Thursday, August 5, 2010

Zindagi Migzara

Dungun has now become small Peshawar. Or Colombo. Or Calcutta. Unlike uniquely Kuching in which I spent four years living as a foreigner, my hometown is not built by a multi-racial community. Dungun’s community is less heterogeneous than others of the peninsula. We lack of Indian dwellers since Independence. Arab traders of Hadral-Maut (Yemen) origin – ‘the Sheikh clan’, have been fully assimilated into Malays’ racial repertoire. We have Cambodian businessmen and businesswomen as permanent settlers of Kampung Che Lijah (‘Che Lijoh’ as we call it), well-known for their monopoly in clothing’s trade. But their presence makes no apparent contribution into our dull community because they all look like us and speak like us until they switch their fluent Terengganuspeak into their own mantra-like lingo.

Since 19th century, our community is mainly made up of Malays and Chinese. The typical middle-aged and old Malay men clamour at coffee shops to show off their skills in mind-boosting ‘dam haji’ chess game from morning until sunset while the latter, like their cousins at other places around the world, are honeybees that suck sweetness from every business opportunity they stumble upon to ensure steady welfare of their future generation.

Speaking about the youngsters, the youthful Malays, I have spotted many of my kind who chose to travel far from home to achieve their childhood dreams, which are to be top-brass government officers, doctors, engineers, businessmen, marry a pretty girl they met down the lane, have kids who can speak no Terengganuspeak, stay there till old, hardly come back to their hometown, and always dine at expensive hotel’s restaurant to end their craving for a plate of brutal-looking meal claimed to be Nasi Dagang. They might come back when longing is too burdensome to bear, but only to temporarily relieve the sickness before going back to their metropolitan life they call home.

For those who chose to stay back, they enrolled themselves into Social Study – cluttering about sidewalks, wolf-whistling at coquettish damsels of UiTM Dungun. Some found peace in the pitch darkness of beach’s night, mind wandered in fantasy, eyes half-lidded driven by the orgasmic pleasantness of overdosed marijuana. Others, inspired by the bravery of our folklore warriors, always dream of ‘mati di jalan yang lurus’ (to die on straight lane) in the mystical traditional art of ‘merempit’.

I don’t hate some of these men for their lack of purpose in town’s development (being jobless) simply because I have been told countless times that nobody wants to hire high-cost workers like them. Head of business sectors prefer cheap ones, as someone argued. That’s why we have a lot of ‘tourists’ here, except they aren’t white folks. You need to understand sarcasm.

For that reason, they brought in many foreign workers whose face like Shah Rukh Khan and Rajnikanth for lubricating the flows of business sector’s activities the cheapest way. Among these men of the newly founded community, some are very fluent in Terengganuspeak amidst their tongue-rolled Hindi accent, while others know nothing but to speak a few trained phrases like, “tipi sikit… tipi sikit… (move away, please… move away…)” and “tumpang lalu… (kindly give me some space to walk through)”.

The latter are probably in charged of sorting goods in the godown and/or transferring bulk materials from one place to another by trolleys, so they don’t have to speak out anything but that. The former are amiable with local fellow workers, which is a good opportunity for them to practice Terengganuspeak. Their local colleagues, in return, learn to sing Kaho Na Pyar Hai properly from them. This is a sort of beautiful mutualism that can be reenacted into television commercials in the future, in order to promote jobs opportunities in Dungun to their friends at their faraway homeland, hence, adding more colours into our original Dungun’s community.

As a Dungun man to the core, I don’t have any problem with them. They don’t steal my girlfriend and so far I never heard of any breaking news mentioning a group of Bangladeshi workers rob our dear Pok Eng Tin grocery store. Every day, they sweep the floor, arrange empty boxes, clean up onions from raw impurities, sing Hindi songs when boredom struck, got tickled in the hip by playful local workers, obediently go to the mosque to pray, and pedal back home while singing Hindi songs along the ride.

This means, they do have homes – the kind of homes with real living room, real kitchen, real bathroom, bedrooms, to name a few. The newcomers are now spilling out into our backyards.

I still remember one warm Dungun’s day, a rotund-faced Pakistani man came to my house. I shall name him Amitabh Batchan Khan because his salt-and-paper beard reminds me of a famous Bollywood star from the 80's. For making the image in your mind Islam friendly, I add ‘Khan’ after the first and middle name, so I hope you already got the clear image of a Khan – he must have beard, wears a white skullcap, dressed in typical grey Pakistani wear, and his speech is tongue-rolled.

We were having lunch when this weary, pity-looking man came at our doorstep. We used to give this type of beggars a bad treat in the old days but things changed gradually better when time flew. This was probably the third of a kind who came at our doorstep since a year ago begging for mercy in the name of God, religion, and laminated photos of dilapidated mosque of their homeland with a group of messy haired children squatting among decrepit old men by the dusty tarmac looking either frustrated or starving, and at the corner of the photos would be their sad-looking women caressing their babies, probably trying hard to tell a thousand and one stories with their mirthless eyes.

