Rekha and the Goat

When Rekha started her driving lessons, she did them around the Defence Colony grounds.

Every morning, before she left for College, the driving instructor would arrive and take her for a lesson on the open grounds that extended from the Main road that lead to the Defence Colony, to the National Highway and the War Cemetery .

This was also the open space that many of the villagers used to let their livestock loose to graze. It was not uncommon to see Red L plates weaving nervously between cattle and goats.

One morning, Rekha came back from the driving class, a little shaken. Mummy , she said, throwing the car keys on the table. I think I had a close shave . Alarmed I looked up . I almost knocked down a baby goat, she said. Thank God, I slammed the brakes in time. I agreed thankfully. Thank God Rekha , I said with enormous relief.

Neither of us thought anything more about it . We left in a little while, she for College and I for the Clinic. I picked her up after work and brought her home. Our gate is always kept locked, as the dogs would run out, given half a chance. When they hear the car horn, all 4 dogs would rush out and jump at the locked gate barking wildly. They made such a ruckus, I was sure that our neighbours, The Chadas  of 209, would have complained bitterly , or moved , if they were not passionate dog lovers themselves, with half a dozen dogs , waifs and strays in their compound, at any point of time.

Clayton our Cook , would come to the gate and shoo all the dogs behind the dog’s wicker gate, in front of the garage and close it carefully, before he opened the iron gate to let the car in. This could take from 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how frisky and excited the dogs were to see us back.

This was all the time it would take Anish, who would have come back from school and would be hanging out of his window on the first floor, to give me a blow by blow account of all of that had happened in my absence. Mummy you will never guess what happened today, he would start in his best conspiratorial voice, as he proceeded to tell me exactly what had happened. I was always so well informed before I entered the home. I knew exactly who had done what, to whom , when and where.

As we turned in, I noticed that he was more excited than usual and was brimming over with news to tell. Rekha, you know what you did… you killed a goat. You killed a goat. Rekha paled in fright. Mummy, she whispered, I never touched the goat.. She looked as if she was going to burst into tears. Calm down Rekha. Let’s find out what happened,I said, as we parked and ran in. By then Anish was doing an elaborate re-run with audiovisuals.

Luckily, Sam was at home when the Mob arrived to extort some money from us, as compensation for the goat they claimed Rekha had run over . They arrived half an hour after we had left. They were belligerent and demanded that we pay for the goat, they claimed Rekha had knocked down, during her driving lesson in the morning. We are not leaving till we get the money, they threatened menacingly hanging over the gate. Sam listened very carefully and commiserated with their loss. Of course we will pay for the goat , he said. Of course we will pay for the goat. Just bring the goat and we will pay for it.

In his mind’s eye, we were sitting down to Mutton Biriani for dinner.

The Mob was flummoxed, as they had no dead goat to produce as evidence. They conferred among themselves and said that they would come back with the Goat and left. Keep the money ready, , they hissed, as as they dispersed. We will be back, they promised.

Nobody came back and no dead goat was brought as exhibit A. Sam thought that we had seen the last of them, when a thinner, more subdued crowd arrived at the gate, with the head of a goat, at 4 pm. It was a dry specimen with no blood dripping down and it looked suspiciously like the dismembered head of a goat that is usually hung as display, at the Butcher’s shops, after the goat was sacrificed for meat.

Sam never lost his cool. A deal is a deal, he said. I told you that we would pay for the goat. Give me the goat, take the money and leave. The hemmed and hawed and shuffled sheepishly. Eventually, they left with the forlorn head of the goat, without any money passing hands. Good try thought Sam as the Mini Mob left the gate.

Rekha was visibly relieved . Mummy and Daddy she said in a quivery voice, I never killed the goat. I never even touched it. Shut up Anish. Tell him to shut up, Mummy.

She was extremely reluctant to go for the driving class when the driving instructor arrived. Get into the car , Rekha , I told her as I pushed her into the driver’s seat the next day. You did not do anything wrong . Go and finish your lessons. You did not do anything wrong.

