten minutes hence after a number of reconnoiters, Mr. Billy was seduced. Billy’s grandpa might have been Singhalese. Converted to marry his Javanese bride — Billy converted that is; not Gramps. Sneaky old dog always kept his second wife hidden. All the talk was of the Javanese, the two boys to her in their late twenties powering ahead, one flying Garuda and the other on the way to same, taking exams currently. Proud as punch dad; now proud dad in his dotage to a secret six month old child here in Sing. No wonder all the hours and the side-line health products. Couple of his staff hooked and trying it on customers. Feeling tired, lacking energy? Fellow had just the shot. Good gear…. No, no. Nothing pyramid about this one. This one was different. One needed to keep an open mind…. Finally, overcoming much hesitation, induced to try. Ventures two single pellets the man, pinched delicately from the napkin. The elixir of youth he kept an open mind on slugged immediately no doubt involved; an organic product proved over thousands of years from his ancestors? Gee, I dunno. You sure it’s OK? What’s it for?… Why don’t you give it your friend? Indicating the Dweeb. Mr. Dweeb immediately understood to be a ―friend‖ because of course he is White. We all hail from White-land where all the Whiteys hang together, eat at restaurants, drive shiny cars and visit tourist attractions. Goo and ga over art-jewels lighted behind glass in galleries and museums. What’s $5.90 for a cup of coffee for the likes of us?… Yeah right Mr. Billy. Sure. …Wisely pretends he hasn’t heard. Chew slowly now Bill. And don’t swallow mind…. Nods moving off to a table where he had been hailed. Still a bit dubious…. Except for the gait all bird Billy, topped by a wavy dark crest that might even be undyed. Ought to have taken to seed more easily.
4. Sparkling Form
Passing Hellos and smiles not enough for the Tamil cricketer this morning at the Mr. T. T.servery. Almost passed the man, an eruption and hand out called for halt.
No-one at the counter permitted a few free moments. This was something the Tamil Cricketer had stored up at least over-night, developed between times. It had all the hallmarks. An impromptu improvisation seemed unlikely.
The chubbier compatriot who is a little less outgoing, a tiny part less gregarious and effusive, was out of view somewhere. This allowed the whole of the floor-space to the Cricketer, from the prata hot-plate right across the servery itself with all the trays of tasty food. A good half-sized pitch approximately. As it proved, all this space would in fact be needed for what the Cricketer had in mind—the occasion had not been chosen casually.
Two long strides first, followed by a third, longer still with a little jump added. At the end there, at his halt, the Tamil turned side-on and with his right foot scraped at the floor tiles.
Ha! Righto buddy. Good one. Got you first go.
….Coming in to bowl from the western end, the pride of Tamil cricket, returning after a disabling injury, his re-entry much anticipated by the crowd in the stands here at the Chennai stadium….
There may have been a little unnecessary polishing of the ball at his groin. Quite unnecessary. Perfectly understood my good man, not to worry.
Ready then. Serve me up your best and watch-out for yourself!
Big smiles. The man knows he has been taken right off, no trouble at all. Excellent. Good morning to you friend.
The chap had out-worn the spinning delivery, either from the front or back of the hand. The dangerous rising fastball. Hits through mid-wicket and straight down the ground, the tongue-click for contact. This morning a necessary new development.
We both have some kind of loose “Christian” identity, but making something socially useful of that first thing in the morning would defeat us. Therefore this friendly to-and-fro.
A couple of weeks ago an article in the newspaper on the corrupt Indian bowler from the IPL was passed over to the man for the head-line and pictures. Sreesanth arms crossed at wrists was given a few days later for follow-up, which raised a laugh. Poor Sreesanth, tempted by the bait. A lad from a poor village no doubt, many mouths to feed. Risk worth taking. Bad luck, stiff. The reportage along the lines of bringing the noble game into disrepute, just not cricket $etc. Ho-ho. Brainless sporting journos.
Most of the second and certainly third-generation Tamils from Malaysia working at Mr. Teh Tarik have understandably lost their original language. Young Tamil construction workers from the homeland happened by every once in a while, Sundays particularly. Otherwise it was finger-pointing and some garbled terms for dishes with all and sundry twelve hours daily for the Cricketer. (Needless to say not a single word of English.)
One needed a certain inventiveness. The Tamil Cricketer a most resourceful fellow, a player for all seasons and pitches. Coming upon a pal the language barrier easily overcome. Communication, greeting, exchange—somehow or other a means found. The inventive sociability wondrous and delightful.
Difficult to credit, but perfectly true, Sundays the local Chinese here ventured over to Little India for a spot of internal tourism in order to witness the remarkable camaraderie and warmth on display among the foreign workers when they meet their own kind on their free day. Young lads holding hands like lovers, earnest eye-gleaming conversation, food on the out-spread grease-proof paper between their legs on the pavement.
Remarkable. More interesting for some than the Night Safari, the Aquarium, Marina Bay Sands and all the other attractions in Singapore rolled into one. Word of mouth in this case across the HDBs and condos for this show-stopper.
One blushes at the register paying when the Tamil Cricketer is serving. Three veg., dahl, often some fish. Three dollars. Side-ways glances for the manager; awareness of the overhead camera. Wordless business-like nod and tight smile.
About the Author
Australian by birth and Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years living and writing in S-E Asia has provided unexpected stimulus. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, including Big Bridge, Ambit, Southerly, Citron & Antigonish Reviews.