I am Papa's first-born. I do not remember much but I hear from my family members how my Papa used to dote on me as a child. He even had a photo of mine on all fours on his office table. As I grew up though much of the time, I was afraid of him. I knew he had a soft spot for me so I could ask him for what I wanted. Many a time I would have run up to him and asked him for RM1 pocket money and I usually got RM10 without any questions asked. Later in the day, when Papa comes home from office, over a cup of tea he would casually check on how the money was spent.
I never really spoke much to Papa during my primary and secondary education. Papa was very strict and he constantly instilled in us good family values. He believed in paying respect to elders, treating people of all status equally and being honest. He was one who could never tolerate dishonesty and lies. One could almost see the fumes coming out of his nostrils when he discovered that one has not been honest.
On the other hand, he was an extremely caring, kind and loving person. He was extremely generous not just with the family but also with all who had crossed his path. That was the way he had always been.
Much to the envy of my siblings, I was my Papa's favourite girl. Even my cousins who came to stay with us thought so too. After my standard six, I was sent away to a boarding school in the UK with my sister. I was very homesick and eventually came back leaving my sister behind. Since then I have always been with Papa.
Though Papa did not show his real feelings, I could see he cared deeply for me. this he revealed when I eventually got married and left for the USA. This was the first time I saw him cry. Even then with a smile he said, "You made me cry ma. Do take care of yourself." Sadly, that marriage never lasted and I came home to him. He was very saddened by this and allowed me to recover from the pains I was going through, allowing no one to question my return.
I have never seen him fall ill as long as I can remember as he really took very good care of his health. He smoked very heavily but little did the family realise it would lead to breathing difficulties. It really was very difficult to get him off the cigarettes, but because of Sailesh, his favourite grandson, bugged Papa so much that he eventually stopped smoking. It was obviously too late by then. Papa was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis and Emphysema in Perth and amma broke the news to me.
Then my sister Lakshmi explained his state. I was afraid of losing him for I felt only he understood me well though he never discussed anything with me. When Papa and I had a few minutes with each other, he said, "If at all anyone needs help, it is you ma and I am not in a position to do anything for you." He had tears in his eyes. This was the second time I saw him cry. Papa often asked to keep my handphone with me as he wanted to be in touch with me.
I made sure during weekends I was around spending time talking or playing scrabbles with him and amma. Christopher, my cousin Gomathy's husband, was always there for him too. Much of the time Papa won the game. Anyway, he wouldn't have it any other way. His face glowed with happiness. He looked forward to the weekends. He loved his ice-creams and chocolates. Even that after a while he couldn't enjoy. It was very sad to see Papa not being able to eat for he loved good food.
Soon the dreaded day came. I saw my papa breathe his last. I know I am very lucky to have a father like him who is respected and loved for the kind of person that he was. I love him and miss him greatly.
As a child, all I remember of Papa is that he was hardly at home and when he was, there was never- ending entertaining with a sumptuous spread prepared by my grandmother for the foreign dignitaries and 'important people.'
With his towering figure and stern-looking face, all of us were quite terrified of him. We would be warned not to make noise and be at our best behaviour when he got back from work. I don't really remember having much conversation with him those days.
But when he arrived home from his business trips, it was something that I looked forward to as he would always bring back loads of exotic chocolates not only for us but also for his brothers and sisters. There were also plenty of other gifts.
Some Sundays, he spent time taking us out to KFC and rowing at the Lake Gardens.
I think I saw more of Papa while I was at boarding school in the UK. I used to look forward to the weekends that he came by to pick me up. He was always immaculately groomed. seeing that he was a food and wine connoisseur, the trip would never end without a lavish lunch or dinner outing to the best restaurants. There would inevitably be some friends at the meal. He so enjoyed watching them enjoy their meal. I would sit quietly watching how he held everyone's attention when he spoke so eloquently and wonder how one could be so knowledgeable.
I grew close to Papa I think when I had my kids. I remember when i was expecting he would say, 'All of you look after your own kids, don't expect us to look after them.' It was disappointing to hear this, but things took quite a turn when he set eyes on the babies. I have never seen him so happy. He just became one of them. He never missed a day without calling them or dropping in at my place to see them. He would take them for a drive with one of them on his lap trying to steer the wheel! He would most times take them back to his place and have an afternoon nap with them. What amazed me is when he actually gave them a shower and even washed their bottoms. He would put my first son, Sailesh, on his shoulders and walk around the lake at Taman Negara. He seemed to have endless patience with him and answered his incessant questions. He spoilt them rotten buying them all that they pointed at in the shops! They were also introduced to all the culinary extravaganzas that he enjoyed.
When we moved to Perth, he was very sad as he missed the children a lot. He really looked forward to his trips to Perth so he could be with them. We would speak to him on the phone every weekend and he was always so concerned about how I was managing without a maid. On one of his rips here he tried his hand at ironing which didn't last too long!
I remember two years ago when we went down to Albany, it was a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult or him to walk without becoming breathless. I suggested he use a wheelchair so it can be easier on him and he would be comfortable. He initially refused and later when he saw how far he had to walk, he agreed. He looked so vulnerable sitting in that chair - he was no more the towering, fearful figure I knew as a child. His last trip to Perth was in February 2008. He was using his oxygen 24 hours a day and it was a struggle for him to come out anywhere with us. Despite it, I managed to take him to one of the beautiful wineries for lunch which he so enjoyed. Little did I know this would be the last that I would have with him.
On one of our trips to Kuala Lumpur, in December 2008, there was one incident that comes to my mind. Since his illness, he followed a certain routine every morning. When he gets up in the morning, he would sit up for a while in bed and then slowly get up and take 10 steps before he reaches the entrance of his bathroom. He would sit on that chair as though bracing himself for what is to come - going to the toilet, brushing his teeth and having a shower. All these are things that we take for granted and go through it like a breeze, but for him it was like a marathon ahead. As he sat there, his towel which was draped on his shoulder slipped off and what was visible was his wasted muscles on his upper arm. I approached him and touched him on his shoulder. He held my hand and said, "Yes ma, it's all gone. Look at me! A man who was so proud of my cleanliness, dressing and how I looked- now it's all gone." Tears welled up in his eyes and he started to cry. He said, "I would never wish this illness upon anyone, not even my worst enemy." He was such a resilient man, so positive despite his suffering; it was heartbreaking to hear him say this. Well, what would I say? All I could do was hold him and comfort him knowing in my mind that things would get worse and there was nothing anyone could do.
Papa is very much alive in my mind. When I go to work every morning, I recall how he used to drive me to work every day and pick me up after work. At breakfast I can visualise him sitting on his favourite chair and watching the kids eat their meal and talking to them before they go to school. He was always there for me and my kids. I am blessed to have had such a father who was so respected and loved by people of all walks of life. I miss him dearly.
~ DR. LAKSHMI
A year has gone now since his passing and the stark reality of Papa's absence is felt each and everyday.
I looked forward so much to coming home after work just to sit with him at a meal and talk about current affairs or the state of the world at large. Sometimes we sat together and watched a sporting tournament and engaged in discussion about strategies or the strengths and weaknesses of the contenders.
Better yet, was the eagerness with which we engaged in a friendly battle of Scrabble along with the ever-smiling and jovial Christopher, his closest companion and a true friend. It was always a joyful occasion no matter how early or late in the day with Papa peppering the "tournament" with his dry humour and slew of general information on a wide variety of topics. These events consumed a great number of hours in his last few months but we relished every moment, each knowing that he was losing the bigger battle.
The Scrabble board, having played its part, now sits on a ledge collecting dust.
I miss him dearly.
As a child, I was extraordinarily difficult but his admonishment hardly ever resulted in him wielding a cane. The slap was a common answer to some of my ill behaviour while the occasional kick reminded me of why he was called Goalie Bala.
More often than not, He would reprimand with a few, very carefully selected words which left you feeling deeply remorseful for any misdeed. Despite my various misgivings, he provided for everything that I needed and more, including a solid education. He never failed to drive home the importance of conducting oneself in an exemplary manner in every aspect of life.
That's a hard act to follow Papa but they are goals that I will continue to strive to achieve.
Never one to outwardly show much affection, he always smothered my siblings and I with toys and chocolates and many other gifts. Each trip back from some strange foreign land was akin to the arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve - with a suitcase. We always waited in anticipation.
Advice, much like admonishment, came in the form of a few short words.
I still remember how he convinced me that being a pilot was not entirely acceptable as a career. "It can be quite interesting but I suspect you may enjoy it more as a hobby rather than a career", he said.
I was disappointed. Nevertheless, I came out feeling that my father had some confidence in me and my ability and that I was cut out for something else. This was a big deal to me as eliciting a compliment from him was quite a rare phenomenon.
There are many who have commented on his exemplary qualities. Much has been said about his achievements in developing and growing broadcasting and training, in helping the Indian community, in assisting the needy and in providing, in his own uniquely selfless manner, to not just the family but to friends and even to those who may seem less friendly. I will not dwell on these. To me, he is and always will be Papa.
If there is one great regret I have, it is my failure to develop or foster a stronger relationship with him. Maybe it was out of fear or simply respect. Maybe it was because I felt that no matter how or what I tried, I would not even be a shadow of the man that he was.
I am still coming to terms with his absence. I don't know if I ever will or even if I should. It is difficult to come home and find the dining table and his room vacant. It is difficult to have a meal without him. It is difficult to get through the lunch hour without receiving a call from him saying, "Giri, Atun (our maid) has cooked some very nice chicken curry. Will you be coming home for dinner?"
It is heart-wrenching to look at the dining table.