She finished her driving course and she did get her driving license. But we could never pass a goat, a Capra Aegagrus Hircus, without Anish teasing her as only a brother can.

Look Rekha …Goat….Mutton Biriani…look Rekha…Goatie …Goatie…Goatie…look Rekha , Look…

Sam the Hoarder

Getting rid of possessions is harder than you think.
Especially if you are married to a Hoarder

Sam and I are as different as Chalk and Cheese, which may explain why we overcome the urge to wring each other’s neck and stayed married. The fact that we are good friends, must have helped too. Sam is the biggest hoarder, this side of the Suez. He absolutely hates parting with anything.

Or anyone, which also might explain why he stuck with my craziness.

On the other hand, I am the biggest non-collector, you would ever find. I go on ruthless, exhilarating, cleaning binges, that lets me get rid of the clutter in my life. The only problem is, that if I throw things out, when Sam is around, you can be sure, that dear old Sam, would sit outside with a basket to collect everything, to bring back. This ended up with no movement of throwaways. Two steps forward and one step backward. I soon realised that these spells of cleaning, had to be done, when Sam was travelling, if I had any hopes of spring cleaning to improve the Feng-shui of our lives.

One day, when Sam was away, the Church Kids of the St. Thomas Garrison Church in St. Thomas Mount, Chennai, came around collecting Bric-a Brac for their jumble sale. I was delighted to get rid of stuff and went on a rampage. I picked up some well worn shoes from Sam’s cupboard and added it onto the growing pile. Days went by and Sam came back. We went for the church sale and walked around the Stalls, browsing, aimlessly. Suddenly, Sam let out a yelp….…Susieeee…..

Imagine Sam’s shock and horror, when he recognised his Italian shoes lying forlornly, atop a pile of faded clothes, tied together with designer shoelaces. He was speechless for all of 5 secs….

Those are my Italian Shoes, Susie…..he growled, as he strode with a purposeful stride, towards the kids selling the jumble and said …Those are my shoes …I want them back…. he said, smiling, through gritted teeth. You cannot fool young entrepreneurs these days and they know a biggie, when they see one. Uncle Sam, was a great favourite with the kids at church, but, they were not going to let a deal of a lifetime, slip though their adolescent hands.

Uncle Sam , are these yours ? they asked, with an innocence that belied their business acumen. You want them back, Uncle Sam ? How much will you pay for them, Uncle Sam ?

After relentless haggling and after an indecent sum of money had passed hands, all for a good cause I might add, the kids handed over Sam’s shoes to Sam, to take home and I got the Why can’t you leave my things for me to clear, Susie lecture, ad nauseam, all the way home in an air conditioned car, with the windows up and I could not escape with my famous one-liner…. There is someone at the door….

 

The Fire at The Parsonage

We had a fire at the Parsonage, a couple of nights after my Aunt Esther and Uncle Mathew got married.

The Parsonage built on concrete pillars to survive flooding from the Singapore River, had a stilt area, below the house. This was enclosed by atap, panels made from the fronds of palm trees, to function as a huge godown. Anything that did not fit upstairs was dumped below in the atap enclosure below, which was in fact, as large as the plinth area of the house. It housed all sorts of things from old packing cases , old newspapers, broken down furniture, books, shoes, old clothes and anything else that was discarded but kept safely away, in case it came in useful later. After the wedding, the empty Fraser & Neave beverage bottles that were served at the wedding, were stored in the basement, while they waited to be collected by the distributor’s truck. Atap is inflammable and an atap enclosure with paper bric-a-brac and crates of empty glass bottles, is a disaster waiting to happen.

A few nights after the wedding, the maid went down to search for an old pair shoes. There were no lights in the atap enclosure and she did not take the battery operated torch, to search below. She tied a piece of cloth at the end of a stick, dipped it in kerosene and lit it with a match. Armed with this makeshift torch, she opened the door of the enclosure and went in. Eventually after rummaging around, she found what she was looking for. On her way out, she snuffed out the lighted torch and left it behind thinking that it had been  put out completely. Little did she know, that she had not put it out completely.  It lay in the airless atap enclosure and smouldered all night, before it blazed into an treacherous inferno, in the wee hours of the morning.

