Muar and an uncertain certainty
As promised, our cars were returned in Muar. A common trait among Japanese soldiers with whom I came into contact, was that they kept their word. Every single car was returned to its rightful owner. We had to present the receipt that was given to us, at a stipulated place in Muar to pick up our car. After this, we took a slow drive, in fits and start, to stability again under the Japanese.
My uncle, my mother’s sister’s husband and Uma Sundari’s father, was a water works inspector and so he quickly got his job back in Muar. My mother, my two brothers and I stayed with him and his family in the house which had been assigned to him by the British. If you remember from my account of those ten tension filled days when we were running for lives, my father had left us in Muar and then gone back to Kuala Lumpur to drive his fleeing British bosses and their luggage to Singapore. My uncle’s house had remained intact despite being looted during the war. Most of our things were gone but at least we had a home. Much to my relief though, the looters had no interest in books and so they had left those scattered on the floor and much to my delight, I found more books strewn in abandoned buildings.
Slowly but surely a sort of routine returned and I went back to school which had been disrupted. Curriculum was changed to include a generous portion of time devoted to the learning of Nippon-Go (the Japanese language). This was followed by Math and Asian History. Then we had music where we learned Japanese martial songs which to my twelve year old mind were very inspiring. I can still sing some of them. One sultry afternoon, there was a knock on the door and when I opened it my father, stood there, unshaven and haggard. He broke down the minute he saw us. Obviously we were overjoyed when we saw him because we had lost all contact with him and had no knowledge of his whereabouts or even if he was alive. He told us that he had driven all the way back to Changkat Salak to check on our house and belongings. But everything was gone.
Thankfully for us, rubber was an important commodity during the war years and so the plantations began to function again under the Japanese. My father quickly got a job in Nordanal Estate, about twenty miles from Muar. My mother and my two brothers moved with my father, while I stayed back because of my parents’ reluctance to disrupt my schooling again. During the school vacation period, I would bicycle those twenty miles, cross the Muar River by a row boat to reach my parents’ home on the opposite side. The picturesque sight of the verdant land on the banks of a gently flowing river with fruit trees and vegetables growing abundantly, and fruit sellers plying their trade is still so vivid in my mind. Our diet in those days consisted of millet which grew abundantly, sweet potatoes, tapioca, vegetables and fruit. Rice was scarce because ships had stopped coming in from India and China. There was no cane sugar, only palm sugar or "gula Melaka".
Decades of British rule had been replaced by the Japanese. While it is true that Malayan life settled into a sort of uneasy acceptance of its new fate, I cannot say that my life was particularly difficult or unhappy. In fact, I would find out in time that the Japanese were kind to children. I quite enjoyed going to school and generally liked my life at that time.
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Part 2 - Storm
Part 3 - Calm but murky waters