With each passing day, I realize how much his presence meant to me. How his advice steered me in the right direction and how his acknowledgment cheered me.
Papa will always be my strength.
I remember during my early years when he travelled with me to Reading, England, to drop me off at boarding school. He would take the trouble to buy me virtually anything I wanted and no matter how much it cost just to ensure I was comfortable. he never compromised my comfort, education, security and most of all my happiness - he would always give me the best.
My first day of boarding school was a complete horror. I did not even know how to put on a tie. He spent about 2 hours running me through the process until I perfected it. I found it amazing that he spent that much time teaching me without losing his patience. As and when demanded, he would send boxes of packed food from KL through relatives or friends. During mid-term breaks, he would fetch me from school and take me to the "Burgundy Room" for the best meals. He always stressed, "Son, you have to study hard, play hard, eat well!"
Towards the last few years that my father was with us, after work, I would spend some time to discuss work-related matters and personal business opportunities to get his view of things. He was supportive of my view about how the business world should operate. Having been exposed to his numerous 'business acquaintances' though his life and a series of his failed business partnerships, I would always tell him that perhaps I ought to be concerned about how money should be made and completely disregard ethics - after all, this is how most of his acquaintances seemed to be thriving in their business till today. What is the difference between a strategist and a crook? They seemed to lead lavish lifestyles, drove fancy cars and owned gigantic houses. They never seemed to be negatively impacted. He would always maintain his view that they will deserve what they get and that we need to do the right thing. He stuck to his principles regardless of the outcome - ethics was a big deal to him.
I was virtually always surprised by the amount of information my father knew at any one point in time about a particular topic in business. It could have been a topic related to an insignificant operational process to a broader more strategic regional idea or issue. What made it more interesting was that he was able to apply his rationale to my work context. He was well-read and incredibly knowledgeable.
It was not until his passing that I realized how much he had contributed to the Indian community and the respect he earned from hundreds of people. He would never brag about how good he was nor would he ever express or discuss with the family any major difficulties he would be currently facing. He was always concerned about our comfort. I am honoured to carry his name 'Balakrishnan' and am truly proud of my father. I could not ask more of a father who had taken us through life and worked so hard to keep us all comfortable, secure and happy. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him. I miss him dearly.
I still remember the nights, my brothers all huddled up under Thatha's blanket getting ready to sleep. He used to read us stories and sing to us to make us go to sleep. He always helped us and was there for everything.
I was really afraid of him when he was really angry with me. He would get up from his chair and point at me very threateningly, but did not do more than that. But I know it was for a good reason. He always said that I should be lady-like and follow elders' advice. I will never forget what he told us: "We are a family and we should care for one another."
When we went to Margaret River, we went to every Vineyard there was. He loved wine a lot. He used to buy many bottles of wine and he will take them back to Malaysia for his friends when they come over.
When it was dinner time in Australia, he would be the first one ready at the dining table to see how we lay the table. If we ever spilt any food on the dining table he would say, "Kanna, be clean and don't spill your food." If we ever slurped or burped at the table, he would say, "Ma, that's not good manners. Don't do it at the table. It's rude." I miss him at the dining table today.
On his birthday everyone will turn up for his party. He always enjoyed company. There would be a huge tent outside the house and everyone would come. Sometimes he would call the caterers to serve food and drinks.
When someone comes over for a visit, he will make them have dinner or lunch with him. When we come over to Malaysia for visits- when he was well - he would take us to Swensons and Kenny Rogers for our meals.
When he was sick, it never ended. He asked our aunties and uncles to take us out and get whatever we wanted. That night when he died, I couldn't stop crying. The next afternoon I arrived in Malaysia with everyone standing outside the house. My grandmother, my mother and my auntie came out, gave me big hugs and started crying. I went inside the house and there he was. I tried to calm myself down and tried to comfort my grandmother and my mother.
While I was in Malaysia at that time I heard stories about Thatha and his childhood days. I love Thatha very much and I miss him a lot. I really wish he was well and still alive.
I love Thatha because he was very honest with us. he never lied to us. Even if it hurt our feelings, he would always tell the truth. I also love him because he would get us anything we wanted. If it wasn't there, he would ask if we wanted anything else. he treated us fairly.
I will always remember the time and the fun we had together. I always loved Thatha and always will love him.
Bala's Grand daughter
I remember when Thatha died on the 25th of May 2009, it was really sad. I remember how he used to sleep with me and when he used to call me his 'heater.' he gave me a soft pillow. That pillow reminds me of Thatha now that he is not around. He would read books to me when I was going to sleep.
He also used to buy me toys and let me go for a drive with him. He would let me sit in the front seat, although my brother and sister would fight to be there.
When I was a baby, he would let me sit on his lap while driving. He would let me go to his office and I could always see what he was doing. whenever I'd get into trouble, I would be let of because I was his favourite grandson.
When the tennis season was on and when I asked him if I could watch television, he would always say,"Kanna, let me watch for another 15 minutes and then you can watch. Okay?" I would always say "Yes" and then I would sit down next to him or below him and watch the tennis match with him.
After lunch, if there was some rasam and thairu left, he'd take a little bit of each and mix them together and drink it in a cup because he liked the taste of it. He would say it tasted like an Italian soup.
I love Thatha because he would give me everything I wanted and he was the best grandfather anyone could have. I miss him very, very much.
The word "Pethenaina" , literally translated from the Telugu language, means "Big Father." That was what I called him. I asked myself in what way was this term appropriate to him. In what way was he "big"? No doubt he was physically big, tall and handsome, but what about the other ways? The ways that matter when a life has passed. A kaleidoscope of memories flashed past me. It was hard to know where to start.
When we were young, we were terrified of him. None of us children ever uttered a word to him. I think it was considered almost blasphemous at the time, such was his Demi-God status. We were paralysed with fear when we knew that he was going to visit. Yet by the time he passed away in may 2009, he was more a dear friend than a terrifying uncle to me.
I miss many things about him: discussing a book, politics, movies or simply just people. He was a great critic and although his remarks could be scathing at times, there often was an ominous ring of truth around them. Sometimes that made people feel uncomfortable, but I did not feel that way. Hw always listened to my point of view and never tried to change it. Of course, at times he would give me a disgusted look, as though I was insane to think in a particular way, but he would never try to change my opinion. I must say that in a climate that lacks democracy and freedom of expression, he was a breath of fresh air. I miss that.
I remember also the incident when I first came back from England, and was running around looking or a job as a legal assistant in what I then perceived to be the "happening" law firms. Seeing me do this, and no doubt troubled by my high anxiety level, he sat me down and told me not to worry. I still recall with utmost clarity how he picked up the phone and called Dato Kandan in Shearn Delamore and "fixed me up" for an interview the next day. When Dato Kandan saw me, he loudly exclaimed, "Oh, so you are Bala's niece! When can you join us?" It was then, in all my youthful innocence, that Pethenaina taught me my first essential job skill and life lesson: it is not what you know but who you know that counts.
The point, however, is this. Many people know persons in high- up places. But Pethenaina helped so many of us to climb up and get to see these so-called bold and beautiful people - he used his contacts to help all of us nephews and nieces. I can very confidently say that there are numerous persons in our family and outside it who have been assisted in this way, both in their careers and in their personal lives.
Needless to say, I did not take up the job in Shearn Delamore as I quickly realised that my every activity and antics, both good and bad, would be recounted to Pethenaina. So I ran away fast. But it was a futile exercise because everywhere I went, everyone knew him!
After a short stint in legal practice, I knew that I did not want to swim with sharks. I preferred dolphins, and decided to do what I have always loved : to teach. I had taught history in a secondary school in London for a short while and enjoyed the challenge. Today, 15 years after venturing into the legal education industry in KL, I always remember Pethenaina's encouraging words about the teaching profession. He always made me feel that despite the commercialism with private law schools in Malaysia, that teaching remains a noble and virtuous profession and that I am doing something good in my life. I always felt that he was so proud of me, and his pride in turn made me feel proud of myself. I miss that very much, his simple ability to make me feel special, when in real life I was not special in any way.
It was this sense of humanity, generosity, and kindness that made him "big" to me.
In my younger days, the word "Pethanaina" was coupled with feeling of fear and respect. When we got news that Pethanaina was arriving in Jerantut, we had to be in our best behaviour, dressed in our best clothes and speak with our best English vocabulary. I have frequently rehearsed the full sentences that I was going to say to him before he arrived. Most of the times I would hope that when my turn came to say 'hello,' that he would not ask too many questions; at least he wasn't the uncle who used to like to know what position I came in class the last term! His permission, blessings and opinion had to be sought for most things in the family, including holiday trips.
Jerantut was a small town, and has only grown a little bigger. Even now, I don't think it would have seen as many American cars with UNESCO flags as it did when my Pethanaina used to come to visit us, needless to say that they would only half fit in the biggest car park in Jerantut. I remember even when he first acquired the BMW 7 series, he said the first thing he was going to do was to show his mother the car. She was extremely proud of her eldest son, as we all were of our handsome and tall uncle who led the path for all of us to greater things in life. He was the first in Rubana Estate history to set foot in a university, and that too finish in style, a motto that followed him till the end, in whichever walk of life he chose.
As I left for boarding school in Singapore at the age of 12, the fear for my uncle was still there. But a couple of times when he had taken me out in Singapore and back home in Malaysia for a meal, I soon realized that they were actually banquets and that was when he was at his best, just like all the great maharajahs. He actually wanted everybody around him to relax and be open with him. The more I mixed with him, I realized that he could potentially be a very good friend. And so our relationship grew. Every single time I was down for a holiday, the minute he realized I was in town, he would then host a big dinner, and most of the times the menu would include not many normal dishes. To be honest, he was the main person who taught me how to enjoy the finer aspects of wining and dining, and to be adventurous with eating habits. I don't think he realized that I would take it to the extent that anything that moves can be eaten!!!