The unsuspecting family, meanwhile, had gone to bed after dinner and the family prayers. They had just had a wedding in the house and were understandably tired. They slept undisturbed into most of the night, as the wooden floors of the parsonage were covered with linoleum, a synthetic flooring that prevented the fumes from the basement, from filtering through. Eventually, my Dad woke up coughing and spluttering. He tried to get out of bed and put his foot down the floor. The floor gave way and his foot went through the plank and was scorched by the heat below.

Saramma, get up…… he shouted, shaking her.
The house is on fire
Get everyone out
Hurry up!!

Meanwhile, the Fraser and Neave bottles in the atap enclosure below, started to burst and explode in the fire.  The blaze of flames was punctuated by the crash and tinkle of glass as it flew like shrapnel out of the atap enclosure. The family, herded out to huddle on the road outside the gate, watched in horror as the Parsonage glowed and smouldered in the dark. The fire engines called in , struggled to put out the fire for what seemed ages.  Meanwhile our neighbours who woke up to the noise and heat were extremely alarmed. They threw water on their walls to prevent the fire from the parsonage reaching their houses.

My Uncle Thamby, my Aunt Gracy, their daughter Soma, my Aunt Ponnama, her son, Soman, my Uncle Philip, my Mum, my Dad, the maid and I managed to escape, unscathed, averting a disaster of frightening proportions.

My Aunt Ponnamma, (Ponnacha, Sibling 19) the youngest of the lot, was scolded and teased mercilessly, after the smoke had settled. She was caught, sneaking back into the smouldering house, trying to rescue her jewellery.

The house was in flames…. they said.
And she was running back for her jewellery
Mad nut….. they laughed.

But then, she was the youngest of the nineteen and the one with the most spirit and spunk amongst all the siblings. The Baby of the Bunch.

The burnt atap enclosure was never erected again. After the fire at the parsonage, the stilt area was left open .

 

Neighbours on Keng Lee Road

Our neighbours on the left, at No 117, were an Eurasian joint family.

Mr D’Sousa was a passionate gardener and orchidist who grew an impressive collection of orchids that hung on wooden slatted frames at the back of their house, under shaded light. The orchid garden was dotted with sprinklers that sprayed the epiphytes to bloom, given the correct amount of light and moisture. The Parsonage did not have a well kept, manicured garden. Our green zone came from the D’Souza garden, next door, with its ever greens and flowers, an absolute feast for the eyes as we looked down from our windows which was on a higher elevation, because the Parsonage was a stilt house built on pillars.

As the saying goes, Your garden is your neighbours delight or eyesore. Mr. D’Souza’s garden was our delight. It was well tended , lush and a riot of colours from the orchids, the hibiscus and the bouganvilla.  They had two kids Yvonne and Derek.  Maggie, their spinster Aunt, was an absolute angel and ever so loving to all of us , keeping in touch with the family, long after they sold the house and moved away to Thomson Ridge..

The house on the right, at No 119, was a Malay Longhouse, a timber Rumah Panjang made up of single rooms facing a long corridor, shared by several Malay families. We did not have much traffic between 118 and 119,  except when my Dad’s car would not start, when they would come willingly to help my Dad with the car. Most of the men in the long house were chauffeurs to the Expat community in Singapore. Sometimes, Keng Lee Road would look like a street of Whos-Who, when they came home for lunch and parked all the high end cars like the Mercedes Benz, the BMWs, the Volvos that they drove, bumper to bumper on the road where we lived.

Every few months one of the occupants in the Longhouse would get married.

