APPA or Ganeson as he was known to friends and colleagues, turns 95 this year.
He sits in his rattan chair, holding my hand tightly. There is a sense of anxiety and I whisper Nanthini’s and my name.
His brown eyes light up as they fall upon her – his special grandchild who is dyspraxic, and whom he loves dearly.
His memories are dim but my father, who taught me so much about life and how to stand tall despite the challenges, is my rock.
Unlike my mother, who arrived in Malaya after her marriage, Appa came from Sri Lanka at the age of 10 in search of a better life and a better education to help his family. He was determined to give them financial security.
As a young impressionable child, I saw my father’s life as a kaleidoscope of colours. He was an outstanding athlete, a good cook who could always whip up an array of delicious dishes at a moment’s notice, and a loving man who always put his family, friends and relatives first.
Appa came to Malaya accompanied by his paternal uncle Ponnuthurai, who was already working in Kuala Lumpur at that time.
I was hypnotised by stories of the sea journey from Sri Lanka to Port Swettenham (today Port Klang), and how my grandfather, Ramalingam, who was a travelling salesman, rushed to the port to say goodbye to his son, not knowing if he would ever see him again.
My grandfather died not long after and it proved to be the turning point in my father’s life.
From then on there was no turning back. He was adopted by a Sri Lankan family who had no children of their own. Appa stayed in Kajang.
By all accounts, my father excelled in school and was a top sportsman for Kajang High School but things took a turn for the worse when his adopted father passed away. It was then that Appa decided to apply to Victoria Institution in KL.
Appa’s Kajang School Certificate described him as being of excellent character, a prefect and also a member of the football and cricket team in the school.
Appa went on to apply to Victoria Institution as he wanted to join the Science stream.
After completing his studies with a Grade I, Appa then applied to Technical College. Unfortunately money was short so Appa teamed up with his best friend Maniam, and worked double shifts at the airport to pay his way through college.
It was taxing but Appa managed to graduate and was posted to the Public Works Department in Melaka.
He would ask young men with athletic abilities to join the department and trained them to be sportsmen. He also encouraged many to not give up on their studies and convinced those from poor families to apply for scholarships to complete their higher education in universities.
To him, education is the key and the pathway to success.
Appa had even invited our gardener’s two sons to join our tuition classes at home. They were bright and eventually they successfully applied for state scholarships and were accepted into public universities.
When I bumped into them years later, they were unrecognisable. With polished professional backgrounds, they expressed their gratitude to Appa for his encouragement and help.
Appa is accepting even when things did not go his way. I qualified for the Science stream after sitting for my Form Three exam but I preferred the Arts. It was unheard of in those days to switch streams.
Appa took it in his stride and wrote to the state education department to explain the reasons why I should be allowed to change streams.
I joined the Arts stream and even went on to win a prize for Literature. Most importantly I was happy.
Later in life, I realised that Appa was compassionate and had a big heart.
Many people would turn up at our doorstep asking for help especially when it came to weddings and funerals.
My mother would sometimes shake her head at the amount of time my father took to help others, especially elderly widows who had no transport and no one else to turn to.
Today in the twilight years of his life, Appa is still remembered for his good deeds and sacrifices. What he taught me and my siblings will forever be etched in our memory, his love remains unconditional.
Did you find this article insightful?
88% readers found this article insightful