During the boarding school days in England, he came down often during the half-term holidays. I used to look forward to going down to Park West on Edgware Road. I remember waking up, and he would say to me , "What would you like to have for lunch, Balaji?" and I would say as usual, "Anything." "It's been some time since we had French food, isn't it?" he would reply and then proceed to this really fine French restaurant down the road, have the nicest wine and most exotic of dishes and then walk back for an afternoon nap. In the evening, he would then ask me again, "Shall we have some Japanese food for dinner?" And that's how life would be during that week. When it was time to go back to school again, I would be so sick of good food that it could wait till the next time he came down again. Not good for the coronary arteries but fantastic time it was.
During medical school days, most of our meetings used to be at home during my vacations, and I tried to spend more time with him whenever I could. He would know everybody wherever we went, and it was great to meet so many people from so many parts of the world, and he would be equally interested in getting to know all my friends as well. My friends used to call me Bala, but he always insisted that he is the original Bala!
As I matured into working life, we used to have chats about different things in life; things that mattered, and I knew that he definitely was becoming the "friend" that I thought he would become at one part of my life. We talked about everything I would confide in a good friend, and I knew that it would be strictly confidential, all the time in an atmosphere that both of us enjoyed so much: good food and drink. Now, I was already addicted to his company.
He was an enormous emotional support for me when my greatest hero in the world, my pappa, sadly passed away in 2005. I spoke to him about a lot of things that bothered me, and sought his opinion about deepest feelings, both sad and happy. He would always be realistically encouraging, and would see the positive side to everything in life. Luckily enough there were happy things to look forward to, and my wedding was approaching. My Pethanaina was going to act as my father, and definitely fitted the role. He continued to host many parties, and many more. All my friends who had come down for the wedding from all over the world kept saying, "What a great man!" They still keep the t-shirt he bought them after yet another sumptuous meal that left everyone breathless again!
Meetings after that was not with my Pethanaina, but somebody else who was suffering and struggling for that extra breadth. One day I said to him, "Pethanaina, do you remember that Japanese meal we had?" and whilst he was struggling to get a breadth, he replied, "Yes, let's do it again next week" ... but I thought to myself... "I don't think that week will ever come again!" ... and sadly I was right. I miss him very much.
Dr. Balaji Badmanaban
I always thought that the easiest thing to do in life is to judge others, perhaps it helps to avoid the hard work that comes with self-reflection, and perhaps it makes us feel better about ourselves. In life, we all make judgments and we all know people who simply judge others, but we rarely encounter those who move beyond judgment towards understanding and compassion. Uncle Bala reserved judgment as simply an acknowledgment that the humanity we all share is undoubtedly imperfect and that is what made him the fine person he was. When others sought to simplify life he sought to see more of it; when others chose to narrow life, he set out to do more living. Those choices made him the compassionate person I know.
I still recall that cold winter night back in the early eighties in UK when I was feeling homesick and lonely. I was a student then reading law and living in an apartment with a common phone. I was told that I had a call waiting for me and rushed to answer the phone hoping it was someone from home. I picked up the phone and Uncle Bala's deep voice filled the receiver, "Thamil, this is Bala." He was host to me that entire evening, buying me dinner and being the family I had left behind: I felt his compassion.
His signature question is still fresh in my memory, "Thamil, could I get you a glass of wine?" His aristocratic ways in entertaining his dear ones had always begun with a glass of wine and carried on with pleasant conversation on current affairs. I always loved the times when we gathered to have that glass of wine. I unswervingly remember his proud advice, "You may not know when to start but always know when to stop." This advice, to me, wasn't just with regard to drinks but to life itself.
To the Uncle Bala I knew, it wasn't good enough to engage in meaningless chit-chat with acquaintances. He sought to connect much more deeply with all those he encountered. He had such an attractive mannerism which drew friends and family to him always. Uncle Bala loved sharing his friends and associates. Through his introductions, many have benefited and fund true friends amongst themselves.
Uncle Bala lived a good life and it is important to understand and appreciate what he lived for. He believed in living and and he accepted that living wasn't always neat and orderly but he never allowed that to prevent him from doing more of it. Even when life threw obstacles that might have led others to give up, he forged ahead. Even in sickness his eagerness to assist did not wither. Everything he did , he did it with such charisma. He never ceased believing that tomorrow was an opportunity and he refused to let yesterday's disappointments put an end to his dreams for the future. He hoped for a world that could overcome the flawed nature humanity but he also embraced its reality.
I've never been good with goodbyes, so I'll offer these closing thoughts in the hope that they capture and help each of us keep the spirit of Uncle Bala alive in our hearts and our actions
"Life is like a glass of wine; Savour each sip."
Cheers, Uncle Bala!
Advocate & Solicitor
To write about Bala Mama is rather difficult considering the fact that I hardly spoke to him! Not that I couldn't, but there was this mixture of awe and fear that had been instilled right from young (from the day a five-year old me got a smacking from him for misbehaving in the car!).
Our family is unique in that we are exceptionally close among the extended family. We cousins are sometimes closer than most other siblings would be. And all of us appear not to just have our own parents but so many sets of people whom we are close to. Friends just don't understand the degree of closeness and our obligations to our uncles and aunts- but we do- because our uncles and aunts showed no differentiation between all of us when we were growing up. There were few boundaries... all homes were ours, all were helped along equally and all children were disciplined by each other without restraint!
We were all so proud of out four uncles (and our mothers made sure we never forgot that!) and the bond between the 7 Ramanujam siblings was so strong that it nourished the closeness between the cousins. And the figurehead of this unique family was Bala Mama.
Losing him has been losing a powerful icon of the family. No family function was complete without the elegant presence of Uncle and Auntie, both of them always impeccably dressed and always walking in together. All our weddings, baby christenings and birthday parties were graced by them, they always made the effort to come, even if for a while. And everyone took their presence for granted and now we feel the loss.... every family function reminds us that someone is missing. Even Deepavali is not the same anymore.
One of my earliest memories is of my grandfather's house in Rubana Estate in the early sixties. I remember the whole household gathering at night in front of the large beige radio, all waiting earnestly for a live broadcast of Bala Mama's speech! Never have I seen two parents show so much respect for their child as much as my grandparents did for Uncle. They positively hung on to his every word and nothing would ever be too much to do for him. My grandma used to refer to him as my "Meh Bangharu Koddukku" which is Telugu for "Our Golden Son." My grandfather could never finish a conversation properly without including something super about Bala Mama. There was some magnetic aura about him that commanded this kind of reverence.
Uncle was a strongly opinionated man, sometimes difficult and often a little too frank for his own good! Always fastidious - with his dressing, with food, with manners and of course with language and pronunciation! he has given me a major problem now. My grocery bill has increased because my son says, "Amma, Bala Thatha said it's better to eat good ice-cream once a month than to eat crappy ice-cream daily!" So, more revenue for Swenson's and Haagen Dazs!!
But at the core of it all was a king and caring person who did whatever he could to help each of us along the way, be it a good meal or a reference for a job. His concept of family ties and bonding was so strong and I hope the rest of us keep his memory alive by taking the effort keep our family relationships going well!
All of them (my parents, uncles and aunts) have this amazing capacity to put all their differences aside and come together whenever a family crisis or family event takes place. They have never had room for petty fights and back-biting, and their motto has always been family first. And I'm sure that is what Bala Mama would have wanted from each of us today.
When Mr. Balakrishnan married my favourite niece, Girijah Naidu, he captured the Naidu family's respect and affection. I will always remember, whenever we were in the company of his relatives or friends, he would introduce me to them as his "Deputy Mother-in-Law." That showed how he embraced us in his heart. It will not be possible to erase his image from our memory. A kind and caring person, he would always have the time to communicate with every one of us. He has become an unforgettable memory.
Mrs. M.S. Naidu
Interviews conducted by Meera with Vengkat, his mother and her mother
Meera: Can you recount to me 3 incidents relating to your late Bala Mama that have touched you or that are special memories for you?
Vengkat: Difficult for me to just recall 3 incidents as there are so many I want to talk about.....
Meera: Too bad, you can only tell me 3 things seeing as I am your secretary and shall have to type this up for you. No, seriously, tell me.
Vengkat: Ok, the first is when I was in Form I and just got my SPM results. Of course my Grade 2 was like getting an infectious disease or something in this family of over-achievers and their abnormally high numbers of A's in any exam. Of course I was depressed, but Mama made me feel that exams and A's were not the most important thing in life. He encouraged me and told me that I would one day be successful in life. He also guided me in many ways. I liked his smile and optimistic outlook on life. He taught that a dashing smile and charm were very important weapons in life.
Meera: No doubt you have used these weapons to good effect. I too was your victim! Next incident?
Vengkat: I can never forget my 21st birthday. He put everything aside and organised a fantastic party in Selangor Club for me. he told me that a person is 21 only once in life, and that he wanted me to always remember my 21st birthday. I was so touched.
Meera: That was so kind of him. He would no doubt have made sure that every type of cuisine was offered and that the guests were as stuffed as fat pythons.
Vengkat: Yes, definitely, there was loads of food. He was always a great host and loved to feed all of us. I can never forget when he used to come to India to visit us, he would really look after us well.
Meera: Yes, I know what you mean. he used to do that when he came to London and see Balaji and me too. I still remember when he took us all to see the musical 42nd Street, ten of us I think. It was fantastic.