A Malay wedding is a colourful and boisterous affair that could run into several days. The longhouse would be lit with twinkling lights and buntings giving the entire compound an air of festivity. They  would be dressed in traditional costumes. The men in caps called the Songkok, wore Baju Melayu , a loose tunic over trousers, with a sarong ,called the Sampin, bunched casually around the waist. The Malay women wore long sleeved , collarless, knee length blouses over a sarong with pleats on one side. The blouse is called a Baju Kurung and the sarong a Kain. Sometimes they wore colourful headscarves as accessories. They danced the Rongeng, swaying seductively as couples and we had ringside seats looking down at the festivities from the Parsonage windows.

There was never a dull moment at the Christ Church Parsonage on 118 Keng lee Road.

 

 

 

 

The Parsonage revisited in the 80s

Sam and I, went back to visit Singapore, after a fairly long spell away, with our teenagers Rekha and Anish. Sony my cousin, drove us to Keng Lee Road, after the 8 am service in Christ Church. He confessed that he never drove down that road much. I looked out of the window and I could not recognise anything. Everything looked different. Spruced up, modern and different. He slowed down, as we cruised down Keng Lee Road. He stopped at an ornate gate, that had a brass number plate, that indicated that it was 118 Keng Lee Road. The Parsonage, I remembered had no number plate . Everyone knew where the Parsonage was on Keng Lee Road.

I was having difficulty focusing on my surroundings. It was turning into an out of body experience, as I watched myself spin in disbelief and denial. The Parsonage was not there. My home was no longer there. In its place stood a magnificent modern multi storey house that I could not relate to at all. I felt so lost I could have cried. I insisted that we get down and meet the new owners and say hello.

I have to go in…. I cried
Don’t be silly, Susie…. said Sam
You can’t barge in and disturb people
They’ll think you’re mad!
I have to.… I said opening the car door.

Sony just laughed and said nothing at all.

We were welcomed extremely graciously, and fed and watered with traditional Indian courtesy. Though extremely polite, they were most bemused, to see a middle aged stranger,walk in unannounced, babbling on about the home she had lived in years ago.

Sony understood my bewilderment. He heard my heart break, as I lost the last Bastion, of the memories of my childhood, my Mum and my Dad. He knew what I was going through, as he was one of the 14 cousins who grew up with me in Singapore. He knew the enormity of my loss as much as I did. The Parsonage at 118 Keng Lee Road had been an anchor to all of us. A safe and secure safety net . It was home to us and to many others who had come to Singapore seeking employment.

Many had stayed with us, till they had found jobs and accommodation before they moved on to homes of their own. My Mum had delivered many of the Congregation Babies in the Parsonage. New brides who arrived in Singapore from India landed in the Parsonage. Couples started life in the Parsonage. Many a rocky marriage was counselled and rescued in the Parsonage. I could go on. And on. And so would many who knew my Mum and Dad and who had been part of their warmth and generosity, in transit in Singapore. The Parsonage at 118 Keng Lee Road, was much, much, more than a mere address.

Sam, understood a little, as he had stayed in the Parsonage, after we got married. The children were clueless and distinctly uncomfortable as their mother, proceeded to embarrass herself, prancing around the premises trying to recreate a cameo from the past.

Let’s go, Mummy.… the kids begged as they tugged at my hand.
Let’s go ,Come, Mummy …….What are you doing, Mummy….?!

Eventually, Sam, the kids and Sony had to remove me physically from 118 Keng Lee Road, before I made a maudlin fool of myself in front of absolute strangers.

I left 118 Keng Lee Road, for the last time, with mixed feelings.

I left, closing the door to a vital part of my life and development.

I left, mentally genuflexed, thanking God for His Infinite Mercy, Goodness and Love to all of us ….my Mum , my Dad, to me and to all the people who had touched our lives when we stayed at the Parsonage , at 118 Keng Lee Road.

Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot……

The Violin, the Piano and I

One fine day, My Mum and Dad decided that I should learn the piano. We went shopping and they bought me a Petrof . It was a beautiful mahogany with gleaming ivory keys. A real beauty with a lovely sound.

