Friday, May 20, 2011

My Mother, the Rice People and the Nail Demon

In her dedicated mission for Taufiq to get some 'smarts', I was enrolled as a student into a University. Did I get them smarts? I don't know, but I certainly got fatter. (From right; the sinner, me mum, Raja Nushirwan, Faizal and the shadowy apparition taking the picture is Shamsul)

I was never too bright. And at one time in my life, I was even skinny. When I was about 5 - 6 years old my mother's friends used to tease her, "Oh, Ba' yah, Don't you feed your son? Look at the scrawny little thing". And the fact I used to get sick almost every month finally persuaded my mother to take drastic measures. She told me a story. Not just any story, mind you, but a big whopper of a lie.

So one day, she took me aside away from prying eyes and informed her youngest son, "Peq (that is what she calls me), do you know that if you don't finish your rice, the rice left in the plate will cry." She paused for dramatic effect, then asked me, "What do you think about that then?" I found that snippet of information interesting, but otherwise I was not affected, I told her. My mom sighed and decided to bring her deception to a higher level. "Well, not only do they cry, but they get angry and will want to punish you!" Finally she caught my attention. At 5 years old, the word 'punish' is very relevant to me. "Angry? What do you mean, Mama?"

"Listen, Peq. When you go to bed, those little rice men will be hiding under your bed, and the moment you fall asleep, they will climb up and carry you off", my mother elaborated. "Whaa? Carry me off where?" I asked, staring at her fearfully. "To the sea, Peq. They will drop you into the middle of the sea." Gulp.

Even at that young age, I had a strong sense of self-preservation. Never mind that I have always been leaving rice unfinished in my plate and still woke up the next morning on dry land and in my bed. Nevermind that any other 5 year old kid would doubt the physical ability of cooked white rice to carry anyone off anywhere, I believed my mom, you see.

So from that day onwards, it became a nightly ritual for me to nervously peer under the bed to see if any of those evil little rice people were there. And I think I started to eat more too, because it was around then that I started my life-long love affair with Maggi Mee instant noodles (curry and chicken flavour) and fried chicken. Some 10 years later, she would have reason to regret her success as my mother pondered upon her fat little son's figure, and started putting me on all sorts of diets to slow down my galloping weight gain.

But I also recall another round of scaremongering by my Mum. From the particular family I was brought up in, to say 'aku' is a big no-no. What is 'aku', you ask? Well, it simply means 'I' or 'me'. But it was considered rude and common to use it, so my mom always said that if I ever say 'aku', then the 'Hantu Paku' (the Nail Ghost) will come and get me. Yes, I know, my young life was full of malicious spirits bent on killing me. Anyway, I wondered how the Hantu Paku looks like, then I saw a picture... it was in my brothers' room. It was frightening... and surely that guy on the right must be the Hantu Paku! See picture below.

Signs of my dubious intellectual standards didn't just stop there. Up to 8 years old at least, I thought that all those people being gunned down or falling off buildings in television dramas and action movies actually do in fact die. Concepts of stuntmen and special effects were unknown to me back then, but strangely I had some grasp of insurance - "Hmm...", I thought, "Maybe these are really poor people, and they take life insurance before voluntarily dying on camera so that their family can pick up the insurance claim. How sad!"

And for the longest time I also thought that raisins came from a raisin tree. But I guess one of the signal example of my hazy concept of reality had to do with cigarette butts. You see, I speak Malay, and I called cigarette butts 'puting rokok'. And 'puting rokok' in Malay means cigarette teat, so you see I at least had some rationale behind it. You don't smoke a teat... but you know...err babies... You get what I mean. Plus it sounded close to the correct word. Oh how my friends laughed when they heard me say it. No, you fool, they said, its 'puntung rokok' and not 'puting rokok'! Initially I refused to believe them, thinking my teat-theory correct, until finally they showed me a Malay dictionary. Oh... I see.

So not only can I really be dumb, but I can be stubbornly ignorant. And that is why my mother is a saint for loving me, and despite all evidence to the contrary, believing that her son is smart and would perhaps prove to be a productive human being some day. She is a mum, you see. And I guess all mothers are super-optimistic that way about their children. God bless their sweet souls...

Pax Taufiqa.

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