Vengkat: Aiya, I thought this interview was for me to recollect memories, not you.
Meera: Sorry, yes. Back to you. What else do you remember? Last one, ok?
Vengkat: When I first started direct sales, and used to go walking around selling stuff - you know, like keychains worth RM 5? Many people thought I was insane and looked down on me, but Mama encouraged me and told me that one day I would be successful and would be carrying heavy bags to the bank for banking. I still remember his words because they motivated me so much to be successful in my business.... I really miss him.....
Meera: Amma, what do you remember about Pethenaina?
Amma: I can never never forget how he sent pappa and me a first class ticket from Madras to Port Klang in December 1966 on the "SS Rajula." It was our first (and only!) first class trip on a ship!! It felt like the Titanic to us, it was that grand!! It was the first time I was coming to Malaysia and he gave us unforgettable memories. It was so generous of him.
Meera: You always say that he was the pillar of his family. What do you mean by that statement?
Amma: Many things. For instance, he was the first to successfully obtain a degree and that too in NUS in those days! he paved the way for the others in the family to follow, and in my opinion he was a pioneer in that sense. He raised the bar and the standards for education and academic excellence. I also admired the way he always treated his mother with utmost respect. He always acknowledged that she was the foundation behind so many of us in this family. He also treated people from all walks of life in the same way and did not differentiate based on profession, race, religion, social or economic background. He was the same to all. These were all qualities I really admired in him.
Meera: You also say that he was a great support to you when pappa was ill in the late 1970s.
Amma: Yes, definitely. Everyday, despite his hectic schedule, he would be there in the Universiti Hospital at 4.30 p.m. sharp. He was a rock in terms of moral support to me. Ward 5B was slightly more bearable knowing that he would be there everyday with us.
Meera: You also shared a love for Tamil literature.
Amma: Yes, I miss that. from time to time, he would bring me Tamil books to read and we would read and then discuss them. He was a voracious reader and I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on these books and authors with him. I recall with particular fondness our discussion on "Anthimakkalam" by writer R. Karthigesu, who we both greatly admire.
Meera: Well, you will continue to see him everyday - you have a picture of him next to pappa in the sami room and his eyes appear to be boring into all of us, right?
Amma: Yes, he definitely continues to be a part of our lives.....
With Seremban Athai
Meera: Athai, what do you remember about your brother?
Athai: Too many things, I do not really know what to tell you.
Meera: Ok, tell me something which your brother did which you felt altered the course of your life.
Athai: My wedding. he made sure that my wedding went on well and that I was going to a home where I would be happy, and that no matter where that home was, whether in a palace or in an estate far away, he would be there to support me. Which he always did.
Meera: In what way did he support you after your marriage?
Athai: Many ways. For example, whenever we needed a car, we just had to ask him and he would make sure that the driver was there the next day, no questions asked. He was also a wonderful friend to my late husband and he has been there to advise my children during important times in their lives. It was an enormous support to me; I can't describe it in words. he was a wonderful brother to me, brother-in-law to my husband, and uncle to my children.
Meera: Do you think of him everyday?
Athai: Yes, I do. When I went to his house recently, I felt that its heart and core was missing. I felt his absence acutely that day.
Meera: He used to love your cooking and say that his sisters were the best chefs in the world. He was very proud of your cooking skills and used to boast about it!
Athai: Yes, and I too used to love to cook for him. he used to call and say how many of his friends would be coming, and what I should cook. He used to enjoy stuff like fried goat's blood and brain and mashed liver and .....
Meera: Stop, yuk.
Athai: No, these are delicacies! Your father and Uncle Hari liked them too! I miss them all...
When Radio Malaysia invited suitable graduates to fill the vacant post of Head of Indian (language) Service, R. Balakrishnan was among those short-listed by the Public Services Commission in 1962 due to the strength of his academic achievement (First Class Honours in Indian studies from the prestigious University of Malaya .... my alma mater) and of his testimonial. I was invited by the Commission's Selection Board to assist in its work of selecting the best candidate for the job. Bala easily outshone the other candidates , was offered the appointment, and proved he was really the best choice with the way he subsequently handled his staff and initiated development of Indian programmes in Radio Malaysia whose main role was and still is: assisting the Government to progress the country's multi-faceted development initiatives ..... In short, playing a nation-building role in all RTM's 24-hour broadcasts of every conceivable kind in several local languages.
Bala proved to be hard-working, easy to work with at all levels, passionate, full of initiatives and assisted in promoting RTM's reputation as a leading broadcaster in the region with his valuable inputs. So much so that I, as Director (later Director-General) of RTM and Vice-President of the prestigious Asian-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) took him with me to attend one of the Annual General Assemblies of ABU which comprise until now, very senior broadcasters at president, director-general and director level...... much to the envy of the other heads of language services in the Department of Broadcasting then.
Bala, during my successors' time, naturally moved up to head Tun Abdul Razak Institute of Broadcasting (its Malay name: Institut Penyiaran Tun Abdul Razak or IPTAR) dedicated to the training of local RTM staff, while its equivalent, but at a higher regional level, is ABID (short for Asia-Pacific Institute of Broadcasting Development, a UNESCO initiative supported by the ABU)...all based at ANGKASAPURI, Kuala Lumpur. The ABU Secretariat is also based in our integrated broadcasting complex of ANGKASAPURI thus making Malaysia unofficially as the centre of broadcasting in the vast Asia-Pacific region with a population of more than three billion potential listening and viewing audience.
Thanks to dedicated RTM officers, like Balakrishnan, I and other senior staffers as strategic planners were able to help promote and progress the healthy development of the broadcasting industry in our young nation quite smoothly.
- Tan Sri Dato' Hj. Dol Ramli, Former Director -General, RTM
Ever since I knew Thatha he taught me many things. Many good things. He was the man who taught me the basics of reading, the basics of writing and how to speak. He taught me not just to speak but to speak well. He taught me not just to write but to write well. He taught me not just how to read but to read well. He spoke to me as he carried me on his shoulders as a small boy teaching me nature's ways in Taman Jaya. He read to me in bed inculcating reading habits and stimulating my imagination. He has got into my very soul for I still hear his voice.
From what I have seen, he treated everyone with respect till the last day. May it be his worst enemy or his best friend. He always thought about the next person and never, not even once, thought about his own self. Even with his condition, he invited his friends for meals and drinks. It was only at the end that he restricted visitors but still he kept in touch with most of his friends. He also made sure everything was in order before he left us.
Thatha was also a man who persisted. Till the last day I saw that he pushed and tried whatever he could to fight off the disease. Even if the survival rate for a lung transplant was 1%, he said he would still go for it. His persistent mind kept him alive for a longer period than he was expected to live.
From what I can see, he showed me how we should strive to be a better human being. I also learnt that we should only appreciate the good qualities in people and never discuss their shortfalls. I will miss him for the great man he was and how he has moulded my thinking. He will be in my thoughts forever. I love him. May his soul rest in peace.
- Sailesh Mukundala, Bala's grandson (Australia)
I first met the late R. Balakrishnan in 1959 through my brother Dr. V. Rajagopal who was a student at the Madras Stanley Medical College with Bala's younger brother, the late Dr. R. Padmanaban. Bala and the late Dato K. Pathmanaban were the first batch First Class Honours graduates in Tamil from the then University of Malaya in Singapore. Bala got his job in the civil service easily as Head of the Indian Service of Radio Malaysia; but Pathma did not. Pathma's First Class Honours in Tamil studies was not good enough to enter the civil service. Bala took up the case to my late brother, Tan Sri V. Manickavasagam, Assistant Minister of Labour in 1960 and secured Pathma a position as Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Labour.
In those bachelor days, graduates of University of Malaya in Singapore, the late Dr. Rama Subbiah, the late Baradas Gopal, the late Dato Pathmanaban and Bala lived in a rented home in Petaling Jaya. I used to join them some evenings in healthy vigorous philosophical discourses. On one occasion, the debate was on Baradas' proposal that the husband should be a benevolent despot. The verbal conflagration that ensued was doused by Bala claiming benevolence should overcome the despotism.
In the aftermath of the May 13 riots in 1969, Dr. Rama Subbiah proposed the setting up of a Fund whereby everyone, irrespective of their earning power, should contribute five ringgit every month to help Malaysian Indian students in University of Malaya who were unable to pay their college fees. After the untimely death of Dr. Rama Subbiah in a road accident in November 1969, that Fund was named "The Rama Subbiah Scholarship Fund." Bala became its Second Chairman and held that office for forty years until his departure from this world.
Bala's inimicable leadership style as Chairman of the Rama Subbiah Scholarship Fund in making decisions that may sometimes be against the norm, always seemed justified, as it benefited someone who would otherwise be bereft of such assistance. In fact, just two weeks before he died, he proposed to extend the activities of the Fund to providing to all Tamil school children in the country, free of charge, copies of "Kalvi Chudar" an educational supplement of the "Makkal Osai." That is not one of the core activities of the Fund but a necessary one in today's conditions in the Tamil schools. Bala's exemplary leadership will be missed very much by members of the Dr. Rama Subbiah Scholarship Fund.
Bala's passing away is an irreplaceable loss to us all.
- Dato V.L. Kandan
Ramanujam Balakrishnan came into my life some years before I met him, in that he had moved into the home of my sister, Lily and her husband, the late Stanley Padman, when he was a student of Stanley in the Anglo-Chinese School , Telok Anson (as it was then known) and went on to be connected to my family , the extended Chacko family of Klang , at least one member of which , V.V. george, went on to be his contemporary and close friend in the University of Malaya in Singapore. Later Bala was to tell me that he regarded Stanley as almost a saint (an opinion that I also held), and that Stanley was his mentor, whose very high standards of uprightness, of being honourable and honest, Bala had endeavoured to emulate.
