By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The month of Syawal signals the beginning of merriment and celebration for Muslims all over the world. It is celebrated in a big way by Malay Muslims and, being one, I was caught up in a frenzy of open houses where food, drinks, handshakes, hugs and fireworks are the norms. It will go on for a whole month thus picking an appropriate day for an open house is never a problem. You have a month to decide.
I lost count of the number of open houses I have attended but consider the one on Saturday, July 8 as the most impressive. A former colleague who served with me in the same battalion in the early 1970s had dropped hints that he planned on inviting friends and former colleagues to his raya open house in Shah Alam, Selangor.
A retired captain, he had made it big in the corporate world and is now an established developer with housing projects in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. His palatial three-storey mansion, located on a 2.5-acre land in an upscale part of Shah Alam, is a sight to behold. It is definitely larger and grander than the many that I had the opportunity to grace. It has an open 25-metre swimming pool, a sure sign of grandeur. A service lift takes guests to the viewing terrace and bedrooms. Nepali guards man the main gate. They looked menacing in their starched white uniforms and black boots but on that day were very accommodating and pleasant.
I was not familiar with the area but getting to the venue was a breeze, as the route was clearly marked. I need not resort to Waze for guidance. Two 10-seater vans were on hand to ferry guests from the bottom of the hillock to the captain’s mansion. Everything was clockwork precision. Perhaps being a former military man, the captain was meticulous in his planning.
The open house began at noon sharp on Saturday July 8 and lasted till 10.30pm the same day. Reception was held on the spacious lawn that fringed the house. Space was ample and the food served was a tad too heavy. The centrepiece was a huge lamb barbequed over an open fire and conspicuously positioned at one end of the serving area.
Our host and hostess were most gracious, greeting everyone that came with a firm handshake and a polite embrace. It looked officious but the informality was out of the ordinary. The captain is most generous and has been sponsoring functions whenever it matters. He goes out of his way to entertain his friends, especially his former army mates. This is what separates him from the rest.
The guests were from various social and ethnic backgrounds. The majority were former army officers and soldiers, and the captain’s business associates. It was an occasion for reflection, as a number of the invitees were my friends too. One guy stood out, as I had never met him since the day he retired almost three decades ago. I would have missed him had he not approached me upon arrival. His arthritic-impaired legs necessitate him to use a walking stick to move about. But his spirit keeps him going in spite of the handicap.
A widower, he survives on his pension. The monthly stipend is enough to see him through. But the fate of his family is another issue. His two sons are married, one lives with him in Petaling Jaya the other is on his own in Rawang. Both, apparently, have fallen on hard times and are working doubly hard to raise their families. Although they have a steady nine-to-five job they do not earn enough to make ends meet. His eldest son flips burgers after work while his youngest, a graphic designer, works as an e-hailing Grab Car driver. Their monthly take-home pay is only sufficient to buy basic household needs. The extra they make goes to paying their car instalments, mortgages, utility bills and other necessities. They have no savings to talk about.
The plight of my friend’s kids is not something uncommon. In fact it is endemic and cuts across the social spectrum. Most Malaysian families, perhaps not the retired captain, are in a similar situation, some worse. In Ipoh, a family of three can survive comfortably with RM2000 a month but an extra mouth will place a damper on the bread winner. Imagine the situation in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam. You need to earn more than the median salary to survive.
The situation is getting bleaker by the day, as many working Malaysians are being retrenched due to the closure of factories and businesses. Some have already closed shop. Among them are the Korean BBQ chain Bulgogi Brothers and award-winning restaurant Tim Ho Wan. The Royal Bank of Scotland wound down after more than 120 years in operation. Others are Japan Tobacco International, Rubican Technology Inc, Samsung and Suzuki Motor Corporation.
The reason has much to do with the irksome GST which has resulted in many businesses going belly up. The dwindling ringgit is another factor. And in the wake of the broadening 1MDB debacle, the future is never too rosy prompting one deputy minister to suggest Malaysians take a second job. “I’ve three jobs, Member of Parliament, Deputy Minister and Umno Information Chief,” said Ahmad Maslan.
Ahmad, Member of Parliament, deputy minister and party information chief are not jobs but appointments. You are paid handsomely for being appointed to such lofty positions. It is difficult to knock sense into our politicians, as they haven’t a clue as to how the economy works or how desperate the rakyat, which they are supposed to serve, are. Making stupid and unintelligible remarks has become their trademark of late. And this is worrying.
By Fathol Zaman Bukhari