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FOND MEMORIES: A childhood home, and village, show signs of neglect
RECENTLY, after a long lapse, I returned to a place where some of the early brush strokes that eventually painted my somewhat colourful life were made. They say no matter how far we venture, some of our past will always be waiting for our return.
The old timber house I grew up in stood in that glorious late afternoon light when I arrived, but clearly with its last ounce of strength, having fought in the intervening years after it was left to fend for itself, what must have been a long, lonely and losing battle against the elements. Termites call it home now as one by one the once smoothly-planed plank walls that kept out the rain, heat and dust succumb to the insect's insatiable appetite.
In what was once the living area, an old calendar flapped from a gust of wind blowing that evening. It was the type that feature dates for horse racing meets. The year was 1990.
It was as if the people who once lived there woke up one morning and simply decided to leave. They did not even bother to bring the light blue nylon window curtains down.
A village at the end of the road, the place in a far-flung southeastern corner of Negri Sembilan, has seen better days. Like many other rural places, Kampung Kuala Kepis was once a hive of Malay community living.
Almost everything, from farming to holding wedding feasts, was done in the community spirit. Children ran around the village like chickens out of their coops and the padi fields and a river that flows nearby were our playground.
Behind my house, there must have been a hundred or so mature fruit trees I could climb on a moment's notice and when I looked at the backyard on my return, I could almost picture buffaloes wallowing in the thick dark brownish mud that once was a padi field.
But like others too, the village could not match the attraction of the bright lights in the cities. Soon, working the fields became tedious, hot and dirty as more children from the place were exposed to the outside world. Even developments such as paved roads, electricity and piped water weren't enough to persuade the younger generations to stay.
Eventually, Kampung Kuala Kepis lost its youths as more left for jobs in air-conditioned offices in the cities. What's left of rubber plots and padi fields that have been passed down from generation to generation are now worked upon by foreigners.
For a while, those who left came back sometimes to visit their old folks and the place became alive, especially during Hari Raya. But when their old folks passed on, the visits became less frequent and eventually stopped altogether.
For many, the village is now nothing more than a distant memory. It is now home to largely old folks who spend time pondering about what's left of their lives. When they sit down for coffee or tea, the topic will invariably touch on matters such as diabetes, stroke, glaucoma and other ailments common among older people.
When I sat with an uncle that evening over a cup of hot black coffee, he spoke mostly in the past tense. Even his memory was beginning to fail him. At close to 80, he has little else to look forward to.
On my way out of Kampung Kuala Kepis later, I stopped by my parents' graves to pay my respects. The four tombstones are probably the last physical ties I have left with the place. The rest are all fond memories.