I might have met Bala earlier but it was in the 70s that he and I became close friends, a friendship that manifested in close ties between us right up to his last days.
...... Bala was a man of integrity, in all aspects of that word including in respect of intellectual integrity. He was a man of loyalty - to his beloved Girijah, whom he married in 1965 and to his children and grandchildren and siblings, his staff and to his friends, without conditions - actively manifested, vis-á-vis Dato S. Subramaniam and the late Dato' Pathmanaban. In that he was fully immersed in their respective lives and had been uncompromisingly passionate in their cause in politics not caring in the least in that by doing so, he would run foul of many persons in power.
To lesser personalities, like myself, he went out of his way to keep the relationship going, making it a point to get in touch with us from time to time and organizing great social get- togethers over lunh or dinner or over a glass or two of white wine that he favoured. His Friday vegetarian lunches were legendary and served as a platform not only for fellowship but for intellectual discourse by the cross -section of the intelligentsia that rolled up their sleeves in tackling sambar and vendiya kulumbu, the Malays and Indians with confidence and gusto, the many Chinese and the odd European who turned up, with some nervous reservations vis-á- vis the methodology of eating rice and curry from a banana leaf using in lieu of cutlery one's fingers!
Bala was always ready and willing to carry crosses for those around him, taking over their problems and trying to find solutions for them, even making a nuisance of himself in the process. Many important people were his friends including the many contemporaries of his in University who had got to the top rung of the ladder in their chosen field -Politics, business, Academia, the Professions, and Bala had no hesitation , no qualms about approaching his friends demanding assistance for the streams of the more unfortunate members of society that somehow had found their way to him for help.
Bala had a dry sense of humour, had difficulty in suffering fools, and was inclined to be somewhat sarcastic, particularly when confronted by pomposity but always with a twinkle in his eye. invariably he was the heart and soul of the party putting forward his views on the topic, the subject of the discussion, in his impeccable English or Tamil, with devastating wit and brilliant logic.
Lastly, Bala had guts manifested inter alia in the way he dealt with problems that arose, and in his life as a businessman he was confronted with a legion of problems each of which he had confronted and dealt with, without losing his cool. And the way he handled the medical problem that turned out to be his final illness was the ultimate manifestation of guts. he had problems in breathing and in assimilation of oxygen. He had to have oxygen continually pumped into his lungs. Lesser men would have given up the fight and would have taken to their sick bed. But not Bala- he continued his rounds of meetings and social gatherings, carrying with him a canister from which was continuously pumped pure oxygen into his lungs! And when he was finally restricted to his sick bed he continued to cheerfully play host to the crowds of friends who called on him.
When I was preparing the eulogy for Bala's great and close friend, the late Dato' Pathmanaban, Bala, ever the cynic, told me that Pathma was one of only two people that he knew who he was prepared to say was a good man.
I am certain that if Pathmanaban was alive, he would agree with me that one other really good man that we were fortunate to know was Ramanujam Balakrishnan.
- Dato V. C. George, Former Judge, Court of Appeal, Malaysia
Bala had the greatest gift for friendship I've ever known. He just didn't see any barriers to people getting on with each other. To him it didn't matter about your race, or your gender, nationality, caste or religion. All he wanted to know was that you were "a good person."
Once you had that status you were his friend for life, with an open invitation to his wonderful hospitality- much of which depended on Girijah's equally wonderful cooking - and to his enormous network of friends.
It was Bala (and Felix Abisheganaden) who taught me how to make a passable job of eating curry with your fingers off banana leaves.
We had met in Mid-1970 when we both had new jobs a few hundred yards away from each other on Jalan Ampang. He was the new Director of the Asian Institute for Broadcasting Development and I was sent to get journalists back into the South Asia Press Centre.
It might have looked as if the Central Casting Department had got us the wrong way around. My bosses were eminent Asian editors and publishers, probably more than a little worried about their young man's abilities to "be sensitive." The ever - diplomatic Bala, on the other hand, was besieged by hordes of UN experts, usually from Europe, intent on helping him to do their bidding.
We quickly learned that we had a good deal between us: he explained the mysteries of the East to me while I tipped him off to the ways of the West.
What a time we had! as our lives moved on, our friendship remained. We might not see each other so often but when we did, the friendship simply picked up where we had left off.
Only a couple of years ago we met in KL - and Bala just happened to organise a party of the friends we had left in KL...... more than 30 years ago. Balan, Shiv, Felix, Selva, Paddy and at least a dozen more. And we were still friends, basking in the goodwill that shone from one R.Balakrishnan.
Dearest Bala, your gift for friendship has been one of the blessings of my life. Thank you. Our hearts and deepest sympathy go to Girijah and all the family for the loss of a very special man.
Jack & Hild Glattbach
"The friends thou hast,
Their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul
With hoops of steel"
From Polonius's advice to his son Laertes - in Hamlet by William Shakespeare.
I first met the late Mr. Ramanujam Balakrishnan in the late 60s when I was asked to lecture young journalists on defamation law. I was invited to do so by Mr. Jack Glattbach, then the local CEO of the Asia Press Foundation.
"Radio Bala of Radio Malaysia, as Balakrishnan was then known, was already a household name in the annals of the Tamil Section of Radio Malaysia. More than that he had also started to acquire an international reputation for his work in integrating all journalists in the Asian region under auspices of UNESCO.
Jack it was who first introduced me to Bala. It was a case of mutual admiration at first sight.
Bala was even then several inches taller than me. He displayed a maturity which belied his age. Until his demise I regarded him as an elder brother not knowing that he was in fact 5 years my junior. At that time I was already a Libel Reader for the Straits Times Group. The late Tan Sri Lee Siew Yee would call me often late at night for an opinion on whether a particular piece which they proposed to publish was defamatory. Bala however rarely troubled me. I suspect that he had an uncanny insight whether an article submitted for publication was true, in which case he did not hesitate to publish and be damned. This attitude must have brought him into disfavour with some very ambitious politicians who had a long memory.
My reward for services rendered in the cause of press freedom was an all expenses-paid -trip to the inaugural session of the Asia Press Foundation which was held in the Asoka Hotel in New Delhi in 1971 under the patronage of Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. That conference lasted for a week and I found myself housed in the room next to Bala who was then accompanied by the late Mr Nadeson Chettiar. In the course of the week I discovered the international stature of Bala who was on talking terms with with some of leading personalities there.
Bala introduced me to many of them. Such names as, Shirley Williams, Allan Chalkely, Mokhtar Lubis, Hahm Pyong Choon, and Pran Chopra, a few of the names that now come to mind. Day after day I saw different aspects of this noble person whose pursuit was not of wealth or status, but the common good. We became friends for life.
The various posts that he filled with distinction are matters of record and do not need to be repeated here. I cannot but observe that were it not for the machinations of a malodorous politician, Bala would have achieved the very summit of his career nationally and internationally.
But those reverses did not stop him from maximizing his contribution to the deserving and needy.
Amongst other things Bala was equally famous for the excellence of the cuisine that he served his friends both at home and elsewhere.
The character and worth of a man can also be measured by the kind of family of which he was a patriarch. His wife Girijah Naidu is a jewel in her own right, and an adornment to her community. Their children are a living embodiment of the pristine values he practised and propagated.
Death has unravelled the hoops of steel which bound him to me but the Almighty granted me the gift of seeing clearly the long -suffering face of my friend who bore his pain with fortitude, before he left this life to become a legend.
Now I see the world darkly but the memory of this great man will always remain fresh in my third eye.
"Earthly dust from off him shaken
Soul immortal he shall waken."
- Dato Mahadev Shanker, Advocate & Solicitor
My uncle Bala, as I fondly addressed him, was really more than an Uncle to me. My relationship with him, as many in the family are aware, was like two close friends - a relationship that knew no age or professional barriers.
The first 20 years of my life , I always looked at my Uncle with fear and behaved cautiously (at least in front of him). Uncle Bala was a great disciplinarian and took the liberty to instill in us - children, nephews and nieces - the virtues of a successful life. These include excelling in our studies, dressing up neatly, eating well (and right), being punctual, respecting the elders, and speaking correctly.
From the time I started to work (about 22 years ago), my Uncle would take the lead in reaching out to me and he gradually started changing the way we interacted with each other. Our relationship evolved. There was so much more openness. He started exposing me to the public world by and large. He was never hesitant to introduce me to his friends and associates and would do so with such words that I used to feel so good about myself.We would meet for meals almost twice a week, let alone the daily conversations like two close friends. He was always eager to know what I was up to and he would lend his advice on some possible ways to better myself. My Uncle Bala's greatest strength was in building relationships with people, including respecting confidentiality between people, reaching out when one is in need, and contributing to the less fortunate in a humble way - without any ulterior motive or self-interest.
Uncle Bala was most fun in family functions as he would mingle with everyone regardless of age and would be the first on the dance floor with the nieces. He would always make his presence felt by either praising the wine he was served or gunning the person who was responsible for not buying the right wine. On most occasions, I was the one he would chew on.
Someone once said that ' a smiling face is half the meal.' I will always remember my Uncle Bala as someone who enjoyed every meal. For Uncle Bala, every meal was an occasion, sometimes even a cultural fest! And he would enjoy inviting others for a meal with him, and the host would be the last to know. Needless to say, I have inherited his culinary love. But I deeply and truly miss our meal times......
