The man I call ‘The Wizard’ and I were wilting under the mid-morning sun outside Param’s house in Ampang. We had been summoned by the man two days before Param’s autobiography went to print. If our previous meetings were a reflection of what was about to happen, this was probably going to be a complete waste of time. Still, The Wizard – whose actual name is Mr. Govinda – wanted to please Param and agreed to add a few photos Param’s collection to complete the layout and design of his autobiography.
We had telephoned prior to starting our journey to Ampang from the other side of the Kuala Lumpur. Yet, at 9.45 am, we had been waiting outside Param’s house for 15 minutes.
It was Param’s voice. But where was he? We looked up and saw him standing behind the window of what appeared to be the master bedroom.
The Wizard waved and said, “OK,” relieved we would soon be out of his heat.
Another 10 minutes would pass before we heard the shuffling of feet. Param led his dogs to the back of the house before he walked towards his front gate.
While the Wizard shifted from one foot to another, I observed that Param was muttering. Although Param was barely audible, I understood what he was saying: “I am going to tell your father that I should have adopted you. You should be helping me. Not your father. I am the one who needs more help.”
The gate opened.
“Now, come. Both of you come,” we heard the man says. We’d barely taken three steps. “Sit in the car for two minutes. Ted Robinson. We have to see Robinson. He is the lawyer. Ted. Ted Robinson. Sit in the car.”
Sit in the car? The Wizard and I looked at each other. What now? From the newspapers, we knew that Robinson was a famous doctor. What did we need to see him for? What could a doctor possibly have to say about Param’s stories while he was still in legal practice? I wasn’t going to ask Param. I’d already learnt that if I asked him a question, I risked wasting at least an hour listening to stories about a by-gone era and I would be no closer to getting an answer.
Param opened the driver’s seat and was about to step into his car when I opened my big mouth and asked, “Are you going like this? In your sarong?”
True, this is Malaysia and we are so laidback that we think nothing of being seen in public dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. But to go out in sarong, a singlet and bed socks? That was extreme, even for a Malaysian.
“You see how my life is?” Param waved his hand, furious. He pointed at me, “You just get in the car. I need help and you can’t help me. We have to go to Ted. You know? Ted Robinson.”
Best not to say another word. I went round to passenger side of the car and opened the door to the backseat. The Wizard would have to help Param from now on. I was not going to be subject to any more scolding.
The Wizard and I dutifully sat in the back seat of Param’s car and listened to his monologue: “I am taking you through the back way. See. All these natakarans. These Malays have bought all these houses. See here, the judge, Salmah’s house. Then here is Viswa’s house. You know Viswa? The lawyer? Our countryman? Ceylonese fellow-lah.”
Not wanting to comment on all these rather racist comments, I remained silent.
“Ayah?” Param said suddenly, panic in his voice, using the generic Tamil term for a man. “Call Robinson’s office. Tell them we are coming.”
Since I had his mobile phone in my hand, I asked, “Shall I ask for Robinson?”
Param banged the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. “Ayah. You have been with me for so many years.” He jerked the steering wheel to the right to avoid a pedestrian. “And you still don’t know any protocol? You can’t simply call people. That’s what happened with that other lady. You called the secretary. You can’t just speak with Robinson. You’ve been with me for so long. You must help me. I tell you. Take pity on me, Ayah. You can’t speak to Robinson just like that. You have to speak with his secretary, Bhagwan.”
I gave the mobile phone to The Wizard. Let him handle this with his patience.
“Bhagwan, please,” I heard the Wizard say a few moments later.
Ooooo. The Wizard was so angry. There was none of his usual, ‘Good morning.’ Or, ‘Good morning. Sorry to trouble you.’ There wasn’t even a ‘Hello’. Just “Bhagwan please.”
With Bhagwan being an Indian word that means God, that morning, the Wizard was, effectively, summoning God.
The Wizard repeated all that Bhagwan said so Param would be aware of the arrangements being made. It appeared that she agreed to come downstairs to the lobby of Wisma Sime Dreby so that we wouldn’t have to park the car.
At that moment, Param turned into the porch of Wisma Sime Derby, put the gear into ‘Park’, leaned back and practically snatched the phone from the Wizard.
“Hello. Hello. Hello,” Param barked into the phone. In the next instant, he modulated his voice and said, “Bhagwan? This is Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ponumparam.” He listened to a response then replied, “Oh. OK. But I have a new car. The old one was red. This is silver. I will wait, OK?”
When the call ended soon after, Param threw the phone onto the passenger’s seat. To pass time until Bhagwan appeared, he restarted his monologue in clipped tones: “Now, you see, this highway. This Ananda Krishnan fellow. He’s such a millionaire now. He’s so clever. It’s as if he built it for me. Just for me. I can now go into the city in five minutes. I tell you. That AK is so smart. He made it for all these expats. They can go quickly into that KLCC shopping center. It’s so easy.”
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Param turned to his window, filled with some buttons on the side panel of his door and the glass slid down.
A Sikh lady with two plaits all the way down to her hips smiled, exchanged pleasantries with Param and pushed an envelope through the window. She then turned to look at us in the back seat. Addressing the Wizard, she said, “If you have any changes, let me know.” Ever so efficient, she then turned on her heel and walked back into Wisma Sime Derby.
Without prompt or hesitation, Param said, “Ayah? Hello? You see. This is how to help. You have been with me so long and…”
Wizard and I rolled our eyes. I’d already tuned out to what Param was saying. I was busy trying to think of how I’d explain this whole episode to my mother when we next spoke. This is what I said to Mummy: It was the day God came down. It started with two lunatics sitting in the back back seat of a car. The driver, a gifted lawyer, was dressed in a sarong, singlet and bed socks. He gave us a tour of the scenic suburb of Ampang and used a route he believed that one of the richest men in Malaysia created. Why did we do this? To collect a letter by a Mr. Robinson, which was delivered to us by none other than Bhagwan.