Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rumpus of The Rump

[Kama at six]

No one likes a prolonged hospital stay, I'm sure. Who could possibly enjoy being confined to a hospital bed and fed bland food for an extended period of time? It's like being punished for falling sick.

All my life, I was hospitalised for a long period only twice; the first time as a six year-old and the second at the age of 31 for a C-section due to breech pregnancy.

While having a C-section is nothing to shout about, my hospitalisation due to severe burns as a preschooler was traumatic to both my grandparents and I.

The tale of how my derriere got scorched would have been hilarious had it not been such a painful experience.

It is an episode that has gone down the annals of our family history, to be retold time and again for its 'mirth value'.

That my posterior has been recorded for posterity is truly not a tribute I would have chosen to remember me by. Alas, this behind has made it to the front and there's no turning back!

The year was 1960 when I ended up for one month in Bukit Besi Hospital, lying on my belly with a severely burnt rump.

Young as I was, I could remember every little detail of the events leading to that fateful moment.

It was a sultry afternoon and I was on my skipping ropes, skipping in the front yard of our kampung house with a cat on my tail. The cat jumped as I skipped, trying to paw at my feet.

The house was a wooden structure on stilts, with eight rungs of stairs. My eldest brother Yusof once accidentally rolled down those very steps, headlong into a huge basket of roti (bread) placed there moments before by our local Bengali breadman.

Those days breadmen carried their bread for sale in big wicker baskets and walked from house to house carrying those baskets on their shoulders.

Our Bengali breadman had just placed his roti-laden basket at the foot of the stairs when Yusof, then three, missed a footing and came tumbling down.

Fortunately, his fall was broken by loaves of soft bread, much to the chagrin of the poor breadman whose supply for the day was completely ruined.

Back to my celebrated rump tale; Tired from all the skipping, I ran up the stairs with the cat in hot pursuit, and plonked myself down on what I thought was a chair set against the wall.

Suddenly there was this sizzling sound and the smell of burning flesh. I screamed and passed out. The next thing I remember was lying on my stomach in a hospital cot. The pain was excruciating.

I had accidentally sat on a hot oven; that old-fashioned round metal oven with a tiny glass window, widely used for baking in the '50s and '60s.

Grandma was baking a cake and had not counted on me to come running into the house and sitting on her oven when there were so many chairs around.

I was told that my stepfather, who was home at the time, grabbed hold of me and lifted me off the oven, leaving my flesh sizzling on the cover.

He then cradled me face down and ran all the way to the hospital which was a short distance away. My aunt Wan Su, a nurse at the same hospital, took over the task of caring for me.

I remember my grandma sleeping in a bed next to the cot most nights, going home only in the morning to do her daily chores before returning again at night to keep me company.

Much later my grandmother would tell me of soft little hands caressing her face while she slept, and of Wan Su telling grandma about a little girl who died in the cot that I occupied.

Wan Su would also tell of the phantom of a young Indian woman with long flowing hair and clad in a white sari, seen most nights running past the paediatric-cum-maternity wing where I was, before disappearing into thin air.

In any case, my one-month hospital stay was a memorable one. The 'mems' (wives of Bukit Besi's expatriate staff) came in droves, bringing presents.

One particular gift I recall with such clarity was a beautifully handmade Raggedy Ann doll clad in a gingham dress.

The hair, pleated down the middle, was made of yellow wool, while the rest of cotton and calico stuffed with kapok. The doll was big, almost half my size.

The 'mems' were friends and acquaintances of both my parents and grandparents, especially grandma who was an active member of that venerable British institution, the WI (Women's Institute).

I have precious little to show for that terrible experience. The pain is long gone and the scars have faded over time.

What remains is the memory of kindness and compassion shown by a motley group of strange white women to a scared and suffering little girl.


Anonymous said...

I am just curious after reading your posting. Is your step father named Zainal who lived in Dungun after EMMCO closed down. I worked in Bukit Besi from 1962 - 1966. My name is Mohd Som. I knew both your parents very well.

MyWAM said...

Assalamualaikum. All I can say, after reading your post is... " Ouch!" Phew! I just can't imagine that, seriously.

Puteri Kamaliah At-Tarawis said...

To Anonymous

Indeed you are spot on. The late Zainal was my stepdad. He went to work in the bauxite mining company in Pengerang, Johor, following the closure of Bukit Besi iron mine
and later retired to Dungun.

Oh my goodness, I can recall you now, En Mohd.Som!

Anonymous said...

Dear Puteri,

I am truly happy. I have always wanted to get in touch with those friends of mine from my Bukit Besi days. Your father is one of them. I heard of his passing some time back. I do stay in touch with some of them and there are a few who live in Kuala Lumpur.

I was close to your father. Remember he was a keen tennis player and he was always one of us at the tennis court apart from the expatriates. I also remember that he was a regular at the Bukit Club and we played billiard a lot together. At the regular Bukit Club functions your parents would always be around. That was how I got to be close to them. Must have been on a few occasions that I visited your house in Kampong Baru. I cannot recall much of your auntie Wan Su though I do remember someone from the house working at the hospital. I do remember Wan Hitam, Aminah and Mimi at the hospital.

The lady in the house whom I called Mak Cik Bah must be your grandmother. I trust your mother is around and I would really love to talk to her.

Salam to all.
Mohd Som