I will always cherish my last few conversations with Uncle Bala - it was deep, emotional and heart-to-heart. I am honoured, pleased and feel very special for having had the joy of spending so many intimate moments with My Close Friend, My Uncle Bala.... God bless his soul.
- Gopi Ganesalingam, Bala's nephew.
Mr. R. Balakrishnan possessed all the finer qualities. I admire him as a scholar ; a good administrator ; an ardent lover of the Tamil language ; a helper to others ; a caring friend ; a hospitable person ; and finally as a loving grandfather.
Many come into this world, but only a few leave their footprints in this material world. Mr. Bala was one of them. He is not in our midst now, but he is living in the thoughts and minds of many who came into contact with him - as the saying goes, "To live in the minds of others is not to die."
"What we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do for others and the community remains for ever and is immortal." ~ Mark Twain
Former RTM Staff
I did not work long under Bala as the Head of Indian Service. At the time I was recruited as a Broadcasting Assistant Grade II, in January 1970, Mr. Bala had already been appointed by the Government to set up IPTAR at Angkasapuri. During that time he spent most of his time trying to establish the regional broadcasters' training centre. It was indeed a great honour for Bala who had proved to the top management his organizing and managerial skills. The entire staff of the Indian Service of Radio Malaysia were very proud of him being chosen for that enormous task.
During the short period that I was with the Indian Service in Kuala Lumpur, i.e. until December 1972, before being transferred to the Indian Service of the Southern Region in Johor Bahru in January 1973, I observed Bala closely and learnt many things from him.
During his term of office, Bala ensured the promotion of Indian culture through quality radio programmes. He promoted skilled broadcasters whose pronunciation of the Tamil language and presentation of programmes were marvelled at even by broadcasters from Singapore and Tamil Nadu. Bala did not hesitate in barring broadcasters weak in pronunciation from going on the air and to remedy the defect he roped in senior broadcasters to train them.
Mr. Bala had the good fortune of having Dato Dol Ramli, who was his colleague at University of Malaya in Singapore, as the Director of Broadcasting during his tenure as the Head of Indian Service. Bala forwarded the needs and requirements of the Indian Service to Dato Dol Ramli who gave due consideration and implemented Bala's suggestions and plans.
Bala had a humane and benevolent attitude. he never let down anyone who had approached him with any work-related problems. I am glad to say that I was one of the beneficiaries. What he did for me, even though I was not his staff at that time, I will never ever forget during my life-time.
Bala appreciated people who struggled on and came up in life. During my working life, I worked in many different Departments and Ministries and finally ended up as an Advocate & Solicitor, after my retirement from Government Service.
During my Chambering days, with Messrs Mohd Ali & Co in Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur, one day as I was in deep thought while preparing some legal documents, I heard a familiar voice calling, "Mr. Kuppusamy, what are you doing here?" I looked up and saw a tall man standing right in front of my cubicle which covered only up to his hips. It was none other than Mr. Bala whom I had not seen for about 25 years. He felt very happy when I explained to him the reason for my being there. He congratulated me and wished me success in my legal profession. On a few occasions, when I met him in social functions, he would never forget to introduce the people with whom he was, and he would introduce me to them as "Our former broadcaster, now an Advocate & Solicitor."
Mr. Bala never shirked his social obligations, never wallowed in self-pity and never abandoned hope during his last days. Even when he was ill and was moving about with the oxygen canister, he insisted on attending the annual gathering of former Indian Service broadcasters, held on 1st February of every year. According to his family members, Bala would be comfortable for 3 hours with one canister, but at the 2009 gathering he was with us for about four hours. We could see the strain in him, but he assured us that he was all right. Mr. Balakrishnan Ramanujam who was fondly known as 'Radio Bala' will be remembered as long as the Broadcasting Services exist in our country.
R. Kuppusamy (R.K.Samy)
Former RTM broadcaster
Currently Advocate & Solicitor
He was affectionately known to friends as "Radio Bala" for his yeoman service to the broadcasting industry.
He rose to prominence through his contribution to the development of Radio - Televison Malaysia (RTM), the National Broadcasting Training Centre (NBTC) and the Asia -Pacific Institute of Broadcasting Development (AIBD).
Born Balakrishnan Ramanujam in Teluk Anson on December 26, 1936, Radio Bala died at his home in Ara Damansara on May 25, aged 72, leaving fond memories of a loyal friend, a formidable intellectual and a humanitarian. Balakrishnan was one of four boys of seven children born into the family of rubber plantation conductor Ramanujam and his wife Krishnamma. Despite his modest circumstances, Bala completed his secondary education at the Anglo-Chinese School and entered the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1956. He graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Economics and Indian Studies.
Balakrishnan then joined RTM as a broadcaster, primarily overseeing Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam and Telugu programmes in the station's Indian section. He soon carved for himself a niche in broadcasting and was regarded as an authority on Tamil literature.
Occasionally, he also read the news and presented his own programmes such as "Voice of the UN" and replied, with candour and panache, to listeners who wrote in. Director-General Tan Sri Dol Ramli was Bala's mentor and guide at that time.
Other prominent broadcasters who worked with him were Ooh Kheng Law, Bosco D'Cruz, John Abraham and Leslie Dawson. Among his contemporaries was also Faridah Merican.
With the departure of the British in those pioneering days, Bala brought experienced broadcasters from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to help train local talent. He moved on from RTM to found the NBTC before joining the UNESCO-funded AIBD as its founding Managing Director. His extraordinary drive and intellectual energy helped to make these institutions respected players in the broadcasting industry.
For his outstanding contribution to the development of broadcasting, he won a fellowship from the prestigious Ryerson Institute of Canada in 1988. He was a good sportsman, keeping goal at both football and hockey and aptly called "Goalie Bala" after a one-time clearance from his goal saw the ball amazingly speed into the opposite goal.
But after 12 years with AIBD, he bowed out in 1988.
He eventually set up a consultancy and managed a few enterprises dedicated to the service of his fellowmen.
At the same time he was also Chairman of Tamil Osai, a broadsheet Tamil daily until it folded in 1991 and then Board Chairman of Makkal Osai, another Tamil daily. As much as he contributed to broadcasting, Bala was also a scholar and a gentleman.
His gentle nature, humanity, humility and generosity touched people of all races and all ages. His reach, as an unofficial doyen of the Indian community, was wide. Without political accreditation Bala worked with community leaders like the late Datuk K. Pathmanaban and Datuk S. Subramaniam to help improve the living standards of the Indian community.
Bala was generous to a fault. He would never turn away empty-handed anybody who sought his counsel or asked for academic or financial help.
He continued to chair the Rama Subbiah Scholarship Fund, providing less-privileged students with opportunities and loans for higher learning. To his many friends, Bala was a role model of a person who never let adversity or life's setbacks cloud his optimism or diminish his faith in human nature.
His nature was to share - your grief was his sorrow, your joy was his happiness, your toil was his labour. He relished every opportunity to entertain friends, often introducing them little known banana leaf restaurants all over Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
His phone conversations with friends would not end with a promise to meet soon, but he would tie them down for a specific date to share a meal, replete with bonhomie and intellectual repartee.
Even when he was not in the pink of health, he would insist on having friends over to his home for lunch or dinner.
His cheerful and dutiful wife Girijah would add her culinary skills to turn up delightful meals at home. Bala and Girijah complemented each other.
In the last few years, Bala endured illness on the back of a positive attitude, courage and fortitude. he tried hard not to let his failing health diminish the joy he could, and did, bring to all who called on him.
He is survived by Girijah, four children - girls Anuratha and Dr. Lakshmi and sons Venkatagiri and Srithar, and five grandchildren -Sailesh, Manishaa, Nikkhil, Trisha and Dhiren.
Ian Pereira, Obituary in Malay Mail, July 1, 2010.
I was fortunate to have met Mr. Bala at a relatively young and impressionable age and count myself lucky to have had him as a "boss" of sorts. He was one of the persons who have shaped my own approach to life.
I first met Mr. Bala in February 1983 as a young Executive Officer in a Cooperative Society, where he was Chairman of the Board. Despite our age difference, we became friends and enjoyed a fairly close relationship.
Though I left the Cooperative Society about 20 years ago, we remained friends over the years and we were involved together in several common causes, even till the time of his passing.
We also shared a passion for good wine and fine Japanese food.
He placed a lot of trust in me and at times called upon me to assist him in some of his lost causes. He shared with me some of his inner thoughts and feelings about events happening around him and at times, his disappointment with some of his close friends.
He was a great man, but not a saint. He had his weaknesses as any other person, but they were few and often reserved for those very close to him.
Like many of his friends, I too thought that he deserved greater public recognition and reward but he was unlucky not to have attained great heights in his public life, for which he was thoroughly qualified and deserving. With his demeanor, wit and personality, he would have made a great Ambassador or High Commissioner representing Malaysia. he himself, however, was quite happy with his lot and accepted the cards that life dealt him and was at peace with himself most of the time.
He was probably the absolute and worse businessman I knew, resulting in some his disappointments.
He was a fine example of how a man can live and die with dignity no matter what the circumstances he found himself in.
I am not sure if I will be privileged enough to share a close relationship with another such person in my lifetime. I miss him.
Bala could debate any issue which involved the Indian community whether he had any control over it or not. never pompous but not always good-natured he could be treating his friends to roars of laughter, lunch with them at Chettinad outlets and drink red wine whenever the occasion allowed. He was an indefatigable defender of Indian rights. His figurative use of the Tamil language and the "radio Malaysia voice" filled the room. There were gags about all his friends. If ever had to be stuck in a long line I would like to be stuck with Bala! It wouldn't matter what we were waiting for or how long it would take to get it. It was nice to stand around with him . He was interesting because he was interested. He was good company.
