Heart & Soul: The Emergency years

  • Family
  • Saturday, 24 May 2014

There was a time in the country when freedom was curbed and the days uncertain.

The drone of a plane roused me from my afternoon nap. I was instantly awake because there was something about planes flying overhead that inevitably drew children outdoors to squint and search for them. Once found, they would jump and wave wildly, hoping the pilots would spot them and reciprocate.

But this was no ordinary plane. It was on a mission – to drop flyers into jungles and hilly areas where the communists were hiding. The British were employing this tactic – appealing to the insurgents to surrender – promising them a safe passage out of the jungle and a completely new way of life.
Oblivious to the significance of these “flying objects”, we children would run to catch them as they dropped to the ground. Paper planes were made from them and they provided us with endless fun as we launched them into the air.

I was living with my grandparents whose house stood on a hillock. Each time we went down the hill to the village, we had to be mindful of the time the curfew started. Everyone had to be indoors from 6pm till 6am. Anyone caught during the curfew would be taken for a communist and shot on sight. I liked this enforcement very much because everyone in the family was home every day, and the house would be abuzz with people.

Another frequent occurrence during the Emergency period was the sight of jungle green-clad soldiers with their rifles in hand and backpacks behind them as they trudged up the hill. Very often, they camped outside our house when darkness fell and they could no longer see their way into the jungle. When this happened, I was overjoyed at having another distraction to occupy me. I would go out and move among them, and at the same time, amass a small fortune in sweets, biscuits, chocolates and other goodies.

Unlike the adults who were terrified of them, I blissfully enjoyed their company. Sometimes, they would ask to buy eggs, drinking water, fruits and other things from us. They were always given what they required free of charge. In return, they would give us canned sardines and other food items which they were tired of eating day after day.

One particular incident remains etched in my memory – a humorous one at that. One evening, my maternal aunt had too much kerabu timun (a kind of cucumber salad). The sambal consisted mainly of chilli padi, a variety that drew tears to the eyes and ringing in the ears. Consequently, she had a raging stomach ache.

As it was common in those days, the toilet was outside the house, a distance away. It so happened that a group of about 20 soldiers were camping outside our house that night.

Because of the curfew, my aunt did not dare go out. Her face was flushed in her agony, and she twisted her body this way and that. My grandfather approached a soldier and related to him the dire situation. Much to my aunt’s relief, he volunteered to escort her to the outhouse and waited a discreet distance away. Then he accompanied her back to the house.

Though the adults were used to this way of life, they longed for normalcy and the freedom of movement. When the Emergency finally ended, everyone welcomed the good old days.

Do you have any real-life, heart-warming stories to share with readers? E-mail them to star2@thestar.com.my. We’d love to hear from you.

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