Yours truly over here is feeling a nostalgic over the whole Merdeka thing. And you can safely conclude that I am categorized in the ‘ I need to get some rest since it’s Merdeka today’ group. But, Merdeka never failed to remind me on pre- Merdeka stories my late grandmother used to tell me when I was a little girl. And so, I find it’s appropriate to share her story with you guys today since it’s Merdeka.
Now, when I was a little girl my father would often go back to his hometown to visit my grandmother, and I was quite a fussy eater back then. I would want chicken and all sort of seafood as a side dishes in my rice, because being a firstborn child in my family, my father and mother ensure that I was properly nourished with varieties of food.
As a result, each time we go back hometown, my late grandmother would have trouble trying to feed me with the simple ‘kampung’ food that she cooked for my meals, because it usually consists of fried eggs or some salted fish. Meals in my grandmother’s place are usually kept simple, unless there’s festive occasion or birthdays. Being a wise woman she was, she would try to persuade me to eat the simple food that she cooked by telling me stories on how her life was during the Japanese occupation. She would try to spoon feed me while telling how hard it is during her youth and how lucky I am to be born after Merdeka.
Asking her why, she’d tell me that when she’s younger, she lived in terror every day, and would have to hide at home for fear getting raped or murdered by the Japanese soldier. Sometimes, when the Japanese soldiers goes to the village to get their suppliers, my great grandfather would rush all of his daughters to hide in the underground bunker that was built to shelter the entire family from bombs that the Japanese drop from their aircraft.
My grandmother and her sisters would then stay in the small bunker quietly, not even daring to sneeze out of fear for the Japanese soldiers. Sometimes, they would have to go into hiding for more than one day, and they would have to go hungry because back then during the warring state, food was very scarce. I was told that each time they go into hiding, my great grandfather would only give them some water and some corns and boiled tapioca which was grown in the backyard so that they won’t starve to death. They were told not to eat the food that’s given to them unless they are really hungry.
My grandmother and her sisters knew that if the Japanese soldiers found out that their father has been hiding them and refused to hand them over to be used in bed as sex slaves, their father’s head would be rolling if the Japanese soldiers decided not to shoot him to death. So none of them voiced out complaints, even though they have to stay in the dark bunker and go hungry for a few days. Imagine how horrible their life was back then. They can’t even stay in their own house feeling safe.
When the Japanese soldiers finally went back to their base or to battle, my great grandfather would go to the bunk and tell his daughters that it’s safe to come out and stay at home, and they would resume their daily lives by helping him out in the garden. Back then, people have to plant or hunt their their own food, otherwise they’d go hungry. And trade among the villagers are not done by using money, but they bartered their goods to get what they really need.
Every now and then, my great grandfather would treat his family with good food to eat. Good food that my grandmother meant was porridge and fresh eggs cracked into it with some fish that my great grandfather fished out in the nearby river. I was told that my great grandfather goes fishing often, but usually the fishes that he caught would be bartered with other basic necessities that’s deemed more important for the family’s usage.
Porridge was considered a luxury, because they cannot afford to cook rice out of the grains as rice was so scarce back then. My grandmother’s family would be jumping with joy each time they’re able to eat porridge with eggs and fishes. It’s a gourmet meal to them as they usually survived on boiled potatoes, corns and tapioca served with some sugar or shaved coconuts.
Maybe most of you were wondering why rice was so scarce back then. Well, most of the rice produced have to be handed over to the Japanese soldiers. If the villagers refused to hand over the rice that they produced, oh boy, they’ll get into trouble…or rather, buried six feet underground after being shot to death.
During the Japanese occupation in Malaya the Japanese soldiers were downright cruel, and most were under the influence of Shabu, a drug used by the Japanese government on their soldiers to make them more courageous during their battle with the enemies. That actually explains why most of the soldiers back then are as heartless as a predator hunting it’s prey. They were actually turned into a crazy fighting machine by their government.
The meals that’s been put on the table in my grandmother’s household did not improved much until years after Merdeka, probably during Tun Abdul Razak’s time, where things started to get better as Malaysian economy started to improve slowly and steadily.
My grandmother’s pre-Merdeka’s story usually manage to coax me to eat almost everything that she cooked for me back then. Thinking back, I really do liked the way she tells her stories that sometimes, I would give her hard time on purpose during my meal time just because I wanted to listen to her stories.
As my trip down the memory lane ended, it hits me. We’re actually very lucky to be born and raised in an independent Malaysia. We should thank God that we do not need to go through what our ancestors had to go through. They had to suffer insecurities and starvation in their daily life. Being born as an Anak Merdeka, I could not imagine their hardship, as standard of living today is way different from my grandmother’s time.
I may not know much about the times before independence, but I know one thing, which is we should not allowed what our forefathers fought so hard for be destroyed by unscrupulous and corrupted leaders. Malaysia will also slowly sink if youngsters today are not aware of what’s going on in Malaysia and only leave the ‘nation building’ responsibilities to the old folks. Malaysia was not built in one day, but it can easily be destroyed in one day if all the leaders of today and tomorrow think is their own benefit and pleasure instead of the nation’s interest.
Cleffairy: Whatever ‘Merdeka’ means to you, let’s uphold our nation’s sovereignty by doing our part as Malaysians in our own small ways and never forget to teach our children good moral values so that they will know that Malaysia was not built overnight. This way, they would be more grateful and appreciate what they have today better. Happy Independence Day, everyone.