That day, Father greeted that middle-aged Paki but the encounter failed to breach the language barrier of either side. Amitabh Batchan Khan spoke extremely little and annoying English, no Arab, and absolutely knew no Malay.

“Urdu only,” he said.

Yu keng spiking Inggelish?” From the dining table hurrying for the entrance door, I heard Father said that. Father actually said, in his broken English, you can speak English?

“No… no…,” Amitabh Batchan Khan tilted his head to right and rose his palm facing us, stressing on what he had just said. I already stood beside Father. Father had been calling for my assistance because he knew I can speak better English than him.

“Malay?” Father asked.



“No… no… Urdu only… very, little English hai...,” the man said.

“Errr… Along. You take care of this man. I wanna go back to kitchen eating my lunch,” Father said to me, in Terengganuspeak. He hadn’t washed his greasy hands. Grains of rice were still sticking at his fingers. I thought I had a dad suffering social interaction disorder.

“Errr… I… I’m eating! Makan! Makan! Hehe,” Father said to Amitabh Batchan Khan, wagging his hand like an act of scooping a handful of rice into mouth.

Suddenly Amitabh Batchan Khan’s face glowed with excitement.

Makan?!” Amitabh Batchan Khan copied Father’s action; the tips of his right hand’s fingers were met together and wagged below his chin repetitively, sometimes he nearly shoved them all into his opened mouth.

Makan?!” he repeated it. The excitement in his face was brilliant bright, as if he was waiting for infallible hope.

Makan! Makan! Eat! Hehe,” Father said, still wagging his hand like he did recently. And off he walked into the kitchen, leaving me alone with Amitabh Batchan Khan to carry on conversation in a very awkward moment.

“Father?” he pointed at Father who was disappearing from the doorstep. “Good! Good!” he said, now poking his thumb up into the air.

“You want donation?” I finally spoke up.

“Noooo…” that was the longest ‘no’ from him. Now I realized he had the attitude of raising his palms facing the person he talked with when he’s trying convey negation.

Maybe he did not understand ‘donation’. So how about I use the simpler ‘money’ instead?

“You want money?”

“Noooo…” Now that was the most annoying ‘no’ ever heard throughout my humble experience conversing with foreigners of non-native English speakers.

Donation dun wan… money dun wan… what you wan lah?!!” I thought.

Amitabh Batchan Khan fished out two laminated red cards from his chest pocket and handed them to me. Each card had holy verses from the Quran in yellow writings printed on it. They were duplicates. I was very familiar with the verses printed on them – they were Ayat 1000 Dinar, printed by a company I never heard of but based in India. Some misguided Muslims normally framed these verses and hang it on the wall, hoping that their daily income will increase. They should have memorized them instead, not making them as open-air toilet for geckos.

Quite a manner of typical Indians conveying ‘yes, okay, alright’, Amitabh Batchan Khan rocked his head. He watched me inspecting the cards, how I gazed at the curvatures of Arabic writings, the way I took a close-up at the company’s name printed below the last verse. Then, I looked at him. He looked at me. Awkward moment.

“Oh!” Amitabh Batchan Khan took out three huge laminated photos from a black bag he had been carrying together around all day long. He presented the photos and let me had a clear view of them. Yes, as already expected earlier – photos of old mosque, scrawny bearded old men squatting whose arms like twigs of a pomegranate tree, children looked confused probably thinking of how DSLR cameras work, but Amitabh Batchan Khan had no photos of Pakistani women.

If I am allowed to scribble what he said after that, it sounded pretty much like this;

“Alhamdulillah… BismillahhirRahmanirRahim… Masjeed… Pakistan-hai… kuch-kuch hota hai, ka ho na pyar hai, mujse pyar karogi, Kashmir... Islam-hai… mere nam Khan… zindagi mohabbat… dil jayengge…”

He raised his hands twice into the air, palms facing up, sight darted into the ceiling, recited a brief prayer in mixed-up Arabic and Urdu, then continued his brief sermon in his mother tongue. Later he spoke out a line, judging by the ending’s tone, sounded like a question. Then he looked at confused me. I think I saw him poking his tongue out to dampen his lips.

Once again, it was a moment of awkwardness. What was he looking for actually?

I need to walk out from this critical situation. And I did. I left him unattended by anyone but afternoon heat, disappeared into the kitchen, and find Father. I said I need some money. Father gave me a ten Ringgit note. I hurriedly walked back to the entrance door, stepped out to see Amitabh Batchan Khan sitting on the floor, hands hugging his bended knees. He stood up. Offered him a handshake, so we shook hands, and the money slipped from my right palm to his. Before disarming, I said, “this is our sincere donation for you” and he said, “ah! Thank you! Thank you!”.

I thought he said he didn’t come here for money. Ah, nevermind.

I said, “you’re welcome”, and smiled cordially.

I wanted to see him leaving our property so bad but he did not.

Makan?! Makan?!” he said, gesturing his hand like Father did recently.

