Life in an estate
Change has crept in over the years but the warmhearted simplicity of the people remains.
IHAD just finished my LCE (Lower Certificate of Education, now PMR) when my father told us of his plans to leave our rented house in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, and move in with my brother in a rubber plantation near Kluang, Johor. All our pleas fell on deaf ears.
With a heavy heart, I left KL together with my parents and five siblings and arrived in Kluang on a wet, dark night. The road in from the entrance of Ladang Bukit Benut was more of a gravel pathway, filled with potholes. It was hedged on both sides by tall rubber trees with thick lush undergrowth. Except for the lights of cars, it was pitch dark and creepy.
If first impressions are anything to go by, our house looked bad. It was a big spacious bungalow with lots of land all around. Little did I know then that the better part of my life would be spent here.
On rainy days, the tap water used to look like diluted teh tarik. We had generator-produced electricity from 4.30am to 6.30 am, and again from 6pm to 11pm. But there was never a shortage of servants. Many would come to our house at night to watch television, and on days when Tamil movies were screened by TV Singapore my house would be like a mini theatre.
I started Form Four in Canossian Convent Kluang and for the first time in my life I enjoyed going to school as the bus was filled with young, boisterous and playful teenagers. The rapport between teachers and students at school was also good.
The bus driver would pick us up from the estate and send us back on good clear days. On rainy days it was a different ball game altogether. He would take us to the entrance and we would have to walk about eight kilometres into the estate. But we would make a fun job of it.
I completed my Senior Cambridge, but as my parents were adamant that girls should not go out to work, I got married and settled down in this sleepy hollow.
Life was very boring in the beginning and all our attempts to leave were in vain. In the 1980s, the era of European managers came to an end. A Malay manager took over and the first thing he did was to propose a staff club as all work and no play was making his staff dull, he said. Once the club was ready, a committee was formed to plan and execute activities for the staff and their families.
Slowly things began to move. It started with badminton in the evenings. Then volleyball, table tennis, darts and carrom were introduced. From monthly gatherings to annual meetings and dinners, there was plenty of friendly competitions, prizes and good food all the way.
The manager did not stop at that; he arranged for inter-estate games, after which he would take us for dinner at open air stalls. Since my husband and I were both interested in sports, we got to go everywhere. It was not about the games or the food; it was the camaraderie that we enjoyed.
The activities continued when the next manager took over. On the personal front, I attended a kindergarten teachers’ course conducted by Persatuan Tadika Malaysia at Universiti Malaya. When the estate started a “playgroup” for the workers’ children, I was their choice of teacher.
While their peers were enjoying discos and the like, the estate children had to be content with “happenings” in the estate. This augered well for them as many of them excelled in their studies and went on to complete their tertiary education in established universities.
I do not know if it is the rising cost of living or the escalating price of palm oil, but it is all back to square one now.
The club still stands, albeit a white elephant now. But things have improved tremendously, with treated water, 24-hour electricity supplied by TNB, telephone service, etc. Most of the estate workers own cars and the company has built lighted, fenced parking lots for them. Health and safety is given top priority by the management.
Although many things have changed, one thing is still the same. That is the warmheartedness, humility and simplicity of the people, irrespective of race, colour or creed.
My parents have passed on, my siblings have left for greener pastures and my “birds” have flown the nest. Soon it will be time for us to leave, but I shall carry with me fond memories of my life in an estate. n Old is gold, and bold. So, let us hear what you have to say, about whatever excites you, makes you happy, sad or concerned. E-mail your views to firstname.lastname@example.org. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and telephone number. in July; the last test showed “no evidence of active lymphoma”. So I am now happily in remission and have started tucking into lunch or dinner buffets, and am back to mingling socially without my “mask”. It’s so good to get out there and feel more of the sun and wind, to freely browse at the supermarts, be part of the noisy crowd in coffee shops, gingerly devour durian and move around again like any healthy Malaysian!
But I’m more careful now with my food and conscious about the limitations of ageing mobility. We’re born with an imperfect body and are susceptible to “attacks” internally and externally. But we should respect our body, for we live within it. We need to remember that overall care encompasses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
God does not play favourites – disease and disaster can affect the good and bad, the rich and poor, and whatever colour or creed. He gives us the free will to do our part, so let’s be more responsible and not be carried away by greed or laziness, anger or stubbornness.
Now that I am “liberated” from the chemo sessions and their side effects, I still feel a glow at having been on the receiving end of so much love and concern. To all those who have contributed towards my well-being, thank you.
Yes, I keep counting my blessings, and there are times I remind myself to count them twice! And so, for me, another chapter begins.