They managed to find a music teacher who would come home and do the lessons once a week . Mrs. Kong , my music teacher was an elderly Chinese lady, who found the afternoon heat and the steps of the parsonage difficult. When I saw her open the Parsonage gate, I would open the piano to practice. Once a week she would huff and puff her way up the steps and collapse on our sofa in the sitting room, fan herself , sip her water with her eyes closed and whisper So hot lah. So hot lah…It would take her a good quarter of an hour to recover, which suited me quite well as those 15 minutes came out of the music class. When I played the wrong note she would rap my knuckles.

We did the Pianoforte books and she taught me The Maiden’s Prayer, with the hands crossing over at the keys, something I enjoyed doing to show off.  She would scold me about practicing the lessons and the scales all the time. Where she left off my Mum would take up.

Go and practice the Piano , Susie . Go !

Mrs. Kong sent me up for the Trinity College exams, in the days when the examiners used to come out from England to Singapore to conduct the exams. The first year that I did the exams, Mrs. Kong’s sister died very suddenly. I passed. The second year that I did the exam, the music examiner died the day after I did my exams and was buried at sea. I passed. The third year that I did my exams , my music teacher Mrs. Kong passed away a few days later. I passed. My passing a music exam was always associated with a death, it appeared. I never had a music teacher after her and the piano got played less and less.

Just after that, my Mum and Dad decided that I should learn the violin. We went shopping and we got a beautiful Stradivarius in a sleek matte black case. They found a gentleman who came home to give me the lessons. I do not think he made a lasting impression with me, because I cannot for the life of me remember his name. I stuck my reluctant chin on the chinrest for a while and with the passage of time, it hardly saw the light of day, as I did not enjoy the violin at all. All I could do was to get it to screech.

In all fairness my Mum and Dad did their best to give me every opportunity possible. If they could have packed it all for me they would have.

The poor dears.

 

 

 

My Stylo-Milo Mum

My Mum had good taste in jewellery and sarees.

She liked shopping for jewellery. She usually collected pieces throughout  the year.  She would wear them and then gift them to her siblings and their families on her trips to India. My Mum was quite Stylo -Milo. She used to have a beautiful collection of Sarees and Jewellery,  none of which lived with her for too long.

Brooches are out of fashion now , but I remember my mum having a impressive collection of brooches that she used to pin her pleated saree on her left cover.

My Mum had a collection of handbags, with short straps, that she wore on her right, flexed-at-90-degrees-forearm, pressed close to her body. Inside every handbag, there was a small, ornamental, oval or round, powder compact, replete with a mirror. Each handbag, would have a folded handkerchief, with a lace trim and a small dark blue bottle of parfum, usually the Evening in Paris. The purse and wallet would move from bag to bag , while the other occupants of her handbags were permanent residents of a particular handbag. The bag sometimes contained letters from her siblings in India that she carried around with her. I suspect she read them whenever she had a spare moment . I used to love sniffing her bag whenever she opened it. She did not like me rummaging in her handbag. That was a definite no-no.

Sometimes when someone you love dies, a whiff of a smell from the past, can cause a cascade of nostalgic memories, to come tumbling out. For a long time I used to remember my Mum with the smell from the little bottles of perfumes that I associated with my Mum’s handbags.

Serangoon Road

Mr. P. Govindaswamy Pillai, was a migrant entrepreneur, with a few outlets in a block of shop houses on Serangoon Road. His, was a success story of a hardworking South Indian Tamilian. A self made man who started from scratch. As shrewd, as you make them, he ran a successful family business, without graduating from any business school. He retained a loyal customer data base, by attending to them personally and attentively, pleasing them with his stocks and service. Anything Indian, or specifically South Indian, that you needed for any reason in town, be it powdered spices, agarbathi, virgin coconut oil or  gunguroos,  he would pull out from the orderly chaos in the Provision shop. Or he would source it for you. What he did not have, he would get for you.

