My grandfather is a teacher (note the tense). Formally, he was a teacher, but up till now, he never gave up what he had been doing all his life: teaching. My grandfather, or Tok Ayah, as we call him, used to teach Bahasa Melayu at schools during the post-World War II era. Today, Tok Ayah teaches the Holy Koran, at homes to his children and grandchildren on a monthly basis, and to his neighbors at a mosque near his house.
Once, on a long holiday after graduating from high school, I spent a week at my grandparents’ and got the chance to experience his daily routine. My grandparents live in Batu Pahat, Johor, about 4 hours drive away from Kuala Lumpur. Before Maghrib, he would get himself ready, with his favorite white jubah and neatly wrapped serban around his head. His articles would be ready on his table, several copies of it lay there, “Ikhlas” it reads. As I drove him to the mosque where he teaches, he told me about his life as a young teacher, how he got married real early, became a teacher to students only a few years younger than him, and how he made it to be the principal.
I’ve heard the story many times before, but it never bored me. I assume he’d forgotten he told me the story. As he is getting older, he keeps forgetting things. Sometimes he would forget things such as his glasses, or brought the wrong article, or even forgot the way back home. I remembered one time when we went to dinner at a nearby Thai warong. When the food arrived, my grandfather already had a fork in his hand. Just as he was reaching for the food, he stopped. “Atok kenyanglah, Opie makan la dulu. Atok nak bungkus je”.
My grandmother gave a puzzled look and tried to persuade him to eat. For after awhile of trying, he still insists on not eating. We thought that he had a stomachache or lost his appetite, so we let him be. After finishing our dinner, we decided to take the leftovers home, and so we called for the waiter. Realizing the food untouched in front of my grandfather, the waiter asked: “Atok, kenapa atok tak makan?” He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, but then he turned to the waiter, grimaced and said “Atok terlupa bawak gigi” as he pointed his fingers towards where his teeth were supposed to be. We all laughed. My grandfather smiled and his face grew red. This is not the first time Tok ayah left his teeth at home, my grandmother told me. Poor Tok ayah…
Tok ayah may be old, and keeps on being more forgetful. But one thing I am sure is that his passion for teaching will never be erased from his mind