He was always disdainful of people who let him down but it was not part of any grand strategy. Most likely they were spontaneous remarks and sometimes the man thought he could say what he liked, when he liked to whomever he liked. His friends there complained rightly that Bala ridiculed them but ignored the good things they did. To be fair, Bala did sometimes exaggerate incidents and events but he was harmless, quite funny and popular. There was never a dull moment! What did friends make of him? Easy. Most thought he was one of us. He loved his family, his friends, his food and his wine of course! At 70 that is quite an achievement!
It was widely acknowledged that Bala was ready to give an opinion and when he did it was frequently scathing - whether it was about politicians, civil servants or the judiciary. Most times he saw politicians the way we see bankers. We forget and forgive them, even though we shouldn't. Bala was not a politician and mercifully did not wish to be one. Would he have made a good politician? he would have been much better than so many who played the game. The perennial problems of the Indian community, the politics in the country, the political parties that brought pain and shame to the people they represented, crime, corruption, a grinding justice system and his ageing friends were all readily available talking points. he joshed politicians and was not afraid to burst the bubble in their presence. But he also possessed the incredible ability to rile us all up while espousing his views!
The truth is that Bala did what he promised and also did many things that he never spoke about. Even the best, the most honest and lucid of his friends were right to worry about him. They were strange and turbulent times, but issues of fairness and equality were never more important. Back in the late 90s when the economy shuddered on its foundations and his personal investments somewhat stuttered, it hit him hard. But until the end, whilst he put on a stern and somewhat disagreeable front, being enraged and rankled by what was happening around him, he was affable, a good listener and a kind and loyal friend.
Bala's first love was soccer. He excelled in at school, inter-school and then at the University. He shot to the Guiness Book of Records fame in 1958, when as skipper of the Singapore University team against Hong Kong University, Bala scored a goal with one mighty kick from his own goal line and the football sailed past the Hong Kong defence and goalkeeper for a goal.!! The Hong Kong dailies carried this amazing feat in all their newspapers and Bala became an instant celebrity, and rightfully earned the name of "Goalie Bala" for the rest of his life.His introduction to hockey was truly fated. The University of Singapore team was without a recognized goalkeeper in 1959, after the incumbent refused to play for us. Knowing Bala's success as a football goalkeeper and considering his huge frame and fearless kicks, we asked him to keep goal for us. What a revelation he was! His body and pads blocked shots at goal and his mighty football kicks not only sent the hockey ball going in different directions, but also created fear in the opposing forwards. That year 1959 was our best year. We became Singapore League champions and Bala only let in 6 goals in the entire season. The Singapore Hockey selectors were so impressed with Bala's impregnable defence that he was invited to participate in trials for selection into the State side!! We had to convince him that the University defence was the main factor in keeping the goals against us to a minimum of 6. He had to be restrained from accepting the offer to take part in the trials!!!
With his tall, slim and handsome stature he was a hit with the girls, so much so he even earned the nickname "Fascination" which was a popular love song in the late 1950s. but Bala had other ideas and this episode remained a fascination only! Perhaps he knew there was a girl called Girijah waiting for him to become his only love!
Bala also came to Singapore with a reputation of being wealthy - the product of fragmentation of estates in Teluk Anson. Ramanujam Balakrishnan was also known as "Rubana Estate Zamindar" or better still as "Rockefeller" Bala because of his generosity. Any of us having problems with clothing, be it shirts, singlets, hankies or even underpants (new of course!), could help himself to Bala's rich collection of these personal belongings. And we did!
The untimely passing of Sri R. Balakrishnan came as a shock to all his family and friends, although he was ill for only a short period. This is because Bala, as he was fondly called, was regarded as resilient and even evergreen.
We all thought he would bounce back after a little while in hospital. Indeed that was one of his characteristics - to overcome whatever problems he had at work or business or in personal relationships.
He was always confident, self-assured and warmly affable. He loved his family and friends and would go all out to help them if they needed his assistance and advice. He often offered his guidance unsolicited as he believed in doing his best for his fellowmen.
At the University of Malaya where I was his senior, it was difficult for me to rag a tall, dark and handsome figure that he cut out for himself. I had to look up to him and had to get him to squat to get him on a level playing field before before I tried to tease him. Even then he had a sharp mind that encouraged him to argue back politely. So we had to be alert when ragging Bala then and certainly later in life.
He was a good sportsman and particularly a fine goalkeeper. Stories of his football prowess and antics are many. Often his exploits on the football field were repeatedly told to the laughter and merriment of his many team mates and friends who admired him greatly.
He had charming ways and was always the gentlemen with the ladies. But he never was serious with them, mainly because he was so absorbed by football and other campus activities.
Bala's academic achievements were as outstanding as his performance on the football field. He studied for an Arts degree but did his honours in Indian Studies. He excelled by attaining a "First Class"!
But he broke his behaviour pattern when he met lovely Girijah, whom he married. She became the idol of his life and the apple of his eye. he doted on "AMY" who was always dutiful and dedicated to Bala whom she always defended in any argument with his close friends.
Bala had an eventful career in broadcasting. He was a senior official and pioneer at Radio Malaya and then Radio Malaysia. He became the Head of RTM's Indian Service at the tender age of 25. He built the Department up to a high level of competency that met the highly competitive international standards in its programmes and presentations. Later he became the Head of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Centre which gave him the broad scope to exercise his considerable leadership qualities and his aspirations to contribute his bright ideas and special talents and professional skills to enhance the quality of broadcasting in the whole of Asia.
As a friend, Bala was a remarkable person. He was full of fun and endearment. He was certainly gregarious. Nothing pleased him more than to get his friends together for a good dinner over his choicest wines. Hr used to give us Chetty food which was deliciously spicy and required you to drink more to feel cool! he regaled his friends with entertaining stories of bygone days of youth and sometimes he interspersed these stories with serious and often provocative arguments. But he had the knack for relieving the situation with another joke or just changing the subject.
His personal strength was his strong friendships and the love, respect and loyalty that he attracted at all times. However, some people let him down but he was always forgiving and adopted the philosophy of "Live and Let Live."
For all these reasons Bala had hardly any enemies. Even those who hurt him came to appreciate Bala, the scholar, the sportsman and the gentleman that he was. Bala was the all rounder, who realised his purpose in life and fulfilled his ambitions with good grace. No wonder we loved him and sorely miss him!
He cared deeply for the welfare of the poorest sections of the Indian community in Malaysia. He would go to great lengths to help the poor and unfortunate. He had a huge and influential network of friend in high places, not only in Malaysia but in India.
His colleagues and friends in India found him to be a wise adviser on matters pertaining to Malaysia in a wide range of subjects.
He also left the legacy of a very united, happy and well-educated family and a loving and loyal wife Girijah, to remember with gratitude and reverence our dear Bala's blessings on all of his family and friends.
We all continue to miss him dearly and will always fondly remember this outstanding gentleman who stood for justice and love for his fellow beings. May God bless his soul!
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Former Secretary- General, Ministry of Transport, Malaysia
Currently Corporate Adviser, Sunway Group
It is a great honour and privilege to write this message in memory of our very dear, "brother," friend, classmate and confidante, Ramanujam Balakrishnan, or "Balu" as he was affectionately known to those closest and dearest to him. Balu lived life to its fullest, and he made sure that it was done to his expectations. He never minced his words of disapproval with anything that did not match his standards, and those on the receiving end, seldom forget Balu's direct and sometimes blunt response! That was Balu, our dear friend and he did it to only those closest to him and we always smiled it off for we knew it came from his heart, and was meant for us only.
He was a truly remarkable individual, fiercely loyal, absolutely frank, candid, sharp and very intelligent. He was known for his overwhelming generosity, often going out of his way to help someone whose needs are greater! He had a genuine desire to serve society, and especially the Indian minority that served in the plantations, and who remained disadvantaged in so many ways and for whom Balu, and his very dear political and government connections, strove so very hard to help improve their livelihood. Many have now gone before Balu, and to the end he made sure that he left a group of friends that will continue this journey of ensuring basic human rights are available to these poorer members of the community. Balu has left us, but this light that he lit, will continue to burn till the day the mission is fulfilled.
I have had the privilege and good karma to meet Balu, whom I had known since 1956, when we first met on the lawns at Dunearn Road Hostel, Singapore, where we were all so fortunate to have studied and built a lifetime of friendship. We knew what it was to be "poor" students, sent by their families for higher education, in the hope that we would enjoy a better life our parents/family did . The majority of us were in this category, so we knew what our priorities were, and luckily stayed focused, on our purpose of being at the University. There was free sharing on lecture notes, essays, library material and whatever would have helped make our purpose lighter and easier, such was the camaraderie and companionship. It was at a time when race, colour, ethnicity were non-existent, but only reflected on official documents. We lived, ate, played, laughed and cried, all as one single proud group of Malaysians, with a common purpose - to educate ourselves and serve the family and nation to the best of our abilities. Balu did this in every facet of his life, and gave so much in developing the fields he served in, after graduation, particularly radio, education, language, community service, political direction and arts and culture. He served with distinction in all of these sectors, and many who worked with him, readily acknowledge his contributions, efforts and achievements.