He had a flower shop outside the provision shop that sold flower garlands, temple offerings , beetle-nut and coconuts. If you stood on Serangoon Road with your eyes closed and breathed deeply , the aromas and the smells wafting up, would have transported you back to any street in T Nagar in Madras. Most Indian families needed their weekly day out, at the Serangoon Road shops to revive and rejuvenate. It helped keep them stay grounded, as Indians on a cosmopolitan island.

During Diwali, they would sell firecrackers and sparklers, the Puthiris. His prices were fixed and fair, so bargaining was not entertained. He could do mind boggling mental maths, in Tamil,  several pages long and there would be no mistakes at all.

One of his shops, was a cloth shop that sold the easy maintenance, Nylex sarees rolled on cardboard cylinders. stacked upright on long, shallow shelves that displayed their colours and print. These were really not customised sarees . They were imported bales of printed nylon, produced by the masses at Japanese Textile factories . These bales were the breadth of a saree, which when cut 6 yards, would drape as a flattering saree, that slimmed you down. They were lengths of colourful, characterless prints that repeated itself, for all of the 6 yards, with no borders or palloos, or head pieces. They were perfect for the working Indian ladies for whom, a wash and wear convenience superceded all else.

If the print was on the shelf, at least two of the shoppers, at any point of time, in the shop, would be wearing it . They were popular as presents, to take back to the relatives in India, as they were branded a bargain. Cheap-n-Best. For the more traditional silks and heavy wedding finery , one sailed back to India to shop. This did not always work out well, as you had to depend on someone else’s kindness, to shop for you, if you were not able to go back to India. Sometimes, the merchandise the kind shopper brought back, would be an unmitigated disaster . When it came to tastes and prices , many a friendship was strained or sacrificed.

The Gold Shops on Serangoon Road were Indian and reflected the obvious display of wealth-worn-on-person. The gold medallion was deep bright yellow, the colour of sunshine, butter and ripe lemons. The patterns and forms on the jewellery were bold not delicate or subbtle, to reduce wastage. They  weighed a ton. No one kept their jewellery in bank lockers those days and on festive occasions and weddings, everyone wore everything everything they owned, even if it choked you and covered you, from your chin to your chest and restricted your neck movements.

 

My dancing years

To ensure that we kept our Indian-ness, my friend, Preima Doraisamy and I were sent off for dancing lessons to KP Bhaskar, the Dance master who taught the classical Indian dance form of Bharathanatyam to the Indian kids in Singapore .

I dreaded going for the classes. We had to be dressed in a punjabi costume, which is what they called a salwar kameez, with a sash tied around our waists. Strapped around our ankles were a pair of ghunghuroos, musical anklets strung together with small metallic balls that accentuated the rhythm of the dance when we moved around the hot sultry room, smacking our bare feet on a mosaic floor, under a solitary fan, that was in no hurry to move at all.

The Dance Master had us in straight rows, one behind the other, dancing in time to the beat that the Veshti clad Mrithangam players meted out seated on the floor, in a corner of the room. The Dance Master was extremely strict with extremely sharp eyes that picked up all the flaws in our movements. He would walk around the line of dancers with a pair of metal castanets, wound around the fingers of both his hands and a small cane. The castanets would be snapped with great authority, to keep us in line. When we slumped and slouched in untidy clusters, he would whack the cane in the air, making a terrible swoosh sound that made  us jump several feet high in sheer fright. When he taught us to move our eyes upward, I was sure mine were going to pop out of their sockets and roll off the floor. No matter how much he tried, I could never get my head to move from side to side.

Once a year, he would produce a grand dance performance to  showcase his pupils. I remember we did Shakunthala once in which Preima and  I were birds in the forest sequence. For our stage performances, we were put into elaborate scratchy and intensely uncomfortable silk costumes, into which we sweated profusely, under the glare of the stage lights .  The tight fitting blouse had short fitted puff sleeves. The pants had an extra piece stitched on in front which opened out as a pleated fan when we moved our legs. For headgear, we had a hair piece intertwined with jasmine flowers as a plait that fell all the way down to our knees.

