• Aishwariyaa Ramakanthan

“Friend or foe?”

When rumors of the Japanese invasion were rife, and the British administrators suspected that treachery was afoot, and that there were spies and Fifth Columnists, or anti-governmental elements, surreptitiously working against them, all civil servants were instructed to be wary before they opened their front door to strangers who might knock on them. They had to muster their sternest, no-nonsense voices and bark. “Friend or foe?” Probably worked well in the idyllic pre-war days of Malaya when gentlemen played by Queensbury Rules even if they were “foes”.

Learned this from my dad during our usual tea-time conversations. Of course, the “friend”, or “foe”, had to understand English first to answer the question. With his usual wry sense of humor, my dad recounted how his uncle, who was a stickler for rules and instructions from his superiors, only ended up startling his “mandor” or foreman who spoke no English, and who knocked on the door to return some keys.

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