As a sportsman, at the University Balu was known to excel in Soccer and Hockey. Soccer came to him naturally, from his school days, where he kept goal and did so ever since. It was his soccer goalkeeping talents that brought him into hockey, a game that did not come to him naturally, but he was talked into joining, when the first choice keeper left suddenly! Balu was told just wear the pads and stand, in front of the goalposts, and not to worry about anything else! The rest of the team were reminded that at no cost must the ball be allowed to hit Balu's pads, because he was not as agile with his legs, as he was with the hands (at soccer goalkeeping)! His height was a bonus at soccer, not at hockey, as the goalposts were shorter, hence he was told to stand a foot in front, and with his height stay in a crouching position. With arms out stretched and stick in one hand, Balu was an awesome sight for all opponents, and they feared him!! At the end of the season, he was voted as one of the best goalkeepers in the Senior League in Singapore, having only four goals scored against him! Little did the opposition realise how vulnerable he was and how well the University team protected him and psyched the opposition into believing that he was fearsome between the posts!
I shared many great moments with Balu, from the University, after our graduation as bachelors, living together, during his courtship days with lovely and talented Girijah (when I often chauffeured him), to the rich and famous Indian cuisine, that he so often and so generously invited us to, and of course he always made sure one of us paid for the meal, whilst he took credit for getting us together!
Balu was always helping someone somewhere, always looking for new avenues of doing something meaningful to the lives of all his friends, to the very last days of his life. It never occurred to me that he was ill as he seldom spoke about himself and his problems, until one day when he said said to me to join him for lunch and told me, "MK please help me carry my oxygen cylinder", that was the most poignant moment, as I realised that my dear friend was slowly losing battle with some ailment, which was subsequently explained to me. Until then Balu never spoke of his health/problems. such was the man. He fought a brave battle which only he, Girijah and the family know about. Finally, he called me one day whilst on his way to the Pantai Medical Centre. When I got there I realised what he wanted me to know and do. A few days later after he was discharged, Balu asked Girijah to call me again, to see him at home. When I got there, he was breathless on bed, held my hands, asked the rest to leave the room and spoke to me. What he said will remain etched in my memory and will have to remain between the two of us. These are truly precious and treasured moments.
Balu and I shared a unique friendship, that only we knew what it meant to both of us. It is hard to match and harder to emulate.
It is my great honour to share these memories of a great "brother" and dear friend with all of you, and I thank Girijah for the singular honour and opportunity. Balu, I pray you will always be at peace and enjoy the love and kindness that you shared with all of us.
With fond memories,
It took me a while to overcome my emotions.
People say that friendship has to be nurtured. Mine with Bala seemed to have developed naturally. Like a tree in the wild that needed no watering or fertilization, it just grew and grew, stronger with each passing year. What made it more remarkable was that there were long periods when we did not see each other and yet when we met up again after years we never felt that we had lost touch. It must be our time together in school that provided the glue to bind.
Bala was in a way an outsider when he came to ACS Ipoh. By then most of us had our own circle of friends. We were the boys who started school immediately after the Japanese Occupation and had, in progressing through the grades together, developed certain camaraderie with a degree of roughness at the edge that made it difficult for a newcomer to break in. Bala did not seem to have any great difficulty in breeching the barrier. By the time we got into Form 6, he was very much one of us.
There was one occasion when Bala had to assert himself. There was a discussion which became somewhat heated and someone told Bala not to "talk Tamil." Bala said he spoke Telugu. Bala must have been disappointed that no one asked where the Telugus came from.
We had more than one Balakrishnan in school, and there were also several Balasingams, Balasubramaniams, Balasundrams and Balasamys. They were all called Bala. This meant that often we had to indicate which Bala we were referring to. At the beginning, Bala was referred to as Tall Bala; this became Goalie Bala after he scored a goal in a football game with a majestic kick from his goal post; but by the time we were in Form 6, was mere Bala. By then no one had any doubt which Bala was being referred to when the name was mentioned. In the process of evolution, Mun Wai, in his usual wisdom, chose to refer to him as R Bala and, as if that was not sufficiently clear enough, occasionally called him Son of Ramanujam.
Bala himself was no mere mortal when it came to labeling his friends. He had a penchant for giving unusual nicknames to his close friends: Mun Wai was Chinaman; Philip was Mahmud and I was Katchat. When we were at the hostel in Dunearn Road, he would refer to Mun Wai as Gravedigger. I don't know how or why he came up with such names. (Kachat is cockroach in Cantonese). Interestingly, his propensity for nicknaming did not extend to the opposite sex. Perhaps he did have names for the few female classmates but he was considerate enough to keep them inside his fertile mind. Or perhaps he was too much of a gentleman. He displayed this aspect of his nature by often referring to Chin Ai as "Your lovely wife" and Chin Ai would repay the compliment by saying he had a cheeky smile.
I remained Katchat to Bala to the very end although much later in life he condescended to use it only when we were alone or during conversation over the telephone. whenever he started a conversation with Katchat, I would know he had something to ask, but never for himself; it's always for a friend. It did not matter that the friend was somebody I did not know. His friend needed help and he would go all out to do what he could and this included pulling all the resources he could think of from his circle of close friends.
I benefited greatly from Bala's readiness to help. I used to sit in the front row in class and was often the target of the teacher when he needed someone to transcribe notes on the blackboard for dissemination to the class. Since I could not copy what was on the blackboard I had to depend on somebody else's notes. It was Bala that I would turn to. He had a beautiful handwriting, his alphabets were always well-formed and the script never rushed. You never had to guess what the writing was all about. Revising for tests, I would rather read from Bala's notes than mine.
Bala's concern for his friends was so genuine that he would offer help even when none was needed. When Mun Wai started to teach at Anglo-Chinese Continuation School (ACCS) in the afternoon, Bala would round me and Philip up "to support Mun Wai in case he needed help" - so said Bala. Of course, Mun Wai was more than able to take care of himself and, when this became obvious, Bala decided that Mun Wai needed company for lunch. Lunch for Mun Wai was around 3.30 pm and invariably consisted of a plate of "char quoay tiau" from a hawker stall across the street from school. The first few occasions Mun wai paid. When it was apparent that Mun Wai was teaching to earn an income to go to towards meeting the cost of going to the University of Malaya which was then in Singapore, Bala generously paid for the "char quoay tiau" for Philip and me. Philip and I realized it was grossly inequitable and, since both of us were completely broke, we stopped showing up at Mun Wai's lunch time. I believe Bala kept Mun Wai company a bit longer because he really liked that "char quoay tiau."
There was another occasion when Bala offered his help without being asked. When Chin Ai and I had decided to withdraw what we had in the Employees' Provident Fund, I called Bala to ask if the EPF was still at Petaling Jaya. After Bala found out the reason for the trip, he said I should ask for a certain Mr So-and So when I showed up. I told Bala that as it was a simple transaction, I should not bother anyone especially as I did not know the person. Bala said that I had forgotten what Malaysian officialdom was like after a few years in Singapore and insisted that I ask for the gentleman for Chin Ai's sake. I don't know what exactly Bala said to the gentleman. When I arrived at the EPF information counter and asked for Mr So-and-So, a short gentleman showed up, asked for our passports and EPF identification cards, led us to an empty room, and left without a word. He returned about half an hour later with two cheques and said everything was ok with a firm shake of his head. We concluded our business so quickly that we decided to drive back to Singapore the same day without seeing Bala who called the next day to find out how it went. When I told Bala I was impressed with Mr So-and-So's quiet efficiency, his reply was, "He is a decent bloke." Bala must have had a bunch of decent blokes to dispense small mercies because whenever I was with him, someone would call or turn up seeking help of one kind or another.
At ACS Ipoh, Bala was noted more for his sportive than intellectual prowess. He was the goalkeeper of the school football team. We had such a high opinion of his ability that it was not uncommon for us to declare, before an important game, that our team would win because Bala would be keeping goal. But Bala never talked about his feats, not even the goal he scored from one end of the field to the other with a single kick.
If Bala seemed reticent talking about his prowess at sports, he was even more modest about his intellectual capacity. In fact, I think, he consciously hid his intellect from us. He had a clear mind, a good memory, and a sharp wit but he refrained from excelling academically in class, preferring to let others shine so as not to bring attention to him. He certainly seemed to have read widely without anyone knowing about it. Years later, when he wanted to express an opinion on someone whom he did not think much of, he would quote some lines from Shakespeare or George Bernard Shaw. In all the years in school, I've never heard Bala quote Shakespeare let alone George Bernard Shaw.
Such manifestations of knowledge in classical literature were, however, rare and reserved for a very select few. Always magnanimous, Bala at most would say, He tried his best." That was Bala's way of expressing disappointment in a person.
Bala's reputation for hospitality was well-known in school. There was an occasion when a group of students from ACS Ipoh were hosted by families in Telok Anson. The ones who stayed at Bala's home spoke volumes of the hospitality they received. I had the misfortune of not being one of the recipients but in years to come Bala would make this up with a countless number of lunches or dinners that he would hoist on me whenever I was in KL. he would take no for an answer for his invitation to a meal except if you request that the meal be late in the afternoon or Sunday morning. Since school days, Bala slept every afternoon from 2 pm and he hated to be disturbed. On Sunday he would take his grandson out somewhere and nothing could take him away from the outing.
There was one other thing that Bala would not accept - to have his stomach touched. I remember someone once tried to draw Bala's attention by prodding him on his stomach with a finger. Bala objected vehemently. He said he had a weak stomach. perhaps this was true because he was very careful with what he ate.
A week before Bala passed away, I discovered he loved ice-cream. Chatting away about old times when I visited him at Pantai Hospital, he suddenly asked weakly, "Katchat, I'd like an ice cream." After more than half a century of friendship, all he asked of me for himself was a scoop of ice cream. Is it any wonder so many of us miss Bala?
Chung Kek Choo