The weekly classes, were held in a lane off Serangoon Road, which worked out well for all the mothers, who would drop us off and head for The Govindaswamy Pillai’s shops to buy their groceries and to visit the saree shop that was invitingly open seven days a week. I suspect many of us were sent to the classes so that the mothers could do their weekly shopping.

Neither Preima or I enjoyed our Barathanatyam classes.  We suffered it for a while and were enormously relieved when they dwindled and stopped.

For a very brief period,  I was enrolled to the Ballet classes run by Vernon Martinus and Frances Poh. They had a dance studio in their early days, in the early 50s, near the parsonage on Keng Lee Road, well within walking distance which was extremely convenient. The ballet classes were a far cry from the Barathanatyam classes on Serangoon road. The venue was a charming house  with large windows that looked out onto a lush garden. The ambience was definitely more appealing. The room was large and airy and had polished mirrors on all the walls, that allowed you to see multiple images of yourself, any which way you turned. . A piano played quietly in the background. There was no stick swooshing in the air. The dresses were less cumbersome and the pink ballet shoes with their ribbon ties, were quite enchanting.

Sadly, they moved to their new premises as a Ballet Academy and my pirouettes came to an abrupt and rude halt ending my dreams of becoming a ballerina.

 

My Mum the Bargain Machine

I used to accompany my Mum on her shopping trips. We used to shop at the Tekah Market for vegetables, meat and fish. There were no fixed prices in the 50s. You had to bargain, a skill you earned with practice.

Everyone bargained.

It did not matter if you walked on foot, or cycled down the street. It did not matter if you got down from a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. Especially at the Chinese shops, when you felt that you were at a disadvantage, because you could not speak the language. My Mum and her regular vendors had a predictable song and dance routine. She would pick up something and ask the Chinese towkay how much it costed.

Ten dollars, lah, he would say.

My Mum would start at two dollars, while I stood there mortified, pretending that I had nothing to do with the lady.

Aiya , how can , lah ? 9 dollars okay, lah,  He would say.

My Mum would put it down and walk away. The towkay would call her back every time. And she would return every time. My mum would inch her way up on the price, dollar for dollar and the towkay would climb his way down, dollar for dollar , muttering and cursing in chinese under his breath. They would do a verbal tango, every single time, to reach around five dollars, half of what was quoted to start with. If you saw them in action, you would have never believed that it was a well rehearsed routine.

When Sam and I  got married , my Mum had invited everyone who had touched our lives during our stay in Singapore. The Church and the Pandals that had been erected outside, were packed and overflowing. Amongst all the friends, relatives and church members, sat all the vendors and tradesmen she had invited.  They had very sweetly turned up, dressed to grace the occasion. They were an important part of our lives and my Mum had made it a point to include them on the big day.  Various cousins were assigned to usher them in when they arrived.

The Goldsmith who had pierced my ears was there.  Mr. Govindaswamy Pillai who had seen me grow up  was seated  in the pews. Every regular vendor , tradesman, dustman and duke they had interacted with over the years, was seated in Christ Church and in the chairs outside, clutching confetti in their hands.  Even the elderly butcher from Tekah Market , they threatened to marry me off to if I didn’t eat my veggies, was there, grinning from ear to ear. I could not  recognise him, as he was dressed, in formal clothes with his shirt tucked in. He was not his usual loud and burly self in a sleeveless vest,  blue-grey checked lungi, wielding a cleaver. The transvestite Appam person with the smiling eyes, who supplied us with the fluffy rice pancakes was sitting next to the Butcher, beaming. Over the years , they had all grown to be regulars in my Mum’s world.

My Mum had started as a diaspora fresh off the boat, but over the years that she had lived and worked as a doctor in Singapore, her cosmopolitan list of friends and acquaintances, from all walks of life would have made an impressive Forbes List.

Quite remarkable for someone who was handicapped, with a hearing challenge.