Obediently, I disappeared from the little Islamabad, past the Dungun’s living room, and looked for Mother in the kitchen. I said I need some food placed within a polystyrene container. Mother wholeheartedly fulfilled the request. She put rice into the container, topped with fried mackerel, drenched with a few dollops of curry, mustards check, and tempe check. She closed the lid of the container, put it into a plastic bag, and handed it to me.

Then I heroically passed the free meal to Amitabh Batchan Khan in little Islamabad. In little Islamabad, he said “thank you… thank you… Father-hai… good!” He still extolled Father for his kindness. What did he do that for? Father did not mean to offer him lunch. He was just trying to say that ‘I am actually having lunch’. I wondered when this miscommunication was going to an end.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

Now it was the time he should leave. He should leave.

“Water?” Amitabh Batchan Khan said.

“Excuse me?”

“Water… water…” he said.

“Err… No water. I’m sorry,” I replied. Actually I was tired of fulfilling his begging. For crying out loud, he actually made me burnt inside because I reckon he spoke nothing but gibberish. I understood no thing!

Amitabh Batchan Khan looked confused. He seemed not to understand what I had just said. I thought adding ‘I’m sorry’ there made the sentence way too sophisticated for him to digest.

“Water?” he said.

“Noooo… water!” I said, copying his attitude of conveying negation.

“Oh!” said Amitabh Batchan Khan. I reckoned he understood that. Good.

“Here?” he pointed to the floor. He was asking whether I permit him to eat the meal on the floor, right in front of our doorstep.

I was having a hard time with this Pakistani man. Father and Mother were in the kitchen enjoying their lunch and I was left alone by the entrance door to fulfill a complete stranger’s wishes. That’s too much. I thought I was going insane. Gritting my teeth wasn’t enough. I had to fight for my right through a simple but wise action.

Ekceli, you’re not allowed to eat here, man. I’m sorry. Go. Now please, go,” I said. People say, hardship can give birth to creativity. Amitabh Batchan Khan might have not understood the entire sentence, so I did a gesture to make him understand ‘go’.

“Oh. Sorry. Sorry. Okay. Salam Aleykum,” the poor Amitabh Batchan Khan said, and off he walked out from our property. I heard he said “Alhamdulillah (praise to God)”. Somebody in our house shouldn’t have let the entrance gate opened. Wait, I thought I was the one who had forgotten to close it. Serve me right. We shouldn’t have let our door open.

Note: ‘Zindagi migzara’, according to Khaled Hosseini, author of A Thousand Splendid Suns, is a Pashto expression that is equivalent to English’s ‘life goes on’. I don’t know whether or not Pashtun people are lied in the same racial background with people of Pakistan. I shall leave that as your homework. This post is not intended to downgrade either people of Pakistan or Bangladesh or people of their surrounding countries. Urbanization of Dungun is nearly impossible without these people.


  1. this post tickled me a bit. not with the foreigners from outside the country, but with water tower cafe times, i couldn't understand what they saying to me in their tar-thick sarawakian dialect, it's hard to understand, it's sounds more like he's mumbling alone.

  2. a beggar at the door is a gift from God. have a good ramadhan countdown, SirPD!

  3. I see, there are so many expats in Dungun nowadays. From what you've described, I can almost visualize, not far in the future the real Dato' Amitabh Bachan won't find it too difficult to settle down in Dungun and kasi bikin another Zindagi mere piya film, itu balakang will turn the town into a little Bollywood.

  4. jigar khoon is my favorite pashto phrase..

  5. Pepper,
    So you're actually mentioning about Unimas cafe workers. I still remember many years ago, when me and my buddies were about to have lunch at Kafe Sakura (RIP), there's a guy in charged of receiving payments from customers. He might be the owner's son.

    You know, it happened years ago. We were still freshies (first year juniors) So, we didn't know much about Sarawakian dialect (it's not a dialect, it's a language!).

    So I was gonna pay for my meal.

    "Berapa?" I said, in my perfect Bahasa Melayu Standard

    "Blurp blurp blurp," he said.

    "huh? Berapa?" I asked for one more time.

    "Blurp blurp blurp," he replied.

    I didn't understand a thing! It sounded 'blurp blurp blurp' me.

  6. The Tea Drinker,
    Yes, Maulana TeaD. Not only beggars, but all our guests are rezeki from God. Have a good Ramadhan countdown to you too.

  7. DrSam,
    Yes, one day, Dungun will become little Bollywood. I want to see Rajnikath so bad!

  8. Yohteh,
    You know what, my Mother loves that song. haha!

    "Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Rajesh Khanna"

  9. Temi,
    Jigar khoon? Bloody liver? Mind to elaborate that, miss? :D

  10. Hilarity on the double. Talking about dam haji here is a "snapshot" of old men playing it near the Dungun Pos Malaysia:

    Sunday, May 17, 2009
    "Parody D'amour, Take This Verse To My Reader" at

  11. Zaharan Razak,
    Nice post, sir! Haha! At least now I have proofs to convince the non-believers. You write good stuff, sir. I like your blog, so I'm gonna bookmark you url.

    Thanks for visiting, sir.