When my grandfather went into a coma in November 2002, one of my first thoughts was that he would still be able to hear me. That’s what people say about someone in a coma, I told myself, he can still hear us and might just wake up.

So for the next four months, I spoke to my grandad while he slept. I told him I was tired of my job and that I wanted to leave. I told him I planned to take a few months off to travel but that I would come back when he woke up.

I also read to him while he slept. My grandad was and still is, the most well-read person I’ve ever known. He was always reading something- TIME, National Geographic, anything. He always amazed us kids with what he knew. Every morning, we would hear his slippers shuffling all the way from his room to the breakfast table. After he plonked himself down on his chair, he would look at us and say, “Do you know that they found some new dinosaur bones in the Gobi Desert? I read about it last night. Do you know where the Gobi desert is?” and we would wait for him to tell us, because we wouldn’t know. If he wasn’t talking to us about dinosaur bones, it would be something else, something scientific. My grandad was a doctor and even after he stopped working, he was always interested in finding out about new discoveries and new medicines.

My dear old grandad was reading right up to the moment he got his stroke. When we cleared his room after the ambulance took him to the hospital, his copy of ‘Frankenstein’ was on his bed, next to the space where he should have been laying.

I visited my grandad’s grave in Malacca a few days ago. His grave lies under a tree which has white flowers if you visit at the right time of the year. When I saw his grave, it looked like that of a much shorter man. My grandad was tall, definitely a six-footer. But it was more than just his height. When I was in school, I didn’t look up to him just in the physical sense, I looked up to him in every sense of the word. Or maybe he just seemed tall, like all grown-ups do when you’re just a child. I tried to think of my grandad, my tears falling as I picked up the dried leaves and twigs on his grave. Am I not remembering him correctly? If he was so tall, why is his grave so short? I couldn’t understand it.

When I look at the rows of unread books in my room- I have a habit of buying books when I see ones that I like, not necessarily when I’ve run out of reading material- I think of my grandad’s old house in Malacca. I think of the hundreds of TIME, LIFE, National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines dating from the 1960s which my mum, aunt and uncles had to clear up before they renovated the house.

We drove past the house before visiting the grave that day. It’s now a private school with a white signboard and pretty little flags on the outside, ready to welcome the children who would soon sit in its classrooms.

When I said goodbye to my grandad before we left, I told him how his house had become a school. “It looks very pretty, Atok. The house will be full of books for children to read. You would like it.”


© 2011 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.

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5 Responses

  1. Chelvi Kathirgamatamby says:

    This piece reminded me of my grandfather. Not as tall. Never interacted much with him. Was very young and very shy.Did not meet him as often cos he was staying in Muar, while we were living in Dungun. He too was very well read. Managed to salvage a few of his books including Soekarno’s autobiography as told to Cindy Adams. An extremely interesting book.

  2. mak sue says:

    Atok was short of an inch for a 6-footer. He liked to sleep alot, almost in a foetal position, on his side with a bolster tucked between his legs. Maybe that’s why the grave is small, hehe.
    By the way, most of his books and magazines are in my living room.

  3. hjh nazli binti abbas says:

    I was just going through your old posts when suddenly it struck me that I sort of ‘know’ you. Your mom & I were classmates in Melaka. I remember when you were born, your mom sent me an out-line tracing of your baby feet! What a small world! You inherited the knack of writing from your mom, that’s for sure. Well, so pleased to know that YOU are the Five Foot Traveller.

    • Anis says:

      Wow, I don’t know what to say!! Such a small world. My mother says hello and sends her regards :-). I’ll send you an email soon so you can get in touch with her!

      • hjh nazli binti abbas says:

        Would really love to get in touch with your Mother. Class of 62 missed her during our not-so-often gatherings.