Coffee Break: 30 years of the darndest things

This article first appeared in Capital, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 5, 2018 - March 11, 2018.
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Once upon a time, a close friend Amar, after a good dose of his favourite malt beverage, was so deep in thought about which side of his chapatti was brushed with ghee that he fell into a swoon.

This was back when television had V-shaped antennas and pink mini buses were the kings of the roads. Neighbours “borrowed” a cup of sugar when in a pinch, and returned the favour with a bowl of tear-inducing fish head curry that made you forget their poor housekeeping habits.

Now, Amar had a good nap for 30 years, but, like in a fairy tale, he fell out of bed one sunny day, coughing and sputtering, and was restored to his old self ... well, almost.

That would have been about when they started changing the price of petrol almost as frequently as my editor changes her mind about what to have for lunch.

Last week, he phoned and anxiously asked if we could please meet. He sounded confused, so I asked what was bothering him.

He started yammering like a nervous wreck and nothing seemed able to calm him, so we agreed to meet that evening.

When I spotted him, he rushed up and stayed close to me, as though wishing for the old and familiar world that had deserted him.

“Tell me what’s wrong. You look bad la bro, like you just came out of a bullfight.” My awkward attempt at humour failed.

He didn’t need a second invitation. We dropped into the nearest chairs at the bar. He looked helpless and asked in a desperate whisper, “What happened?”

“What do you mean?” I replied, blinking.

“I thought I had woken up in Dhaka … so many foreigners here now, Indonesian, Myanmar chaps, guys from the Philippines, African ‘students’, Chinese ‘students’ — all girls,” he said.

We downed a few cold ones, and he admitted having no beef with the Chinese students, but seemed annoyed at the rest.

After I had explained to him the current popular compulsion for selfies and discussed various issues — vanity, our sanity, and more about “students” — we switched to politics.

“Mahathir may be PM again?” Amar asked, echoing me.

“Ah, so he did step down … but after how many hundred years?”

“What?! He’s with the opposition now?”

“He’s patched up with Anwar?”

“You mean he fought with Anwar … but why?”

“Anwar is in jail?”

“For a second time?”

At this point, Amar knocked back his favourite cold malt beverage rather forcefully, as if making up for lost time.

“Pak Lah released Anwar?”

“What? Pak Lah was PM?”

“Wait, Mahathir and Anwar have patched up?”

It was my turn to snort into my drink.

“Mahathir and gang ousted Pak Lah and got Najib to be DPM?”

“Mahathir and Kit Siang shared the same stage? With Guan Eng too?”

“Guan Eng is CM of Penang? So he got out of jail after Ops Lalang? What? He may go back in?”

“Muhyiddin was DPM but is now with the opposition? Wait, Muhyiddin was DPM but is now with the opposition?”

By now, the bouncers and some patrons with short hair and very shiny shoes were watching us, but Amar was just picking up steam.

“Mahathir and Anwar are together fighting Najib?”

“But Najib supported Mahathir in the late 80s …  Anwar advised Najib, all know each other well, and you said Najib was DPM because of Mahathir. So, who is the DPM now?”

Amar looked pale and clearly in shock and had a strange grin on his face, muttering softly and shaking his head.

He is now in a straightjacket, institutionalised, and has trouble sleeping. It seems he keeps mumbling, “Only in politics.”

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